The one director who I think has revolutionized mainstream moviemaking more than any other in the last forty years is David Lynch. He gave films permission to be weird in ways that were outwardly influential, and legitimized the use of surrealism and dream logic in movies and TV that weren't nominally considered experimental. Evil Dead Trap 2: Hideki, an in-name-only successor to Evil Dead Trap, owes its greatest single debt to Lynch, but it's no clone of that man's work. It's taken me three viewings to fully realize this, but Hideki may be the most daring and experimental horror film of Japan's 1990s, and certainly one with more to say about its material than most of the competition. It deserves another look.
Killer on the rampage
Aki Ōtani (Shoko Nakajima) is a dumpy, plain woman who works as a projectionist in a movie theater. She works alone, goes home alone, sleeps alone. Her sole friend is a former classmate, Emi (Rie Kondo), a former pop star who now works as a news anchor and flaunts her dalliances with a married man, Kurahashi (Shirō Sano, a go-to actor for playing simultaneously straightlaced and supercilious types). Emi makes noises about setting up Aki with Kurahashi, just to give her someone to bed down with, but Aki, pleasant as she is, seems too far off in her own world to really connect with anyone, male or female. Kurahashi seems interested in courting Aki mostly to have a notch in his belt, or maybe to have yet another escape hatch from his dismal home life (as his wife lost their baby years ago and has been a damage case ever since).
We find out in short order Aki is not merely detached but outright damaged. Some nights, Aki dolls herself up in makeup and a dress, goes into Tokyo's neon underbelly, and cuts the guts out of prostitutes with a pair of film shears. No one around her suspects a thing, and her life's lived in such a fugue state that it's likely even she doesn't know what's going on. Her unease with, or perhaps contempt for, sexuality is plain from early on — when she stares at her co-worker painting her lips, or side-eyes alleyway dalliances like Travis Bickle staring at streetwalkers. Or when she stares at the balot on her plate in a Thai restaurant, and in retrospect we realize it's a deeper hint about what her unease really stems from.
Something else is wrong in Aki's life. From the window of her projectionist's booth, Aki glimpses in the audience a sullen-faced young boy who always seems to vanish right before she can get a good look at him. He not only shows up in the movie theater, but in the background on TV when Emi's on camera, and — most significantly — one night when she's out on the town and about to have mercenary sex with two men at once. Something about the presence of this figure unnerves her in a way that even the spilled guts of dead women don't. Then the competition between her and Emi for Kurahashi comes to a head, as Emi reveals she's pregnant with Kurahashi's child, the better to rub it in Aki's face, and the two women face off against each other in a blood-soaked free-for-all.
An outline doesn't convey why Hideki seems so baffling at first. It's not what we see but the way much of it seems to happen without logic or context — e.g., when Kurahashi comes home and finds his "missing" son has returned, something that doesn't even seem to connect to any subsequent scenes involving him. Or the hallucinations that bleed into Aki's life and eventually consume it from the inside out, to the point where we're no longer sure what's real or not. Originally I wrote it off as clumsy filmmaking, but my most recent viewing changed my mind.
We see as she sees
Here is what I believe is the key to the film. First: Everything we see, including things ostensibly from an objective point of view, are what Aki sees or imagines. When we see Kurahashi and Emi snogging and groping each other in a hotel room, we're not seeing "them"; we're seeing Aki's ideas about them. And when Kurahashi makes flattering overtures to Aki, we're seeing yet another Aki fantasy: he tells her she smells good without perfume, something she would imagine for herself since it's the killer side of her that wears the perfume and the lipstick. The same goes for the scenes of Kurahashi dealing with his delusional wife, and then later with the inexplicable reappearance of their son. Aki has projected onto Kurahashi and his wife her own suffering about losing a child, inflicting upon them the same misery, and also the same inexplicable horror when "their" Hideki returns.
Second: Hideki is, as one might have inferred by now, the child Aki never had. At some point she got pregnant — it's not clear who by, but one possibility is that she was raped — and had an abortion, and ever since then all things regarding sexuality and children have filled her with ambivalence and horror. Hideki is not so much the ghost of that unborn child, but Aki's self-loathing made flesh. Hence Aki's strange encounters with a "new religion", who warn her of a terrible power within her. Hence the reason the ghastly climax takes place in the ruins of a family-planning clinic, with its overtones of women's nightmares about dirty and dangerous abortions. Seen in both of these lights, everything in the movie takes on new and coherent meaning, from the apparently out-of-place interstitial shots throughout to the ominous closing images.
Another creator that comes to mind with this film, apart from David Lynch, is novelist and sometime filmmaker Ryū Murakami. In works like Topazu (aka Tokyo Decadence) and Audition (so infamously filmed by Takashi Miike) and Popular Hits Of The Showa Era (filmed as Karaoke Terror), Murakami used deviant sexuality and violence and broad satire to make points about what he felt were Japanese society's shortcomings. But I always felt his work was hidebound by his impulse to be a moralist or a didactic first, instead of a visionary. It's easy enough to say that the society one lives in is shallow and materialist and offers no values that aren't in the service of late capitalism, because what society these days isn't like that? It's harder to transmute such things through the lens of the unconscious, to give them totemistic power and dread that feel truly transgressive and dangerous, instead of just making sledgehammer-direct cheap shots out of them. Hideki feels like what Murakami could do if he only got out of his own way.
The creators of Hideki have been exploring adjacent and sometimes overlapping territory in their own ways for some time now. The director, Izō Hashimoto, wrote the screenplays for Katsuhiro Ōtomo's AKIRA and the bonkers live-action adaptation of Makoto Ogino's Peacock King, as well as adaptations of the novels The Guys From Paradise (filmed by Miike) and Embalming (dir: Shinji Aoyama, a Murakami-esque documenter of post-modern anomie). But the real creative force here seems to be co-writer Chiaki J. Konaka, he who gave us Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, Mononoke, The Big O, Malice@Doll, and many other projects that fused dream logic, surrealism, horror, fantasy, and terror. They know better than to try and make Big Statements with this material; the unease and psychic spindizzy conjured up by the material speaks for itself.