Genre: Surreal Nightmare
review in one breath
Three... Extremes is a trilogy of relatively short films each by a different asian director. Box, the 40 minute film under review here is directed by Japanese director Miike Takashi. Dumpling is a 37 minute film by Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. And Cut is a 48 minute film by Korean director Park Chan-wook. (PS: Although all three of these very cool films are contained in the single DVD I hold in my nimble fingers, I will only review Miike's film since (a) this is a Japanese movie review site, and (b) my utter lack of experience with Hong Kong or Korean films will undoubtedly result in my review simply saying these films are "very cool".)
The entire Three... Extremes trilogy is actually a sequel of sorts to the well received Three released in 2002, a trilogy of movies produced by a similarly asian-international collection of directors consisting of Honk Kong director Peter Chan Ho-Sun's film Going Home, Korean director Kim Jee-Woon's film Memories and Thai director Nonzee Nimbutr's film The Wheel.
I have seen a lot of Miike's films and I must say that Box is perhaps the most cinematically polished and nuanced that I can recall. By "polished" I mean that crisp and precise visual presentation which is simply striking and memorable to the eye, whether that be of the great snowy expanse dominated by an ancient tree or the cramp interior of a small circus tent. In this very recent 40 minute film, Miike truly displays his considerable skill and experience in creating cinematic worlds.
Box is literally surreal both visually and narratively. Audiences find themselves caught up in a swirl of rich yet haunting images comprised of memory, dream and reality. The power of Miike's project here is the complete intermingling of these three into near stream-of-consciousness. This results in a very eery blur of nightmare and the Real. And it is this visual and conceptual blur which lingers as the most prominent impression made by this film.
The story consists of the perceptions of Kyoko (Hasegawa Kyoko), a shy author whose haunting memories and vivid dreams seem to spill out into her reality. As a young girl she performed with her sister Shyoko for her father's (Watabe Atsuro) small, rural traveling act. Out of jealousy over her father's apparent favoritism of Shyoko, what begins as simply a childish intention soon bursts into an unintended terrible and violent catastrophe. Kyoko's guilt and loneliness nearly consume her existence, even now as a young woman. Whether she is awake or asleep, she is immersed in the outfall of that childhood memory. In a recurring nightmare Kyoko is forced to contort into the small box she and her sister had performed with. The box, with Kyoko inside is then buried by her father deep within the the snowy ground at the foot of a great tree.
This is a wonderful and eery film which I believe truly accomplishes what it sets out to do. I was impressed by the haunting cinematography, from that of snowy, barren terrain to the claustrophobic interior of the small box. I would put this on par with the visual style of Kitamura Ryuhei's similarly short and polished Heat After Dark (in which Watabe also appears) in terms of truly skillful use of the camera. Miike allows this film to communicate through its imagery far more than through the spoken word, which draws the viewer further into an encompassing surrealism.
Most of Miike's characteristic "extreme" elements are missing here and this is far from violent or shocking (in the traditional Miike sense of those words). And yet he can't quite resist the tendency to slightly perverse human relationships and thus here depicts a tone of incestuous relation between the father and his daughters. This "tone" however in no way dominates the storyline nor rises to the level of distraction and is so thoroughly enmeshed in the surrealism that it is not even clear whether the tone should be assigned to reality or delusion.
Narratively, the film is structured rather impressively and this complexity is still unpacking in my head as I reflect on what I saw. The more I think about it the more structure I see. This emerging sense of structure, however, will undoubtedly come after the initial viewing of the film, since Miike intentionally and skillfully obscures it from the viewer through the film's predominant surrealism. Due to the great spoiler potential, I'll discuss this structure below.
Let me just say here that this is a truly fascinating film.
** major spoiler warning **
What originally appears to be the three strands of the narrative, namely, Reality (Kyoko the author in blue dress), Memory (Kyoko the child) and Dream (Kyoko in the box) emerges to be in fact only the two strands of Reality (author Kyoko waking in bed with white dress) and Dream (Kyoko in blue dress in the box). What we take to be Kyoko's reality slowly unfolds to become the dream itself and provides the early stages of the recurring sequence wherein she is ultimately buried inside the box. Thus Kyoko in the blue dress is the dream along with all her childhood memories and ghostly encounters, and the haunting surrealism itself which permeates the entire narrative is in fact the fluidity of this dream state. This accounts for all the seemingly supernatural encounters including the editor's with the strange young girl in the hallway, as well as those several scenes which seem either impossible or unlikely such as Kyoko receiving a written invitation to the tent of her childhood.
The siamese-like deformity which the real Kyoko possesses adds a truly bizarre and fascinating layer to possible interpretation of the dream. It would certainly seem to explain the entire claustrophobia motif as well as an almost subconscious desire to rid herself of her "sister". And to the degree Kyoko's dreams are impacted by the perceptions and dreams of her child-like (siamese) self, this may also account for the incestuous tone wherein the father, who is in fact a dream character based upon the editor, is viewed simultaneously as father (by the younger) and lover (by the elder).
I will simply repeat my earlier declaration that this is a truly fascinating film.
Version reviewed: Region 0 DVD (HK release?) - includes English subtitles
|This Miike film is part of a second trilogy of prominent asian-international directors' works.||Kyoko's memories are of a child-like attack upon her father and an unintended horrific accident.||The dream-like father fondles not only a doll but also the adult Kyoko.||Miike does a wonderful job of seriously playing with your head. This is definitely one to see.|