Sunday, July 16, 2017

Japan Cuts ’17: Haruneko

It is strange film theorists have not spent more time analyzing the connection between genre cinema and experimental film. After all, to accept a postmodern fantasia on anything approaching face value, you have to make similar or even greater jumps as those required by fantastical cinema. Take this one. In many ways, it would bear comparison to Kore-eda’s After Life, but the herky-jerky flow puts us in a completely different headspace. In any event, those who seek death will eventually find it in Sora Hokimoto’s Haruneko (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

The Manager runs a coffee shop in the woods that attracts a steady clientele, despite its remote location. After serving some rich looking French-press coffee, “The Manager” will escort guests into the woods, where they dissolve into sound vibrations. At least, that is the idea. Some guests, like the yakuza on the run or the delusional father who just murdered his wife and daughter might require a little coaxing. However, from a Karmic standpoint, it is necessary for them to move on.

That is the [relatively] clear-cut narrative part. Haruneko has no shortage of hallucinatory imagery that viewers could mull over for years without fully parsing them. Of course, for some, that is the charm of a film like this.

Haruneko is part of the experimental focus at this year’s Japan Cuts, so its surreal sensibilities should not come as a surprise. It is not for a mass audience, but the intimidated will miss out on a terrific performance from young Ryuto Iwata as Haru, a little boy who assists the manager with day-to-day chores and might also be a potential client, as his mysterious sister was or will be.

This is a strange film that changes tone on a dime. Yet, there is something undeniably inviting about the fateful coffeehouse. It is a lovely example of the power of mise-en-scene. Yoi Suzuki’s suggestive cinematography also captures the deep verdant colors of the forest, as well as a sense of the mysteries lurking within. Arguably, it is an experimental film that could have been more powerful if it were less experimental. Recommended for patrons of the avant-garde, Haruneko screens tonight (7/16) at the Japan Society, as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.