The public will surely know Tetsuya Nakashima from narratives like Kamikaze Girls (2004), the award-winning Confessions (2010) and his splendid The World of Kanako (2014). Four years after his last narrative, he presents us his adaptation of Ichi Sawamura’s award-winning horror story Bogiwan Ga, Kuru (2015).
Hideki Tahara (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who recently married Kana (Haru Kuroki [A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (2016)]), has no other goal than to create the perfect family. Even though his marital life is full of happiness, Hideki regularly suffers from anxiety dreams.
One day at work, Takanashi (Taiga Nakano) informs Hideki that a female visitor wants to talk with him about Chisa. Puzzled by the name of Chisa, the name he and Kana chose for their child, he goes to meet her, only to find that she has already left. Not long thereafter, Takanashi falls mysteriously ill.
Two Years later, Hideki’s familial happiness has, due to mysterious happenings, evaporated. In an attempt to dispel the destructive influence his family is under, he asks his folklorist friend Tsuda (Munetaka Aoki [Samurai Marathon (2019)]) for help. Tsuda introduces him to freelance writer Nozaki (Junichi Okada) and his girlfriend and psychic Makoto Higa (Nana Komatsu (Drowning Knife (2016)).
While It Comes plays out as a supernatural thriller-horror narrative at first glance, the narrative is, at its core, nothing other than a familial drama. The fact that familial problems are, in fact, central to the very narrative is already foreshadowed in the very beginning of the narrative. The subtle aspects of violence, e.g. the fight at the funeral, or the problems at Kana and Hideki’s marriage, e.g. the sudden disappearance of Kana’s mother, underline that not all is what is seems. These subtle disruptive aspects, subtly put in the spotlight by Nakashima, underline that behind imaginary interactions between family members a more problematic and traumatic reality often lurks.
This duality is also foreshadowed by the very contrast between Takara Hideki’s outgoing, lighthearted, positive attitude and the lingering uneasiness that surrounds him. In fact, it does not take long for the spectator to sense that Hideki’s indulgence in blogging about his family happiness is problematic. He is, in fact, so pre-occupied with painting the perfect image of himself within his family, that he ultimately neglects the subjectivity of his wife and his child into account. His wife and child are, in other words, abused as imaginary supports for his own perfectly constructed ego-image (Narra-note 1).
Hideki’s recurring dreams are, of course, the clearest signs that something is wrong. But Hideki, caught up his own desire to save his family or his image of the perfect family, fails to take these dreams and, by extension, the presence of It as targeting his own problematic subjective functioning. While he cannot evade the fact that he is targeted, Hideki does succeed in keeping the answer to the question as to why he is targeted for himself and others hidden (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2, Narra-note 3). He neatly succeeds is keeping his consciously orchestrated discourse and the true message his subjective acts communicate about his real subjective position separated (Narra-note 4, Cine-note 1).
The questions that underpin the Nakashima’s narrative are ‘What is true fatherhood/motherhood?’ and ‘What is a good husband/good wife?’. As Nakashima clearly shows, the answer to these questions is not to be sought at the level of the image or appearances. If one accepts the signifier ‘husband/wife’ or ‘father/mother’, one needs to give body to those signifiers through acts. One cannot realize the position of father, for instance, by remaining absent from the responsibilities such symbolic position entails (Narra-note 5 (spoiler), Theme-note 1).
The cinematographical composition of It Comes is marked by a fluid dynamism. With his skillful hand, Nakashima composes attractive dynamic compositions that immediately capture the spectator’s attention and, due to their pleasing fluidity, seduce the spectator in following the narrative path in the process of its unfolding. This compositional dynamism is furthermore instrumental in keeping the tension lingering throughout the narrative. Cinematographical movement as well as the snappy insertion of disturbing imagery is masterly used to allusively underline, despite his visual absence, the presence of that ominous thing called It (Cine-note 2).
The tensive atmosphere, as can be expected, is mainly function of the sound and music-design. Be it by mysterious sounds or sudden burst of sound that can, at any given point, disturb a given composition or by mysterious musical pieces, the narrative is always marked by an ominous and unsettling atmosphere. The spectator is, in truth, never truly able to be at ease. The evocation of this atmosphere also finds its support in the imagery: the play with recurring ominous imaginary and the sequences of bloody gore.
But the successful evocation of sensible tension is also due to the amazing acting-performances of each. Nana Komatsu convinces as the emotionally unstable but good-hearted psychic Makoto. Satoshi Tsumabuki brings the narcissistic nature of Hideki in an extremely pleasing way to life. Yet, the performance that steals the show is the performance of Haru Kuroki. It is her powerful and emotionally layered performance that makes the underlying theme of familial conflict so sensible for the spectator.
Yet, despite the successful engendering of a threatening atmosphere, the finale of It Comes is not completely satisfactory. This is not only because some visual effects are not that convincing, but also due to the sudden visual restraint by which the finale is framed. Because of the latter, Nakashima is unable to fully employ the lingering tension and frame a truly feverish and haunting finale. Less visual restraint would, in our view, have made the dramatic conclusion even more dramatic and the final puzzle piece explaining Hideki’s family ill-fate a more touching revelation.
It Comes is an enjoyable thriller-horror experience. Yes, the finale should have been more powerful, but that does not detract from the fact that the interplay between Nakashima’s compositional dynamism, the effective musical accompaniment, and the impressive acting-performances successfully engages the spectator from beginning to end. While many spectator will enjoy the supernatural element of It Comes, the true enjoyment of the narrative is to be found in its wonderful exploration of dysfunctional familial bonds and the destructive impact narcissism has on human relations.
Narra-note 1: The reason why Hideki cannot evade his unsettling dreams anymore is the very dysfunctional state of his family as such. From the moment that Chisa says that ‘It is here’ her and her mother’s behaviour is effectively transformed into external reminders of Hideki’s dreams.
Narra-note 2: Even though Hideki wants to know why it happens, we contend that he does not really want to know the answer as it pertains to his subjectivity.
Narra-note 3: In Hideki’s case, the malevolent spirit confronts him with those aspects of his subjectivity he does not want to take responsibility for, with those aspects carefully hidden behind the ideal image he himself created through his own blog.
Narra-note 4: Without spoiling too much, we can reveal that the divide between the conscious orchestrated narrative about oneself and the acts that reveal as how we are with respect to others circle around one specific notion: love. Are his acts marked by love or are his acts devoid of any love towards the other?
Narra-note 5: The reason why Kana is targeted by It has everything to do with the fact that she, at a subjective level, refused the position of motherhood, refused to be a mother with respect to her daughter.
Theme-note 1: In the second part of the narrative, the difficulties of being a single parent within a society like Japan are also touched upon. These difficulties do not only arise from the difficulty to maintain a balance between being a mother and a working adult, but also due to the fact that, for many, society is not well equipped to answer the struggles of single-parents.
Cine-note 1: The structure of the narrative echoes this divide between the imaginary and reality. In the second part of It Comes, the chronological unfolding of the narrative also provides, through a few flashbacks, a dramatic exploration of Hideki’s (real) subjective position within the familial constellation and the psychological effects his position had on Kana and Chisa.
Cine-note 2: The absent presence of It is nevertheless made sensible for the spectator via various cinematographical aspects. While the use of the signifier It points towards its symbolic existence, the cinematography evokes that It has an existence beyond this signifier.
Cine-note 3: Of course, moments of fixity are also present within the cinematographical composition.