Monday, January 02, 2006


I was recently up in the Chicago area for a few days, and while there I was able, thanks to Odd Obsession Movies, to watch for a third time (I saw it twice on the big screen when it first came out) Shinji Aoyama's astonishing Eureka, which I regard as one of the greatest films ever made. It's about three and a half hours long, and when it was originally released some critics complained about its slow pace. But this slow pace focuses our attention on the passing of time and daily life, which is in a sense what the film is about. And I never felt bored. Every shot and camera angle seemed deliberate and meaningful: no scene was shot a certain way just because that was the way it was usually done. At the same time, the film was almost never pretentious or ponderous.

The three main characters are the sole survivors of a busjacking which left most of the passengers dead. They survived by chance, and they have to figure out how to continue living with the knowledge that their lives are purely contingent: hence the importance of showing daily life. They've also become social outsiders as a result of the busjacking's effects on them, and this exclusion is another thing the movie is "about." This theme is emphasized by a fourth character who lives with the three main characters for much of the movie. This character claims to have gone through a similar experience as the three, but remains an "insider," (as symbolized by scenes of him practicing golf, a quintessential insider's pastime in Japan) and views them from society's perspective. Even though the three main characters have little dialogue, Aoyama manages to suggest the psychological complexity of characters in a novel.

Eureka is a film that can't be summed up in words; it creates a world of its own. I've seen all or parts of a couple of the thrillers Aoyama made before Eureka, and these have their interest, but aren't a patch on Eureka.

While in Chicago, I also rented the film House, by Nobuhiko Obayashi. In Lost and Found Video Night vol. 6, there's a clip where a girl is eaten by, or sucked into, a lamp fixture hanging from the ceiling; her detached leg then falls out, and, after leaping around a bit, jumps into a drawer of a dresser, which promptly begins spewing blood. About midway through House, I realized this was where that clip had come from. There are some other weird scenes in the movie, including one where a girl is eaten by a piano, but none quite as bizarre as this. Obayashi also throws in a good deal of optical trickery to keep things interesting when nobody's being eaten. The DVD I watched was in Japanese with no subtitles, and I was only able to understand bits of the dialogue (my comprehension of spoken Japanese is much poorer than that of written Japanese), but as far as I can tell you can grasp the essentials without dialogue: namely, a group of Japanese schoolgirls are in a house that eats people. Here's a review of the film, which has more information about the plot. (Again, both House and Lost and Found Video Night vol. 6 are available from Odd Obsession.)

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