It continues to be a rewarding year for fans of Japanese cinema’s foremost enigmatist, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, thanks to Home Vision’s DVDs of two of the director’s post-Cure works. The made-for-TV Seance, based on Mark McShane’s 1961 novel Seance on a Wet Afternoon, concerns an unhappily married couple who stumbles into a kidnapping that could advance the wife’s career as a psychic. Kurosawa forgoes the baroque rationalism of Bryan Forbes’s 1964 adaptation in favor of a more psychologically ambiguous—though sometimes heavy-handed—approach. Seance leaves no doubt as to the unstable woman’s (Jun Fubuki) supernatural abilities, and the movie’s early spectral shocks are extraneous and occasionally embarrassing. Its latter half, however, is a riveting character study of the husband (Kurosawa’s frequent alter ego Koji Yakusho), a lonely sound engineer who backs himself into an existential (and ectoplasmic) corner via a tragic mistake.
If Seance explores the elusiveness of individuality (one surreal sequence even foreshadows Kurosawa’s later Doppelgänger), the oblique, genre-defying Charisma is a playful disquisition on the terrifying improbability of community. Ostensibly the story of a disgraced cop (Yakusho again) banished to a mysterious woods populated by various adversaries, Charisma—titled after the sickly, menacing tree at the center of the action—becomes a jumble of free-floating metaphors. (Kurosawa himself deems the film incomprehensible in an interview on the disc.) Yet it’s of a piece with the more approachable Seance; indeed, Charisma‘s hackles-raising conclusion implies that there’s nothing quite so apocalyptic as coming to terms with oneself.