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Inerasable, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Ghost stories get written in the land and the soul."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In the modern age, we try to vanquish ghosts with not just scientific investigation, but literary analysis and anthropology; by understanding where these stories come from, we think, well be able to punch holes in them, find another outlet for our fears, and move on. It doesn't work as well as we'd like in the real world, in part because, once we find enough traces of something, it's hard not to think that there may be something to it. That's the intriguing hook to "The Inerasable", the rare horror story that gets spookier even as it gets more methodical.

It starts out with an author (Yuko Takeuchi) working on a project where she solicits tales of the supernatural to use as the basis of short horror stories. The one she gets from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) doesn't initially seem like much - a college student living on her own for the first time, president of her college's mystery club, starts to hear something that sounds like sweeping in the next room when she's not looking. The two start researching, and while they can't find any reason for a ghost to be haunting her room, there has to be a reason why rents in this building are lower than in the surrounding area, although it sometimes seems to be the case that those who leave take the haunting with them.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura is mostly known for fairly upbeat stories about finding connections, and though he's dealing with spooky material here, there's still something very optimistic about how the author and student become friends and their sphere expands to include others with similar interests while they track down what seemed like a minor ghost story. A network forms, not just of people but of places and incidents, and eventually a chain of events along the lines of the one in Fish Story, tracing how one series of hauntings is connected to another, tying it into a tapestry that is able to present similar stories as actually being the same story without individual tragedies being subsumed.

Telling these stories this way has an intriguing effect; on the one hand, it slides a skeptical viewer into treating the supernatural seriously because these unassuming, reasonable people following a trail eventually find themselves taking the fact that something is going on as a given, though at the same time everybody is aware of what they are doing as writers; there's an overlap between recognizing how one story might influence another and having a goat driving people top reenact is own tragedy. At one point, Kubo starts to wonder what the point of what they're doing is, that maybe getting closer to the original sin could wind up exposing her to a more powerful version of the curse than the arguably diluted one that is already making her uneasy. Fact and fiction blend here without one becoming the other, the audience often being left to decide whether these stories are just out there, coming to us by instinct, or making their way through the subconscious.

Nakamura and screenwriter Kenichi Suzuki (adapting Fuyumi Ono's novel) have fun in telling the stories, parceling a dozen or two out, in large part through narration and investigation, mostly avoiding the impulse for jump scares but showing the steps in discovery. The details of how the characters put things together are made just as interesting as the supernatural stories themselves at first, and the tingling sensation the audience feels with each new bit of information becomes a little stronger until finally what had started off as a detached investigation has the viewer fairly keyed up by the end, when they're creeping through the haunted house that may have started it all. The crew has a little fun mixing styles up, too - though the film starts out with a very flat look, hinting at documentary style without pretending to be one, with "flashbacks" growing increasingly fuzzy and indistinct the further back (with less documentation) that they are. Other interesting threads tie things together, such as a recurring pattern of people looking for a home where they feel comfortable.

It's strange work for the actors, doing horror movie stuff without a lot of screaming. Yuko Takeuchi is the main constant as the narrating author, playing it with a sort of detached curiosity that quietly grows into belief, having a comfortable, quiet chemistry with Kenichi Takito as her character's husband. Ai Hashimoto does plucky without smirking at the camera while also playinig Kubo as often scared but not histrionic. Kentaro Sakaguchi is quite an enjoyable late addition as a young expert on psychic phenomena on an isolated island. It's not always a tight-knit group, but it is one that the viewer can feel a part of.

"The Inerasable" is kind of a strange movie, all told - there are lots of horror movies that examine their structure or even why people believe in ghosts, but it seems relatively rare to take this sort of studious approach with a film built for entertainment rather than enlightenment. it works, getting the audience to lean in and look at what's going on, even if it's not quite the best movie for getting all worked up late at night.

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originally posted: 08/01/16 00:04:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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