Child abuse might not take centrestage but it sure helps to mishape young minds in Tsutomu Kuboyama's Yumeko's Nightmare. Stephen Tan reviews.


Child abuse may not be the main focus in this Japanese horror movie but it is the trigger and driving force behind Tsutomu Kuboyam's Yumeko's Nightmare (2002).

Teenager Yumeko (Minami) suffers from nightmares where she sees a young girl being murdered in a run-down location. In her dream, she also sees disjointed images such as a windmill, a stranger reading a newspaper in a car and a man named Matsuda who may or may not be linked to the murder.

In another dream, Yumeko sees a mother and her young daughter who live in her apartment block. Behind closed doors, the mother abuses the child. It isn't just a simple beating. The mother (Yoko Chosokabe) presses her foot on the child and whacks her with a golf club. In one of her nightmares, Yumeko sees the child stretching out her arms to her but Yumeko could not do anything to help. She wakes up when the child fades away and Yumeko realises the child could have died. While her mother and sister, Tsukiko (Shihori Kanjiya), make light of her nightmares - they do not believe her - Yumeko calls the welfare agency. Returning home from school, her mother tells her that the welfare people came "not too late" and that the child had been abused by her mother.

Encouraged that her nightmare was not just a dream, Yumeko decides to look into the murder mystery. From the clue that the murdered girl comes from a local high school, Yumeko starts asking around and soon runs into the stranger with the newspaper in the car. The stranger turns out to be a private detective (Kazuyoshi Ozawa) who is employed by Mr Matsuda to find his daughter, Aiko (Natsuhi Ueno), who has gone missing.

Discovering that Aiko goes to the same school as Tsukiko, Yumeko gets her sister to ask around and comes up with Aiko's boyfriend's address. The detective visits the apartment and finds Aiko there.

But soon, Yumeko finds out that Aiko was not the intended victim and that it is her sister who has been murdered. Meanwhile, the detective feels something is not right with the Matsuda family and begins his own investigation. Meeting up with Yumeko, the two visit the Matsuda family to collect the reward. While snooping around, Yumeko finds the basement and sees a stranger there.

It turns out that the stranger is Aiko's older brother who has been abused as a child. Her father even tried to kill the child by slashing his throat. The child survived but cannot speak and now lives in the basement.

Those who think that J-horror is nothing but Ringu and Grudge re-threads with faceless long-haired women crawling out of TV sets or down a staircase might rejoice with Yumeko's Nightmare, which is basically a variation of that Old Dark House story.


The film is quite stylish in its presentation, especially in the beginning. The black-and-white disjointed dream images might recall Ringu but there is a certain David Lynch feel in Natsuhi Ueno's Aiko, who provides the film with an erotic frisson, that makes one think of Laura Palmer who is full of secrets. There is also a hint that Aiko and her brother might have an incestous relationship.

Like a persistent Nancy Drew, Minami just about manages to carry the film on her young shoulders. For the rest of the cast, Yoko Chosokabe is suitably sinister as the abusive mother in her short role. Kazuyoshi Ozawa was the killer in Takeshi Yokoi's Hitch-Hike (2004) and he brings a sense of doggedness as the hard-headed detective. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a rushed ending that tries to unravel all the knots and leaves a sense of the supernatural that does not work.

But director Kuboyama did give the film a certain currency by highlighting the child abuse angle - monsters are created when the family inflicts violence on their young - but the real twist is that it is the heroine's precognition, instead of saving the day, is what sends her sister to her death.

Note: The Yumeko's Nightmare DVD (Fullmedia/Bio-Tide) is banned in $ingapore.

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October 9, 2007


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