2000, Movie, NR, 217 mins


An ambitious, epic treatment of senseless violence and its aftermath from Japanese director Shinji Aoyama. Early one summer morning, Kozue (Aoi Miyazaki) and her brother Naoki (Masaru Miyazaki) board a public bus. Their mother waves goodbye, the bus continues on its way, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same. Sometime later, the bus is found in an empty parking lot, its windows covered with newspaper; those passengers who haven't already been shot to death are being held hostage by a madman with a gun. By the time the stand-off with police is over, four passengers, two cops and the gunman are dead. Kozue, Naoki and the bus driver, Makoto (Koji Yakusho), are the only survivors. Unable to cope with the senselessness of both the shootings and his survival, Makoto abandons his family and disappears into thin air, while Naoki and Kozue stop speaking to the outside world. Two years later, Makoto returns home to find that life has gone on without him: His wife has moved away and his father has made Makoto's brother his sole heir. Makoto finds Naoki and Kozue living on their own in their parents' garbage-strewn house (Mom ran off with another man, Dad died soon after in a car crash), and moves in with them. Shortly after, Naoki and Kozue's cousin, Akihiko (Yohichiroh Saitoh), on break from school and curious about his young cousins' inheritance, arrives for a month-long visit. He, too, has had a close brush with death, and Makoto devises a strategy by which they can all reclaim their lives: A lengthy road trip in a refurbished bus that begins in the blood-stained parking lot. As Makoto prepares for their odyssey, he becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders that seemed to begin around the time he returned home; his only excuse — "I had no reason to kill that woman" — carries little weight in a world in which the most appalling acts of violence occur for no reason whatsoever. SPEED this ain't: Clocking in at a cool 217 minutes, the story moves at the pace critics like to call "leisurely." But it's never dull — beautifully acted and handsomely shot in sepia-toned Cinemascope by cinematographer Masaki Tamra, it's an exhilarating marvel of wide-screen composition. But while the running time works as a narrative strategy — it's hard not to care deeply for characters you come to know so intimately — it also feels like an indulgence that begins to test the profundity of its subject matter. What stands as a great film at just under four hours might have been a masterpiece at only three. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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