STARRING: Koji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Masaru Miyazaki
DIRECTOR: Aoyama Shinji
RUNNING TIME: 218 minutes
RATING: Unrated, but R-equivalent for one scene of frightening, though non-graphic, violence
THE LOWDOWN: A bus driver and two children deal with the trauma of a deadly busjacking. In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Japanese writer-director Aoyama Shinji offers haunting, unforgettable filmmaking in "Eureka," the deeply affecting story of three survivors of a deadly busjacking and their strange journey together toward healing and redemption.
Shot in black and white but on color stock, the sepia tones offer a bright but blurred landscape, an effect similar to coming out of a dark room and being blinded by the sun. At times the screen goes black, and moving headlights and shrouded forms are all that can be seen. The images are mesmerizing, a kind of waking dream.
Shinji composes the violent scene at the start of the film with restraint. A bus lumbers along a road, stopping now and then to let someone off or on. Next we see a man in a business suit lying sprawled on the ground, the parked bus in the background. A man emerges from the door running, a shot is heard and he crumples to the ground. By the time police storm the bus, six people are dead. Three survive: a schoolgirl, Kozue; her older brother, Naoki, and the bus driver, Makoto.
The story then skips two years ahead. The traumatized Makoto, after vanishing for two years, returns to his father's home to find that his wife has left him. Kozue and Naoki have completely withdrawn into silence since their mother left home and their father died in a car accident. Makoto moves in to take care of them; the children's 22-year-old cousin then shows up to make the odd little family a foursome.
But violence seems to stalk Makoto; an acquaintance is found murdered, and Makoto is the prime suspect. (Again, the violence is understated but eerily unforgettable, suggested through a woman's shoe floating downstream.) Makoto then buys an old bus and takes the three on a journey of the soul, starting from the parking lot where the busjacking ended.
Shinji says he took his inspiration from rock music, "Daydream Nation" by Sonic Youth and "Eureka" by Jim O'Rourke, and from John Ford's Western, "The Searchers," with Makoto playing the John Wayne role, a lonely figure undertaking what seems to nearly everyone to be an insane quest.
Part family drama and part murder mystery, the film is an extraordinary exploration of the havoc wreaked by a random event, of the meaning of family and how a father (or father figure) may try to save his children, only to find that his children have saved him.
The characters are so affecting in their tragic isolation, that the scenes of connection, when they come, are thrilling.
A caution: Only the most patient moviegoer will likely be willing to sit through this strange, meditative, extremely long (three-and-a-half-hour) movie.