Monday, January 23, 2017

Slamdance ’17: Kuro

Living the expat’s life in Paris sounds romantic, but Romi (short for Hiromi) a former home-care nurse from Japan, is probably too profoundly haunted by memory and karma to properly enjoy it. We watch her tend to her paraplegic lover Milou in vignettes and Ozu-like pillow shots while she recounts an earlier incident from their lives together in Tokyo. As its ironic significance emerges, the tale takes a macabre turn in Joji Koyama & Tujiko Noriko’s Kuro, which screens during the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival.

There is a strange relationship between words and images in Kuro. In Romi’s story, Milou lives an active lifestyle and very much still has full command of his limbs. Yet, there seems to be a tragic logic to his current condition, given what transpired with Romi’s former patient, Mr. Ono (or Kuro, as she eventually calls him). Initially, she and Ono had very a pleasant relationship. Granted, he has his eccentricities, but she tolerates and even encourages them. However, when the scuffling Milou moves into Romi’s room in Ono’s flat (without prior agency approval), it destabilizes the balance. Instead of complaining or ratting them out, Mr. Ono’s response is profoundly Kafkaesque.

It is hard to describe the experience of watching Kuro. Frankly, it takes a bit of time to acclimate to, but it is worth the effort. No matter how “real” the story Romi narrates happens to be within Kuro’s diegetic reality, it is darkly compellingly. Technically, Kuro probably fits under a broad experimental rubric, but it really hooks viewers and reels them in.

Even though they are not “in synch,” or perhaps especially so, co-director-co-producer-score composer Tujiko gives two truly great performances as Romi, both through her eerie voice-overs and the hunting scenes of her in Paris, clearly carrying the weight of great sadness and regret. Singularly named musician Jackie is also unusually convincing as the physically and spiritually broken Milou.

As one would hope, given their backgrounds in graphic arts and animation, the filmmakers have a keen visual sense. Yet, they are doing considerably more than just frame shots. There is a subtle gamesmanship to the film, encompassing shifts in first and third person narration and tantalizing moments when audio and video appears to link up, only to become untethered again. Throughout the film, they encourage viewers to make assumptions and then question those assumptions soon thereafter. It sounds frustrating yet the net effect is genuinely transfixing. Highly recommended for adventurous viewers, Kuro screens again today (1/23) as part of this year’s Slamdance in Park City.