Dir/scr: MasahiroKobayashi. Jap. 2005. 82mins.

A mystifying experience for any but a Japanese audience, Bashing,Masahiro Kobayashi's fictional rendering of a real-life event, would haveplayed more comfortably on less demanding grounds than its Cannes competitionberth.

The story of a Japanesehumanitarian worker kidnapped in Iraq who then returned home to widespreadspite, Bashing is expressed in such melodramatic terms that adocumentary would have proved a more effective examination of the issue.

Purposely repetitive tounderline its grim comments on Japanese society, yet blissfully short, this isthe kind of product that might eventually draw the attention of festivals as aslice of off-kilter life. Beyond that it is unlikely to travel far.

Yuko (Fusako Urabe), asocial misfit, by her own confession, volunteered to join a humanitarianoperation in the Middle East (Iraq is never mentioned by name). While there shewas taken hostage, freed and repatriated.

Back home she is confrontedwith an unofficial but widespread slander campaign that starts on the internetbut soon spreads into everyday life, blaming her for trying to be different,for embarrassing the nation by choosing to go into a troubled area of theworld, for putting herself into dangerous situations and therefore bearing fullresponsibility for being a hostage.

The ultra-conformist societyaround her cannot stand such individualist conduct and, as a result, she isfired from her job as a hotel chambermaid, mugged in the street by younghoodlums and victimised by countless abusive phone calls.

Meanwhile her father (RyuzoTanaka) is first forced out of the job he has held for 30 years - his bossclaims his presence gives the company a bad name - then commits suicide.

Yuko eventually reaches theconclusion that there is no future for her left in Japan and returns to theonly place in the world where she felt needed: the war zones of the MiddleEast.

While bearing in mind thestraight-laced uniformity attributed to the Japanese national character - the'village society' is director Kobayashi's description - it is stillhard to understand the obstinate virulence of Yuko's total rejection.

Nor does the persistentrefusal of Yuko's fellow countrymen to even discuss the issue help clarify theissue. One former boyfriend does accuse the aid worker of turning her back onher own people and going away to assist others while there was plenty still todo at home - but it is still an insufficient motive for her utter isolation.

Fusako Urabe's intense,highly-strung performance in the lead reflects the crisis she is in and her ownincomprehension of it, but the script itself fails to offer any insights thatmight enlighten her or the audience.

Shot realistically, withoutresorting to the stylised refinements the Japanese cinema often indulges in,Kobayashi's film has a hard, gritty look. But its lack of actual dramaticmaterial imposes repetitions and a deliberately slow pace.

Prod cos: Monkey Town Prods
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Prods: Masahiro Kobayashi, Naoko Okamura
Cine: Koichi Saitoh
Ed: Naoki Kaneko
Music: Hiroshi Hayashi
Main cast: Fusako Urabe, Ryuzo Tanaka, Takayuki Kato, Kikujiro Honda,Teruyku Kagawa, Nene Otsuka