Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?, 2005

Shinji Aoyama returns to the desolate geographical and spiritual landscapes of Eureka to create a thoughtful and idiosyncratic – if patently offbeat and unclassifiable – concoction of doomsday angst, picaresque humor, synthesized cacophony, natural communion, and even redemption in Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?. The film’s allusive title, taken from the Aramaic transcription of Jesus’ ninth hour utterance upon the cross (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”), provides an insightful framework into the isolated lives of a rural hamlet’s increasingly dwindling population after a flu-like, suicide-inducing virus causes a global epidemic called Lemming’s Disease (presumably named after the popular misconception that lemming herds commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs as a means of self-regulated population control). The film opens to a curious image in the not-so-distant future of the year 2015 as Mizui (Tadanobu Asano) and Asuhara (Masaya Nakahara) – donned in filtering face masks, goggles, and white coveralls and carrying sound recording equipment – seemingly emerge from the sea and make their way towards the shore where a deserted tent has been staked. Showing little reaction to the sight of dead bodies inside the tent, they instead turn their attention to the recording of the ambient sounds entombed with the occupants of the campsite. It is a wordless ritual that has come to define their daily life since retreating into the countryside on self-imposed exile after abandoning their former careers as world-renowned experimental musicians. However, when a scientist presents a controversial theory that the cure for the malady may lie in a patient’s live exposure to the eccentric duo’s music, their familiar ritual is disrupted by the unexpected appearance of a wealthy industrialist named Miyagi (Yasutaka Tsutsui) who, with the aid of a private detective (Masahiro Toda), has tracked down the reluctant saviors in order to plead for salvation of his afflicted granddaughter, Hana (Aoi Miyazaki), a dubious “treatment” that the musicians believe will actually trigger the suicidal impulse. Aoyama eschews conventional images of the apocalypse and instead presents a metaphoric image of antiseptic detachment and profound disconnection: apocalypse as the figurative end of humanity, a world without true human contact. It is this cautionary tale of humanity in the face of despair and instilled determination to survive that ultimately reconciles the film’s seemingly dissociated, final image of snowfall – as Mizui’s messianic experimental performance becomes an anthem for willful survival, so too does the snow represent a glimpse of silent grace in the midst of overwhelming darkness – a rage against the dying of the light.

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