If you thought all modern J-horror flicks were obsessed with ghostly little children and edifices full of angst-laden spirits, here's a damn solid little chiller than strikes some new territory of its own. Although it shares a "haunted object" conceit with several of its cinematic siblings, Premonition (aka Yogen) succeeds due to an aggressive, economical approach, a pair of excellent performances, a few fantastic little thrills, and a mind-twister of a finale that's as semi-confusing as it is strangely satisfying.
The movie opens with young parents Hideki and Ayaka as they travel across an isolated stretch of highway. Tucked snugly into the back seat is their adorable little daughter, Nana, but Dad's too busy with his laptop to take much notice. Hideki convinces his wife that they must turn around so he can use a pay phone, and it's there that the harried husband comes across a nasty piece of newspaper.
One of the headlines indicate that young Nana has died in a terrible car accident ... which is impossible, of course, because Nana is parked safely in the car only 20 feet away. But as Hideki peers in for a closer inspection of the precognitive newspaper ... headlights shine in the distance. Before Hideki can get his thoughts straight, a truck smashes into the car, and young Nana is killed in the fiery explosion.
We then flash forward to three years later, and Hideki & Ayaka have apparently split up. But when one of Hideki's students displays the ability to predict tomorrow's newspaper headlines, the cranium-contorting quandaries are just beginning.
Veterans of Ringu or One Missed Call are probably already thinking the same thing I was: "So, instead of a haunted videotape or a possessed cell-phone, we're now looking at newspapers from beyond the grave?" And that's a fair assessment going in, but fortunately Premonition has a lot of things that those movies lack: namely, a single driving force with no diversion for time-filler subplots or red-herring characters, and crisp and efficient storytelling style, and a "high-concept" gimmick that doesn't overpower the whole thing.
Based on the manga series by Jiro Tsunoda, Premonition is a quiet and deliberately paced little chiller, but the proceedings never bored me ... and I get bored pretty easily. If some of the special effects are a little sketchy and if the finale gets more than a little breathlessly bizarre, you'll be willing to overcome these minor nitpicks because the story's so tight, and the lead performances (by Hiroshi Mikami & Noriko Sakai) are so smoothly effective.
Second release of Lions Gate's "J-Horror" line (after Masayuki Ochiai's Infection), Premonition hits DVD in fine form. The widescreen transfer is quite crisp, the audio & subtitles are perfectly effective, and the small handful of special features are pretty cool: You'll get a few subtitled featurettes, footage from a cast & crew press conference, and a bunch of trailers.