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(Screened at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival)
“Ku_on” marks the feature length debut of Japanese writer/director Hatamura Takayuki, which recently had its World Premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London. Its title referring to the concept of ‘eternity’ in Buddhist teachings, the film is a supernaturally themed affair following a group of people with mysterious and potentially murderous powers, starring Hidemasa Shiozawa, Yusei Tajima and Sou Sato. Though it might sound generic, the film is a surprisingly, and very pleasingly complex and ambitious affair, Hatamura employing a variety of storytelling techniques to shake things up and keep the viewer guessing.
Following a series of what appear to be random scenes and flashbacks, the film opens with a bang, with 26-year old office worker Sano Hiroyuki suddenly finding that he has the power to possess people, switching his consciousness into their bodies. Understandably confused and disoriented, he is approached by a detective called Yamamoto, who claims to have the same ability and who fills him in on the possibilities and ramifications of their condition. He introduces him to Sayo, a young woman who also shares their power, and together they tell him of another body swapper called Ushio, a teen serial killer, currently in jail and about to be transferred to a less secure prison. Desperate to prevent this from happening, Yamamoto and Sayo convince Sano to help them attack the police convoy, though of course, things don’t go quite as expected.
“Ku_on” is an exceptionally well-constructed and written film, Hatamura Takayuki making great, often quite inspired use of a fractured narrative that jumps backwards and forwards in time and between varying perspectives. The script manages to attain a perfect balance between keeping the viewer both involved and constantly off-balance, and it’s as much a puzzle as it is a thriller, with small details and ambiguous, unexplained moments holding large clues. Thankfully, the film commands as well as demands constant attention, Hatamura setting up, developing and then subverting the rules of his world very cleverly, and the plot has plenty of twists and revelations along the way. Without wishing to spoil anything, much of the plot revolves around the body switching conceit and as to who is really who, though despite this the film still has a strong and appealing sense of character, which proves vital in keeping the viewer emotionally attached. The spiritual angle suggested by the title also adds depth and weight to some of its themes, though in a subtle manner which defuses any danger of pretentiousness or ponderousness.
Hatamura’s direction is every bit as impressive as his writing, and he shows a real talent for notching up tension, building a gradual sense of unease throughout and keeping the viewer on tenterhooks. Though for the most part the film focuses on suspense, there’s also a surprising amount of action, with several violent fights and stunt scenes, all of which are nicely choreographed and exciting. Combined with some tight editing and a marvellous sense of efficiency, not to mention a lean 78 minute running time, this makes for a fast moving, at times breathless viewing experience which fairly flies by.
To be fair, the film isn’t perfect, and Hatamura does make a few fumbles here and there, most notably in terms of the shutter clicking noise which accompanies the scene changes. Whilst on the one hand this underlines the fractured narrative and the leaps in time and space, it’s not really needed, and quite quickly becomes a bit repetitive. Similarly, though the ending is satisfying, it’s arguably one twist too far and too sudden, and this detracts from its effectiveness – though the film is one of the very few to include a worthwhile post credits sequence, which should definitely be seen.
These are minor criticisms however, and “Ku_on” is a very entertaining and well-made piece of fun indeed, proving that genre films can be enjoyable on a cerebral as well as intellectual level. Hopefully it’s a film which will find the wide distribution and attention it deserves, marking as it surely does the start to a promising career for Hatamura Takayuki.
Takayuki Hatamura (director) / Takayuki Hatamura (screenplay)
CAST: Shizuka Shizuka