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JAPÓN at Yerevan 2019 Golden Apricot Film Festival - 2002 Digitally restored


By Alex Deleon: viewed on the very last day of the 2019 Golden Apricot Film Festival

Hunters with shotguns in a mezcal desert.  

No main title for about fifteen minutes.

Trudging man with backpack and cane is looking fot a certain village at the bottom of a deep ravine in this rocky mountainous country.  The village of Ata ...  referred to as a godforsaken place. 

Finally, the main title appears about fifteen minutes into the film, them a long dark take with screeching noises -- on the way down he comes to a butcher  shop with bulky slabs of meat hanging.  Carniceria "Los Cuates" (the good buddies)

He keeps heading down into the deep valley ..maguey plants...double exposure  leaves ...

Arriving at Ata he is cordially welcomed as a rare visitor and pulque (rice wine) is passed around. He will be afforded lodging at the shack of an old lady up the hill.  This pulque is good stuff-- you'll need it for the climb you have ahead up to the place of the old lady's place where you'll be staying. A young woman leads the way -- he walks painfully  with stick... so far it's about a stranger in a remote village welcomed by the simple locals.

Why am i watching this?

Do i care about this scraggly middle aged many or why he is wandering around with a backpack in the Mexican outback?    Not really, but eventually I will come to care.

He sleeps in the barn of the old lady's  house on her deceased husbands bed. Her name "Ascen" is a shortened form of the catholic "Ascension" (up to heaven of Jesus and Mary)

So far, the question is; What is this guys trip?

Long long procession of school children with figure of a man barely seen in the distance working in a field. . Vaguely religious music, very very slow.

If this film has a story it's nor very interesting at this early point.

The man  with the stick is a painter. He wants to escape the chaos of the city and find some peace and quiet somewhere. Well, okay...

Pass the pulque.  His relationship with his elderly landlady begins to develop slowly as she joins him in smoking a marijuana joint although she is a  staunch Christian. The plots starts to thicken ...

Her son in jail was beaten up for masturbating over images of the Virgin Mary.   Our hero is next found beating off while stretched out lying nude in his bed. First really good moment in the film.

Go to daughter of lady coming out of the water on a beach

Revelation of his  pistol.   Is he here to commit suicide?

This is beginning to get interesting.

The film  has a very slow deliberate pace as the attraction between the elderly lady and far younger wandering man develops. .

The man he encountered on the road who berated him as an unwanted outsider was her nephew, the wayward religious meat beater in jail.

Coffee roasting..,  a storm brewing.

Rocky hillside, extreme closeups of rain beating on the rocks.  

Falling rocks and rockiness are constantly recurrent images in the film. He walks in the rain wearing a bright red jacket.

 Reaching the top of a hill he pulls out his gun and points it at his head.

Camera ascends to the sky and we hear a shot below. Next in an extreme high angle shot we see his body on the ground stretched out next to the body of a dead horse.  Blood around his head. Elegiac religious music is heard over this scene.

Extremely high aerial long shots float over the high plateau....

The screen goes white with a very long hold on the whiteness.

Back to the man now stumbling along on the path back to the old ladies shack. His head is bloody but he has botched his suicide attempt and survived

Back at the shack his elderly landlady tends his head wound. He picks up a newspaper and contemplates the full page photo of a nude girl.

Bring me another mezcal. -- I could use some mezcal right now. And here comes Luis, the wayward son from San Bartolo. He claims the house as his even though he has never lived there since childhood.

The wandering painter sides with the lady disputing the claim to the property of the heartless son, but his mother does not resist his partial takeover. 

This film is not exactly boring but it is very slow in telling its story 

with many extra long contemplative takes that challenge viewer patience.

Now the Woman does the washing including one of his shirts. 

She has lived here for forty years but her son wants to take the place away from her. The painter insists that nobody has a right to take the house away from her after all these years.

Quivering nostrils of horses.  Kids playing futbol.  The boys  stop their game and start laughing at the horses about to copulate. Explicit shot of stallion with gigantic shlong erection.  Then the horses get it on. 

The horse fuck does not last very long and the stallion pulls out. We contemplate the horses in post orgasmic bliss.

The boys are laughing heartily.

Has our man now found a place for himself here?

Is this his Japan? 

Back to the old lady in the rain.

What is the point of this movie?

It finally got interesting when the formerly sucidal man reveals that he is sexually attracted to the old lady and she agrees to fuck him one time before he leaves for good.

The film could have been fifty per cent shorter and still have conveyed the same information but part of the point is precisely to test viewer attention with all the extra long shots and sweeping panorama shots that are seemingly irrelevant but fill out the picture.

Ascen (the religious old lady) is quite an interesting character and carries the film over the tedious stretches.  The bold  elderly sex scene is remarkable and maybe a first in film history, and is the culmination of the picture. She must be over eighty!

The rest is denouement. The copulation  of the horses was merely a prequel to this astounding climax. At the end she shows off the stones of her dismantled barn in resignation.

Overall this feels like a Spanish answer to Bela Tarr's Satan's Tango.  Although it wasn't seven hours long, it certainly felt about that long. And turned out to be equally interesting

The final lingering  railroad shots spinning around seemed like a superfluous self-indulgent add on. A coda that did not need to be this long but the film is nevertheless satisfying if somewhat supersaturated. Director Carlos  Reygadas was already in his mid thirties when he made this extraordinary debut film.  

The bottom line:

Runaway self indulgence with a totally frivolous ending that somehow pulls you in and never lets you go, while testing all the conventions of conventional filmmaking.  Self taught director Reygadas claims Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami as a major artistic influence. If Kiarostami saw this film he must have been very very pleased.


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