To Tokyo review – thrilling, chilling horror in the wilderness

Caspar Seale Jones’s drama about a young woman afraid of her past is a masterclass in engrossing, show-don’t-tell film-making

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.

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