Brother and sister Naoki (Masaru Miyazaki) and Kozue (Aoi Miyazaki, "One Summer's Day") leave their rural Japanese home for school as their mother waves in the distance. They board a bus which snakes along country roads. One quick edit later and that bus' windows are covered in newspaper, all other passengers save the bus driver Makoto (Koji Yakusho, "Shall We Dance?") are dead and a crazed hijacker (Go Riju) talks to police on his cell phone while ruminating on Naoki and Kozue's fate in writer/director Shinji Aoyama's Cannes 2000 Ecumenical Jury prize winner "Eureka."
Laura's Review: B
Makoto bravely saves the day and he and the children survive the horrific event only to watch their lives unravel. Naoki and Kozue's mother leaves their home for another man after being beaten by their father, who kills himself in a drunken car wreck. The two children withdraw from society, cease speaking, and live alone in their odd, chalet-like home. When Naoki receives a phone call from an aunt (clearly more interested in insurance money than the childrens' welfare), he simply hangs up on her.
Makoto arrives home after an undetermined, but obviously lengthy, absence. He obtains a job as a day laborer with his old friend Shigeo (Ken Mitsuishi, "The Pillow Book"), who tells him about the children living alone in the strange, isolated house. Misunderstood by his family, Makoto arrives at Naoki and Kozue's home and quietly becomes the patriarch protector of the silent duo. Twentyish city cousin Akihiko (Yoichiro Saito, "Wild Life") arrives to spend his summer holiday (clearly also acting as a scout for that noisy aunt) and livens things up, but a pall is cast over the town when it becomes apparent that a serial killer is targeting its young women.
After Mikiko (Machiko Ono), a young woman who'd taken a shine to the distant yet polite Makoto, is found dead, Makoto is arrested as a suspect by the same cop who witnessed his heroism, but he's released for lack of evidence. Makoto buys an old bus, converts it for travelling and takes his two charges and an initially reluctant Akihiko on a journey to find themselves and begin again.
The heavily spiritual feel and theme of "Eureka" are similar to Peter Weir's "Fearless," yet Shinji Aoyama ("Wild Life") takes a completely different approach. "Eureka" is shot in black and white (sepia and white, actually) and unfolds at a languid pace over 217 minutes. Aoyama's ambitious story also covers more ground, addressing not only survivor's guilt, but loss, unspoken communication and family. Unfortunately, his serial killing subplot rings false, severely damaging the impact of this otherwise unique and fascinating film.
Koji Yakusho grounds the film with his emotional truth while Ken Mitsuishi and Yoichiro Saito provide some much needed levity, particularly in their country man/city boy verbal sparring scenes together. Masaru Miyazaki plays Naoki as a sullen cipher except when we see him alone, thinking, while Aoi Miyazaki portrays Kozue as a more normal, albeit silent, child with a trusting, loving nature. Machiko Ono is touching as Makiko.
The film is an artistic stunner. Cinematographer Masaki Tamura can make heat shimmer almost yellow in a black and white world, a light which often threatens to obscure the film's images. The three central characters are frequently framed in center, like a still photograph which accentuates their alienation. The slow moving images are punctuated with squeaky cricket chirping and the sound of waves which symbolically open and close the film (sound by Nobuyuki Kikuchi). Original music by Shinji Aoyama and Isao Yamada features guitar, flute and piano lends a dreamlike quality.
"Eureka" demands that the viewer accompany its characters on a long, sometimes arduous journey. While one of its major roads leads to an unsatisfying destination, the trip on the whole is one worth taking.