It wasn’t too long ago that Japanese horror movies were the vogue genre, with Japan being recognized world wide as the go-to country for scary flicks. The ball no doubt started rolling with Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of The Ring (リング), and continued to gain momentum with the success of the Hollywood version. Nakata set the bar extremely high with The Ring, so high his next project, Ju-On (The Grudge), just about managed to scramble over, with Dark Water creeping clean under the bar in 2007.
By 2004, Japanese horror movies were no longer the international DVD sales goldmine they once were, so you could say Masayuki Ochiai was brave to direct (and write the screenplay for) Infection…or you could say he was squeezing the last drop of cream from a dying cash cow, depending on how cynical you are feeling.
The film is set in a run-down medical center and (as the title implies) a mysterious outbreak runs riot throughout the hospital and spreads amongst the patients and medical staff alike, leaving the victims slimy, deranged versions of themselves.
As most hospitals in Japan are privately run businesses, the film takes a rather interesting angle of the center approaching bankruptcy, cutting down the staff to a skeleton crew. The film follows the weary and strained night-staff, starting off with a shock, as they accidentally inject sodium chlorinate into a burns victim, killing the unaware patient. Instead of facing the repercussions such a fatal error would cause, Dr. Uozumi (Masanobu Takashima) convinces his team to forge the patient’s papers and say he died due to his severe burns.
Meanwhile, an ambulance drops off another patient with a strange affliction; the organs inside his body slowly liquefy and drip out of his body. Smelling an opportunity to make a name for himself and the hospital, Dr. Akai (Shiro Sano) orders his colleagues to examine and study this unknown virus. Needless to say it breaks their weak attempt at a quarantine and spreads like wildfire through the building and causes some very gory symptoms.
The narrative may seem ridiculous, as does the rickety sets and elaborate make-up; but the film holds a certain charm, relying very little on visual effects and CGI, creating a very organic and bloody atmosphere. Subtlety is left at the door and the film aims to disgust, not terrify. You may care very little about the characters or the fate of the hospital, but there is something hypnotic about seeing them all falling foul to this horrible disease.