Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:00 pm 
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Be careful where you look

Like pater familias Ryûhei in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, the dad in Yohei Suzuki's Ow has been hiding he's out of work, and the rest of the family has no options. But director Suzuki plays more abstractly with Japanese stasus. Within the first few minutes the slacker son Tetsuo Suzuki and his girlfriend Yuriko Tsuda become immobilized by looking at a large round alien object floating on the ceiling in an upstairs bedroom that causes all who look at it to freeze. Ironically just then father Jun comes up to reveal his secret to Tetsuo and gf and, being too embarrassed to look at them, doesn't notice their frozen condition. But then he looks where they're looking, and freezes, standing up.

Suzuki doesn't have, or seem to need, a great deal of plot to offer after this. Events just keep spinning out of the original ones. Another family member gets zapped, then cops come and a police captain freezes. This causes a Detective Nakagawa to go a bit berserk and blood and subsequently scandal follow.

Tetsuo and gf sometimes budge slightly, and the hangdog female family members scoop them up and push them around in wheel chairs. Journalists are called in to report on the events, one of whom, Ryuichi Deguchi, becomes obsessed. He cannot believe the frozen people aren't just pretending, only later confessing he has realized how "really serious" the situation is.

The virtue of Ow (Maru) is its uniquely bizarre Japanese atmosphere, which covers the spectrum from the spooky and strange to the comical and seems able to spin out a seemingly endless series of tiny non-events without ever breaking the spell. Sparingly dished out music from Samon Imamura is a great help. Stay tuned for a late confrontation between journalist Deguchi and Tetsuo, who comes menacingly to life and identifies himself with the manga figure and Shinya Tsukamoto cult movie subject "Tetsuo the Iron Man."

The gimmick of something that's dangerous or fatal to look at is a regular feature of Japan horror, such as the videotape in the "Ring" films. Because the victims in Ow are semi-alive (at times), there is an aura of the zombie about them too. There seems to be a consensus among viewers that Suzuki, whose first feature this is, has delivered a brilliant first act, but gets tangled in a dead-end plot maze thereafter of scandal, police controversy, and journalistic competition while the family stumbles along and we know what originally happened better than the characters do, though we don't know the explanation. The only pleasure of the film's final act, but a pleasure nonetheless, is its sheer grotesque absurdity, and how all this happens in the messiest, most humdrum of Japanese houses.

Ow was reviewed in the sci-fi horror review Moria based on a Vancouer viewing. David Bordwell commented on dp Yohei Kashiwada's shrewd use of camera positions. But it is not yet listed on IMDb.

Cast: Kaoru Iida, Masatoshi Kihara, Shu Ikeda, Sari Kaneko, Hitomi Karube, Rock Murakami, Shoji Omiya, and Shigeko Tanaka.

Ow, 89 mins., premiered at Osaka14 March 2013, rebooted March 2015 at Vancouver IFF. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series, March 2015.


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