ELI, ELI, LEMA SABACHTHANI? (Japan / 2005)
Arguably the best film maverick Japanese filmmaker Shinji Aoyama has made since his 2000 masterpiece Eureka, Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? represents an admirable amalgam of the genre-induced narratives of the directors early work and the more somber, melancholic approach he has often employed recently. Deriving its title from the Aramaic transcription of Christs final words on the cross, the film -- which is mostly situated around a remote seaside resort in the year 2015 -- stars the ubiquitous Tadanobu Asano, whose character of Mizui seems to have been composed from the various traits found in his roles in Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2001) and Caf Lumire (2003).
Ostensibly, Mizui and his dear friend, Asuhara (Masaya Nakahara), are masters of recording ambient sounds emitting from implausible sources. From a radio-broadcast in the resort the former musicians often visit, we determine that a suicidal disease, caused by a virus named "The Lemming Syndrome," is wrecking havoc around the world by feeding on human misery. When an aging plutocrat with an ailing granddaughter (Aoi Miyazaki, from Eureka) becomes aware of the news that the cure may lie in the experimental music of the aforementioned duo, he tracks them down with the help of a private detective, only to be told that the music, which might also in fact feed the virus, could only possibly facilitate the change if it originates from within the patients themselves.
A film such as Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? must be a dream job for every sound artist. From sound recording to editing, the film is emblematic of a great aural experience. (But this very quality might serve as a hindrance for certain viewers who might not appreciate or comprehend the underground, gonzo, din-like symphonies utilized here.) On the other hand, however, film-editing leaves something to be desired: on a couple of occasions Aoyama allows a scene to continue long after it has served its purpose. Though, in a minimalist effort like this, he deserves much credit for constantly exploring the films emotional and spiritual center through his softly radiant and precisely composed widescreen images. And, unlike his earlier films, the filmmaker is less interested in unraveling the narrative to satisfy genre fans, and is more geared towards (the means of) the metaphysical cure for the fragmented world of his. No, this isnt Eureka, but after a couple of disappointing efforts it's a step in the right direction for Aoyama.
*ELI, ELI, LEMA SABACHTHANI? premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard). In the U.S., it was selected to play in the "Film Comment Select" series earlier this year.
*Now available on Japanese DVD with English subtitles.