JAPAN 2009   Directed by: Isshin Inudo Novel: Seicho Matsumoto Written by: Isshin Inudo, Kenji Nakazono  Cinematography: Takahiro Tsutai Editing: Soichi Ueno  Music: Koji Ueno  Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ryoko Hirosue, Takeshi Kaga, Miki Nakatani, Tetta Sugimoto

Who would have thought that the writer of Kitamura’s VERSUS would do movies like ZERO FOCUS. Isshin Inudo’s latest work – a remake of the 1961 original – tells the story of Sadako whose husband Kenichi leaves for business to Kanazawa and never returns. Since no one has an answer to where he might be and why he has disappeared, Sadako travels to Kanazawa herself to find out about what happened. Most people in Kanazawa are not exactly supportive, but she finds some allies who help her find out more. She slowly comes to realize that she doesn’t know much about her husband who she met through a matchmaker at all, and that Kenichi has led a double life for the past 18 months of their marriage. But this only the tip of the iceberg: very soon she will be involved in the hunt for a serial killer, local politics and her husbands past that all turn out to be all intertwined.

ZERO FOCUS is still set in 1957 and as remake I would have wished for more innovation than repeating the look of the original. However, as this is the 21st century I must admit that the retro-look works splendid and adds a visual quality that would have not been the same if the story was transported into the present. The story is of course largely influenced by the post-war era, so much of the reasons behind what happens is directly influenced by what Japan was like after the WWII.

This also explains why ZERO FOCUS to some extend is a film about Japan’s past and a historic recollection of Japan’s society and politics. Just like other eras have influenced people’s life the post-war years have left their mark and create an interesting backdrop for the film’s intrigues. As the movie develops from subtle drama into crime thriller it more and more reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s works that without a doubt have been the blueprint for ZERO FOCUS, then and now. If Hitchcock had been Japanese, this is how he’d done it. His spirit, tonality and techniques are more than apparent, more than just once.

Different from the original the 2010 version is now featuring full color, so Inudo is also adopting a bit of Nicholas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW here with his killer dressed in red and a preference for the color red and strong shadows throughout the film. I must admit though that it all works: Inudo has created a beautiful, captivating movie that at times is visually almost too attractive and aesthetic and distracts from what’s going on. And since this isn’t VERSUS indeed, the pace is slow, almost graceful, reflecting many of the classic virtues of Japanese cinema; at the same time it painstakingly recreates a world long gone and a style of filmmaking that’s hard to find today.

The story then is intelligently written and embedded well into the historic context, but during the last third it feels like either the pace of the film is too slow as we’d wish to get to the point faster, or the story is not surprising enough so that it’s not worth the wait. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything fundamentally wrong here, but most movie goers will have to get used to the (un)balance towards the end.

ZERO FOCUS is a welcome change in menu: a film that feels like solid oak rather than laminate. It has an enormous intensity, yet feels at ease. Everyone will have to decide for him/herself if it was worth remaking the original, or if the crime drama is convincing enough, or if the pace should have been different. I for once say all good things take time, and given the huge amount of films that think that spectacular editing can cover up substantial flaws it is refreshing to see someone going against trends.

It takes courage to tell a story like Inudo does with ZERO FOCUS. ZERO FOCUS is not a film that can be watched over and over, but watching it once is a qualitative experience you don’t want to miss.


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