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Kyua, 1997
[Cure]

Yakusho/UjikiAn unassuming man in a plaid sport coat walks with a confident gait through the streets and removes a section of pipe from an exposed water line in a tunnel. The scene cuts to a shot of the same man calmly pacing the floor of an anonymous hotel room with a drink in hand before inexplicably bludgeoning his companion, then subsequently bathing, his clothes neatly folded and arranged on the sink cabinet. Police inspector Takabe (Koji Yakusho) investigates the grisly crime scene and notes that the carotid arteries of the victim were neatly severed, forming an 'X' mark on the woman's neck. However, the disquieting precision of the seemingly calculated murder is negated by the killer's apparent clumsiness in leaving identifiable personal items in the room, and he is immediately apprehended. Meanwhile, on the idyllic coastline of Shirasato, an enigmatic drifter (Masato Hagiwara) approaches a teacher named Hanaoka studying on the beach and casually asks where he is. Moments later, the disoriented young man returns and repeats his question, before explaining his amnesiac condition and asking for help. The well-intentioned Hanaoka brings the drifter home in an attempt to aid the young man in determining his identity. The young man's overcoat indicates that his name is Mamiya, but his memory proves to be impenetrable, and is unable to confirm the information. Instead, Mamiya spends an uneventful evening repeatedly asking Hanaoka the same seemingly innocuous questions. The following day, Hanaoka's wife, Tomoko, is found dead with the familiar signature 'X' on her neck, and the distraught and guilt-ridden teacher attempts suicide by crashing through the window of their home. But is there a common element to the seemingly random, yet intrinsically connected murders beyond each atypical killer's inexplicably fatal compulsion?

Cure is an understatedly haunting, metaphoric, and deeply disturbing exploration of identity, alienation, and moral conscience. From the opening shot of Fumie Takabe's (Anna Nakagawa) dispassionate reading of Bluebeard to a distracted (and physically removed) psychiatrist in an austere and a sparsely furnished office (note the distance of the psychiatrist's chairs during the analysis), Kiyoshi Kurosawa establishes a pervasive sense of profound detachment through empty spaces, oppressive industrial landscapes, and isolated framing: the sudden and mysterious appearance of Mamiya on the beach that follows a shot of the unpopulated coastline; Takabe's momentary pause at the doorway of his home that involuntary betrays his overwhelming domestic problems; the monotonous, sensoral drone of train crossing signals, running water, flickering fluorescent lights, and media broadcasts that have become ambient conditions of an urban environment; Mamiya's cluttered rented room near the surreal, polluted wasteland of a garbage incinerator. In essence, the unrelated crimes serve as a modern permutation of the prototypical, conventional serial killer that ascribes responsibility and moral consequence to the manipulation of human will. Inevitably, the indefinable cure for the unconscionable murders becomes a relevant and tragic allegory for the emotional disconnection of human interaction and the repressive, impersonal nature of contemporary existence.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Karisuma, 1999
[Charisma]

YakushoCharisma opens to an apparently familiar pattern of an overworked, rumpled, and unfocused officer named Goro Yabuike (Koji Yakusho) napping on an empty bench at police headquarters and being awakened by a superior officer to discuss the progress of his arrest case. One day, he is called to an abandoned house in the countryside in order to diffuse a hostage situation involving a prominent parliamentary official. As Yabuike enters the room, a lone, apprehensive gunman hands him a scrap of paper with a single demand to "restore the rules of the world", before fumbling and dropping his gun on the floor. Yabuike instinctively draws his weapon and aims at the now unarmed suspect, but decides not to shoot and instead, retreats to deliver the cryptic and unrealistic demand. The hesitation would prove costly, as the gunman impulsively kills the official without warning, and the police immediately retaliate and open fire. When asked about his missed opportunity to shoot, Yabuike responds "I thought at the time that they both deserved help." Placed on suspended duty for the botched hostage rescue, the aimless and guilt-ridden Yabuike is left on a stretch of road by a remote, barren forest populated by carcinogenic plants, polluted streams, and sickly, collapsing trees. He encounters a team of forest rangers headed by a radical named Kirayama (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) who brings him to an open field in order to take photographs of an unusual, forbidding, and oddly decorated tree, before being chased away by the tree's eccentric caretaker, Nakasone (Ren Osugi). Yabuike learns that Nakasone resides in an abandoned sanitarium where he has assumed guardianship for the tree, called Charisma, since the facility director's passing three years earlier, and has been Charisma's sole protector against opportunistic poachers like Kirayama who attempt to profit from its rarity. However, Yabuike soon learns that Charisma's rarity may come at an ecological price when a botanist named Jinbo (Jun Fubuki) argues that the roots of the tree expel a toxic substance, and must be destroyed in order to restore the natural balance. As Kirayama, Nakasone, and Jinbo wage a selfish and increasingly destructive feud over the fate of Charisma, can Yabuike find a mutual solution for the coexistence of the strange tree and the viability of the forest?

Kiyoshi Kurosawa presents a visually compelling, multi-layered, and insightful film on radicalism, individuality, and balance in Charisma. Evoking the austere landscapes of Andrei Tarkovsky, Kurosawa similarly explores issues of conscience, spiritual longing, and personal disharmony through the manifestation of a metaphoric environmental malady. Using foggy, pale, and muted colors of the barren wilderness, decaying interiors to reflect psychological distress, and medium and long shots that frame each character in proper relation to his environment, Kurosawa raises contemporary issues on the value and quality of life in an increasingly polarized and uncompromising world, the dilemma between individual rights and social order, and the laws of natural selection versus human intervention against extinction. Inevitably, as the conflicting ideologies struggle between natural and created order, what emerges is an oppressive, alienating, and ominous wasteland of irreconcilable and consuming intolerance.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Kaïro, 2001
[Pulse]

MizuhashiA solitary young woman stands on the deck of a near empty ship, staring out into the ominous sea, and solemnly recounts a seemingly ordinary day in a Tokyo botanical nursery when a young man named Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) failed to return to the office after working from home on a software project. Concerned about Taguchi's extended absence, his colleague Michi (Kumiko Aso) pays an unannounced visit in order to check on his health and retrieve the project disc, and encounters the disheveled and evasive Taguchi retreating to the back room of his apartment after fetching a length of rope to complete a task in an obscured, secluded corner of an adjoining room. After a prolonged silence, Michi searches for the reticent Taguchi and discovers that he has committed suicide during the course of their polite conversation. Soon, the co-workers begin to experience unexplainable technical anomalies: a tunnel image of Taguchi staring into a real-time webcast of his apartment found embedded in a project file; intermittent disruptions on Michi's television reception; a disembodied voice pleading for help on Yabe's (Masatoshi Matsuo) cellular telephone. Meanwhile, an economics student named Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) has logged into an insidious website that purports to feature an encounter with ghosts, and is presented with a series of bizarre images of anonymous people in despair. Curiously, as Taguchi's other colleagues, Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) and Junco (Kurume Arisaka), attempt to reconcile with the senselessness his death, they begin to exhibit unusual behavioral patterns similar to the strange affliction that inevitably consumed him.

Pulse is a compelling, haunting, and insightful portrait of disconnection, loneliness, and the impersonal nature of technology. From the opening shot of the lone vessel adrift on a vast, turbulent ocean, Kiyoshi Kurosawa establishes a pervasive sense of foreboding and unnaturalness through predominantly medium shots, dark interiors, diffused tonal lighting, shadows, and delayed focus shifts: the distorted view through the transparent plastic curtains that delineate Taguchi's room; the green hued images of the "web ghosts"; the anonymous woman's suicide leap from the roof of an industrial complex; Kawashima and Harue's (Koyuki) disorienting evening commute on an empty train. By capturing the paradoxical interrelation between the convenience afforded by modern technology and the profound estrangement that results from the inertia of surrogate interaction and compulsive need to retain anonymity and personal distance in a privacy violative, overcrowded city, Pulse serves as a relevant social allegory on the dichotomy of human interaction and the self-induced alienation inherent in contemporary urban existence.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Akarui Mirai, 2003
[Bright Future]

OdagiriAn aimless, twenty-something man, Yuji Nimura (Joe Odagiri), bides his idle time at a local video arcade as he reflects off-camera in a solemn voice of recurring visions for a bright future that once filled his unconscious hours of sleep until recently when, suddenly and inexplicably, the pleasant dreams ceased. Volatile and asocial (where the size of the chicken pieces in his bento box is invariably grounds for an unprovoked fight) Yuji's only friend is the equally unambitious and directionless Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano), an outwardly carefree co-worker whose one prized possession - and sole preoccupation - is the care and re-acclimation of a translucent and strangely entrancing, but dangerously poisonous saltwater red jellyfish. Their supervisor, a middle-aged man named Mr. Fujiwara (Takashi Sasano), takes advantage of the docile and seemingly acquiescent employees, inviting them into his home for dinner and, more importantly, to deliver his daughter's oversized wooden desk to an upstairs room at the house. Nevertheless, despite his dubious invitation, Fujiwara seems genuinely concerned with the welfare and plight of the unmotivated young men, offering them a salary bonus and an opportunity to become full-time, permanent employees at the factory - a chance for job stability and a higher level of responsibility that the reluctant friends meet with ambivalence and concern. But as the sociable Fujiwara begins to insinuate himself into their empty, withdrawn lives, Yuji and Mamoru's surfacing resentment towards their intrusive employer leads to a reckless act of impassivity that irreparably damages their fostering relationship with their well-intentioned employer.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa presents a hauntingly enigmatic, poetic, and understated portrait of rootlessness, apathy, and disconnection in
Bright Future. Capturing dreamlike, temporal (and existential) ambiguity within a realistic, verite-styled camerawork (the film was shot exclusively in digital video) through alternating point-of-views, narrative ellipses, and surreal encounters, Kurosawa creates visual incongruence that innately reflect the adrift young protagonists' dissociation from their oppressively mundane (and self-induced) reality. Similarly, the recurring split-screen view of the passenger compartment of Mamoru's father Shin-ichiro's (Tatsuya Fuji) truck that is thematically repeated in his physically distanced, polite conversations with his estranged children illustrate their fractured familial relationships, underscoring the spatial distance - and emotional isolation - of the characters. Recalling the dilemma of ecological balance (or more broadly, natural order) represented by the exotic, but environmentally pernicious tree in Kurosawa's earlier film Charisma, Mamoru's endlessly captivating, yet toxic jellyfish is also an allegorical manifestation of the struggle between personal interest and social responsibility (note that Shin-ichiro's humble livelihood as a recycler and repairer of discarded electronics is a pragmatic reflection of his awareness for universal parity). As the red jellyfish navigates through its new and unfamiliar environment, its plight reflects the uncertain and treacherous path of the film's young antiheroes, foundering in the impersonality of technology, instinctually searching - not for transitory escape - but for a way home.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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