Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn (2014) Japan Cuts 2015

The closing film of this year's Japan Cuts is a unique cinematic vision that is going to thrill some audiences and bore others to tears.

Set in 1726, the film follows a farmer in the Sanchu region of the country. He like many of the other farmers are running into trouble feeding and caring for his family thanks to the demands of their lord. Trying to rectify the situation the farmers negotiate but when that fails things become violent. As events transpire around him, Jehei debates whether or not to participate and what will happen to himself and his family on either road.

Shot in glorious black and white this is a kind of you are there film that puts us in the middle of the mental and emotional debate. Much like the the shading of the film, the decision to either fight or flee is neither black nor white but a shade of gray. No matter what choice is made there are going to be repercussions.

Increasingly set in the mental landscape of Jehei, the film shifts styles in telling becoming animation for a portion of it, shifting to muted colors towards the end and including songs which re-enforce some of themes. Its a trip that you have to go along with or else you're going to have a miserable time.

For me this is a film I can admire way more than I can like. I like that director Juichiro Yamasaki doesn't make it easy for the audience. I like that he moves the story to suit his ends and is willing to use the animation and late in the film theater tricks to get us to consider the story we've seen and what it means. This is a very heady mix of technical wizardry and food for thought.

If I am not writing up along discussion of the themes and ideas that are in play it's simply that I saw this film late in my coverage of the festival (somewhere well over 20 films in) and the film just over whelmed me, This isn't to say I didn't like the film its simply it requires one to engage with it and after so many films in so short a time I just  had to take it at face value.  I have to applaud the Japan Society for making this film the final one since the film maybe too much for an audience that spent the previous five hours watching a romance and a superhero film.

I like the film but I know I need to see it again in order to give it a fair shake. Somewhere in it is a heartfelt discussion about the things we do and the consequences they bring.

If you're up to the task of engaging with the film I recommend it, if not do take a pass.

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