Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Japanese Cinema: The Burning

The Burning
Directed by Kenta Hayashida
Pathfinder Home Entertainment

Twins tend to be an unsettling presence in dramatic films, such as The Krays, Dead Ringers, and of course Village of the Damned. Evidently, the Gemini effect also holds true in Japanese cinema, but while Minako and Hinako are indeed deeply disturbed twins, they also happen to be the sympathetic protagonists in Kenta Hayashida’s The Burning (a.k.a. Brulee, trailer here), now available on DVD.

Minako and Hinako have been separated for thirteen years, since they set the fire which killed their abusive father. Hinako was taken in by her uncle, a pastry chef in a seaside resort town, where she lives a relatively normal high school life, aside from her escalating fire-starting compulsion. One day, Minako arrives unannounced, carrying an urn she claims holds the ashes of their grandmother. However, it turns out the urn is for her. The shy Minako (usually distinguishable by her long scarf) has a malignant brain tumor and her time is short.

Together again, the twins obviously share an unusually deep bond. Hinako considers her sister a calming influence on her, yet her arsonist instincts remain unabated, resulting in the burning of her uncle’s shop. Suddenly on the run, the twins are determined to stay together, but Minako keeps her secrets, fearing the truth would lead to loss of Hinako in her last remaining days. Real life twins Rika and Mika Nakamura are quite effective as Minako and Hinako respectively. Rika Nakamura is particularly touching as the tragic Minako, conveying all the unfair pathos of her circumstances.

While much of Burning might lend itself to a macabre treatment, Hayashida seems to consciously resist the conventions of horror films. Rather than build suspense around the arson scenes, he always presents them well underway. Although at times the twins do act more than a little creepy, there is never any doubt where viewers’ sympathies should be. They are after all unquestionably victims in the context of the film. Appropriately, Hayashida maintains an elegiac tone throughout, dramatically underscored by Toshihiro Mizuno’s melancholy classical soundtrack.

Unfortunately, the live-in-the-moment theme of Burning would be tragically fitting for Hayashida, who passed away just as the film was released in Japan. While a relatively brief seventy minutes, Hayashida’s haunting film certainly feels like a complete emotional journey. It is definitely well worth checking out on DVD.