Dean Shimauchi Translation
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Heanven's Story
Directed by Takahisa Zeze, 2011

6 Japanese movies were screened at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival( 6, not including Minoru Shibuya retrospective). 2 out of the 6 had the subtitles we translated(English) at Dean Shimauchi Translations. One was "Into the White Night," a damn good thriller, and another was Heaven's Story.

       Heaven's Story is as long an alternative cinema gets. You won't find many producers or studios willingly backing up a project with a running time at 4 hours and 38 minutes....maybe Dino De Laurentiis at the height of his career, when he produced David Lynch's Dune? But even that one had to be edited down to 2 hours and 17 minutes for the theatrical run (and the audiences at the time thought it was too long...patience please!)

      But the length is the strength for Heaven's Story, where witnessing the lives of the characters as slowly as possible is far more important than following a streamlined narrative.
      Acknowledging that various cinematic devices have been invented to compact the space-time elements of our perception in very dramatic and effective ways, Heaven's Story defies such convention. No quick edits, no montage, no bullet-time, not even jump cuts.
      It goes as slow as life itself, and you feel it. What you're asked to feel is not always pleasant: pain, agony, sorrow, hatred, anger, despair, loss, helplessness, inadequacy, frustration, insecurity, hopelessness...along with emotions of brighter tone such as tenderness, revelation, liberation, relating, romance, family fun, etc.
      If you're willing to let the movie take you(which isn't difficult), you'll be feeling all those emotional spectrum as the characters in the movie do, almost real time. And it requires patience, like finding those fond moments in bringing up a child. It's only possible in a slow and careful observation and you have to be there! Well, if you're sitting at the theater to see this alternative cinema and not ready to go through the emotional barrage for 4 hours and 38 minutes, you shouldn't be sitting there!

      As to "Heaven" in its title, this is not a religious movie. It has a lot to do with spiritual aspect of human conditions but it's not about finding where we'll go after we die. Well it does, but that's not really the main point here. In reality it cannot be more earthbound.
      You'll find many visual references to heavenly sceneries, or rather, ethereal sceneries on earth. Snow covered ruin of an abandoned apartment housing for the miners. Apartments by the sea, that's made to look like it's on the sea by clever cinematography. There are many tall apartment housings in this movie, reflecting the urge to reach heaven.
      But in places they look ominous, more like tombstones. And they are, in reality, tombstones of the 1960s and the 70s of Japan, built when the economy was fast developing and residential demand fast increasing. We're looking at the heavenly dreams of yesterday, the civilization on slow downhill towards its ultimate demise.
      Majesty of ever changing seasons emphasizes the decaying human dwellings with stark contrast. It's about changes, transient state of being, and eventually it's about death. But death is not the end, it's only a part of a stream of existence and it's also a beginning for others. About death is of course about life, one won't exist without the other. And the cycle repeats on and on. It reflects the mortality mentality many were reminded of in the wake of 9/11, and for the Japanese audiences, of the religious cult chemical warfare terrorism and the big quake of 7.3 on Richter scale, both in 1995. The dreadful sense of "Tomorrow may never come" or "The world is nothing as I thought it was." With this terrible awareness, we have to live on, and as with many novels, songs, movies, etc post-9/11, Heaven's Story doesn't go around it. Added to it is the element of "forgetfulness," how easy we forget the things we want to forget, horrible murders, the world wars, Vietnam, 9/11, Tokyo urban terrosism. The fading memory of a person suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer's. We want to forget but we're afraid to. Contradictions of human conditions. Weaving through layers of themes and where the movie lands is not the filled-with-light, no-worries fairy-tale heaven. The karmic and cosmic tide where no absolute being judges your sins or virtues, that's the "heaven" in Heaven's Story.

      The movie won't just show you where heaven is, it's for you to figure out. Is heaven where we'll be redeemed? Maybe. Is heaven in your heart? Maybe. Is Heaven what we are, in an existentialism sense? Maybe. Heaven's Story leaves you wondering and that's alternative movie bliss. One might feel unresolved at the end but with a movie this wonderfully acted, beautifully photographed and daringly structured, "resolution" seems to mean little.

      Heaven's Story is one hell of a movie.

The winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and the NETPAC Award at Berlin International Film Festival, 2011

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