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Premonition   C

Lions Gate Entertainment / Toho Co.

Year Released: 2004 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Norio Tsuruta
Writers: Noboru Takagi, Norio Tsuruta
Cast: Hiroshi Mikami, Noriko Sakai, Maki Horikita, Mayumi Ono, Kei Yamamoto, Kazuko Yoshiyuki.

Review by Jim Harper

Premonition is the second film in the J-Horror Theater series, coming after Masayuki Ochiai's Infection (2004). This installment is helmed by Norio Tsuruta, best known as the director of Ring 0: Birthday (2000) and the Junji Ito adaptation Kakashi (2001), as well as a host of TV and video horror compilations. Here he tackles "Fear Newspaper," a classic manga story from the '70s.

Hideki Satomi is an aspiring college professor working very hard to secure his promotion. On their way home from visiting friends, Hideki stops off at a payphone to send an e-mail while his wife Ayaka and young daughter Nana remain in the car. As he's waiting for the slow connection to send his message, he sees a piece of old newspaper wedged beneath the telephone directory. The headline catches his eye: it seems to be an account of the death of a young girl in an automobile accident. The girl's name is Nana Satomi, and there's a picture of Hideki's daughter beneath the headline. After shaking off the initial disbelief, Hideki manages to get his wife out the car but Nana's seatbelt is stuck and will not release. While they try can free her, a dump truck smashes into the vehicle, and before long the car is a blazing fireball. Hideki and Ayaka are both safe, but there is no possibility of Nana surviving.

Cut to three years later, and the couple have divorced, primarily over Hideki's insistence that he was forewarned by a newspaper article, and was therefore responsible for her death. Unsurprisingly, no such item could be found at the scene. Even so, Ayaka continues to half-believe her ex-husband's story: she now conducts experiments into psychic abilities and tries to verify the truth behind the apparent urban legends about mysterious newspapers. Meanwhile, more premonitions have been appearing to Hideki, partly through one of his pupils and partly through his own fevered scribblings. When she's finally shown proof of her husband's bizarre story, Ayaka joins Hideki in his attempts to control the revelations that are destroying his life.

Obviously the general theme of Premonition will be familiar to many viewers, either from Early Edition or one of its less popular incarnations. Inherent familiarity with the material isn't necessarily a problem; after all, Dracula still sells millions in book and film form. "Fear Newspaper" is a classic horror manga that has been reprinted many times over the years, so it's safe to say there's an audience for a cinematic version. Whether there's an audience for Premonition, however, is another thing.

On the good side, it's nice to come across a Japanese chiller that doesn't feature the kind of raven-haired, vengeful spirits that have been proliferating ever since the release of Ringu (1998). While it's at least possible to see a glimmer of human motive in Sadako's behavior, the forces at work here have no apparent motive and there isn't much you can do to deter them either. Unfortunately this tends to back the plot into a corner, with only one possible resolution that isn't particularly hard to predict. Like many short-story adaptations, the original source material isn't well-suited to a full-length film, so we're left with a handful of exposition scenes that don't advance the plot and several sentimental interludes of no real importance. The pace builds up towards the end, but the conclusion is still somewhat unsatisfying.

Ultimately much of the problem is Norio Tsuruta. While he's clearly a capable director, he seems unable to keep his films focused and tight until the end. Ring 0 and Kakashi both lost pace and cohesion before picking up in the final act, and Premonition is no different. The cast delivers solid -- if unremarkable -- performances, but they can't carry the whole show on their own. Premonition isn't a bad film; it's just a very average one. Hopefully Takashi Shimizu's installment, the next to be released, will be able to raise the bar for the rest of the series.

Review published 08.21.2005.

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