Thursday, July 21, 2011

Japan Cuts ‘11: Into the White Night

It is not clear whose parents are worse. For a time, the police suspect Yukiho Karasawa’s mother of murdering Ryoji Kirihara’s degenerate pawnbroker father. The mystery will haunt the investigating detective for years in Yoshihiro Fukagawa’s Into the Night (trailer here), the closing film of the 2011 Japan Cuts New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema.

Kirihara’s mother was carrying-on rather openly with their slimy employee Matsuura, while Kirihara’s father furtively met Karasawa’s mother. There are a lot of incriminating circumstances, but not a lot of hard evidence. When Karasawa’s mother apparently commits suicide after the body of her other lover is discovered with Kirihara’s lighter, the case is conveniently closed. However, Detective Sasagaki cannot forget the eyes of the two ten year olds.

Over the next two decades, the three go in seemingly disparate directions. The strikingly beautiful Karasawa rules her prep school and university through her charm and manipulations. Kirihara drops out of conventional society, working on the margins of the illicit sex business. Sasagaki neglects his career due to family crises, but as his retirement approaches, individuals tangentially related to the old case start to turn up dead.

Most aptly compared to the Red Riding trilogy, Fukagawa’s two and a half hour Night is an ambitious and coolly stylish mystery, incorporating multiple time frames and some truly shocking subject matter. The influence of the past is always keenly felt in the present, while viewer sympathies are repeatedly upended. Fukagawa peels back each layer quite assuredly, rendering it all with an austere grayness to match the film’s moral ambiguity.

Without question, Shiori Fukumoto and Yuki Imai serve as the film’s cornerstone. Indeed, they are hauntingly affecting as young Karasawa and Kirihara, respectively. Maki Horikita is also scary good as the older, driven Karasawa. However, Eiichiro Funakoshi is truly the glue that holds it all together. He achieves a level of pathos worthy of high tragedy, yet completely believable thanks to his down to earth presence.

The emotionally bracing Night is a heck of a hard film to shake off. Though viewers might anticipate the general direction it takes, the totality of its implications are heavy to the point of overwhelming. This is bravura filmmaking, but the relatively long running time might be an unfortunately difficult obstacle to clear for legit American theatrical distribution. That would be a shame, because the highly recommended Night is one of the best films screening anywhere on the domestic festival circuit this year. Friday’s closing night screening (7/22) is already sold-out, but stand-by (or resold) tickets are well worth investigating when this year’s Japan Cuts concludes at the Japan Society.