SPEC: Close~ Kou no Hen (2013)

While certainly ambitious and definitely not lacking in shock value, Kou no Hen was ultimately undone by its own complexity, pacing and one scene that nearly ruined the entire movie (and some of the series) for me. In short - SPEC: Close bit off more than it could chew and made some seriously questionable, unsatisfying decisions for its finale.

WARNING: Major spoilers and some pretty gross screencaps

I’ve always supported the idea of screenwriters trusting in the intelligence of their audience and daring to create complex plots. That being said, if I have to be taking notes while I’m watching to keep track, you're well on your way to 'confusing' instead of 'admirably complex'. Something's gotta give - if you’re going to have a complex plot, pare back on the number of characters and plotlines.

One of the first rules as third speaker of a debate is to not introduce any new points if your role is to conclude a debate and this is ultimately where SPEC: Close fell apart: bloated plotlines and trying to introduce all these new, last-minute elements for shock value, then throwing it aside in the rush to get to the finish line.

Aesthetically, this movie was not particularly amazing, though it does feature SPEC's characteristically unusual camera framing and some interesting things with camera freezing and CG. The colour palette was red, gold and black (with blurry, haziness for most of the climactic scenes) for about 70% of the film, which made it perhaps the most visually monotonous of all the SPEC films.

We begin with Toma's calligraphy ritual - using her own blood as ink for no apparent reason. Convenient computer hacking revealing that Professor J is actually Toda Hideki - aka. Judah Hideki, so no wonder he betrays them. It turns out the Simple Plan virus is just the common influenza to normal humans but is deadly on SPEC Holders due to a slight difference in DNA.

It’s a great way to drive home the point that SPEC Holders are different and ordinary-disease-turned-deadly turns out to be the insidious, systematic way that the Shadowy Council of Evil had been killing thousands of SPEC Holders who pose a ‘threat’ to mankind.

Professor J is also the watery people-possessor from the previous movie. He massacres the adult SPEC-holders who were being held secretly (conveniently) in the police hospital and infects SPEC holding children with Simple Plan as an act of rebellion against the Secret Council of International Evil, who were using SPEC Holders as ‘tools’ to further humanity’s political ends. His reasoning is that their souls are better off returning to the House of Samsara/Hades/Room of Gauf. The Secret Council are extremely unimpressed by someone who's making open threats of murder to them.

I should add here that SPEC has increasingly drawn biblical and religious references from Buddhism to Christianity, and these references are not explained at all, which further contributes to how confusing it is. Thank god for the Internet.

Toma resolves to take down those responsible for murdering innocent children by using her SPEC, no longer caring that she may become a demon. One of the highlights of the entire series for me was the moment of poignant, loaded silence as she and Sebumi look at each other, an unspoken goodbye between them (again, I will studiously ignore Kikkawa just standing there).

And then.

Oh no.

Oh no.

I still don’t know if Toma’s SPEC summoning went to plan or if she was overcome by the demons, hence releasing plane-destroying crows. Maybe both? Her actions fulfilled Fatima’s 3rd Prophecy and she caused an explosion that presumably kills the shadowy Council of Imperial Evil but also begins an apocalypse (yes, she's the angel with the flaming sword).

My biggest problem with the entire climax of the film was that it was essentially divided into the ‘Sebumi’ section and the ‘Toma’ section. One of the series’ biggest strengths was the teamwork between the two of them and it was just entirely missing for 70% of the movie. Hugely disappointing.

Sebumi’s section revolved around the Jun-Aoike subplot and on how Jun slowly begins to doubt Sekai’s beliefs due to growing to love Aoike as her mother. Fine, but we were only introduced to Jun and Aoike in the previous movie and they didn't interact at all for 99% of it.

There was a solid, workable 'motherly love' embodiment in the series (Rika - the girl who was given a disease by Unno), if that's all that they were going to ultimately amount to. I did snort at the anticlimax of Sebumi’s ‘police spirit’ being completely ineffectual but Sebumi is quite literally kicked out of the movie as Toma appears.

The central conflict comes to a head in the ‘Toma’ section – Toma, as Solomon's key, will bring both the apocalypse to wipe out the 'greedy, materialistic plague of humanity (in the gods' eyes) and is also some sort of human bomb shelter for Sekai, Jun and Judah to hide in until earth 'resets' itself and pre-human souls inside Toma will (somehow??) regain a solid body and existence. This is still sort of making sense until Toma reveals she still has her consciousness and Sekai just decides to kill her. What?

As if that’s not enough to process, the main SPEC holders from the series appear and claim that the 'apocalypse' events are actually an illusion, before being unceremoniously killed again by Sekai – Aoike and Jun along with them. As much as I love seeing all the characters again, it was a very inefficient use of screentime as it advanced next to no plot and Sekai opens up a lava trail in the earth and erases Mt Fuji anyway.

Himiko, Sekai’s older brother, also appears, only to be ‘killed’ by Sekai too (I did love the hint of Sekai's underlying denial about how Gaia could have possibly intended to wipe out their superior race and replaced them with inferior humans).

Toma summons the (now dead!) gyoza guy to mirror Sekai’s erasing abilities to apparently defeat Sekai and Judah… then Himiko reappears (I was totally expecting him to actually be Nonomura but no, he was just some random old guy), tells Toma that her right hand is Solomon’s Key, then disappears. And then right after, Sekai and Judah burst out of Toma’s body as crows because they were not defeated after all! All this happens in the space of maybe 5 – 10 minutes.

Yes, I am making a point. The storylines jumped all over the place and the dramatic ‘death’ scenes are ruined by the ‘just kidding!’ plot twist a few too many times, leaving only a resounding ‘What the HELL?’ in their wake.

Also, Kou no Hen can pretty firmly be placed in the ‘horror’ genre at this point – ‘body horror’ and ‘gore’ even.

Reisen’s true prophecy tells Toma that Solomon’s Key will allow her to transcend dimensions, connect her world to Hades’ world and turn back time. Toma summons Solomon’s Key with her right hand, as fairylights of all the SPEC Holders’ souls (?) glow around her and are sucked into the light vortex from her right hand, along with Sekai and Judah. Body horror level ups to eleven as she absorbs them into her body but they continue to struggle for control.

I was recording my reaction to this movie and, at this point, you just see my face in a permanent state of horror. Toma is just in an absolute state of defeat, exhaustion and utterly alone.

So Toma's goal is to send Sekai and Judah to Avici Hell, which is one of the lowest levels of hell in Buddhism with no possibility of reincarnation but she's quickly becoming possessed by demons so she has to kill herself in order to do so (not to mention all her friends that she gathered in her right hand earlier…are they being sent to hell with her???). She reaches for the gun but an energy bolt knocks it out of her hand.

Finally, she screams for Sebumi who, of course, appears.

In a simultaneously horrifying but emotionally devastating exchange, she begs Sebumi to kill her. Superbly anguished acting on both their parts but especially on Kase Ryo’s part.

"Toma, wait for me in the next world."

As daylight breaks in normal blue sky, the camera pans out to Toma’s body on the ground, Sebumi with his gun still raised.

And that would have been a devastating worst-case-scenario end to the series but still somewhat acceptable… if not for the scene that basically launched a furious Twitter tirade and almost ruined the entire movie for me.

Because… random, plain-clothed policemen we have never seen run up to the top of the building, take one look at Toma and Sebumi with his gun outstretched and, in an undignified, completely unnecessary violation of police protocol and general morality, proceed to beat the shit out of Sebumi.

They don’t ask any questions (beyond ‘how dare you kill a policeman!’), the scene is slowed down so that the sight of Kase Ryo being kicked, punched in the face and pushed down the stairs is somehow supposed to be dramatic or emotional? Forget the supernatural CG horror – this was the most traumatic moment: watching him struggle to keep Toma in his sights as he is beaten within an inch of his life.

I have no words and no idea what the message was. That this was the humanity that Toma gave her life to save? That this is the problem with a rigid, rules-obeying society and profession? The sheer pointlessness of it all and the complete lack of dignity for Sebumi, after losing almost everything, was like a sucker punch to the guts.

In fact, I wrote an alternative ending script. That’s how angry I was.

There are many things I could say about the direction the show chose for its ending and most of them are not very positive. It’s extremely depressing, in the broader context of female representation in films, to have such a singularly unique female protagonist like Toma ultimately become a martyr, shot dead by her most trusted partner. 

Toma – in her complexity, brilliance, quirkiness and unapologetic role as the main protagonist – did not deserve to be sacrificed in the name of the greater good. You could argue that she did end up picking her fate on her own terms but this is Toma. I refuse to believe that the writers could not think of some way for her to get out of this, alive. It didn't even fit the overall tone of the story and reinforces the damaging subconscious idea that strong female characters cannot survive.

It’s also depressing that complex female characters like Aoike, Jun and Mirei ultimately played a negligible part, despite all their potential. Aoike was ultimately relegated into a ‘mother’ role and we never find out what happened to Mirei. I'm still not sure what to think about the weird extra montage scenes - especially of Mirei and Chii now apparently dating?? Talk about an utter WTF moment - there's no indication of any sort of redemption on Chii's part nor do I want Mirei to be anywhere near that creepy stalker.

Further, where does this leave Sebumi? Disgraced, heavily injured, in jail for the rest of his life?

The one moment at the very, very end saved me from condemning this movie altogether. But was this literal? Metaphorical? Who knows??

The ending left me feeling cheated for the characters and all the values that the show seemed to endorse up until that point. It’s one thing to go all GRRM and explore depressing reality but this was not the kind of show that SPEC was or needed to be.

I still heartily recommend the SPEC drama series + Sho. This post explains why you should watch it better than I will. But my advice would be to think of all the movies as an additional reality – a parallel world, if you will. There were some brilliant moments in there, but the overall ending to Keizoku 2: SPEC is not worth your tears or outrage.

  • Was this the randomest Horikita Maki cameo or what? Is this Horikita Maki???
  • So did Toma really turn back time? Is that why there was absolutely no damage to Tokyo? Does that mean the SPEC holders are alive? Especially given little!Jun at the end…was she reborn or was this ‘in the past’?
  • Seriously though...what happened to Shimura??