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Reiko, a prize-winning writer, moves to a quiet isolated house to finish up her new novel. One night she sees the man next door transporting an object wrapped in cloth. She finds out he is ... See full summary »
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 1999 masterpiece, Barren Illusion, is a razor-sharp dissection of contemporary Japanese culture which depicts its subject as being so devoid of its own identity that it's almost completely co-opted by mundane Western artifacts. In scene after scene--sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly--Kurosawa shows objects with obvious English language markers as critical components of required activity in day-to-day lives. And an all-Japanese music group intermittently shows up pounding on an assortment of Brazilian drums to emphatically demonstrate their (read, the culture's) need to immerse themselves in something completely different from what they are.
To emphasize this more dramatically, Kurosawa has the male lead, a sometime musician, occasionally fade in and out of his surroundings, as though a being who senses intelligently and who, at the same time, is an integral component of his culture, could not (or, perhaps, should not) exist if the culture itself has so little identity. In Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry a character becomes blurred on screen, but that was a psychological observation linked to the individual's personality. Kurosawa's disappearing act is quite different, much more emphatically connecting the individual to his culture.
There is no real plot in the film, but the intelligence Kurosawa brings to bear is so powerful, a plot is not necessary--nor would it work. He frequently has his characters repeat the same banal action in the same scene (stamping postal documents, kicking a balloon around), indicating much more than a lack of imagination. It is, Kurosawa says, the sterility of a culture that engenders repetitive, non-thinking (i.e., sterile) behavior.
The female lead, a postal worker, is shown involved in activities (in two different scenes) which surely would result in her death--jumping off a building and being severely beaten by a gang of thugs. Yet in each case, she's shown in the immediately following scene alive and whole. How can one die when one does not really live?
This is a brilliant work, very highly recommended. It's a shame that none of Kurosawa's work is available in the U.S. on DVD or video. Rumor has it that Cure, another superb film, will be available in Summer 2002 domestically on DVD.
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