M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   D A V I D   N G

“A tidal wave is coming that will sweep us all away," remarks a young girl at the start of Eureka, Shinji Aoyama’s beautiful second feature about three survivors of a bus hijacking in rural Japan. These are the only words that the girl, named Naoki, speaks until the movie’s final scene. It’s a long time to be quiet given a running time of 217 minutes. What dialogue there is in Eureka is incidental, almost background music. Aoyama tells his story almost completely through images. Photographed in black and white (except the final scene), it feels like a daydream in which time is stretched out and sounds are distorted. Eureka is too laid back to deliver anything close to a moral. Watching it is like drifting on water. We find ourselves at the end far away from where we started, transported by something that is infinitely powerful and calm.

One of the recurring images in Eureka is of a dead body lying prostrate on the ground. We first see it as the hijacker guns down a captive who is trying to flee. Years later, a serial killer is loose who targets young, single women in a small village and leaves their bodies along the river bank. The specter of death, its invisibleness, haunts the three sole survivors of the hijacking. Naoki, her brother Kozue, and the bus driver, a middle aged man named Makoto, meet up two years after the fateful incident and form a family. Their parents having abandoned them, Naoki and Kozue depend on Makoto for basic needs. Makoto attempts to lead a normal life, working as a mechanic at a local garage. But as the death count rises, the three of them, along with a talkative cousin sent to look after the kids, embark on a cross-country trip to nowhere.

Makoto (Koji Yakusho) has the unenviable task of driving the winnebago that serves as their mobile home. Like an itinerant prophet, he ferries his three teenagers on what Aoyama calls "an interior road movie." Naoki carries a Polaroid camera and photographs her companions in various stages of fatigue. Kozue is idle, but at night, he vanishes for hours only to reappear without warning. Neither speaks, much to the frustration of their noisy cousin, whose only concern is to avoid returning to school. Late in the movie, after much has been revealed, Naoki and Kozue do talk to each other, but in a bizarre, telepathic way. They are like children who’ve developed their own language.

Eureka features some splendid scenery, but it’s not meant to be taken literally. The mountains, open fields, and the big sky are reflections of the characters’ inner state. Noises are subjective, too. Aoyama withholds sound at crucial transitions so that certain scenes end in complete silence. Other times, he’ll amplify a background noise, like the sound of crickets, until it drowns out everything else. It all culminates in a scene near the end, when Naoki and Kozue are separated. Fully clothed, Naoki wanders fearlessly into the ocean. The sound of waves is deafening. Her eyes scan the ocean furiously as if she’s discovered something in the tumultuous, chaotic water.

The heart of the movie is Makoto. So consumed with regret and pain, he develops a cough early in the story, and by the end, he is on the verge of death. Vaguely Christ-like, he must die so that his fellow survivors can live. Koji Yakusho, star of Shohei Imamura’s The Eel, plays Makoto with little self-regard. He looks horrible at the end, frail and coughing up blood. But his face is one of pure gentleness. Even when the murders follow them through the countryside, we know somehow that he is not guilty.

Eureka is hard to describe, much less analyze. The only way to grasp this deliberately ambiguous film is to sit through the whole three and a half hours. Aoyama could have told his story in a shorter time span. But because the movie is about time and space, doing so would have been a mistake. Eureka requires every single minute it occupies. As Naoki correctly predicts, we will be swept away by a benevolent force mightier than our own.

[rating: 3½ of 4 stars]


New York Film Festival Official Site