Thursday, July 11, 2024

Japan Cuts ’24: Kyrie

In one way, the timing is good for a busker like Luca (a.k.a. Kyrie), because she might find fame on privacy-invading, spyware-infecting, propaganda-spewing tiktok. However, the timing of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami during her childhood was absolutely tragic. The resulting trauma clearly persists in director-screenwriter Shunji Iwai’s Kyrie, which screens during the year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film.

When Maori first met Luca, the orphaned girl could not speak, but she could sing. That is still true when she encounters a decade or so later, performing on the street, but they now call themselves Ikko and Kyrie. The former Luca has talent and Ikko still feels protective urges towards her, so she volunteers to manage Kyrie’s career.

Kyrie needs some help and Ikko’s intentions are honest, but there is something dodgy about her new manager. Not so surprisingly, Kyrie is too naïve to see that. For a while, Ikko’s street smarts serve them both well, but she clearly appears to be running from a mysterious man.

Frankly, Kyrie/Luca’s backstory is not so difficult to anticipate, but Iwai still takes great pains to tease it out across the film’s somewhat excessive three-hour running time. Yet, it should be fully stipulated when the film finally revisits the fateful day of March 11
th, it is agonizingly tense. Many viewers will be holding their breath, like they never have in any horror movie, even though they know what is coming.

Iwai can make viewers passionately love him and viscerally hate him, all in the same film.
Kyrie is a perfect example. There is suffering and there is catharsis, but in this case, the synthesis of the two is somewhat off. The tunes are also integral to the story, but only Kyrie’s closing song really lands, either melodically or emotionally.

“Aina the End,” (as the Japanese idol bills herself) is distressingly vulnerable playing Kyrie (as well as her older sister, eventually seen in flashbacks) and Suzu Hirose nicely conveys the turmoil beneath Ikko’s brash confidence. They definitely combine into a powerful on-screen tandem.

There is no Mr. Mister heard during the film, but there is some of the grace the name evokes. Yet, that makes the ambiguous pessimism rather puzzling. It is sometimes powerful, but just as often punishing. Neither life or cinema need to be like that, but for Iwai’s fans will find virtue in its elusiveness. Recommended for those who appreciate the Iwai experience, wherein viewers are so immersed in his characters’ lives, they practically feel like they are living in their skin,
Kyrie screens tonight (7/11) as part of Japan Cuts.