Ku_On クオン (2013)

Ku_On                                          Ku_On Poster

Japanese Title: クオン 久遠 

Running Time: 78 mins.

Seen at the Raindance Independent Film Festival

Director: Takayuki Hatamura

Writer: Takayuki Hatamura

Starring: Hidemasa Shiozawa, Haruna Isaoka, Seiko Seno, Yusei Tajima, Sou Sato, Shizuka

We begin 200 years in the past in a small village in the Tohoku region. A man is about to commit suicide.

Cut to a prison where a man in an orange jump-suit named Ushio is having a parole meeting. His interviewer takes a gander at his art. It’s all abstract (enough of a crime for some) but the colours and shapes are violent.

Cut to a mental hospital where two women talk to each other. The talk turns into an argument and one named Sayo leaves.

These incidents will link up when weeeeee…

Cut to Hiroyuki Sano, a 26-year-old office drone and our protagonist. He is standing over his body after inadvertently transferring his mind into that of a work colleague. Now his original body lies on the floor, an empty husk devoid of life.

Ku_On Sano

Panicking, he tries his best to revive himself, shaking his former body manically only to be discovered by an OL who was out for coffee. Understandably she freaks out at the sight of him shaking an unconscious man about but Sano could still save the situation by explaining that he has run across a chap who has collapsed or maybe is acting or anything but what he does next… he makes the mistake of running.

Now Sano is on lamb with police on his tail but he narrowly avoids being arrested by the police by body-hopping into the flesh sack of a hapless deliveryman he runs across. Not that he knows how to use his body-switching powers. He heads back to his body to see if he can get back into it where he’s picked up by a police detective named Yamamoto who has similar powers in the body-hopping arena but is more experienced. Yamamoto gives him a quick briefing:

“They are both descendants from a little mountain village a meteor hit 200 years ago and everyone descended from the village has the power. Some developed straight away, others in later generations. Now, they hide from the government to avoid getting experimented on. You get no training, no warning. One day you can just possess people.”

After explaining the rules he states that their number is growing smaller thanks to a serial killer named Ushio who is targeting them. With the aid of a tough female martial artist named Sayo they aim to stop the killer who threatens them.

Kuon Sayo and Sano

If that choppy synopsis sounds off-putting, don’t worry. Watching it is easier than reading about it.

Ku_on can be read as eternity in Japanese and it is linked to the ability of the main characters to transfer their individual consciousness into different bodies and, presumably, live forever. The film exploits this conceit and it is used well by an adventurous script to create a non-linear narrative that offers many exciting twists and turns to be an unpredictable adventure.

ku-on Ushio

Ku_on’s main strength is its central body-switching conceit which allows the plot to be a freewheeling ride. It rapidly introduces a wide array of characters in different locations and it creates a twisting complicated non-linear narrative ensnaring an ever-growing number of people as it jumps back and forth between different perspectives and temporal locations. Thanks to this, the film has many surprises that will amuse and shock the audience as a carefully and intelligently constructed puzzle comes together.

Plot is not everything, just the bones to hang the meat of the film and so it is with a little regret that I have to say that the idea that powers the film is under-explored since the focus is strictly on creating a crisp action film that maintains a quick clip and never flags so characters are quickly set up and unleashed to spin around and ping off each other. Characterisation is neatly sketched but aspects like the psychological toll of the abilities is glossed over creating certain ambiguities in motivations and connections which could have provided an interesting aspect for the film to explore and added more substance – a tantalising glimpse of Ushio in the killing fields of World War II in one dream and the poster hint at what could have been. As such it comes across like a shounen manga like Ajin or an anime like Darker than Black or Night Head Genesis – people with super powers operating in a largely real world defined by its urban setting.

Kuon Mayo Walking Along a Street

The cast manage to imbue their roles with a degree of humanity – Sano develops a slight cockiness which is amusing to watch (although his best lines are after the credits have run!), Yamamoto has the typical world weariness of a veteran cop and Sayo is a great action girl who is pretty nifty with guns and a staff weapon. My personal favourite had to be the psychotic girlfriend of Ushio’s who is a foxy demented pixie who you should never take your eyes off.

Kuon Foxy Pixie

Everyone is likeable and even compelling but with its compact running time the emphasis is on the action and plot which is what the film does well.

The direction and editing is slick and pacey like a mid-budget science fiction film with not a moment dragging or looking unprofessional. For a debut feature from Takayuki Hatamura it is very impressive as it surges along with a cool and clean look thans to its crisp cinematography. There is CGI but it is very subtle as Hatamura prefers to place his faith in a balance with fine performances and narrative to create a confidently shot and fast flowing film. The action scenes are littered throughout the story and provide brief shots of adrenaline. They are a mix of gunplay and martial arts with Sayo and Ushio squaring off with each other as formidable foes and the fights can be unpredictable.

Overall, if Ku_On comes off like a plot-driven shounen action anime title it would be one of the better ones thanks to its narrative full of surprising tricks. When the ending comes it will floor you. It is a neat, smart and fast-paced sci-fi thriller with likeable actors that provides fun entertainment for its tight duration.

4/5

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