Even though one might say the golden age of J-horror is already behind us, as features like Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998), Ju-on (Takashi Shimizu, 2000), and Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001) seem to have been made in a distant past, the genre will never die. For some, the genre needs a new injection of creativity, instead of rehashing the same tropes. With Bamy, the directorial debut of Jun Tanaka, Tanaka provides his own take on the J-horror genre, approaching it from the angle of the red string of fate (unmei no akai ito). Can Bamy be considered a fresh wind in the genre?
Bamy‘s narrative starts when, by chance, Fumiko Tashiro (Hiromi Nakazato) runs into Ryota Saeki (Hironobu Yukinaga). From the very first encounter, they feel attracted to each other and before long they are set to get married, preparing their marriage, while imagining their happy future together. But Ryota has a secret. A secret that troubles him: he can see the dead. These encounters take their toll on Ryota, putting a major strain on his relation with Fumiko. One day, Ryota meets Sae Kimura (Misaki Tsuge), a woman who can see the dead as well. But, contrary to him, they terrify her.
From the moment the flying umbrella appears, a familiar yet foreign element stains the entire narrative space. An elusive element that, even though it disappears, clings itself in the mind of the spectator and draws him in. Another stain in the frame is Ryota, whose presence becomes more and more elusive for Fumiko. And then we have the ghosts, those dark appearances lingering in the shadows, distorting Ryota’s reality. As a narrative, Bamy concerns nothing other than the unheimlich (psycho-note 1, psycho-note 2).
The unheimlich, so central to the narrative, is brought sensible to the fore by the rather minimalistic cinematography – a cinematography creating some impressive visuals. The few instances where the camera slowly floats notwithstanding, the long, static shots put the emphasis on the distorting elements as such and on the emptiness that the narrative space contains. Furthermore, the camera perspective lurking from the depths of darkness, which often captures Ryota’s looking, expresses this interrelated tripling of the unheimlich. As Ryota’s looking makes every site of darkness and shadow suspicious, the dead – unheimlich for the spectator – that reside there captivate Ryota, a captivation that ultimately makes him unheimlich for Fumiko.
Furthermore, beyond underlining the stains in the image, the cinematography emphasizes the human interactions – as sparse as they may be, revealing that, in essence, Bamy is a character study of Fumiko, Ryota, and Sae. Already from the very beginning, even if Ryota and Fumiko exchange sentences, they do not really speak with each other. It is this emptiness, as conditioned by their interaction, that the tension between them will intensify (narra-note 1; narra-note 2). In contrast, the relation between Saeki and Sae Kimura is devoid of tension and annuls the unheimlich associated with Ryota (psycho-note 3). This tension ultimately culminates in a finale where the narrative space, with all its distortions, turns highly surrealistic; a miracle happening, beyond any sense, revealing Saeki and Fumiko’s fate (narra-note 3).
Bamy‘s approach to colour is very effective. The washed-out and subdued colours underline the bleakness – and the emptiness – of the narrative space. The bleakness of the world disappears in the dominant darkness; the strong, dark shadows a palpable unheimlich presence, as ghosts might reside there. For the most part, the way sound and ambient noise are used is effective as well. While the ambient noises reveal the spatial emptiness of the narrative frame, the sounds pregnant of tension that covers and, at the same moment, enforce these silences, makes the unheimlich even more sensible, adding discomfort to the banality of life (cine-note 1). It is in this respect that various instances of music feel unnecessary. In the rather minimalistic framed narrative these moments, by their bombastic nature, feel somewhat out of place, annulling the tension characteristic of the silence as emptiness as such.
Tanaka’s debut feature proves to be an accomplished product. Even though some of the music used undermines the power contained in the cinematography, Bamy is a fresh and compelling horror narrative, framing the unsettling unheimliche so sensible on the silver screen. If this movie can be understood as a flower bud showing great promise, we can’t wait till Tanaka’s cinematographical style comes into full bloom.
Narra-note 1: In his relationship with Fumiko, Saeki often seems closer to the dead than to the living – his speech characterized by short sentences and apologies. From the perspective of Fumiko, he distorts the image as much as the dead stain the image we share with him – making him somewhat unrelatable for the spectator. It is only from the perspective of Sae, that one is able to find some identification with Saeki.
Narra-note 2: The tension culminates up until the point that he finally shares his ability to see ghosts, as a way to try to fill the void between them. But alas, the void remains. Even the meeting between Saeki and Sae, a meeting that changes Saeki, can’t fill void.
Narra-note 3: The red umbrella, the image of the red thread of fate that binds Saeki and Sae together, in the beginning, is the most important aspect that structures the narrative. The miracle, in the end, rewinds everything back to the very beginning, the red umbrella a presence binding them fatefully.
Psycho-note 1: For Freud the unheimlich is a feeling of alienation that occurs when that what is considered as familiar suddenly comes to be experienced as strange.
Psycho-note 2: The dead appear here as the stain in the image. They distort Ryota’s vision – and ours – and influence his functioning in the communal reality. That Sae and Ryota attack the dead, the stains in the image, should be read literally: death should always remain elided from one’s vision.
Psycho-note 3: The moment Saeki and Sae imagine a narrative for a dead woman, they, annul the distortion she constituted for them. For the viewer, sadly, the dead as stain nevertheless remains.
Cine-note 1: The rather tense sounds with Saeki, intensifying Saeki as the distorting presence that problematizes the narrative space, and with the dead, as stains, that can reside in the shadows.