Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka" Get On the Bus By Janusz Wróblewski

in 50th IndieLisboa- Lisbon Festival of Independent Film

by Janusz Wróblewski

Average offences and brutal crimes are everyday occurrences around the world. Violence has become an easy sell; it’s on TV, in the press, more and more often on the Internet and, seemingly, everywhere in the street. Amongst the victims are those who, in spite of having had their wounds dressed and broken bones knitted, cannot return to a normal life in society, and can pull themselves back together only in the circle of people who’ve survived similar experiences. Shinji Aoyama’s film Eureka (Yûreka) is the story of three such people.

In Kyushu, a small town in southeast Japan, a psychopathic murderer hijacks a bus. Only three passengers escape death in the violent slaughter: The bus driver, a young girl and her older brother. The driver cannot shake off the shock after the massacre and leaves his family. Additional tragedies affect the siblings: Their mother abandons them, their father dies in a car accident. The driver comes back to town after some time. He tries to grow closer to the orphaned children, moves into their house and, together with their cousin, attempts to start a new life. Later on he buys an old bus, repairs it and embarks on long trips. However, the horrible memories live on…

Patiently and consistently tracing the nervous breakdown and gradual recovery that follow tragic events, Eureka is Shinji Aoyama’s masterpiece — and the highlight of IndieLisboa’s special director retrospective. It runs almost four hours. Except for a few early minutes concerning the bus assault, hardly anything happens. The dialogue does not convey any surprising information that would trigger sudden action, either. The director likes extended scenes captured in very long takes: The foursome walking slowly through the field, for instance. Or a bus driving along a remote road for a long time. In a 90-minute feature the two shots might give the impression of unbearable long-drawn-out sequences. But they harmonize with the rhythm of the four-hour film perfectly. We remain seated, fascinated, tense, until the very end. How can this be?

Eureka makes statements about violence and aggression. But it is more concerned with what is deeply hidden, unspoken, and what in fact determines the atmosphere of terror with which we became accustomed to living over the course of the 20th century: It is the trauma and aggression concealed within us. The opening massacre (which occurs out of frame) is not the focus of the director’s attention. Nor is he interested in the motives for the crazy terrorist’s action; in fact, we never learn anything about them.

Eureka is a road movie. That is why the bus traversing an expanse is such an evocative symbol. The similarity to other films of that same genre, where each new location promises a new, exciting situation to challenge the characters, is misleading. In Aoyama’s film the kilometers traveled by the bus mirror an inner journey. “To start from scratch, you need some time”, says the driver Makoto. And so we understand why Eureka has to be a long film: The processes it depicts cannot happen in a flash.

The choice of widescreen and black-and-white evoke in the spectator the feeling of something disparate, far removed from the conventions of the multiplex. But it also entails a risk: Elongated screen proportions fit the horizontal movement of the bus in vast outdoor scenes in south Japan. Yet they hinder the close-ups that are regarded as indispensable in psychological dramas.

Eureka can be regarded as a film of violence and a film of the road, as well as a study of the family. The notion of family is, however, treated rather metaphorically, since both young protagonists have been deserted by their parents. The only one who’s remained, if only formally, is the arrogant Akihiko, the cousin of little Kazui and her brother Naoki. Akihiko’s conceited isolation (played tactfully but quite provocatively by Yohichiro Saito) will eventually lead to his placement outside the frame of this peculiar bond built on fear, sorrow and obsolescence, so well presented by the director.

Thus, the driver of the ill-fated bus, Makoto, will become “a father of choice”. He is the one who suffered the most, and this has created a desire to build a relationship with people who feel the same kind of anguish. Therefore, the newly forged bond cannot be explained in terms of typical slogans found in a dictionary of psychoanalysis.

Eureka is a gloomy meditation about experiencing tragedy and mental recovery. According to the director, one of his sources of inspiration was the 1995 sarin-gas attack in Tokyo’s subway system. But isn’t the film also an illustration of the tragedy of Hiroshima, still very much present in the Japanese consciousness?