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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween Hoardefest: Masters of Horror - "Dream Cruise"

Originally published in my column "Death From Below" for AMP magazine... I've become a bit of a fan of Asian cinema and this quirky little ditty for the canceled Showtime series Masters of Horror was a goodie...

The now-defunct Masters of Horror wrapped its second and final season with a doozie Bake-eiga (or J-Horror film), Dream Cruise.

Directed by Norio Tsuruta of Ringu O and Premonition fame, and starring Daniel Gillies (Spiderman 2), Ryo Ishibashi (The Grudge and Audition), as well as Blindness beauty Yoshino Kimura, Dream Cruise is a creepy yarn told in the grand tradition of EC Comics, chiefly the comeuppance/vengeance motif imposed upon American executive Jack Miller, who is cheating with the wife of his best friend, Eiji Saito. One can understand why Jack has crossed the line by starting an affair with Eiji’s wife, Yuri, and why she in turn is compelled to her foreign lover. Whatever niceties Eiji has exhibited to Jack (which is presumed without background, save for a lone desk picture of the threesome, which Jack is found guilty of covering Eiji up), is out the door by the time Jack calls Eiji to sign off on an insurance proposal.

The wealthy Eiji is not all he seems, particularly in light of his suspicions of the tryst between friend and spouse. Fully aware that Jack has a phobia of the water due to an early incident in which Jack’s brother Sean drowned in the middle of the ocean before his eyes, Eiji coaxes the apprehensive Jack onto his boat. Jack and Yuri infer that Eiji is onto them and here is where Norio Tsuruta creates his primary tension, focusing on Eiji’s rage that unravels in small increments while he manages to boat out far away from Tokyo and any realistic chance of being spotted.

Without getting a direct accusation out, Eiji’s boat breaks down in the isolated waters, which we soon learn that he’s been in this location before. Eiji is a thieving murderer who snuffed out his rich wife, Naomi, and dumped her body into the ocean in exchange for Yuri. Now faced with a young spouse who’s rejecting him in favor of a white American, Eiji’s would-be revenge is thwarted by the apparition of Naomi, who not only wants him down in the murky grave with her, but Yuri as well. Jack is forced to face his fear of the water in light of losing his true love, heightening the apprehension of the story.

Dream Cruise is beautifully filmed, so much that Tsuruta brings us almost as close to a hypothetical-realistic Tokyo as Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner. While Scott’s is futuristic in comparison to Tsuruta’s present-day Tokyo, there’s still something atmospheric about the way he shoots everyday Tokyo, so much that we feel Jack’s awkwardness in a country he’s been in for two years. Culturally gorgeous, it’s the perfect setting of innocuousness to tell a story about infidelity and horror. By the time Naomi manifests into the story, her spooky green aura is damned unnerving, though it’s striking how Asian women still look alluring even as undead ghouls. The story, penned by Koji Suzuki, is fast-paced, even as Tsuruta clocks in at close to an hour and a half, a record for Masters of Horror. The film does get a tad silly (such as the lopped arm of Eiji relentlessly choking the crap out of Jack), but in the end, Dream Cruise is an enviable Tales From the Crypt salute that inadvertently closed the door on a highly adventurous horror anthology...

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