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Japanese 'Eureka' probes aftermath of a shock

Friday, May 04, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On paper, "Eureka" sounds like an endurance test: A black-and-white, subtitled Japanese movie that runs 3 hours and 40 minutes.


RATING: Unrated but R in nature for brief but graphic violence.

STARRING: Sawai Makoto

DIRECTOR: Shinji Aoyama



On screen, however, "Eureka" is an engrossing (if leisurely paced) movie about a hijacking and its aftermath and how a stranger and two siblings become a newly forged family in the wake of the tragedy. It's too long and the black-and-white photography isn't as rich as in "Girl on the Bridge," but you grow to care about the characters and their overdose of misfortune.

"Eureka," at Loews Waterfront, opens on a summer morning in southwest Japan with what appears to be a routine bus trip. But a gunman hijacks the bus, holds passengers hostage and kills six people -- leaving two middle-school children, Kozue and her older brother Naoki, untouched but not unscarred. The only other survivor is the driver, Sawai Makoto (Koji Yakusho).

They have experienced the emotional equivalent of a tidal wave and they have to muster the will to go on. In America, all three would be rushed onto TV newscasts and into therapy. Here, they're on their own, as their lives collapse with relatives disappearing, dying or distancing themselves. Putting everyone further on edge is a string of unsolved local murders.

When the three survivors reunite -- and are joined by the siblings' college-age cousin -- they form an unlikely bond. But the children and Makoto must learn to put the past to rest. More pain, both physical and emotional, is visited upon them before they find redemption.

Writer-director Shinji Aoyama was inspired by the shock and trauma spawned by the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in 1995. The crime here also is a manmade disaster; still, it has many of the same aftereffects as a natural one.

This is a spare movie, with little music and few long discussions. Aoyama plays with the use of light and glass -- we often watch people through windows or, in one case, a character signals an intent by sliding one open.

The result of shooting black and white on color film stock is mixed. If some shots were frozen, they could double for sepia-toned art photos. Other scenes, notably a fight in near-blackness, are too shadowy to see what's going on. The lack of color, however, plunges us into this colorless world.

The cast, especially the children who are forced to act with facial expressions and body language, is excellent. And the power of the messages -- finding the courage to live and stopping the cycle of violence -- is undeniable.

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