Tsukamoto's first Nightmare Detective film marked an important turn in his career. For the first time he made a film of his own (which excludes Hiroku) that had the potential of appealing to a broader audience, without actually forsaking his trademark style. And now, for the second time in his career, he created a sequel to one of his own film. The result is Nightmare Detective 2 [Akumu Tantei 2].
Tsukamoto is without a doubt one of my all-time faves. Movies like Tetsuo are truly my kind of cinema, though I also love his more delicate side (as can be seen in Vital or Gemini). Like no other he combines raw energy with visual brilliance, setting a new standard in experimental film when he first burst onto the scene. His later work is a bit more subdued, but without ever losing eye for his defining elements. With Nightmare Detective he takes another step closer to mainstream cinema, though people fearing he might be going soft will be glad to hear his current project sees the resurrection of the Tetsuo saga.
Even though Nightmare Detective is obviously a sequel, the tone and structure of the film are quite different from the first one. With Matsuda's character established, Tsukamoto takes the time to explore his protagonist a little more rather than simply serving him a new case. Never does the film feel like a cheap sequel or easy cash-in, in every way it's still a full-fletched Tsukamoto film.
Nightmare Detective 2 sees Matsuda return to his childhood, edging in on the troubles with his parents, more in particular the increasingly severe panic attacke of his late mother. When he encounters a similar case he is drawn into a downwards spiral, shedding light on his particular powers and making the saga behind his personality a little fleshier and more concrete.
Ever since Tsukamoto started going digital the visual side of his films have suffered a little, especially the 'regular' scene. Still, with each new film he seems to be improving himself. The start of Nightmare Detective 2 is still a little unpolished, but during the final 30 minutes you'll hardly know where to rest your eyes first. The editing is as strong as ever and the camera work is pretty much perfect too, but what else would you expect.
The soundtrack has always been an important asset for Tsukamoto, which he underlines once again in this film. Moody pieces, maybe not as outspoken as in his early days (ie, no pumping industrial) but very atmospheric and absolutely crucial for accomplishing the right moods. I wish more directors would realize this.
Acting is very strong too, combining young talent with the mastery of Matsuda. Miura is an undiscovered talent (though she did show up in one of the Jam Films shorts before), Matsuda pretty much never disappoints. It does make me wonder though when Odagiri is finally going to appear in a Tsukamoto film. It would make the magic trio complete.
While the first half of the film starts of a little tame for Tsukamoto standards, he lays a solid base for what is to come. A mix of drama, mystery and a dash of horror form an interesting setting for our nightmare detective, once he gets in deep Tsukamoto's experimental side resurfaces and everything falls into place.
The final 30 minutes are truly impressive, dipping the viewer into a pretty surreal world of stunning imagery and slightly offsetting events, only to end with a scene that could normally only be featured in the best of Japanese drama cinema. It completely justifies the slow (but still quality) start of the film and left me completely satisfied.
Nightmare Detective 2 might be his most commercial work to date, there is still plenty here to scare away the regular movie fan. Tsukamoto seems to have found a good balance between two worlds, though I am looking forward to see him go mental once again. For now though, I'll gladly settle for a film like this. Far from his best work, but still very powerful and gripping.