Friday, July 17, 2009

Juryoku Piero

I've been spending the summer in Japan. As a result, I've gotten the chance to catch up with films that I've wanted to see, both in theaters and on DVD. I hope to discuss some of these films that I have been seeing and offer my vague, disembodied thoughts on them.

In my previous entry, I discussed MW and the ways that it attempts to use the spectacle to distract the audience from the morally flawed self-righteousness of one of its protagonist. In that entry, I discussed the film Juryoku Piero (Gravity's Clowns) as a similar film that dealt with that same type of morality. In fact, while Juryoku Piero does operate within the context of a similarly flawed ethical system, at the same time it operates on a much more personal level than MW. Whether this makes the questions regarding the actions of the film's characters any more or less relevant is for the audience to decide.

Juryoku Piero stars Okada Masaki (Tennen kokekko (A Gentle Breeze in the Village, 2008), Harufuuei (Halfway, 2008)) and Kase Ryo (Soredemo boku wa yattenai (But I Just Didn't Do It, 2007), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)) as two brothers whose mother was raped, raised the child borne out of that rape and tragically died in a car accident. The child of their mother's rape is Okada Masaki's character, Haru, who is the younger brother to Kase Ryo's character, Izumi. Izumi grows up and becomes a college student studying biology; Haru becomes a graffiti remover. A series of arson cases break out in their hometown, all connected to graffiti art that appears to signal the arson. As the two investigate this series of arson cases, a disturbing pattern emerges that connects the two to the man who raped their mother.

It almost seems like it should be a crime to adapt Isaka Kotaro novels for the screen. It's never that the adaptations are bad, but more that Isaka's writing style is extremely cinematic. He often attempts to describe scenes in painstaking detail, and the events of his novels flow very well, to the point that it is sometimes as if a film is playing out in one's head. That being said, it means that his novels appear to lend themselves very easily to film adaptation, as is particularly apparent based on the increasing number of film adaptations that have been occurring as of late. Even right now, two films, this and Rasshu raifu (Lush Life), another based on an Isaka novel, are both in theaters at the same time. The only thing that the film doesn't adapt from the novel that is noticeable is Isaka's trademark tongue-in-cheek humor, which seems appropriate given the dark tone of the subject matter.

That being said, Juryoku Piero flows quite well, and the pace of the film develops at a very good pace. It might not be a longshot to state that the film, actually, is quite conventional in its method of storytelling. One noticeable thing that stands out, as some reviewers pointed out, is the age difference between Kase Ryo (who is 34) and Okada Masaki (who is 19). Since the brothers are theoretically only two years apart, the real difference in their age seems rather noticeable here. Other than that, the two actors work quite well together, and they are supported by Kohinata Fumiyo as their father (subtly permuting his usual happy-go-lucky character role), as well as Suzuki Kyoka as their mother. Suzuki in particular does a good job with the few scenes that she is given. Despite being somewhat standard in camera technique, the film does its job and does it well, mostly thanks to director Mori Junichi, who also directed Laundry, which I rather enjoyed.

While I doubt this was intended to be the ultimate message of the film, I was disturbed by the message of the film. To spoil the film and make its long story short, Haru ends up killing the man who raped his father. At the same time, this crime, while recognized as wrong within the diegesis of the film, is forgiven because it is "justified," as the rapist was a serial rapist and is overall depicted as scum in the film. Ultimately, the film purports to be about notions of nature or nurture and the influence that genetics has on the way that people develop and mature. This is expressed in the ambiguity that leads to Haru's incidents of violence and his decision to murder the rapist, brought in line with Izumi's own parallel plans to do the same (it is particularly interesting that Haru's plans to kill the rapist involve fire, while Izumi's plans involve water). While the film uses these elements and others to delineate the issues surrounding the debate and effectively juxtapose Haru and Izumi against one another in the process, the film falls flat in the end. Haru is not held responsible for his actions, and instead it appears that his actions are justified in the fact that the rapist committed many crimes and made many people's lives miserable.

To mask this, once again, spectacle is used. Instead of the hollywood-style spectacle that characterizes a film like MW, instead this film relies on a sentimentality of imagery that recalls a certain sensational response bound up in nature. This kind of trope is most apparent in the first and last scenes: the first shot amidst falling cherry blossoms, and the second at the boys' wooden home in a forest-like setting, utilizing slow motion and a piano soundtrack to enhance the sentimentality. This is the charm of the Mori Junichi film, which is his ability to give poignance and meaning to trivial scenes that are often meaningless in real life. However, unlike Laundry, which appears to convey messages of redemption and forgiveness, Juryoku Piero instead sends a dangerous message that, not only should certain crimes never be forgiven and certain criminals never be redeemed, but also that the escape from criminal consequences is a vicious cycle. The rapist may not wish redemption, but the only way for him to be held accountable for his crime and escape its specter is for the rapist to be killed by Haru. In turn, Haru is able to escape accountability for his actions, both in the diegesis and in the exegesis, which escapes the explanation of culpability to the audience by ending the film in slow-motion sentimentality. Thus, the film ends with the onus resting solely on the audience, who end up holding the criminal guilt that has flowed through the film, and who must decide what to take away from the film by receiving that guilt.

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