2001-2010AsianDramaJapanMasahiro Kobayashi

Masahiro Kobayashi – Ai no yokan aka The Rebirth (2007)

The Locarno Film Festival is renowned for showing interesting, unconventional films, favoring fresh, undiscovered talent over established names. The two do occasionally mix: one example is Anthony Hopkins’ directorial debut Slipstream, a stream-of-consciousness satire that competed at the 2007 edition. It didn’t win anything, though: the prestigious Golden Leopard was picked up by Masahiro Kobayashi, who stunned critics and audiences with The Rebirth, a minimalistic character study of rare poignancy.

As well as writing and directing, Kobayashi plays the male lead, while Makiko Watanabe portrays his female co-star. Both characters are nameless, and at the beginning of the movie they are shown as they get interviewed on the same subject: a young girl murdered by one of her schoolmates. The man is the victim’s father, the woman is the perpetrator’s mother; she would like to apologize for what happened, he doesn’t want to hear from her at all. From that point on, those two sorrowful adults go on with their lives, occasionally running into each other while they follow the same boring routine, day after day.

Most filmmakers would show said boredom through a montage, but Kobayashi is not like most directors: his vision of repetitive life consists of showing the same events all the time, making the film a 100-minute succession of a handful of scenes, all alike. Man goes to work, woman goes to work, man has lunch, woman has lunch, man goes home, woman goes home – for the entire duration of the movie, bar the opening and closing interviews, which are also the only spoken parts in the picture. The director’s idea of cinema is one of simplicity, but at the same time it provides unexpected complexity: the absence of dialogue (and music) in the identical sequences that keep appearing in a prearranged order makes the action very straightforward, but in the meantime it leaves a lot of unanswered questions regarding the characters’ thoughts and feelings. If the man refuses to speak to the woman, why does he walk by places where he knows she will appear at a certain time? In fact, why do they keep working in nearby facilities, given that would only worsen the situation?

Kobayashi’s narrative technique is fascinating, but after a while it becomes the film’s primary weakness: on one hand, bringing the audience to the brink of insanity by repeatedly playing the same scenes reflects the effect everyday life has on the protagonists, and therefore his point is proved admirably; on the other, it is a choice that can work only for a limited amount of time – there is a very thin line between “inspired” and “pretentious”, and after 50 minutes Kobayashi gets dangerously close to crossing it, giving the impression that his storytelling device is less of an organic part of the film, and more of a trickery used for its own sake.

In the end, The Rebirth is interesting but also frustrating, a movie that will move and irritate in equal measure. Still, pictures this brave are a rarity nowadays, which is why Kobayashi’s challenging art-house film should be seen: it may feel like it’s going on forever, but hey, isn’t life exactly the same?

701MB | 1h 42m | 624×336 | avi



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