Norio Tsuruta’s ‘Premonition’: The Fear of Knowing the Future


Photo credit: David Martínez

Humankind has long been perplexed with the conundrum of whether our existence is the product of free will or fate. While all societies maintain a notion of personal responsibility for one’s actions, such culpability is often complimented with an understanding that there are things beyond anyone’s control. In the Japanese tradition there is the belief that some things are simply “Shikata ga nai,” which is to say “nothing can be done about it” or “it cannot be helped.” Such an utterance signifies a moment when changing a situation is not an option, but accepting it as a given is the only sensible and mature choice.

Norio Tsuruta’s 2004 film Premonition is about the ethical dilemma that occurs when one can foresee tragedy. The story is about two high school teachers, Hideki and Ayama Satomi (played respectively by Hiroshi Mikami and Noriko Sakai), and their five-year-old daughter Nana (Hana Inoue). While waiting at a roadside payphone, which Hideki is using to slowly send an email, a tattered newspaper clipping appears underneath a phone book. When Hideki examines the scrap he sees a story about a fatal accident, in which, much to his dismay it foretells the death of his daughter. Hideki then notices the approximate time of the accident is 8 pm. Checking his watch and seeing that the moment is near, Hideki looks up to see Ayama crossing the road to ask for his help with Nana, who’s stuck in her seat due to a jammed seatbelt buckle. Suddenly a truck crashes into the car carrying Nana in the back seat. As Nana cries for help, the parents rush to her aid, only to be nearly killed themselves when a gasoline leak catches fire, causing the car to explode.


Photo credit: David Martínez

As a local television news team reports the accident, Hideki frantically looks for the newspaper article that foretold Nana’s death. Ayama pleads with her husband to calm himself as he is nearly hysterical. In the story that Tsuruta then tells, Hideki and Ayama have separated, which is one of the consequences of the tragedy that fateful night. However, the movie is about more than the profound grief that torments parents who have lost a child, especially one so young and innocent, but about the anguish of wondering if what happened could have turned out differently.

Hideki’s grief and near madness have catapulted him into the paranormal realm of the human psyche that can read omens, which in this case appear vividly into newspapers that make their way into Hideki’s home in spite of his effort at rejecting the delivery. At first, Hideki is simply appalled at seeing events happening in real life that were foretold matter-of-fact in the news articles he sees. However, when these premonitions reveal threats to people he knows, such as one of his students, Sayuri Wakakubo (Maki Horikita), he begins to panic, wondering what he can do to save them. Meanwhile, Ayama has been speaking with a psychic, whom she met as a test subject at her school, where she teaches psychology, who also indicates that she knows about the newspaper and its power. The psychic, Satoko Mikoshiba (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), is initially reluctant to talk about this with Ayama, but eventually relents. However, when Ayama goes to visit Mikoshiba at her home to learn more, she finds the psychic lying dead on the floor, her body having turned to ashes. While looking through the disheveled home, Ayama finds an album filled with Polaroid photos that Mikoshiba made that documented the correspondence between her visions and news stories about the tragedies she foresaw. Later, the Satomis learn of a professor who had been studying this newspaper phenomenon, who like Hideki had begun seeing these disturbing predictions of death and mayhem. While watching a video record of Professor Rei Kigata’s (Kei Yamamoto) efforts at understanding the newspaper and trying to help those targeted by its predictions, Hideki and Ayama see the disturbing consequences of attempting to alter fate—Kigata is turning wretched and the skin on his right forearm has broken out in large black splotches. Eventually, Kigata, like Mikoshiba, is found dead and turned to ashes.


Photo credit: David Martínez

What will Hideki do when the newspaper foretells the death of Ayama? Will he save her and others from the predicted train derailment? Ultimately, Hideki’s story is about how this newspaper is dominating his life. He is forced into obsessing over what to do with all these unwanted premonitions. In the end, he has to make a choice about Nana, Ayama, and the night his world was destroyed. Can he change fate and save those he loves or is the real choice about accepting one’s fate?


Photo credit: David Martínez


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