Locarno Film Festival Review: Real (2013)

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Cast: Takeru Satô, Haruka Ayase, Keisuke Horibe
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Country: Japan
Genre: Drama | Sci-fi
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: The following article is part of our coverage of the Locarno International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit pardolive.ch and follow the Locarno International Film Festival on Twitter at @FilmFestLocarno.

It’s little surprise that a director as pointedly versatile as Kiyoshi Kurosawa should come to turn his attention to science fiction, that most challenging of genres to convincingly stage without any prior experience. Renowned for horror, regarded for thrills, and revered for his deservedly well-received foray into family drama with his last effort, Tokyo Sonata, Kurosawa turns his gaze to the future with the aptly-titled existential romance Real. His conceit is minimal, but pivotal: the new technology of “sensing” allows one closely-connected consciousness to enter another, an opportunity exploited by the young Koichi when his manga artist girlfriend Atsumi attempts suicide and lands herself in a long-lasting coma; the abstraction here is essential, based as it is in the essence of human emotion about which the film revolves.

A shame it may be for so skilled a director to fall for such silly material, but it ensures at least that the movie’s multitudinous narrative issues find some reprieve in an impressive aesthetic palette.

real_2013_3Eternal Sunshine of the Incepted Mind is the kind of thing pull quote-hungry publicity people would love to hear of Real, but the movie’s similarities to those films exist at surface level only; Kurosawa’s substance, alas, shares only Nolan’s pervasive penchant for easy exposition. Eruptions of giddy laughter are all-but guaranteed from audiences as the first character lets slip the truly ghastly name given to the projections of the mind mid-sensing: “philosophical zombies”. This and other mind-bogglingly bad jargon characterises the script, co-authored by Kurosawa and Tokyo Sontata collaborator Sachiko Tanaka, which spends half its dialogue explaining such ludicrous plot elements. The other half is only slightly more bearable, given over to melodramatic wistfulness and outrageously overreaching discussions on the importance of producing new manga issues.

It’s only by its director’s ferocious committal to the story that Real manages to rise above the level of awfulness to which its dreadful script seems determined to confine it. Kurosawa, it’s plain to see, believes in these characters and the emotions their relationship elicits: he gives himself and his movie to them entirely and unreservedly, pouring his talents into the production and seeming somewhere along the way to lose sight of his judgement. A shame it may be for so skilled a director to fall for such silly material, but it ensures at least that the movie’s multitudinous narrative issues find some reprieve in an impressive aesthetic palette. Minimal though Kurosawa’s efforts to assuage the story’s budding issues may be, his sense of visual scale allows for an impressive realisation of the multiple dreamscapes in which this narrative unfolds, a creative staging so comprehensive in its conviction it’s almost admirable.

To pay excess tribute to Real’s achievements—and they do exist—would be to undersell the sad… well, reality… that it is a spectacularly misjudged movie.

real_2013_4Yet the voice that calls Kurosawa’s movie admirable is like that of a mother who compliments the shapeless drawing of her eager child in efforts to spare its fragile sensitivity the painful truth. To pay excess tribute to Real’s achievements—and they do exist—would be to undersell the sad… well, reality… that it is a spectacularly misjudged movie. It requires a stoic viewer indeed to not be dragged forward in the seat by the weight of a jaw rushing to hit the floor; it’s almost an achievement in itself that the film is so wildly erratic, causing us to question whether or not the very experience of witnessing it can possibly be real in itself. How, it’s difficult not to wonder, can this actually be unfolding onscreen; how, we inevitably have to ask, can anyone not have realised how utterly absurd this all is?

There’s a peculiar appeal to Real’s absolute rejection of rationality in its storytelling that makes it almost unfathomably enjoyable despite its undoubted daftness. It’s nice, somehow, to see a filmmaker so willing to give himself over to the demands of an out-there tale and lend his talents to realising a vision that’s—if inadvisably so—utterly unique. By that rationale Real is some sort of strange success, though perhaps only ironically so. As its bafflingly bizarre CGI-addled finale winds to a close, it’s difficult to see the end product as anything other than exactly what Kurosawa wanted it to be. How nice for him to have made the movie he wanted; how unfortunate for us that it wasn’t a better one to start with.

[notification type=”star”]48/100 ~ BAD. There’s a peculiar appeal to Real’s absolute rejection of rationality in its storytelling that makes it almost unfathomably enjoyable despite its undoubted daftness.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Taking this off my TIFF Schedule now……

  • baronronan

    Wise move. I talked to a bunch of people afterwards, even the most positive could only muster a mild enthusiasm. Disappointing, Tokyo Sonata’s one of my favourites of recent years so I was hoping Kurosawa would strike gold again.