Magazine article Screen International

Penance

Magazine article Screen International

Penance

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Japan. 2012. 270mins

Neat, precise and minimalistic, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's adaptation of a Kanae Minato mystery novel features all the right ingredients for a hit TV show, which it indeed is. Originally produced a as five-part series for the Japanese satellite broadcaster WOWOW, it is doubtful whether this long-winded story of culpability, sins and retributions, will manage to keep cinema audiences in their seats for four and a half hours.

The narrative unfolds in a simple, direct, effective manner, the camera is close enough to serve the characters, TV style, with the result being that disturbing details stand out even more.

As for Kurosawa's impatient admirers, who have been breathlessly waiting for a new opus, they will find the thrills rather mild and the psychology rather thin, though solid performances from a large cast and brilliant camera work will ease the task of watching it. Still, the best place for this Penance (Shokuzai) remains the small screen. The film version screened out of competition at the Venice Film Festival.

In the prologue, played before the credits, schoolgirl Emili, is abducted, raped and murdered, but the four classmates who were with her at the time are unable to identify the culprit. The girl's mother, Asako (played by Kyoko Koizumi, the mother in Kurosawa's earlier festival hit Tokyo Sonata), grieving and exasperated by their lack of cooperation condemns the four of them to a penance she will have to accept. Here the plot jumps 15 years later. Asako is still obsessively looking for the abductor, while the four girls have grown into young women, their lives fashioned, one way or another by the penance they had willingly accepted to take on.

Sae (Yu Aoi), a recluse beautician, falls prey to a young man, Takahiro (Mirai Moriyama), who treats her as an object rather than a human being; Maki (Eiko Koike) turns into a strictly moralistic teacher, who manages to save her kids from a madman brandishing a knife, only to be blamed later for using brutal methods to repress the attacker, and Akiko (Sakura Ando), who has been told by everyone, including her parents, that she is stupid, ugly and bearish, unhinges when her older brother comes home in the company of a strange woman and her daughter. …

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