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February 2, 2005

Séance, 2000

seance.gifAn unidentified widow (Hikari Ishida) sits in the kitchen of the Sato home bearing a keepsake from her late husband in the desperate hope that her psychic medium, Junko (Jun Fubuki) can somehow connect her to him and help resolve her own conflicted emotions on the prospect of marrying another man. Soft-spoken, deliberative, and perhaps intentionally vague in her seemingly enlightened queries, Junko's role is that of a surrogate psychotherapist, echoing her client's ambivalent sentiment through inverted responses and patient, introspective silence. Nevertheless, Junko's paranormal vocation seems to have been borne more out of listlessness and an attempt at social re-engagement than financial necessity as she impulsively tells her devoted husband, a sound engineer named Sato (Kôji Yakusho) one evening that she is ready to return to work. A subsequent, cursory episode alludes to the reason for her self-imposed exile as Sato searches for a child's beverage training mug, reinforcing the theme of a lost child that has deeply marked - and continues to haunt - their marriage. Meanwhile, in another part of town, the police are baffled by the case of a nebulous and predatory stranger who has abducted a young girl at a playground under the ruse of her mother's illness. Working with a university professor (Ittoku Kishibe) in order to create a psychological profile of the perpetrator, the professor, in turn, convinces the lead detective (Kitarou) to enlist Junko's assistance, providing her with the child's handkerchief in order to aid in the search. A loose adaptation of the novel by Mark McShane, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Séance is a taut, atmospheric, and meticulously constructed psychological study of surrogate guilt, emotional co-dependency, personal conscience, and vanity. Kiyoshi Kurosawa continues to experiment with the distillation, aesthetic infusion, and integral structure of gothic elements into a non-horror genre narrative (most recently, in the sociological drama, Bright Future) while retaining the psychological tension, profound alienation, and metaphysical otherworldliness that have come to define his cinema (and is particularly evident in the Tarkovsky-like barren landscapes of Charisma) in order to create a thoughtful and provocative exposition on transference, spiritual desolation, and sentimental inertia.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 02, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes


Hi acquarello~

I'm a fan of Kiyoshi's movies. My favorites are probably "License To Live" and "Cure". There is a quiet but wry & deadpan humor in his composition and cutting that I particularly enjoy (even in his dark films).
Here's a recent interview with the man himself. And one of his favorite directors, for whom he has professed an admiration time and again, is Robert Aldrich (who'da thought?).

Posted by: girish on Jun 23, 2005 7:32 PM | Permalink

Hey Girish, thanks for the interview link. I agree with you, his humor is probably the least broached aspect of his filmmaking, but it's always there, not just in an absurdist film like Doppelgänger. I saw License to Live early on when I was just beginning to get into Kurosawa's films and I think I had too much of an expectation of wanting to see another Charisma like suspense film. I need to see this film again.

By the way, that part about paying his dues to Nikkatsu by having to make a roman porno is pretty funny. Coincidentally, I just started looking through the New York Video Festival and they have an entire program on this genre of Japanese film. It seems like such an odd cultural thing to have to cut your teeth on as a fledgling filmmaker. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 23, 2005 8:03 PM | Permalink

Yeah, that's funny....I've seen one of his early roman pornos, called "The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl" (1985). It's utterly unlike his other stuff, and is a daring, Godardian, aggressively disjunctive pseudo-essay-film with the occasional sex tryst. Juzo Itami (of "Tampopo") plays a lecherous prof.

Also interesting is the "double bill" film "Eyes of the Spider"/"Serpent's Path" with the same actor and similar revenge plot that start out the same but then "diverge" after a while and come to very different ends. Even at his least, Kiyoshi is an always interesting genre formalist.

Posted by: girish on Jun 23, 2005 9:32 PM | Permalink

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