Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2023 5:07 pm 
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HIROKI KONO: J005311 (2022) - JAPAN CUTS, NYC (JULY 26-AUGUST 6, 2023)


Fire out of embers

The most uninteresting film turns out to the the most fascinating one; an intimate, painful, touching experience, a piece of Bressonian vérité so drab, so without frills, you carry its car-sounds and shoe-sounds and crunch of snow with you in your ears - in your head - long after the movie has come to its ambiguous, yet satisfying end.

Laszlo Nemes’ directorial debut Son of Saul (Cannes; NYFF, 2015) may come to mind watching this minimalist, claustrophobic, disturbingly real-feeling film with patient, hypnotically tenacious cinematography by Hikaru Sano. It costars the first-time director, actor Hiroki Kono, in a red jacket and audacious bleached hair, with hopeful sneakers. Slick, cocky, his character is yet a useless marginal figure, a petty thief, a purse-snatcher. His name, we eventually learn, is Yamamoto.

The protagonist, whom the camera follows most of the time as if it were inside his chest, is Kanzaki (Kasuaki Nomura). In a drab coat, buttoned up to the neck, looking meekly into space or downward, he's a pathetic creature. But he is determined. He has a leather bag over his shoulder. He has a mission. A salaryman, a white - or should we say shite? - collar worker, but one no more, he has kowtowed to a boss over the phone but set out this morning on another path.

Unable to get a taxi, he sees the thief in action and runs to catch him and says he will pay him ¥1 million to take him somewhere; it will take about half a day. (¥1 million is about seven thousand dollars.) The thief takes the downcast salaryman for a doofus, a loser, and tells him to piss off: they scuffle, leaving the salaryman on the sidewalk. But he struggles up, regains his leather bag. The thief comes back, and the process starts, with Kanzaki withdrawing he money. They rent a car, and hit the toad. Suspicious, the punkish chauffeur demands ¥200,000 up front; and doesn't believe the story of going to meet "a friend."

So now it's a road picture - the drabbest kind, on a dreary highway, in winter. The camera rides in the middle, up close, and we can barely see more than Kanzaki's shoulder and chest and the side of Yamamoto's face. They hardly speak, but exchange names, belatedly, and find they're the same age, 26. Yamamoto gets out to go to the bathroom, and we sit for five minutes with Kanzaki. We sit, and sit, feeling the taste of real time, with ambient sound, unrelieved by any score.

Imagine their food stop. The camera position different now, but not much more exciting, except we can simultaneously watch Yamamoto slurping spaghetti, Kanzaki munching what looks like maybe tofu. And when Yamamoto goes to the bathroom Kanzaki stuffs half the tofu in his mouth and almost chokes. We are always close to Kanzaki's desperate, dogged moves. The first shot of the film was him cleaning his teeth, from behind, very, very thoroughly. Long takes require patience, and if you grant it, you grant sympathy. The two dangers are pathos, or off-putting strangeness. But that "otherness" is also a sense of the real.

After this meal stop near Mount Fuji, we're not surprised when the pair part ways near the entrance to the notorious "suicide forest." It is best we know that this is what it is. What happens hereafter would be too much of a spoiler.

What's different from Beckett, or Bresson, is a central idea that is ambiguously hopeful, out of astronomy, because the title is the name of a star formed by the collision of two nearly-extinguished stars.

JC2OO20, 93 mins. Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2022 Pia Film Festival in Tokyo. The Pia, Japan's first film festival, has debuted some of the hottest new directors. Screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts, NYC, where it was shown Thurs., July 27, 2023 at 6pm. The International Premiere. It was shown as a Next Generation section film in Japan Cuts, and as such received mention from the Obayashi awards, which said "The jury also recognizes director/actor Hiroki Kono’s directorial debut J005311 with a Special Mention for “its considerable formal ambition and willingness to challenge us as viewers" and the "profound sense of economy" of its making." The top award went to Amiko.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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