I see dead people - for a modest fee.
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has achieved some modest notoriety in the West recently for films like Doppelganger (Dopperugenga) and Bright Future (Akarui Mirai) -- both of which were distinctly better than Seance (Korei). A generic "couple haunted by dead child" story, Seance nevertheless has a promising first half before collapsing from the illogical actions of its characters, then serves up an abrupt finish that leaves far more questions than answers.
Koji Yakusho plays Sato, a sound effects engineer working for a film production company in Tokyo. He lives with his long-time girlfriend Junko (Jun Fubuki), a medium who works part-time as a waitress and gives psychic readings to clients out of her and Sato's home. But Junko is a bit freaked out because she sees dead people -- and this being a Japanese horror film, the kind of dead people she sees are usually of the female variety with long black hair hanging in front of their faces. When she begins to see them at her job (a young dead woman inexplicably follows one of her customers around), she suddenly quits, afraid to leave the house for fear of seeing some new specter wherever she goes.
However, when a young girl is kidnapped, a police detective turns to her for help. After examining some of the girl's things, she tells the detective that she believes the child to be alive. Meanwhile, as her husband is out in the woods recording nature sounds, the girl in question happens upon his van as she is running away from her abductor. She hides in an empty equipment case that Sato has left on the ground next to the van, in an effort to shake her pursuer, only to become locked inside instead. It is at this point that the film begins to unravel.
Setting aside the wildly improbable coincidence of the same girl that Junko is looking for ending up inside of Sato's equipment case, one has to ask "If Sato left an empty equipment case outside of his van, wouldn't he immediately find the girl inside when he came back to his van to put his equipment away?" In any kind of logical world, this would make eminent sense, yet Sato merely closes the empty case and puts it back in the van (apparently having left his equipment back in the woods, and of course never once stopping to wonder why an empty case was so heavy). He then takes the case home, unknowing the entire time that there is a girl inside, then pulls it out of the van and leaves it on the garage floor -- all without ever once looking inside.
When Junko has a psychic premonition that the girl is very close by, and she and Sato find her in the case, barely alive after near-suffocation, it seems that the likely course of action would be to call the police, at which point the girl could explain to them how she ended up in Sato's trunk. Case closed, right? Wrong. That would be the logical conclusion, however Junko gets an idea to plant the girl somewhere else and then tell the police where she is, so that she can gain notoriety as a famous psychic who helped find the missing girl. Sato agrees to help her at first, however, this idiotic plan backfires on them with tragic results, and soon after they are repeatedly haunted by ghostly manifestations.
Although Seance has some wonderful moments of creepiness and plenty of spooky atmosphere, the constant gaps of logic and the far-fetched actions of the characters end up being a major distraction. In addition to Sato and Junko doing highly illogical things, the film also raises several questions that go un-answered, only to wrap things up with an abruptness that is mismatched with the slow yet methodical pacing in the film's first half. Who was the dead girl that Junko kept seeing at the restaurant? What was up with the mysterious voice that Sato hears on one of his sound effects tapes? Unfortunately, these are just a couple of the types of questions that Seance poses, and then ignores.
Although there are some admittedly eerie scenes in Seance, and uniformly good performances from Yakusho and Fubuki, the film suffers from a lack of consistency and a slew of illogical character actions that ring so false that Seance fails to fully engage on any level beyond the momentary and visceral. If the mere presence of a ghostly child with scraggly hair is enough to keep you entertained, Seance might be up your alley. Anyone expecting much beyond that is likely to be disappointed.