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Eureka tells an enormously soul searching and moving story about three people's attempt to find meaning and purpose after experiencing a grizzly "busjack" (i.e. a bus hijack). Thus, its "subject matter" and the problem with which it deals is as old as philosophy itself: finding meaning and hope in a world where such senseless acts of violence and evil occurs. The three characters are Kozue (girl) and Naoki (boy), who are middle school aged siblings, and Makoto, who is the driver of the hijacked bus. They are eventually joined by the children's college-aged uncle, Akihiko (who also provides some memorable comedic moments).
There's not too much dialog in Eureka, as Kozue and Naoki are mute throughout much of the film (as a result of their trauma), but we can sense the confusing and searing emotions that lie just beneath their silence. Director Shinji Aoyama (wisely) lets the story and the characters unfold / develop at a very deliberate and slow pace, eschewing quick cutting and montage in favor of carefully crafted compositions within the vast cinemascope frame. Due to its realistic style, at times Eureka feels like a documentary.
Having said this, however, I can also say confidently that many will be put off by Eureka simply due to its epic running time (= 3 hours 37 minutes minus the credits). But let me just remark personally that although it _is_ long, Eureka definitely _feels_ a lot shorter (after it's over) than most 2 hour Hollywood films. (In fact, I don't think that Eureka would have worked as a "2 hour film"--for roughly the same reason that a "Reader's Digest" version of War and Peace wouldn't be as powerful as the full-length novel.) Don't get me wrong: Eureka is demanding (this is a "thinking person's" film), but it is not overly daunting. This is a daring film that asks a lot of its viewers, but which delivers much by way of emotional payoff (to those who persevere).
Eureka eventually turns into a kind of existential road movie, as the four characters try to "start over" by taking a trip on Makoto's new bus. And although I won't give it away, Eureka has an ending that is truly beautiful, quietly moving, and charged with a glimmer of hope.
Finally, although it is rarely heard in the film, the original musical score by Aoyama and Isao Yamada really adds emotional resonance whenever it plays. It's unforgettable and simultaneously beautiful and elegiac. Overall, I consider Eureka to be a great example of "humanistic" filmmaking in the tradition of Kurosawa and Ozu. Only time will tell whether or not it will be considered a masterpiece, but in my book Shinji Aoyama has created one of the truly unforgettable films of 2001.
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