The Details: "Seance" (Kurosawa, 2000)

The Details is a column that catches the small within the big, focusing on the individual elements that make cinema so expressive.

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Not so long ago there was a discussion in our forums about off-screen space.  Off-screen space is when a movie evokes the existence of things outside of the frame of the camera's composition, and a sophisticated use of this is something we generally attribute to talented filmmakers.  One tangent of the discussion I found interesting was how the horror genre practically requires an evocation of off-screen space, requires from the filmmakers an imagination that extends beyond what's on camera.  They are dictated more by the need to scare the audience than any more lofty artistic goal, and this need for a generic effect often can make mediocre filmmakers show a cinematic flourish.

More often than not, though, we get directors who have a talent for space and are drawn to genre.  Think Jacques Tourneur and his Val Lewton films like Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.  Currently, my favorite example of this kind of filmmaker is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose preference for deep space (shots whose on-camera space recedes very far back in the frame) and architectural frames-within-frames lends itself perfectly for the ambiguities of a horror film or thriller's constant question of what's-on-camera and what's-just-out-of-sight.

The sequence below comes from the filmmaker's 2000 made-for-television film Seance, and through a combination of an everyday real effect (the way natural light changes in an interior as clouds and wind obscure and shift its rays), a deep, layered space (the composition gives the the sense of a tunnel through several rooms in the house), Kurosawa conjures something uncanny, mediated, nearly systematic.  The light seems to be following a pattern of its own, "activating" different layers of the space that we either hadn't noticed or hadn't cared about, and investing it with a life of its own, independent, perhaps even sentient.

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