Dir. Masahiro Kobayashi. Japan , 2007. 102mins.
A test of endurance that will defeat most audiences, Masahiro
Kobayashi's new film is an exercise in repetitious movement bound to earn plaudits with both festival juries and the more refined art cinema patron. The closest parallel to this kind of cinema is the music of Philip Glass and Steven Reich.
A conceptual experiment focusing on one man and one woman thrown together by a tragic event that affects them both, after the award it collected in Locarno its future in festivals seems assured for a long time to come. No art-house programmer likely to be slow in securing such an oddity.
With 'art' stamped all over it in capital letters, Rebirth is much closer in spirit to those gallery installations intended to be observed at length. It requires total availability, limitless patience and a great deal of curiosity from anyone wishing to tackle it with some degree of seriousness. The soundtrack is entirely without speech (with the exception of the first five minutes, and the last).
The basic terms of the confrontation between the man and the woman in this picture are stated in close-up interviews. The woman explains how she has never suspected her daughter of being capable of certain extreme acts; and anyway, who knows what is going on in their children's minds. Now the only thing she wishes for is to meet the victim's parents and present her deep-felt apologies. For, as it transpires between the lines of the interview, her daughter has stabbed to death another girl at school.
Next in line is a similarly shot interview with the dead girl's father. He is equally unable to explain what has happened, does not feel that he has to, and is revolted by the mass media circus developing around him. He refuses to listen to the advice he is offered, particularly from those who would have him meet and accept the apologies of the killer's mother. All he wants now is to move on to another town and get away from everything and everyone that might remind him of the terrible event.
That's about all the audience is ever going to learn about the past. A year later, somewhere else, he is now living in a nondescript hostel. Every morning he drives to his work to a foundry, comes home to wash, eats dinner in the hostel's dining room, then goes back to his room to browse through the same book, never turning on the small TV set and never using the cell phone on his table. And every day, he sees the woman, working in the hostel's kitchen, cleaning dishes, preparing omelettes, her face covered by a shock of hair, her eyes always pointed down. Both are locked in fixed routines which keep repeating themselves almost hypnotically, the same places, the same actions, the same kind of inanimate living.
But not quite. For the repetitious actions, while basically similar, are shot every time from slightly different angles. And every once in a while, she follows him out of the hostel and bars his way, expecting him to acknowledge her, which he doesn't. Her reactions to the rejections are different each time, ranging between resignation and anger expressed by a slap in his face, and then, back to the same routine - work, wash, eat and above everything else, silence. Until the very end, when spoken word intrudes again to explain, in a monologue the man evidently rehearses before he addresses her, that fate has inextricably and unbearably tied them together.
Needless to say, there are vast options for interpretations available here, from the literal and personal ones dealing with grief and mourning, to philosophical issues of a world where people cannot escape living together, despite all the circumstances which conspire to drive people apart. There is plenty of time for the viewer to ponder such matters; Kobayashi insistently drives his message home, though it would be difficult to elaborate exactly on why he decides on what element at which point.
Playing may be too extravagant a description for the performances of director Kobayashi himself as the man and Makiko Watanabe as the woman. Their enforced, silent, defiant perseverance is their main contribution to the film. The bland quality of the images, drained of any colour that might relieve the over-reigning gloom, the minute p.o.v. changes taking place between one sequence and the other and the rigorously unchanged pace at which it all proceeds, are all part of the same restricted approach. There's no easy way out from here.
Monkey Town Productions