Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2018 3:26 am 
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Multiple occupancy

It's hardly a surprise to know the young Yuji Kiyohara, whose feature film debut this is, studied under Kiyoshi Kurosawa. This is a variation on his own varied and very prolific work, which so often plays with families, ghosts, and haunting mysteries. Kiyohara's movie is subtle and haunting. It doesn't quite work but neither do some of her master's. The subject is an original one: a house, in which two different sets of women are simultaneously living, unaware of each other. This can only be happening of some of them are not really there. Ghosts.

At first Our House will read just as a story that's garbled or confusing. What am I missing? you ask yourself. Have I misidentified the characters? One reason for this is that Kiyohara's tale is more bland and understated than her master's would likely be. Both sets of characters seem ordinary and matter-of-fact. As Japan Times' regular reviewer Mark Shilling points out, this seems like "timidity," and seems "reluctant (or unable) to deliver the scares of a good genre exercise," which would strike a commercial producer as faults. But, he adds, this is her intention.

Moreover, as Shilling also notes, she seems to be "channeling Yasujiro Ozu as well as Kurosawa." Indeed, the camera angles, and the use of a traditional Japanese house, strongly evoke Ozu. The first couple of characters are Kiriko (Yukiko Yasuno), and her 13-year-old daughter, Seri (Nodoka Kawanishi), who are cheerful and ordinary. The second, parallel inhabitants eventually, are strange and lonely. Toko (Mei Fujiwara) meets Sana (Mariwo Osawa) on a ferryboat when Sana has woken up with amnesia, remembering her own name but nothing about herself. Toko takes her home (to the house we've seen Kiriko and Deri occupying). Sana, who initially is made up to look pale and ghostly, is the tip-off that weirdness, however restrained, is afoot. There are a few interplays between the two sets of occupants, as well as a man who flirts with Sana in a cafe and causes much confusion and doubt when he shows up at the house.

Our House is a promising effort, and Kiyohara shows conviction and already refined technique, knowledge and respect for Japanese cinematic traditions. But, as hinted by the minimal running time, it feels slight. It needs some kind of payoff, some more flare and energy in the writing to make more powerful, even if chiefly meditative, use of this material.

Our House/ わたしたちの家 /(Watashitachi no ie), 80 mins., debuted at the PIA Festival Sept. 2017, also showing at Tokyo, Belin (Forum), and Hong Kong. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films 2018.

ND/NF showtimes:
Friday, April 6, 8:30pm [MoMA]
Sunday, April 8, 3:30pm [FSLC]

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