Dir: Shinji Aoyama. Japan. 2000. 218mins.
Prod cos: A.J.Works, Les Films de l'Observatoire, Tokyo Theatres. Int'l sales: Wild Bunch, tel: (+33 1 4443 9800). Prod: Takenori Sento. Scr: Shinji Aoyama. Ed: Shinji Aoyama. Prod des:Takeshi Shimizu. DoP: Masaki Tamra. Music: Isao Yamada. Main cast: Kaji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Masaru Miyazaki, Go Riju.
After complaining bitterly about the often inordinate length of the competition films this year, the international critics (Fipresci) gave their prize to the longest entry of them all - Shinji Aoyama's 218-minute Eureka. It sounds almost like a provocation, considering the difficulties this widescreen, black and white film is bound to encounter on its hopeful journey round the world's festivals. But Aoyama's minute examination of a hijacking and its aftermath is undoubtedly exceptional. Once under way, it is not a film you want to leave, and the rigour of its making proclaims the young Japanese director as a talent of international class.
Eureka examines the effects of the brutal hijacking of a bus in provincial Japan. Just as Peter Weir's Fearless took stock of a terrible air crash, Aoyama's film shows that it is almost impossible for the survivors to pursue their former lives as if nothing has happened. The traumatised bus driver (Koji Yakusho) returns to his family only after a long period away to find his wife has left him. He goes back to work for a building company and eventually turns up on the doorstep of the two schoolchildren also badly affected by the hijacking and now unable to talk. Their surrogate father mistreats them, is found dead and the driver becomes the chief suspect. Released for lack of evidence, he takes the children on a trip in a converted minibus. It starts from the scene of the hijack and progresses towards the coast. The healing process begins.
The film is neither melodramatic nor sentimental. Its power comes from an acute observation of its leading characters, psychological truth and the fact that visually it is greatly influenced by the films of John Ford. Masaki Tamara's widescreen images, filmed on colour stock but printed in black and white, give an extraordinarily eloquent impression of Japan's largely unpopulated countryside through which the survivors travel, often silently. Above all, Aoyama's control is absolute and his cast respond magnificently. The experienced Yakusho leads the way but Aoi and Masaru Miyazaki, brother and sister in real life, are equally sure as the children. This is an odyssey it is difficult to forget, and not just because of its length.