Dir: Caspar Seale-Jones
To Tokyo is intriguing on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s an entirely independent UK labour-of-love that alternates between urban Japan, and the remotest plains of South Africa. It’s also a highly proficient first feature from someone with distinguished cinematic lineage. Director Caspar Seale-Jones is the son of Trevor Jones, film composer with such modest titles as Notting Hill (1999), Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Brassed Off (1996) on his CV. Just as excitingly (to me, at least) I notice he also scored that wonderful episode of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns which lauded the hapless devotion of the lower league football fan, ‘Golden Gordon’. Okay, just me then. Anyway, with Dad dutifully providing the soundtrack here, we know we’re in good hands musically.
But To Tokyo is also a striking visual experience that succeeds in carving a unique atmosphere, and creating a spirit that walks with you after viewing. As such it represents clear and distinct potential for the talents of Jones junior.
A young woman, alone in a Japanese hotel room, already in an anxious state, frightened even, seems wary of some nameless, unseen threat. When her sister catches up with her to inform her of some serious family news on which she must act, she has four days to get to Tokyo. It sets in motion a chain of events that sees our leading lady Al (Florence Kosky) having to face her demon before she can face up to what must be done.
While it plays with elements of the genre, this is not your orthodox horror movie. It is a trip (in both senses of the word), a late-night mood piece with minimal dialogue, a visually rich, drifting nightmare. It’s also a fresh twist on the abduction sub-genre, which, let’s be honest, can often be a mundane, gruelling affair. Executing a couple of straight-down-the-line jump scares, they’re efficiently executed, but it’s strongest when it’s at its subtlest. Namely, a few genuinely creepy moments, scenes glimpsed and withdrawn, to be later recalled, as if from a bad dream. Almost abstract, almost expressionist, and completely gore free, this is where its power to disturb really lies.
The cinematography and editing is consistently strong and tight throughout, whether we’re traversing a sweeping landscape from afar, or focussing in for near-macro detail. The speech and sound detail feels close-up too; we hear every foregrounded aspect, but an absence of background ambience isolates the action in a vacuum, adding to the sense of hyper-reality. Virtually a one-woman show, Kosky (carrying an echo of a young Catherine Deneuve), gives a fraught but winsome performance, sustaining the film through to the resolution of her journey. Binding it all together is Jones senior’s score, sometimes statuesque, sometimes restrained, with touches of Asian influence, repeating vocal phrases that ramp up the disquiet.
If you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill chiller, it may feel a little loose, a little cryptic in the opening act, but then the plot starts pulling you in by suggestion. Within such an underplayed narrative style, it’s up to us to do the work, and therein is its satisfaction. To Tokyo introduces a bold talent in Seale-Jones, augmented by the authority of one of the best composers in the business. Artistic, hallucinatory, dark and impressive, it’s delivering an original villain, and a refreshing horror aesthetic. Which is no mean feat for a debut. As Al declares in one of her few lines, and distilling the production’s aim…“Don’t worry I’m not scared of him anymore, I’ve found someone scarier”.
★ ★ ★ ½