The best horror movie of the year so far is a Japanese NFT

A man in a blue shirt with thick black hair looks backward toward the camera in Chime
Image: Roadstead

Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa is back with another terrifying masterpiece

The release date on a new Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie should be an internationally recognized holiday for film fans, particularly for horror die-hards. Chime, the latest from the Japanese director of Cure and Pulse, warrants that kind of celebration. It’s terrifying, beautifully made, and one of the highlights of 2024 so far, no matter the genre. The only problem is that most people don’t know the movie exists, or don’t know they can watch it, because it’s only available through a somewhat complicated, NFT-inflected process.

Chime is currently rentable through the Japanese digital video trading platform Digital video trading, or DVT, as Roadstead’s site calls it, is sort of an evolution of NFTs. A certain number of copies of a movie are made available to purchase, and then the purchasers can do whatever they want with them, including renting them out to other users at whatever price point they decide on.

Chime seems to be Roadstead’s only movie so far, and thankfully, it’s easy enough to rent, though you’ll have to jump through a few hoops, starting with making an account on Roadstead’s site. From there, you head to Chime’s rental page — which I can’t actually figure out how to access without a direct link or a Google search.

Once you click the “Rental” button, you can select which user’s copy of the movie you’d like to rent. The prices vary from copy to copy, and they’re available for a variable number of days as well. For example, one copy might cost $4.50 for a one-day rental, while another owner offers a $10 rental that lasts a week. Once you’ve selected a price and length, you can rent the movie, so long as you have a card that can be used internationally, as the site currently only accepts payment in yen. But after all that, the movie’s right there in your “assets” tab to watch for as long as you’ve got it rented.

The good news is that Chime is more than worth jumping through all these hoops for.

In the poster for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movie Chime, a man in khaki pants and a red shirt walks down a dark road
Image: Roadstead

The movie follows a former chef named Matsuoka who is teaching cooking classes while he waits to find another job. One day, a student starts complaining about a strange sound he can’t stop hearing, which seems to be changing him from the inside out, causing him to lose control of his behavior and even become violent. What makes the noise especially terrifying, though, is that it seems to spread from person to person with no warning or signs at all, leaving every moment of the movie unpredictable and tense. Kurosawa hasn’t made a horror film since 2016, but he’s sharper than he’s ever been.

Kurosawa has always been a master of creating tense, terrifying atmospheres, and he seems to take the idea of building this mood within Chime’s short run time as a personal challenge. He pulls out every trick in his very deep bag and manages to create a creepier, more intense movie in just a couple of scenes than most movies this year have managed in their entirety.

From its earliest moments, set in Matsuoka’s kitchen classroom, everything about Chime feels perfectly calibrated to unsettle viewers. Kurosawa’s camera sweeps by students innocently cooking, but lingers on knives and burners. It sits sedately while people chop onions, like it’s just waiting for them to have an accident. When people walk through the space, it feels like a threat. They move quickly and with purpose, sometimes even with a knife pointing out in front of them, though only to cut more vegetables back at their station. It’s agonizing and brilliant.

In minutes, before any of the plot has been introduced, there’s an inescapable pull, a sense that something is going to go horribly wrong. All that’s left is to wait and see what. Kurosawa makes this whole sequence feel like a magic trick, a movie’s worth of tone-setting, handled in minutes through nothing but framing and blocking. But Kurosawa’s most impressive element in Chime is the movie’s brilliant sound design, which makes every noise feel cacophonous and inescapable.

In a poster for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Chime, a person in a red shirt walks across a long bridge
Image: Roadstead

The audience never officially hears “the sound,” which the student first describes as a kind of “chime.” But there’s a recurring motif in the movie’s sparse score that seems to stand in for it instead. Around that, though, every part of the movie’s sound design is ratcheted up. Noises are distinct and clear, played with a loud crispness that feels designed to worm its way into viewers’ heads and infuriate them. Inside the sparse kitchen classroom where much of the movie’s action takes place, the sounds of knives hitting cutting boards feels like an echo that can’t be escaped, and the spatulas on frying pans sound like nails on a chalkboard.

Each sound presses down around the audience and the characters until the chime cuts through and turns the scene on its head, providing both relief from the encroaching shroud of other noises and unease in the sudden silence — and often violence — that follows it.

With all these elements working in dreadful harmony, Kurosawa has made far and away one of the best horror movies of the year so far, and he sets a more complete and frightening tone in less than half the run time of most of those movies. Like all Kurosawa’s movies, Chime isn’t necessarily the kind of scary that’s going to make you jump in the moment. It’s the kind of scary that might wake you up a few days later with an uneasy feeling, with a scene from the movie stuck uncomfortably in your head. In fact, the noise at the center of Chime feels like an almost perfect metaphor for the way its director treats his horror movies. They start quiet and strange, and they echo in your head until it’s all you can think about.

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