Click on any article I’ve written on Mondo Exploito and you’ll see I’m full of dribbling praise for a variety of filmmakers. Very few, however, sit on as high a pedestal as Shinya Tsukamoto. I worship Tsukamoto and perhaps have more respect for him than any other filmmaker. Just browsing his IMDB page is jaw-dropping. Tsukamoto doesn’t just direct – he also writes, produces and edits his films. Not only that, most of the time he’s also responsible for the cinematography and art direction. He even stars in his own films! I have endless admiration for hands-on filmmakers – and it helps that Tsukamoto’s work is exceptional. From his electrifying early work right up to commercial films like Nightmare Detective (2006), Tsukamoto has been consistent and managed to stay true to his cinematic leanings. And now, onto Haze


Japan, 2005, Shinya Tsukamoto

Haze is a strange film, even by Tsukamoto standards. With a running time that’s too short to be a feature length but too long to be a short film, one has to wonder what Tsukamoto’s intent was with the film. Originally, it was shot as a shorter film, shown at festivals and extended to 49 minutes for a DVD release. I can imagine some being frustrated picking up a DVD that has such a short main feature, but Haze is an exercise in quality over quantity. Haze begins with a man (played by Tsukamoto, of course) waking up in a cramped and dark space with no idea of how he wound up there. He also has a wound on his stomach. Assuming he is the victim of a “rich pervert”, he attempts to escape his prison, crawling through painfully small spaces. Amongst severed body parts, he find a woman (Kahori Fujii), still alive. They talk about their situation and what they can remember of their lives. The woman points out a potential exit route.

Haze, as you can probably tell from the synopsis, is a claustrophobic nightmare. But a plot description alone cannot do justice to the slow-burning terror this film creates. Maybe it was because it played on my own fears, but Haze truly unsettled me. Watching Tsukamoto squeeze himself through a space so small that he has to scrape his teeth along a metal pole is stressful to say the least, and the claustrophobia really hits fever pitch as Tsukamoto and Fujii dive through murky waters and floating body parts to find a potentially nonexistent escape path. Tsukamoto bravely shoots this film with barely any light. Most films with a caged setting like this would still bath shots in blue-tinted lights, but in Haze, it is actually a strain to see what is happening, putting the audience right there with the characters. I think I may have said it before on Mondo Exploito, Tsukamoto is one of the few filmmakers that can get away with “shaky cam” footage, as he understands how to use it. The digitally shot Haze has almost a found-footage feel at times – working well with the setting – but Tsukamoto is not afraid to create surreal moments that step outside this aesthetic.

Anyone who has watched Tsukamoto acting in a film knows the man’s abilities as a thespian are equal to his abilities as… well, everything else he’s credited for. Tsukamoto delivers a particularly excellent performance in Haze. Despite the darkness shrouding much of his face, Tsukamoto is able to communicate his emotions to great effect. Kaori Fujii (the star of Tsukamoto’s masterpiece, Tokyo Fist) is also quietly brilliant in her role, and it is a treat to see her on the screen with Tsukamoto again. Working in tandem with the performances is Chu Ishikawa’s musical score, which jumps from heavy industrial noise to soft electronic drones. (For a taste of Ishikawa’s music from Testuo: The Iron Man, check out this post by Matt.) Ishikawa’s music complements the mood of each scene, whether it be peaceful moments between the two leads or the film’s more frantic and stressful sequences.

While not as awe-inspiring as Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) or Tokyo Fist (1995), and not as polished and enjoyable as say Hiruko the Goblin (1991), Haze is a truly bold effort from Tsukamoto, and a successful one at that. And while the film is undoubtedly a grim affair, it ends on a surprisingly gentle and thoughtful note. Haze is a stressful viewing experience, but I feel it will leave most Tsukamoto supporters more than satisfied.