Directed by Masayuki Ochiai, 2004, 98 minutes, starring Koichi Sato, Masanobu Takashima, Mari Hoshino, Michiko Hada, Kaho Minami and Shino Sano.
One might hope that the first entry into last year's most hyped brand-new horror series J-Horror Theater, featuring such luminaries of modern Japanese horror cinema as Takashi Shimizu, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hideo Nakata, would be an impressive, innovative and profound piece of cinema. However, if that's what you were expecting, you'd be very, very wrong, and a lot of people were very disappointed in this movie - presumably because they were expecting something a lot more weighty. Given director Masayuki Ochiai's past record though (Parasite Eve and Hypnosis in particular spring to mind), those who were expecting anything other than a rather shallow, cartoony, shlocky and yet thoroughly entertaining Saturday night flick were probably setting the bar rather too high.
In truth, Infection most closely resembles Hypnosis in delivery, aesthetic and subject matter (not to mention the fact that there are a couple of cute visual references to that movie in the first few minutes of this one): both are lightweight, well-made, well-paced, entertaining bits of nonsense which pass an hour and a half or so in a very pleasant manner. A fun mixture of rather silly medical and supernatural fluff after the style of Higuchinsky's Long Dream (although lacking that work's underlying philosophy and romantic tone), Infection is a total trash no-brainer popcorn movie and none the worse for it.
The overall look of the piece is pretty and glossy: evidently a good amount of cash was sunk into this production because it clearly isn't a low-budget epic of the kind we here at Snowblood Apple are well used to. The visuals are extremely well-shot, gorgeously lit and beautifully composed, and in conjunction with clever atmospherics and big-budget shininess, Kansen does at least look very nice indeed. The soundtrack is somewhat bland, with a fairly non-descript musical score, but some rather revoltingly good sound effects to make up for it.
Koichi Sato, an actor who seems to be often typecast as doctors (last seen by us playing Dr. Ando in Joji Iida's much-maligned medical chiller Rasen), here plays, well, another doctor. He does a pretty good job of it as well, but then he has had quite a bit of practice ;-) The supporting cast is also reasonably good: their characters are only superficially developed, but then, this is not the sort of movie for which it's absolutely necessary to have a profound understanding of each person's psyche and motivations. Rather, it's absolutely necessary to sit back with a pizza and a beer, and shout "EWWWWW GROSS!" loudly every time green goo goes splat onto the screen ;-)
The movie centres around a grotty hospital, where everything seems to be dirty and there are so few staff that patients frequently injure themselves because there's no-one around to help them. The staff that there are in attendance seem to be utterly incompetent. Not only that, they're currently not being paid on time because the hospital has no money for wages. There are no paramedics available, nor any ambulances, few supplies left, and even the heating in the hospital is screwy because the generators are malfunctioning and there is no money to repair them. (The phrase 'average NHS institution' springs to mind here, but I digress. ;-))
The ward sister's insisting that some of the patients have to be sent home - even if that means certain death for them. Brand-new nurses are incapable of taking simple blood tests. A failed paediatrician is passing himself off as a surgeon. There is also something really strange and spooky going on here, connected to an old woman with a brain contusion, who sees the ghosts of her dead family in mirrors - and weird events suggest that the ghosts are not just confined to her mind. And worse still, the director of the hospital has simply vanished - presumably taking any last funding with him.
The hospital cannot even respond to emergency ambulance calls: an ambulance is called to a man in a very bad state of health, with a high fever, an unidentifiable black rash and mental confusion. His state is deteriorating, and yet the hospital isn't able to send an ambulance to him because there isn't one available at the moment. He is on the verge of death and may well be contagious.
To this end, the top doc, Akiba-sensei (Koichi Sato) has decided to close the hospital's doors to any new patients. This doesn't stop the long-awaited ambulance for the man with the black rash demanding that he be seen immediately because of the severity of his condition, and when the man arrives at the hospital, he's already in a critical condition. The paramedic threatens to report the hospital if it refuses treatment to a dying patient, but at the same time, a severely burned patient in Room 3 falls out of bed and goes into cardiac arrest - which diverts all the medical team to that case. However, the burns patient dies from accidental poisoning, due to a mistake on the part of the doctor.
This spells trouble - not only for Akiba-sensei, but for the whole hospital, because if the place were to lose its top surgeon due to a report of medical negligence leading to a patient's death, that would really be the end for everyone. So in the end, they simply decide not to report his death at all and just cover up the entire incident. To get rid of any trace of the wrong drug, they decide to heat up the corpse, to speed decay and to destroy the medicine within the cells of the victim's body.
So they take the corpse into Room 1 and turn on a whole bunch of electric heaters. One can only imagine that the stink of hot mouldering corpse might be a slight giveaway that things are afoot, but there, I didn't write this script ;-) However, things go from bad to worse when the medical team discover that a doctor who was supposed to have gone home is still in the hospital and is in danger of uncovering their clever alibi.
For the moment, though, their greatest concern is the contagious patient in their emergency room, whose infection has caused liquefaction of the internal organs - and who is currently leaking green goop everywhere. To add to their woes, the doctor who found him, Akai (Shiro Sano), is telling Akiba not to make an infectious disease control report to the Health Department, but to hush it up so that they can become medical pioneers in studying, rather than treating, this entirely unknown infection which causes the patient to decay from the inside out. But what happens when the infectious man somehow manages to escape and disappears up the ventilation system to wreak havoc on the hospital? And there are no prizes for guessing why the head nurse, who saw the infected man's flesh dissolving in front of her, has suddenly started to act very strangely too...
Make no mistake, then: this is a bit of a stupid movie. Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, it ain't. Infection looks like a beautifully filmed version of a Saturday night TV special, is chock-full of cheap jumps, has a very simple plot that barely even requires the use of subtitles, almost no emotional content other than vague revulsion and more than a few (possibly unintentional) laugh-out-loud moments, and doesn't demand any thought input whatsoever from the viewer. Yet it's still well worth an hour and a half of anyone's time because it's entertaining, silly, frequently amusing and thoroughly fun. Entertainment doesn't always have to be artistic and profound to have worth: sometimes even when you have steak at home, a hamburger hits the spot just fine. If, as in the old adage, you can't brain today because you have the dumb, then Infection is a fine accompaniment to that state of mind.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Chills: 1/10, a single point awarded for several truly daft ghost moments
The Big Reveal: DERRRR!/10
Mad Old Biddies: one, and an irritatingly overacting one at that
Gross-Out Moments: frequent and most welcome
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: all out of tomatoes today guv'nor, but I can do you some nice boiled spinach instead
Films in a similar style: Hypnosis, Long Dream, Another Heaven, Chakushin Ari, Holby City, The Blob
*** Recommended, but beer must be involved. And crisps. And feet up on the sofa ***
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Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.j-horror.com/ - official site for the J-Horror Theater series, with info and trailers [Japanese only]
http://www.flipsidemovies.com/infection.html - Jim Harper over at Flipside was very unimpressed
http://www.slasherpool.com/htm/reviews/infection.php - on the other hand, Slasherpool liked it. A lot.
http://www.beyondhollywood.com/reviews/kansen.htm - Beyond Hollywood found it "incoherent"
http://www.sarudama.com/movies/kansen.shtml - Scott Foutz finds good use for the word mysterium. Twice!
http://suicidegirls.com/words/Infection+director+Masayuki+Ochiai/ - Interview with the director - caution: site not work safe