Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Films about pyrokinetics are few and far between. Firestarter of course (and its recent mini-series sequel), the under-rated Specimen and the dire Nice Girls Don’t Explode. Shusuke Kaneko’s Pyrokinesis (aka Cross Fire) is easily the best of the bunch.
For the first half hour this looks like it might be another Carrie-esque tale of a lonely girl with unusual powers. Junko (Akiko Yada: Mai in the TV versions of Ring and Rasen) is befriended by her colleague Tada (Hideaki Ito: The Princess Blade) and meets his younger sister Yukie - who is kidnapped and murdered by a gang of youths. A lawyer’s arrogant son, Kogure (Hidenori Tokuyama: Oshikiri) is accused but let off, and Junko offers to help Tada take revenge using her special power.
As killings continue - both by the gang (for, it transpires, snuff movies) and of the gang members, the police attempt to make some kind of sense of the situation. Detective Makihara (Ryuki Harada: Izo) suspects psychokinesis; his colleague Detective Ishizu (Kaori Momoi: Kagemusha) is initially sceptical but gradually comes to believe.
But there are wheels within wheels and fires within fires in this story, as Junko is approached by Kido (Yu Yoshizawa) ,a young man with his own, non-pyrokinetic, ESP powers, and a young orphan girl Kaori (Masami Nagasawa: Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, Godzilla: Final Wars) is discovered to have similar abilities. It transpires that Makihara has his own personal agenda for believing in pyrokinesis and investigating Junko, but more than that there are multiple levels of police corruption at work, possibly involving a mysterious secret organisation called The Guardians.
The excellent script is supported by Kaneko’s superb direction. He sensibly holds back on the effects for the first part of the story, but gradually introduces bigger and bigger fire effects - and some truly grizzly deaths. Yet water is also a key motif and a brief romantic scene in the snow is shot magically from above as individual snowflakes melt a few feet above Junko’s head. Possibly because of his experience on giant monster movies (the 1990s Gamera trilogy and 2001’s GMK: All Monsters Attack), Kaneko is as adept at moving the camera in the vertical plane as the horizontal and there are some beautifully composed crane shots. It’s also interesting to see a squad of riot police moving like a giant reptile.
The effects never overwhelm the story but are sensibly used - both real fire and CGI flame effects - and integral. We care about the characters, even as some of them turn out to be not who we thought. Pyrokinesis is a fantastic modern horror film which should be watched by anybody interested in Japanese movies and, frankly, anybody who isn’t.
That said, Artsmagic’s presentation is sadly not up to their usual standard. The anamorphic picture is terrific but the disc’s extra features betray both laziness and carelessness. Filmographies for the principal cast have simply been cut and pasted from the notoriously inaccurate IMDB, reproducing that site’s inconvenient reverse chronology and predilection for nonexistent alternative titles. A bio for Shusuke Kaneko not only fails to mention his Godzilla movie but is apparently missing several paragraphs. It jumps from 1985 straight to 1999, thereby losing any mention of Necronomicon or the Gamera films. Even worse, the outer sleeve inexcusably misspells Shusuke’s name as ‘Kanedo.’ Some stills and promo material round out the extras; what, no trailer?
Despite this, Pyrokinesis is wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommended as one of the best serious horror movies of recent years. (Oh, and watch out for Kaneko’s friend, Fangoria’s Japanese correspondent Norman England, in a cameo as ‘suprised westerner in restaurant’!)
MJS rating: A
[Since first posting this review, Artsmagic have asked me to compile biographies and filmographies for their future releases! - MJS]