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Amazing film. The reviews posted - at the time of this writing - on the IMDb page are sad, because I don't think the writers were ready for what kind of movie it is. (Stephen Holden's pan in the New York Times is especially foolhardy and thoughtless.) It helped to have a little advanced word, in order to brace myself. As it stands, it should have defeated "Dancer in the Dark" at Cannes last year, handily. And if I see a better movie this year, it'll be something for the history books.
It's not for the faint of heart. It's three hours and thirty-seven minutes long, in black and white, and in Japanese. And it's very slow-moving. The cinematography is beautiful, but that may not be enough for folks to hack through nearly four hours.
But the extreme length and slowness is not unjustified. It opens with a horrifying, traumatic event that provides an emotional undercurrent that informs the remainder of the story, in much the same way as "Saving Private Ryan" did (let that not discourage the anti-Spielbergers), and as the film progresses, the event becomes a memory, part of the characters' and ours, too. And the slowness isn't really slowness - it's the playing out of events and interactions as they would happen in real time (the story spans a few months, I believe, perhaps even a year, and maybe more).
"What's the freaking story?" I hear you ask...well, here goes. The opening sequence, which will undoubtedly inspire comparisons and contrasts to "The Sweet Hereafter" (as will the entire film), shows the hijacking of a commuter bus by a businessman pushed over the edge. As the scene unfolds, he has already killed a few passengers, the police are surrounding the bus, and he has used newspapers to block all the windows.
Without revealing too much, the bus driver and two teens - a brother and a sister - survive the incident. The driver (Koji Yakusho, star of "Shall We Dance?" and "The Eel") is shaken deeply, and leaves his brother and parents to wander. The youths' mother runs off with another man, and their father dies soon after in an auto accident - with insurance payments, they can live, but there is no one to watch over them.
I could go into more of the plot - and most critics will, I'm sure - but that isn't really necessary. The key to the movie is that the events seem to be played out as they would in real life, and that the movie camera just "happens to be there" to catch them and tell the story. Sure, this is the goal of all narrative films, but with "Eureka," the process seems to have been reinvented and renewed. The film is longer than most, but not a moment is wasted; it's one of the most efficiently edited movies I've ever seen. Every shot, nuance, glance, spoken word, everything has a reason for being.
There are some who say the movie is too somber, too gloomy. It isn't really. It's somber, sure, but it doesn't strain for it. There is humor - deadpan, mostly - and great joy, too. And if you love great cinema, there is even greater joy!
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