Monday, October 07, 2013

NYFF ’13: Real

Overlooked in the only Jurassic Park that matters, the pleisiosaur finally gets its big screen close-up, courtesy of the other Kurosawa.  Initially, it is only a metaphor, but it becomes significantly meaningful and pressing to the young lovers in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Real (trailer here), which screens tonight at the 51st New York Film Festival.

Initially, Koichi Fujita and Atsumi Kazu look like the ideal couple.  Kazu seems perfectly sweet, but the comic artist specializes in grisly serial killer mangas.  Unfortunately, while suffering a persistent case of writers block, Kazu tried to take her own life, falling into a coma instead.  Hoping to assist her recovery, Fujita has agreed to a new procedure known as “sensing,” by which he will enter her subconscious. 

If Fujita gently probes the circumstances surrounding her attempted suicide, he can encourage her conscious mind to re-awaken.  The early sessions go relatively well, but Fujita is increasingly alarmed by the residual phantom images intruding on his reality as a result of the sensing.  He also carries back a concrete mission to perform in the real world.  Kazu yearns to see the pleisiosaur drawing she gave him while they were both children living on the provincial island of Hikone.

As Kurosawa’s title suggests, there will be many questions about the nature of reality throughout Real.  However, every twist and revelation serves to advance the story (adapted from Rokuro Inui’s novel), so they never feel cheap or forced.  While perhaps less of a departure for the horror auteur than his previous outing, the dark family drama Tokyo Sonata, Real is best considered in the tradition of Richard Matheson writing in his What Dreams May Come and Somewhere in Time bag.  In fact, what is most striking about Real is how deeply Fujita and Kazu feel about each other while being so reserved in the manner they express it.

Frankly, Takeru Sato’s work could be uncharitably categorized as a bit stiff or awkward, but to be fair, Fujita is supposed to be a step slow in the intuition department.  On the other hand, Haruka Ayase’s performance as Kazu is acutely sensitive.  In fact, she handles her game-changing pivot with considerable grace.  It is also a bit surprising to see a major star like Miki Nakatani (truly mesmerizing in Memories of Matsuko) in the comparatively straight forward supporting role of Dr. Eiko Aihara, but she makes the most of it.

Real is a text book example of how special effects can and should be subservient to story and character development.  There is plenty of head-tripping and reality-bending, but it is the love story drives the film.  Nicely supported by Kei Haneoka’s elegant musical themes, Real is far more accessible for general audiences than most of Kurosawa’s films.  Highly recommended, it screens tonight (10/7) at Alice Tully Hall as a main slate selection of the 2013 NYFF.