Friday, August 04, 2023

Japan Cuts ’23: From the End of the World

Freud would be pretty impressed by Hana Shimon. The interpretation of her dreams could save the world from apocalyptic destruction. Of course, she is not really dreaming. She is traveling into the “Sea of Sentiment,” a realm that is as real as our own—and what happens there directly impacts our own world. It is not looking good for us. There are only two weeks until Armageddon, unless Shimon can save us, assuming we even deserve it in Kazuaki Kiriya’s From the End of the World, which screens tomorrow as part of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

We need Shimon to save us, but she has it hard. Her parents died when she was seven and the grandmother who served as her guardian recently passed. She waits tables for money to live on. When she makes it to school, she is relentlessly bullied by the worst mean girl. Then Shogo Ezaki and Reiko Saiki show up from the National Police asking if she dreams much. She certainly will that night.

Suddenly, she finds herself transported to a black-and-white universe very much like feudal Japan, where she befriends Yuki, a soon-to-be orphan, thanks to the marauding ronin. When she tells Ezaki and Saiki about it, they immediately launch a pre-set contingency plan, which spares Japan great damage from a surprise earthquake.

It turns out there is a Millennium-like group in the National Police that understands how that dream world affects our universe and they have persuaded the Prime Minister to act on their warnings. Unfortunately, there is an ominous dream-walker sort of figure who can operate in both worlds—and he knows about Shimon. However, the greater danger to her might be greater from those who want to topple the current government, by exposing the PM’s dependence on a “fortune teller.”

End of the World 
is definitely a return to big idea, big spectacle genre films for Kiriya, after the English language production Last Knights, which was a lot of fun, but was not nearly as ambitious or significant. In contrast, this is a distinctly original conception of the end times. It incorporates some really crazy extremes that are too complex and too spoilery to get into here. It is safe to say this is a big film that is sure to inspire a lot of analysis over time.

Does it all make sense and maintain a consistent logic? Enough to be entertaining. Kiriya takes a huge swing, which is fun to watch. Aoi Ito is also incredibly sympathetic and acutely vulnerable as the ever so sensitive Shimon, which definitely keeps the audience focused. She is terrific, but Mio Musada might be even more so as Yuki. Plus, Katsuya Maiguma and Asahina Aya really sneak up and surprise the audience as Ezaki and Seiki, the agents-in-black.

This is the kind of smart and emotionally resonant sf we never get enough of.
End of the World also looks great, thanks to the ways cinematographer Chigi Kanbe differentiates the various worlds. It might be the sort of film some viewers find rewards multiple viewings, just to revisit key scenes with a full understanding of the dynamics at play. Very highly recommended, From the End of the World screens tomorrow night (8/5) as part of Japan Cuts ’23.