Original Japanese Title: Yogen
Directed by: Norio Tsuruta
Written by: Noboru Takagi and Norio Tsuruta
Produced by: Takashige Ichise
Starring: Hiroshi Mikami, Noriko Sakai, and Hana Inoue

What if you just happened to pick up a stray newspaper one day and found an obituary for someone you loved? Before you answer, look at that date. This is tomorrow’s paper. The events written here have yet to occur. If you act now, this horrible tragedy might not happen at all. So…what do you do? Do you try to stop it, or do you ignore the sign and wait to see what really transpires? And if you do decide to act…to screw with fate…what will happen to you?

No, this isn’t the plot for Final Destination 3. This is Premonition, director Norio Tsuruta’s slightly derivative but engaging tale of supernatural suspense.

The film opens with a loving family on the road to Tokyo. College professor Hideki Satomi (Hiroshi Mikami) has spent his entire vacation working on his laptop, much to the dismay of wife Ayaka (Noriko Sakai) and five-year-old daughter Nana (Hana Inoue), but his work is finally complete. All he needs to do is send an important email. They are driving through the countryside, however, and Hideki can’t get a signal. He asks his wife to stop at a roadside phone booth so he can plug in and transmit his message. While in the booth, he finds an old newspaper and reads an obituary that details the death of his daughter—an event that quickly comes to pass. Three years go by and this “newspaper of terror” (the title for the short story on which the film is based) suddenly makes a return. This time, will Hideki be able to stop the headlines from becoming a horrible reality?

Noboru Takagi and Norio Tsuruta have crafted a non-linear story that keeps you guessing and brings you to the edge of your seat. As a director, Tsuruta (Ring 0: Birthday) avoids the now familiar trappings many Americans have come to associate with J-Horror. No spooky, long-haired, pale-faced, dead girl contortionists in sight. Instead, Premonition builds and sustains a sense of unease that never lets you feel as if these characters are safe. Shots of a newspaper flying in the breeze might have been laughable in lesser hands, but Tsuruta makes this parchment truly menacing.

The film stumbles a bit near the end when it unexpectedly shifts from quietly building fear to becoming a time-travel fever dream. Satomi sees countless consequences to his interference with the newspaper’s implied destiny, and Mikami’s performance begins to teeter dangerously close to overacting (Think Cary Elwes at the end of Saw. Better yet, don’t think about it…ever!). But the filmmakers keep you caring about their characters despite these late bumps in the road.

As the film cleverly notes, sometimes there simply are no good choices. Thankfully, for fans of Asian horror, the same can no longer be said. Premonition is a well-crafted nightmare that effectively exploits our anxieties about the future—about things over which we have no control. What it does well, it does extremely well. I look forward to seeing what writer/director Norio Tsuruta will do next.

3.5 out of 5 stars