Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The breadth and depth of Japon belies its standing as a directorial debut." | Photo: Criteron Collection

Carlos Reygadas' debut feature, which was runner up for the Camera d'Or at Cannes this year, is a brave and accomplished undertaking. A man with no name (Alejandro Ferretis) limps through the Mexican high country in what he intends to be his last journey. It is clear that he hates himself and is tired of life, but in order to prepare for death he seeks first the solitude of the mountains and finds shelter with Ascen (Magdalene Flores), an elderly widow living on the outskirts of a mountain village.

She isn't without her own problems, either, as her nephew is in the process of cheating her out of her barn. Gradually, El Hombre and Ascen found a relationship, which grows with the passing days, as he wrestles with the urge to self-destruct and a compulsion to cling on to his new-found life and to help her in her struggle.

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This film is not so much concerned with plot as with the state of the human condition and the nature of redemption. Rather like Tarkovsky, whom Reygadas cites as an influence, Japon invites you to look at a situation and keep looking at it, until you divine your own truth. The pace is slow and the shots lingering. We are invited to observe the world from the point of view of the mystery man and to see what he sees, right down to his voyeuristic, quite shocking appraisal of Ascen's body.

Certainly, Reygadas intends the film to have religious overtones. From Ascen's name - short for Ascencion ("That's Jesus rising to be with the angels, not Ascuncion, the angels coming to Mary" she says) - onwards. Despite these biblical aspects, however, it is fate that ultimately intervenes.

The camerawork is stunning, with long takes and lasting images, such as a lengthy shot of Ferretis lying on the ground next to the carcass of a horse. The actors, a cast of unknowns, are perfect for their roles, with both main protagonists having such interesting, lived in faces that you cannot help but be caught up in their tribulations.

The breadth and depth of Japon belies its standing as a directorial debut. Reygadas is very accomplished already and you sense he still has room to grow.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2002
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Mystery man seeks redemption and death in Mexico.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: Carlos Reygadas

Writer: Carlos Reygadas

Starring: Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalene Flores, Carlos Reygadas, Barquin, Martin Cerrano, Rolando Hernandez, Yolanda Villa, Bernabe Perez, Fernando Benitez and Claudia Rodriguez.

Year: 2002

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Mexico/Spain


EIFF 2002

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