Saturday, July 11, 2009

DVD of the Week: "Eureka" (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)

by Chuck Williamson

Spanning a dreamily paced 217 minutes, Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka 
begins with the violent hijacking of a commuter bus—a cold, antiseptic sequence that ends with machine-gun editing—and concludes with the survivors’ arduous journey toward emotional and spiritual repair, a journey that culminates in a literal cross-country road trip through the decaying Japanese countryside.  Photographed through a monochrome veil of distortion, Eureka constructs a nightmare vision of Japan as a purgatorial wasteland, a diseased, sepia-tone world that externalizes the collective trauma shared by the three bus-jacking survivors: a pair of reserved siblings, Naoki (Masaru Miyazaki) and Kozue (Aoi Miyazaki), and the shellshocked bus-driver, Makoto (Koji Yakusho).  These deep psychic wounds ultimately draw the three of them back together.  Withdrawn from the world around them, they embark on an aimless expedition that promises to mend their wounds.  As Makoto later tells the children, “We need some time to find ourselves.”

Minimalist by design, Eureka belies its epic length and “from-the-headlines” plotting with its restrained, near-glacial cinematography.  The film visualizes the silence and stillness that punctuates every moment of its characters’ shared trauma through long, languid takes and elegant, meticulously composed images; formally, the film recalls the work of Tarkovsky and Ozu. But it is the film’s deep humanism that gives those images their thematic and emotional heft, turning what could be an empty formal exercise into one of the decade's richest and most rewarding films.  Eureka resonates with pathos and poignancy and pulses with life, weaving into its picaresque narrative scenes that are both stirring and spellbinding.  Like any good road trip, it is a transformative, damn-near-transcendent experience.

Because of the dissolution of Shooting Gallery Pictures, Eureka has never been released domestically on DVD.  However, it is available on a region-two disc released by Artificial Eye.


Chuck W said...

Side note: this is also the first time I've ever posted anything on Blogger, so if anything looks screwy, let me know. (Or let James know, since he's a bit more tech-savvy about these things than I am.)

James Hansen said...

Looks great Chuck! I look forward to seeing this. I feel like I'm always behind on Asian cinema unless it comes from Joe or Hou. Always glad to hear about more though!

Joel Bocko said...


Check out the movie books from a month ago - I have a challenge for you.

James & Brandon,

In similar news, I have included your choices as part of my "Reading the Movies" master list, to be found here:

Thanks for participating! (I have also finally left a comment on your response, a bit after the fact!)

Chuck W said...

James - If you can track it down, I definitely recommend it. I forgot to mention that the film actually won a special jury prize at Cannes, and competed for the Palme d'Or (but lost to DANCER IN THE DARK). I'm surprised no-one has bothered to pick it up for US distribution after Shooting Pictures went bankrupt, but I guess a nearly-four hour Japanese film shot in sepia might be a losing proposition for some home video companies (which doesn't bode well for LOVE EXPOSURE, which I am eagerly anticipating).

MovieMan0283 - Just saw your post. If James is cool with making an additional movie book post (or, perhaps, adding my selections to the existing post), I'd be down with being included on the master list. I'm also surprised that Bazin hasn't been mentioned, but that might be because he's hardly a "hip" figure in film studies nowadays. And, hell, I'd be remiss in mentioning that I sometimes find him maddening, and often disagree with his theories completely. But I would be wrong if I said his writings didn't shape my interests in cinema (especially when I was a college undergrad).

Brandon Colvin said...

The only reason I didn't throw WHAT IS CINEMA? on my list is because the Bazin writings that have impacted me are all in the FILM THEORY & CRITICISM anthology.

But, I must say, I love that dude.