If, as Nigel said in Spinal Tap, there's a fine line between clever and stupid, then this movie shows that there's a fine line between artistic and tedious.
For me this movie teetered on the edge for three hours before unfortunately toppling into the "tedious" pile. I think it was that awful, experimental noise music which was inserted at a most inappropriate time which killed it for me. But there were many other close calls which could have proved fatal as well.
First let's talk about the colour. Just because a movie is shot in b&w doesn't mean that it is magically elevated to artistic status. On the contrary, I feel that (modern) b&w film must earn its right to be b&w. This movie failed in that department. There is no use of shadows, sharpness or contrast which are the primary appeals of the monochrome medium. Instead, the whole movie has a soupy, fuzzy, bleached appearance, like an old VCR tape that you left on the dashboard for too long.
Obviously the director was trying to make a statement with this visually unappealing use of browns. If the movie were any shorter than 3.5 hours, then I could have forgiven it. But unfortunately it didn't make the cut.
Next let's talk about theme. Sure, it has a compelling theme (sort of like the other Japanese film from the same year "Suicide Club") dealing with the contagious nature of evil. I do have to give this film applause for handling the subject much more poetically than the pop trash flick Suicide Club. Yet I have to turn around and fault the director for dragging the same message out for too long. The effect was a watering down of an otherwise powerful message. Again, we tip from magnificent to annoying.
Lastly I'll mention some of the cinematic techniques and scene compositions. In a word: wow. There are a few shots which must've taken 100 takes to get them right, and with that I am impressed. But you have to realize that I am impressed simply as a film nerd who looks for that sort of thing. Beyond the gimmickery of a "wow" shot to impress the film nerds, I didn't see much poetic meaning to these indulgent scenes. Quite often they went nowhere. Unlike Tarr (Werckmeister harmóniák) or Bresson (Pickpocket) or even Hitchcock (Rope) who used long scenes to build momentum to a miniature climax each time, this director uses long scenes which ultimately lose coherence and end on a totally meaningless note. Another reviewer compared this film to Tarkovsky, and I have to say that's right on the mark; both directors share the same annoying tendency to film things that don't necessarily relate to the work but are simply neato things to do (like Tarkovsky's obsession with zooming in on peoples' earlobes for 2-3 minutes).
I love Japanese cinema. I love the challenging philosophy of films like Rashômon, the poetic complexity of films like Shiki-Jitsu, and above all, the focused clarity of films like Warai No Daigaku. Japanese cinema is art with a backbone. Unfortunately this film lacks that backbone which has been the defining characteristic since the days of Kurosawa. Without it, the film becomes just another desultory, rambling, impressionistic soup.
Unless you're a big fan of Tarkovsky, Paradjanov and other ambling Russian directors, I advise you to avoid this film. If, on the other hand, you like your films orchestrated and carefully designed à la Kurosawa, Orson Welles, Robert Bresson, or even the latter day greats Wim Wenders and Takeshi Kitano, then skip this and instead spend your 3.5 hours trying to hunt down a copy of Kwaidan by Kobayashi.
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The traumatized survivors of a murderous bus hijacking come together and take a road trip to attempt to overcome their damaged selves. Meanwhile a serial killer is on the loose.
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3 hr 37 min