… the spaces offering modes of understanding between present and past, responsibility and history, are always on the verge of disappearance.
This is from the essay ‘Spaces of Violence: History, Horror and the Cinema of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’ by Adam Lowenstein, found in Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence edited by Joram Ten Brink & Joshua Oppenheimer (2012):
… The mirror appears first during Sakebi‘s opening scene: the murder of Reiko Shibata at the construction site. In the first of the film’s long takes, the spectator witnesses Shibata’s drowning in a puddle of sea water, but our view of the murderer’s face is obscured by bright light reflecting off metal debris at the construction site. This visual motif of shimmering light reflected from a mirroring surface recurs throughout the film, always to announce a ghostly presence.
[line break added] It often appears in conjunction with a long take, as is the case here with Shibata’s murder and in the previously mentioned scene between Yoshioka and Harue’s ghost. The combination of mirrored light and the time provided by the long take for the audience to locate this light in space results in viewer awareness of the mirror on at least two levels. At the level of plot, the mirrored light signals the ghost’s presence and introduces uncertainty about what the viewer is seeing — for example, hiding the identity of the killer during Shibata’s murder.
[line break added] At the level of spectator address, the mirrored light encourages viewers to involve themselves in the film’s violence. The mirrored light may conceal the face of Shibata’s murderer, but since we do not see the source of this light, doesn’t the mirror direct that light back to us? Don’t we recognize ourselves on the other side of the mirror?
… The horror of Sakebi is not the cat-and-mouse game of traps laying in wait, but the fear of loss attached to the fact that the spaces offering modes of understanding between present and past, responsibility and history, are always on the verge of disappearance. Perhaps this difference is what Kurosawa gestures toward when he states that his horror films are not the jolting, adrenalised terror generated by Ringu and Ju-on. But whatever Kurosawa’s films may ‘lack’ in the instant they make up for in sustained haunting — the kind of haunting that invites spectators to find themselves on the spatial maps he presents as guides to the violence of traumatic history.