I only managed to catch two films at the Tokyo International Film Festival last month before I got too busy preparing for the meetings at the Tokyo Project Gathering. The first one was the omnibus film headed by Mamoru Oshii, KILL. Which left me very underwhelmed, and immediately after that film, I went off to see THE CLONE RETURNS TO THE HOMELAND, because I was intrigued by its trailer and its title.
Kanji Nakajima's THE CLONE RETURNS TO THE HOMELAND is a rare live-action Japanese science fiction film, and even rarer, an arthouse sci-fi film more in the vein of SOLARIS (I haven't seen either Tarkovsky nor Soderbergh's version, but that's what this film's been commonly compared with in other reviews) than STAR WARS. And being modestly budgeted, the film's aesthetics reminds me of the much-underrated GATTACA. It's more about the ideas and philosophy behind the science, it is the cinematic equivalent of a 'hard sci-fi' novel (that all my life, I could never seem to finish), but instead of being too technical and dry, the deliberately-paced film won me over because it was so visually poetic and marvellously acted.
Film's about an astronaut, Kohei Takahara (Mitsuhiro Oikawa, dude's in many films, but most recently seen in a cameo at 20th CENTURY BOYS as the lead vocalist of the rock band in Tomodachi's cult) who is shaken by the recent death of a colleague and still blaming himself for the death of his twin brother during his childhood (shown in an extended flashback, very harrowing to watch, but Eri Ishida's performance as Kohei's mom when she first encounters the site of the accident, and later the aftermath, is absolutely fabulous and heartbreaking) The guy doesn't really get a break. His mom's dying too, and he promised his mom that he would live extra long to make up for his brother's death.
Alas, shit hit the fan, and he dies in the course of duty. His widow Tokie (Hiromi Nagasaku, the pitiful abused wife in FUNUKE, SHOW SOME LOVE YOU LOSERS! and the cougar in DON'T LAUGH AT MY ROMANCE) seeks compensation, but is horrified to find out that her husband has agreed to be brought back to life as a clone prior to his death. Yet she is incapable of accepting the man, insisting that he's different even if he's a complete copy of her late husband.
Unfortunately this early experiment of cloning is imperfect, and the clone is stuck at Kohei's traumatic memory of his twin brother's death, acting like a child. So the clone is put on observation (ready to be terminated once they create another better Kohei clone). The clone escapes to the countryside to the river where Kohei's twin was drowned to death, and finds the actual corpse of Kohei.
Or did he?
Towards the end, the film twisted to directions I wasn't entirely expecting, becoming increasingly abstract, viewers seeking logical explanations and actual closure to the many plot strands will be disappointed. The things that occur onscreen may have been mere hallucinations, or dreams, because I just couldn't believe that the high-tech facilities where the cloning is done is only within walking distance away from the countryside of Kohei's childhood.
There's not much I can explain, the last act is ambiguous like the last two episodes of NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, or the last few minutes of 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY, it's all up to audiences to draw their conclusions. It's like my latest short film, LOVE SUICIDES.
Ultimately, this film is more like a visual experience, or a mood piece, or a beat poem, than a traditional narrative. Metaphysical questions related to cloning are raised, but seldom answered. But because it also also science fiction, it may also not be taken seriously by the hardcore realist audiences who scoff at anything that slightly defies logic. I enjoyed the film, I was absolutely enthralled by Hideho Urata's cinematography (the countryside scenes are immensely stunning to look at, and once again, poetic).
When the film ended, a question and answer session with writer-director Kanji Nakajima began. An English translator came in front and asked who needed English translation, I was the only one who raised my hand. She stayed around and did the translation only for me. I don't know what her name was, but she was wonderful.
The screenplay of the film won the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award two years ago (Miranda July's screenplay for ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW won the same thing too, and I also met this year's winner at the Tokyo Project Gathering). Wim Wenders served as a jury member that year, liked the script so much that he agreed to exec-produce the film. My memories of the session are vague, but I remember some young dude raising his hand, and then saying stuff about his friend being a student of the director's (apparently, Nakajima teaches too) and him being happy to finally see the director and his film.
Immediately, I thought:
Bullshit, you were sleeping through almost the entire film.
I knew for sure because the guy was sitting next to me (before I moved to the center during the Q and A session for a better view) and his snoring had annoyed me verily.
The director politely asked the kid to remain on-topic, and only ask questions relevant to the film.
Then the guy said something about "Oh, ah, I liked the outer space sequence, er, how did you shoot that? With the space shuttle and all?"
Immediately, I thought:
Yes, of course you liked that. That was the only scene you remember, and you fell asleep after that, genius.
"I borrowed the space shuttle from NASA. To tell you the truth, this film is actually much more expensive than RED CLIFF." Nakajima deadpanned (RED CLIFF was the opening film of the Tokyo Film Fest).