Here’s one of those rare lowish-budget, entirely off-radar British debuts that feels like a discovery. Adventurous writer-director Caspar Seale Jones has relocated a stock horror starting point – fraught young woman fleeing something abominable in her past – to Japan, which instantly gifts his frames more distinctive vistas than all those potboilers pursuing teenagers through the streets of Peterborough or Stroud. More intriguingly, To Tokyo is in that Japanese folk-horror tradition that yielded Onibaba and Kwaidan, making merry-macabre use of a still relatively unfamiliar set of demons and ghouls.
To Tokyo scores high on dreamy-bordering-on-nightmarish atmosphere. On learning her mother is gravely ill, Alice (Florence Kosky) passes into either a fugue state or an actual wilderness that encompasses forests, deserts and a mountainside hut where she slaps on warpaint and receives offerings of fruit and entrails from whatever dragged her there. For half its running time, To Tokyo is just Kosky, some spectacular landscapes (cinematographer Ralph Messer apparently taking notes from that visual whizz Tarsem Singh) and a properly creepy spectre. Seale Jones makes the bold, rewarding decision not to explain a damn thing. The result is a masterclass in show-don’t-tell cinema.
Even when Alice reaches the bright lights of Tokyo, the depopulated backstreets and coldly indifferent skyscrapers are eerie and unsettling: it’s as though what came before was a dry run for the worst civilisation has to offer. Any interpretation will be yours, but there’s a fairytale logic to it, and the action is anchored by Seale Jones’s remarkably assured image-making and a performance of intense hollow-eyed persistence by Kosky.
Self-evidently a first feature – running to just 75 minutes – it nevertheless serves as a striking and effective calling card. How encouraging it is to see an emergent British film-maker reaching for the uncanny and mysterious, rather than settling for hackneyed or humdrum.
• To Tokyo is released in the UK on 27 September.
Source: The Guardian