A detective finds himself in a J-horror nightmare in Keishi Ohtomo’s crossover yarn about a twisted serial killer.
It’s hard to get far away from manga in Japanese genre films, and the scary fright fest Museum (Myujiamu) is no exception. Based on Ryosuke Tomoe’s 2013 manga Museum: The Serial Killer Is Laughing in the Rain, this crossover between horror and a police investigation into a series of gruesome murders is an over-the-top shocker that keeps the audience shaking, even though the last act is the weakest. This story of a cop drawn into a psycho-killer’s theme crimes borrows heavily from David Fincher’s classic Seven, which accounts for some déjà vu diminishing the returns on an otherwise quite creepy yarn. But even though the film is billed as a suspense thriller, the comic book elements keep it at a safe distance from reality and Western genre films.

Director Keishi Ohtomo captured teenage fantasies with his three Rurouni Kenshin films (also based on a cult manga) about a young samurai who rejects violence. Museum takes a step towards more adult viewers. Compared to some of the trashy Japanese slasher fare that passes as entertainment, Museum stands hair on edge without resorting to tons of fake blood or gruesomely realistic offenses to the body. Bowing at the Busan, Sitges and Tokyo film festivals, it should score high when WB releases it in Japan and Singapore later this fall.
Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) of the Tokyo police is completely caught up in his work. He seems to be sleeping alone these days after his wife walked out on him, along with their 5-year-old son, for neglecting to notice he had a family. In his misery he still reacts brilliantly to clues. He’s a cool pro compared to rookie cop Nishino (Shuhei Nomura) who throws up at the sight of the first victim: a tied-up girl reduced to shreds after being attacked by ravenous dogs. The killer leaves a card saying “Dog Food Penalty.”

Dressed in a ridiculous frog costume, the killer boldly breaks into the apartment of his second victim, a nerdish vid gamer. A pound of flesh is exacted from the poor fellow while he’s still alive, thankfully off screen. The dark rainy setting leaves most of the horror to the viewer’s imagination, which will be working overtime anyway to figure out the card left behind: “Pain of Mom Penalty”.

The ever-efficient Tokyo police soon connect the crimes. Both victims were jurors on the infamous “Girl in Resin” case, where a child was found suspended in transparent resin. As luck would have it, Sawamura’s wife Haruka (Machiko Ono) was on that jury—and she’s not answering her phone.

Because of his personal involvement he’s immediately taken off the case, but that doesn’t stop him from turning renegade cop to save his family. This leads to several of the film’s best scenes, including a car chase through a strangely traffic-free area of Tokyo in which the killer rams his car with a huge truck, and a breathless face-off on top of a building where Nishino’s life literally hangs in the balance.

Disappointingly, Sawamura soon loses his cool and turns into an over-the-top monster himself as he gets closer to discovering the killer’s identity. The young actor Oguri, who starred in Takashi Miike’s Crows Zero franchise, is allowed to let out all the stops and go crazy when he finally confronts the psychopath, a self-styled artist with a very special personal museum. He’s one ugly hombre (played by popular young actor Satoshi Tsumabuki, unrecognizable here) when he takes off his frog mask and switches to psychological torture, with Sawamura as his chief victim. A last-ditch attempt to lay the killer’s psychopathic behavior to childhood trauma, which may have its legacy after the film is over, is not very convincing.

DoP Hideo Yamamoto, whose classy lighting scared audiences in The Audition and The Grudge, creates a dark and rain-soaked Tokyo awash in neon lights and grim, shadowy interiors. Taro Iwashiro’s fine score subtly sets the mood.

Production companies: Warner Bros Japan, Museum Film Partners
Cast: Shun Oguri, Machiko Ono, Shuhei Nomura, Yutaka Matsushige, Satoshi Tsumabuki
Director: Keishi Ohtomo
Screenwriters: Keishi Ohtomo, Izumi Takahashi, Kiyomi Fujii, based on the original manga by Ryosuke Tomoe
Producer: Atsuyuki Shimoda
Director of photography: Hideo Yamamoto
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi
Costume designer: Kazuhiro Sawataishi
Music: Taro Iwashiro
World sales: Gaga Corporation
Venue: Tokyo Film Festival (Special Screenings)
132 minutes

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