How much willful opacity is too much? Maiko Endo’s initially intriguing, eventually tiresome experimental feature pushes the limits of thematic and narrative impenetrability almost to the breaking point. At first, the free-associative dreaminess is enthralling: It’s clear our protagonist is a nameless boy (Raizo Ishihara) living in the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. In the striking opening sequence, he has his head shaved and mutters in voiceover about the impending end of the world. Then he’s off on an apparently spiritual journey through the streets and nearby hillsides, observing the eclectic mix of people and practices, and more than once having his faith tested.
In this case, story is less important than sensation. Endo and her very talented cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, capture countless memorable images: BMX bikers ride around a city back-alley with a purpose that seems both playful and portentous; a young child runs through the streets with a gun that may or may not be a toy. The line separating peace from violence seems always to be in flux, which suggests Endo is commenting on Okinawa’s own oscillating identity as both a Japanese crown jewel and a military base for occupying American forces. But the longer the film goes on, the more it seems like a collection of gorgeous images without an overall organizing structure. Our youthful lead’s slow disillusionment with his complicated surroundings ultimately plays less profound than petulant.
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