Japanese Title: リアル 完全なる首長竜の日
Romaji: Riaru Kanzen’naru Shuchou Ryuu no Hi
Release Date: June 01st, 2013 (Japan)
Running Time: 127 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Rokuro Inui (Original Novel)
Starring: Takeru Sato, Haruka Ayase, Jo Odagiri, Miki Nakatani, Shota Sometani, Keisuke Horibe, Kyoko Koizumi, Yuki Kan
Real was one of two films directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa that were released last year, the other being Seventh Code which stars former AKB48 member, Atsuko Maeda. Real is Kurosawa’s biggest budgeted film in a long time. Based on an award-winning mystery novel and featuring two beautiful leads anchored by a supporting cast of familiar and excellent actors the biggest mystery is why the film turned out so dull.
Koichi (Sato), a physical fitness trainer, and Atsumi (Ayase), a manga artist, are beautiful people who seem to lead a blessed life.
They met as children when Koichi’s father transferred to a small tropical island for work reasons and soon became friends and, as they matured, they became lovers. Despite this closeness Atsumi attempts suicide by leaping into a river. Koichi is at a loss as to what the reason that drove her to do such a thing could be. Now she is in a coma and Koichi needs to find out the reason. Koichi has access to a medical procedure that will allow him to enter Atsumi’s subconscious through her central nervous system.
When Koichi touches down in Atsumi’s subconscious he finds her and she frantically asks him to find a picture of a plesiosaur she drew as a child. It is the key to a suppressed memory connected to a childhood trauma. Finding this picture will allow Koichi to truly get close to knowing his true love and why the attempted suicide has come between them.
Fans of Kiyoshi Kurosawa will know him as an auteur who writes and directs most of his own films and has created a range of titles across a range of genres from. More famous for psychological horror films like Cure (1997)and Pulse (2000) he has slowly moved away from the territory of yurei and serial killers into drama but despite the move he still retains an interest in the dark corners of the mind. Real is his first sci-fi title and the premise of delving into the mind of a suicide case sounds like typical Kurosawa. Alas, this film, his first feature-legth title since Tokyo Sonata (2009), turns out to be a damp squib thanks to its script.
Can we find that drawing together?
The cinema of Kiyoshi Kurosawa is marked by two strong themes; the pain of loss and the sicknesses caused by repression. He loves to explore how they warp an individual and has created a unique oeuvre where the characters endure the buffeting pressures of the contemporary world. Their stresses are filtered into the mise-en-scene which generates a visual landscape littered with characters suffering some psychosis or being chased by demons. Those things are here to a certain extent but the problem is that the script does not explore them effectively.
The actual sci-fi conceit is neat and something seen in Inception (2010) but little is made of it rendering the film light sci-fi. This is not problematic, what is a problem is that the drama and characters lack an emotional grip and the mystery is limp.
Real has a dreamlike pace which is seemingly perfect for a story about examining someone’s memories but the pace, the lack of incident in the script and the lack of impact in the twists and turns makes the experience more soporific than dreamlike at points. Not a whole lot interesting happens as Takeru Sato glides through scenes and interacts with characters with some dull dialogue that explains the plot. When beginning the procedure to enter Atsumi’s mind he is told,
“To wake her up from this deep coma your emotional strength is essential.”
Ah, but I felt no emotional strength in the bland dialogue or the acting and the slow pace prevents the build-up of urgency.
Worse is to come when it is revealed what the inciting incident for the supposed suicide actually is. It came three quarters of the way into the film and I was stunned that something like that could have caused such long-reaching guilt and traumatic consequences and for that particular character. People who have watched the film may find that last sentence callous but in dramatic terms the incident isn’t really compelling or logical.
At this point I must admit that I have not read the book. What I do know is that Kurosawa regularly writes his own scripts and has dealt with far more disturbing subject-matter than what is on offer here. Apparently Kurosawa did copious amounts of rewrites of the original script so maybe something was lost in the process.
It’s a shame that the story is flawed because the atmosphere that Kurosawa is renowned for works well here and is beautiful at points.
The film has a strong air of artificiality which creates a mystery. It fits in with the technology exhibited in the film and the ability of being able to dive into a person’s subconscious, the stage is set to explore the façade and reality. Can we trust Atsumi’s memories? Can we trust the film?
The horror elements are familiar but well-executed especially when reality and dream begins to collide for Koichi through a series of hallucinations reminiscent of the ghosts seen in Seance. Sound-effects are played up for nerve-grinding moments but the film remains a drama for the most part and a well-mounted drama with a beautiful look that avoids being totally bland. Nope. That job is left for the script.
Bland is a word that is applicable to the lead actors. It would be unfair to criticise Takeru Sato and Haruka Ayase for their performances when the script asks for so little from them but when they are paired up with more experienced actors it is evident that they are being acted off the screen by people filling in little bit-parts like Shota Sometani and Jo Odagiri.
It’s a shame that Kurosawa’s big-budget return results in something that is rather bland. An audience unfamiliar with his films would never be able to tell how dark, disturbing, intelligent and surprising his films can be. One cannot write this film off completely because it is solidly made but I doubt I would ever watch more than once a year. There are more Kurosawa films deserving of a viewing like Séance, Cure, Retribution and Tokyo Sonata. Start with those and you can see why he is great.