Haze DVD Review
Written by Daniel Benson
Released by Terra
Written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
2005, Region 0 (PAL), 49 Minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on November 27th, 2006
Shinya Tsukamoto as The Man
Kaori Fujii as The Woman
A man (Shinya Tsukamoto) wakes up in a concrete tunnel. He has no idea how he got there, why he’s there and, more importantly, how he will escape. All he knows is that he is wounded and bleeding. No more than 18 inches separates one wall from another, and all through the confined space razor sharp blades and devilishly cruel booby-traps test his mettle.
Somewhere in the maze of interconnecting tunnels, he meets a young woman (Kaori Fujii) who convinces him that they can find a way out. Together, they make an incredible journey through the torturous obstacles and remains of previous victims, to try and escape their claustrophobic hell.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde; Hollywood imitates Asia more than Asia imitates Hollywood, at least as far as movies are concerned. Shinya Tsukamoto’s Haze seems to buck that trend, by borrowing from western cinema yet still adding that quintessential Japanese twist. As soon as this short piece opens, we are immediately drawn into an environment that is similar to Cube, the difference being that the central character of Haze has no recollection of his life previous to his incarceration, or his reason for being there. While searching his mind for an explanation, the man ponders different reasons; a dream, some kind of prison, or he’s being tortured — Saw style — by some rich pervert playing games at his expense. Any time he passes out, either through exhaustion or shock, he wakes in a predicament more gruelling than the last. If the kerb scene from American History X set your teeth on edge, then prepare to have them ripped out by Haze’s “pipe challenge”.
Taking both the lead actor and directorial reigns, Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo, A Snake of June, Bullet Ballet) carves out the ultimate claustrophobe’s nightmare. Originally shot as a 25 minute short, Terra UK presents the, almost double length, “Long Version” for the first time on DVD.
The movie is an incredible piece of physical and psychological horror, and Tsukamoto’s direction forces the viewer to feel almost as uncomfortable as his incarcerated protagonist. Kaori Fujii is brilliant as the antithesis to Tsukamoto’s character, calming him and giving him the determination to follow her to the outside.
If anything lets down the movie, just slightly, it is the ending. Without giving it away, it seems to be as uplifting as it is ambiguous. But this is Asian cinema and, to a certain extent, some degree of ambiguity is expected. Shame it had to be at the point where there was an opportunity for an ingenious twist.
Video and Audio:
Considering the bulk of the movie is shot in the semi-darkness of concrete tunnels, the picture quality is rock solid. Blacks are always just that, black, and remain completely pure with no breakup or pixellation. The colours are slightly muted, although this looks to be the intention. The movie was shot on DV but could easily be mistaken for film.
Most of the DD2.0 soundtrack consists of Tsukamoto's anxious panting, with the occasional bursts of cyberpunk noise during the most frenetic scenes. The audio remains solid and clear throughout.
Making of Haze – This frequently fascinating documentary covers all the stages of the film's production. Starting with the set building in an incredibly small room, we see the evolution from wooden frame to concrete hell. There's also coverage of the special effects, camera equipment and some footage of Kaori Fujii as she bigins filming. English subtitles accompany the documentary although they seem to translate only the most important points.
Interview with Shinya Tsukamoto – A remarkably insightful interview with the director and leading actor.
Interview with Kaori Fujii – Fujii discusses working with Tsukamoto for the second time (the first being on Tokyo Fist). Another genuinely interesting interview, and not the usual director-backslapping so common as a DVD extra.
Trailers – For the long and short versions of the movie.
Picture Gallery – behind the scenes stills.
Filmographies – For both Tsukamoto and Fujii.
Finishing up is a trailer for Suicide Manual: Intermediate Level, the previous release from Terra.