segunda-feira, 13 de abril de 2009

On Eureka: Novel Experience, Great Classic

(Eureka, 2001)
By Kurosawa Kiyoshi

After seeing Eureka many said with amazement, "It did not bore me at all." So did I. I must confess, however, that I had a preconceived idea that a three-hour-and-thirty-seven-minute long film, which I had been previosvly told Eureka was, ought to be tiring not matter what trick the filmmaker might deploy. Of course, even if one is bored of a film, one cannot say it is bad, which makes cinema awesome. I know that much. There are many boring but great films: witness films of Wim Wenders, Aleksandr Sokurov, Manoel de Oliveira, Theodoros Angelopoulos (probably?) and Edward Yang, too. Take Angeloupoulos' The Hunters (1977) or Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day (1991) for example. While these are definitely stunning masterpieces, if somebody asks me whether they didn't bore me even for a single second, I must answer in the affirmative. To tell you the truth, I felt bored a bit. But what's wrong with it? I couldn't help it because they were too long. To continue with my confession - this is between you and me, you know - I sometimes feel that Hitchcock's films or Ford's dull. No, no I take it back. In any event, masterpieces in modern times are at once fantastic and cruel for us. And can't you find a multitude of insipid but stupid films in the USA? Yes. There is no room for argument, and the word boredom has been off limits among us, conscientious spectators. The value of a film does not lie in such a thing as boredom; for film is character, ideology and art.
It seems to me that Eureka was obviously made in fundamental defiance of such a situation. To put it more bluntly, I can even sense malice here. Needless to say, this film's sales point is the duration of 217 minutes. From the very beginning, this film was designed to run for 217 minutes. It was by no means the natural outcome of spontaneous shooting and editing. In fact, I have seen many films of this sort: Shinji Sômai's rushes. His Tonda Kappuru (The terrible Couple, 1980) was originally well over three-and-a-half-hour long and was a terrific masterpiece. But I believe Aoyama belongs to a completely different species from Sômai. When Aoyama films a work of 217 minutes, he persuades his producer that his project is such. He duly writes such a script, films and edits it to create a film of 217 minutes. He has intended everything that way. The film was highly likely to force spectators to experience "boredom". So Aoyama would have naturally had to choose between flattering the environment where "boredom" was a taboo word among good spectators and attempting to destroy it. He of course chose the latter. In other words, he pursued a direction different from Wenders, Sokurov or even Yang.
Aoyama's adventure further lies in the fact that although he knew he could attempt a Novecento (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1976) or Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) he totally turned his back on that. These films are carefully constructed not to bore the audience with plenty of highlights. They contain a three-hour-long marathon of one deluxe scene after another, from which the audience cannot take their eyes off. It goes without saying that they totally differ from Aoyama's Eureka. This is not a work that offers the enjoyment of two films in one. Its settings, location, characters, diegetic time and perhaps money spent - each of these is evidently worth only a single film, but it is that long and not boring at all. Each cut of Eureka is drawn out almost to the limit of boredom threshold, and just before the spectator would grow tired, it acrobatically jumps to the next. That is why the spectator realises that the word "boredom", which he thought of but rejected scores of times during the screening, has been completly smashes in the end. As soon as he looks at his watch and confirms that the film was really 217 minutes long, he mumbles to himself, "I wasn't bored".
If Eureka were 100 minutes long (which Aoyama must be capable of doing), people would complacenlty draw some sort of ideology from its narrative as usual or smugly find faults with the unique character of his mis-en-scéne as usual. But everyone blushes as he speaks of that extraordinary 217 minute-long experience, knowing that such and such criticism would be utterly meaningless. Speaking of the narrative matter-of-factly, the narrative of Helpless (1996) or Tsumetai Chi (An Obsession, 1999) is far more complex and confusing. Compared to these, Eureka's narrative is rather simple (the time flows chronologically!) and in terms of mise-en-scéne, Eureka is less audacious and reckless than Wild Life (1997) and Shady Grove (1999). This, however, must have frustrated Aoyama all through. A 100-minute-long film is only a 100-minute-long film. No matter what revolutionary content it might offer, nobody could be disturbed or bored when it ends as scheduled. "Now, I've seen a film, so what can I say about it?" - Good spectators would summon the same old sensibilities and thinking to discuss it. Aoyama must have already run out of patience with this world of self-complacency.
A word of warning, "You may get tired," is first uttered. So we are prepared for it and timidly approach the film. Realising that this is not like Novecento we desperately try to find some word. "I'm bored" is a taboo, of course. We are a little surprised that we can understand the film rather unexpectedly as we watch it, and at the same time, we apparently come to believe that it contains no genuine mistery whether in terms of narrative or mis-en-scene. Thus, some words that occurred to us would naturally disappear, and we suddenly realise that 217 minutes has passed. Our memory would tell us that we seem to have seen a film. We have a slight rush of blood to the head as we have experienced stupor and excitment for the first time. We know we have unmistakably experienced a film. No word comes to our mind; for experience refers to the state before we catch a word. This is Eureka's trick.
It remains for us to determine whether we should call Aoyama who has created such a film a saviour or a destroyer. I can just intuitively say that Eureka looks like an overwhelmingly novel film or a great classic. There is no doubt, to say the least, that it is a sort of work that we who are alive now have experienced for the first time. Is this then the first of its kind in the world? No. I know something like this has happened just once in the history of cinema. That is the moment when Louis Lumière successfully made a moving picture into cinema - the moment when a simple image that could live only for a few seconds was revolutionized to become a full one-minute-long untiring experience.
This means that the world is jumping into the age when a 100-minute-long thing will not be called a film. Or such a thing that once called itself cinema has died out, and three-or-four-hour-long image experience, under a different name, will become widespread. When this has happened, Eureka will be worshipped as a primordial memorial and Shinji Aoyama will be a god to many people. But he will be a devil, perhaps, to me personally. In the not-so-distant future, a few will be gone and the age of Aoyama will come - I've got such a hunch.

(Cahiers du Cinéma japon, no.31, 2001, pp.18-21.)

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