Eureka

An average script can be counted on for one minute of screen time per written page. But, at a stately 217 minutes, Japanese director Shinji Aoyama's serene epic Eureka suggests a script no thicker than a bankrupt periodical. By drawing out the lingering aftereffects of a violent bus-jacking on its few survivors, Aoyama has made something like a ghost story, draining all color from his arid Cinemascope frames and limiting the dialogue to spare, nearly wordless exchanges. The trauma of witnessing such an unimaginable tragedy has left his three protagonists hollowed-out and half-human, incapable of relating to other people or even functioning in the outside world. Their long journey to restore their humanity requires patience, but Eureka allows expansive room for contemplation, making its themes all the more moving and resonant. In a masterstroke of implied violence, Aoyama cuts from a normal morning bus route to a close-up of a passenger's bloodied hand, another victim of a cracked businessman on a shooting spree. By the time a sharpshooter finally guns him down, all but driver Koji Yakusho and two middle-school-aged siblings, Masaru and Aoi Miyazaki, have been killed. Two years later, Yakusho has returned home after aimless wandering, and the now-muted children have been orphaned and are fending for themselves on the insurance money. Drawn to each other by a unique psychic bond, the three move in together, but their quiet symbiosis is broken by the appearance of the siblings' flamboyant big-city cousin (Yoichiro Saito), who later joins them on a cross-country road trip in a revamped minibus. Meanwhile, the local police inspector pegs Yakusho as the prime suspect in a rash of serial killings. His belief that a witness to a murder might feel the urge to perpetrate one seems farfetched, but it fits in with Aoyama's provocative idea that violence obliterates the soul as much as it does the body. Much like John Wayne in The Searchers, which Aoyama cites as the primary influence on Eureka, the characters are shells of their former selves; the only difference is that while Wayne seeks revenge, they seek a new life. A thoughtful, exquisitely controlled, and deeply affecting meditation on what it means to be human, Eureka concludes The Shooting Gallery's third and finest film series to date on a high note. Any distributor's championship of such a long, difficult work seems like an act of charity, but this one is well worth supporting.

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