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Japanese film built upon highly abstract allegorical devices is a profound meditation on family relations and the wounds of war - live from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Our story takes place in an unidentified small town somewhere in modern Japan. It deals with the very Japanese topic of WW2 wounds and secrets, in a closely-knit family unused to changes and external influences. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a a Shohei Imamura or a Nagisa Oshima movie. In reality, it was directed by Indian helmer Anshul Chauhan, and photographed by Estonian cinematographer Maxim Golomidov.

The plot is very simple and straightforward. A young girl lives called Sora (Wan Marui) with her father and grandfather, and one day the latter passes away. Her father’s cousin and his daughter are about the only company that they have, but they also have their differences. Life is uneventful, and so Sora dreams of moving away to Tokyo in search of challenges and excitement. Then two very unusual and apparently unrelated events take place, turning their lives upside down.

Firstly, Sora finds a diary next to her grandfather’s dead body, with writings and drawings of his experience during WW2. It says that he buried his “metal arm” in the forest, and there are some vague instructions of how to find it. Sora sets herself on a mission to find the unusual item. This exciting quest overshadows her desire to move to the nations’ capital.

Secondly, Sora’s father runs over a backward-walking homeless man while drunk-driving. Sora welcomes the hapless into their household, despite her father’s protests. The man does not talk, and nobody knows where he comes from and why he walks backwards. The relationship between the doting Sora and her selfish father begins to collapse as they are unable to agree on the fate of their unusual guest.

Most of this 145-minute purposely languid and meditative movie is built upon these two plot devices. It keeps viewers guessing up until the very end whether the two events are connected. Is the backward-walking man some sort of reincarnation of the late grandfather? Is his backward-walking a war-related gesture? Is he a ghost? Perhaps a sombre presage of something wicked about to happen? Or does he simply have mental health issues? A couple of sudden outbursts suggest that there are more things between heaven and Earth. Presumably, there are references to Japanese culture that I could not grasp.

Entirely shot in black and white, with auspicious actors and a convincing script, Kontora deftly blends dreamy images with very earthly matters. It’s interesting enough to watch, even if it could do with a shorter duration (maybe an hour less). This is ne for the silver screen. It might get a little soporific on a small screen in your lounge.

Kontora is showing in Competition at the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which is taking place right now.

By Victor Fraga - 25-11-2019

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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