Combustible Celluloid
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With: Koji Yakusho, Masaru Miyazaki, Aoi Miyazaki, Yohichiroh Saitoh
Written by: Shinji Aoyama
Directed by: Shinji Aoyama
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 220
Date: 05/18/2000

Eureka (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Magic Bus

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If you go through life looking for minor miracles, how about this one: a four-hour, black-and-white Japanese movie with English subtitles gets released into American theaters. In our increasingly U.S.-centered world, more and more great foreign films are not making it to our shores, but especially the longer, more challenging, and less marketable ones. But, somehow, here is Aoyama Shinji's Eureka, the final of the six films from the Shooting Gallery's spring series.

In addition, Eureka is being released even though it's a given that hardly anyone will ever see it, no matter how much I go on about it here. Four hours is a lot to ask of anyone. Everyone who sees Eureka during its theatrical run will most likely be able to gather in my apartment for drinks and discussion, and we'll still have room to rent a grand piano. Kudos to the Shooting Gallery for making such a losing proposition available to the few of us who care.

Eureka begins violently, as a crazed businessman hijacks a bus and shoots anyone who tries to make a run for it. The bus driver, played by one of Japan's top actors, Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance and The Eel), survives, along with two young kids, an older brother (Masaru Miyazaki) and a younger sister (Aoi Miyazaki). Two years later, their mother leaves for another man, and their father dies in a car accident. The kids don't speak a word to anyone, but can communicate to each other telepathically. Meanwhile, Yakusho's wife has left him, and he has trouble holding down a job. So he sets out to locate the two kids. Finding them parentless, he moves in with them and helps to feed and take care of them.

At the same time, a mysterious murderer is on the loose, targeting young women, and Yakusho becomes the prime suspect. He's arrested for a short while, but gets out on bail. A cousin (Yohichiroh Saitoh), comes to live with the strange family as well. After a while, Yakusho buys a sort of camper bus and the foursome set out on a road trip. Yakusho becomes increasingly sick and coughs all the time, and the identity of the murderer is eventually discovered.

Director Shinji is no master, but he's certainly accomplished. The sheer length of the film gives him the freedom to breathe and experiment with the images. Though some of the experiments don't quite pan out, Eureka is a far worthier effort than a purely polished Hollywood product. Shinji uses a huge, Cinemascope format with a kind of brownish black-and-white scheme (color film stock with most of the color drained out). Our first image of the bus-jacking is an outstretched hand, palm down over the pavement, with blood collected and dripping off the palm. Shinji cuts from this extreme close-up to a huge, wide image of the entire parking lot, the bus stopped in the upper corner of the frame, with the body of a man who tried to escape collapsed in the center.

Shinji also uses sound to interesting effect. While in prison, Yakusho hears another prisoner tap-tapping on the wall. Though we never see the other prisoner, the tap-tapping continues back and forth for a very long time. The rhythm never changes, but it's a form of communication. At least Yakusho knows he's not alone. Later, he uses this same tapping to communicate and bond with the unspeaking children.

Along with the tapping, Shinji peppers Eureka with plenty of recurring little poetic elements. In an ordinary movie, these would zoom by us and make little impression, or would be cut out altogether. But interspersed with huge chasms of space and silence, these moments resonate and become suddenly visible like bits of Styrofoam bobbing to the surface of a swimming pool. Amazingly, the whole four-hour picture comes into focus and all the important elements become isolated.

Without question, the film could have been a bit shorter, especially towards the end, but Eureka is a powerful, luxurious study of lives changed in the aftermath of violence. We should all be so lucky to have this much time to reflect on our own lives.

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