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 Withdrawn from the world around them, they embark on an aimless expedition that promises to mend their wounds.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.