Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2023 7:51 pm 
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A girl's dreams called upon to save the world

This is another one of those films about the apocalypse - and hoping to manage at the last moment to avoid it. It's a lot of pretty images and, to signify leaps between dream and reality, rapid shifts from color to black and white - a device becoming very familiar lately, used even in the great new Christopher Nolan film, Oppenheimer. There's a succession of well-differentiated characters, a plus. They all revolve around a teen protagonist: a mild high school senior called Hana (Aoi Ito). She lost her parents some time ago. But she has various companions and protectors, especially since it's emerged that she alone, through her dreams, can prevent the world - especially Japan's corner of it - from coming to an end. There are also resentful and hateful people who misunderstand her and wish for her demise.

Actually, to be honest, this isn't convincingly the end of or salvation of anything. But according to his statements, it is promised to be director and former music video wunderkind Kazuaki Kiriya's last feature film. James Hadfield in his Japan Times reviewof this work runs through the director's 2000's oeuvres and finds them underwhelming, none more than this one. He deems retirement advisable.

But back to the new film. Why we don't know, but just as Hana has lost her last remaining relative, she is visited by government agents terribly interested in her dreams. We plunge into one of those, in black and white, taking us to perhaps 16th-century Japan and warring samurai, who almost kill Hana. Escaping, she meets an elegant, high-coiffed mystic lady (Mari Natsuki) who becomes her mentor and sends her on a quest with young, small Yuki (Mio Matsuda) as her guide. Back in the real world (and color) Hana sees the lady again, her robe now a deep, satisfying crimson. Her person and her garment bring class to this movie. The lady gives Hana more explanations of the impending end of the world and her ability to stop it. She pages through ancient-looking books in strange hieratic script that recount everyone's life, past, present, and future, and explains that the lives of everyone living all end in two weeks. These books (along with the lady's crimson robe and her makeup and tall mound of hair like a crown) are my favorite props of the film, for their script, somewhere between cuneiform and braille, and the mystic lady runs her fingers over them in a satisfyingly tactile way.

There is a high official in the Japanese government who strenuously objects (as well he might) to having a 17-year-old girl put in charge of the fate of things, and on the basis of dreams. (If the film had taken note of its own absurdity, it might have had something.)

Hadfield, to illustrate his lack of admiration for this movie, mentions Netflix movies, a game, and an anime series he thinks Kiriya's film is all too similar to. I am not familiar with those. But From the End of the World, while Kiriya's film is handsome, especially when Mari Natsuki is on the screen in that deep crimson dress, and the staging of scenes is also good looking, it is otherwise neither original nor all that exciting. It's especially troubling that such a beautiful "look" is achieved, but the screenplay fails to clarify basic details. Why and how is the world coming to an end? Just how is Hana's dreaming supposed to arrest this turn of events?

Hadfield provides some technical comments: the director departs from green screen and the backlot and shoots, often handheld and wide-angle by Chigi Kanbe (he's reminded of Sam Raimi), on location. He suggests that budgetary restraints serve in the film's favor here, "giving it an endearing DIY energy," though - I'd strongly agree - the 135-minute run time makes the movie feel "stretched thin." Compare Chris Marker's 28-minute Le jetée.

At the end, people start dying or getting killed, with a lot of weepy closeups, and this is an element that feels particularly cloying. Retrained is better, and much the Japanese style. But the point is Hana, debating with others, decides people are too much of a mess and it's best that the world should end. There's a rather nice final scene of a far-in-the-future person digging up a time capsule containing a cassette tape with Hana's statement about this, and her wish that the later world has turned out to. be better than hers was. Again, stoicism would have put across the idea much better.

From the End of the World 世界の終わりから, 135 mins., released in Japan Apr. 7, 2023. IT was screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts 2023., where it will be presented:
Saturday, August 5, 2023
9:30 pm

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