Japón is an impressive but slow burning Mexican film that has nothing to do with Japan. In fact there is no definite reason why the film is titled Japón. However as a film it is a very interesting one.
An unnamed man (Alejandro Ferretis) heads for a small village in the South of Mexico to prepare for his death. While there he stays in a rundown old house that belongs to an elderly woman (Magdalena Flores). He wiles away his days thinking, painting, listening to music and just hanging around. In time he grows fond of the old woman because of her humanity and good will. Because of this he finds the will to live again.
There is not much plot in Japón, which is the first full length film directed by Carlos Reygadas. Instead it is all mood, setting and pace. At 126 minutes the film is long. And it moves at a gradual almost silent pace but if you get into the rhythms of the film it is very good. At times it reminds one of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky - especially in its primarly theme about a man who travels both outward and inward in order to heal his ailing spirit.
Shot in 2.35:1 in an earthy grainy look the film feels lived in from the first frame to the last. It is also a film that should be seen on the big screen. On DVD it doesn't quite have the same effectivness unless you turn off all the lights and concentrate on the images.
The performances are good but the real star is director Reygadas who knows how to slow down time as well as where to put the camera and how to hold a shot a good long time and let us absorb the images.
Ultimately Japón is a mysterious and challenging film. Some of it seems easy to understand but some of it - like the powerful and unique ending that utilizes 360 degree pans to the audio accompaniment of Arvo Pärt's "Cantus for Benjamin Britten" - seem to have a message that maybe only a couple viewings can reveal.
Aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and the transfer very good. The image is grainy and dark on purpose. This is not a glossy film and it wears it's dirty natural look on its sleeve.
Dialogue is in Spanish and presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The natural sounds incorporated into the film works nicely with surround sound.
Interview with Director Carlos Reygadas. I cannot comment on this extra at this time because the review DVD I received did not have this feature. The box says it is supposed to be included. I would like to know what he has to say about the film. Especially the ending.
Japón is an impressive first feature about a man who travels to a Southern Mexican village and begins to find hope again in life. Less a plot driven film than a visual tone poem the film is challenging to watch but worth a look if you like art house films by the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky or Michelangelo Antonioni.