This Could Be Heaven, or This Could Be Hell
Fans already alarmed by cult director Takashi Miike’s detour toward the art house will find little reassurance in Big Bang Love, Juvenile A/46-okunen no koi, Although scripted by Masa Nakamura from a gay manga and compared to works of modern icons at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, it has not attracted an American distributor.
Opening feature of Japan Cuts, Japan Society’s hundredth anniversary first annual film festival of new cinema from the homeland, the movie is co-presented as a joint venue in the sixth annual New York Asian Film Festival. However, this newest from Miike will probably not satisfy admirers, nor is it calculated to proselytize non-believers.
In a festival advertising “thunder . . . blow your mind . . . orgy . . . buffalo-busting action . . . cartilage-cracking gangsters [and] Pakistan’s first gore flick,” this feature contains no leggy pulchritude--no females, period. It also lacks the puckish humor and, worse, shows no crimson splatter. This does not mean an avoidance of violence, for the less than anticipated unpleasantness is made more discomforting by being just out of camera frame, sickeningly heard rather than seen in special-effects.
Its Japanese title closer to “The Love of 4,600 Million Years,” the film does follow its maker’s M.O. pattern of short, sometimes repeated, fragments laid out to be fitted into chronological and, maybe, emotional coherence. In keeping with his horror of “too many logical things [which will] destroy my films,” there are unexplained gaps, unclarified motivations, puzzling free-floating symbols like two Mesoamerican pyramids and an old-fashioned rocket ship -- which protagonists, not audience, equate with Heaven and space -- and a silly blue CGI butterfly.
A visual departure in this one is the absence of background. Actors are yellow-lighted against absolute pitch black, suggestive of an experimental theater stage, with only austere minimal props, such as small wood boxes, a desk, two or three vertical window bars, a yellowy-ocher laundry pool. Thus, stark emphasis falls on characters, briefly and sometimes confusingly presented, in their Rashomon variety of conflicting opinions, the whole pretentiously framed by a mentor instructing a bare-chested boy who, it may be hinted, will grow up into violent Shiro Kazuki (Masanobu Ando), the tattooed dancer who martial-arts pirouettes in a skirt of red ribbons for teacher and pupil.
Following a miserable childhood -- the director frequently leans back to that -- Shiro is imprisoned for murder, coincidentally at the same time as Jun Ariyoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda), a cold seductive bartender who with a broken glass slashed a gay pickup customer so mercilessly that it cannot be dismissed as self-defense.
Against a stylized atmosphere of homoerotic tension, silent Shiro head-butts, punches and kicks to protect near androgynous Jun, but there is no actual physical relationship; indeed, even when Jun’s laundry-detail mate Sumio (Yosuke Kubozuka) repeatedly gives himself to infirmary trustee Tsuchiya (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) in return for favors, there is no screen pandering of flesh.
It is to give nothing away, for it is early on that Shiro is strangled, with Jun found kneeling on the spread-eagled corpse, his hands on the neck, muttering, “I . . . did it.” Two detectives (Renji Ishibashi, Kenichi Endo) emotionlessly observe the confessed murderer, find neither motive nor proof, and rope the viewer into doubt, too. Inmates are randomly interviewed and offer guesses, as is the strange warden (Ryo Ishibashi) who responds to unvoiced questions that appear as printed titles (as do section introductions) and reveals that the dead prisoner had once raped his wife, who committed suicide but returned in a dream to plead for her assailant.
A “solution” emerges, but uncertainty lingers, as perhaps suicide can be self-willed if not self-committed. The cool, ambiguous Miike dreamworld has become more inward and less filled with imagery than usual, the visuals less spectacularly shocking or amusing. There is little middle ground for opinion about his work, but this latest may not satisfy either extreme of the spectrum.
(Released by Cathay-Keris Films; not rated by MPAA.)