Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani?

Original title
Eri Eri Rema Sabakutani
Japanese title
  • エリ・エリ・レマ・サバクタニ
Running time
107 minutes
24 October 2005
Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani? Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani? Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani?


Let's make it plain from the start, since there is no way around it: Shinji Aoyama's latest film will be an endurance test for some. The title alone (Christ's last words on the cross) will indicate that this isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. For those with an adventurous mind and a strong set of eardrums, however, it will prove a one-of-a-kind experience.

Aoyama deserves praise for his tenacity. Whether meeting with unanimous acclaim (Eureka) or deafening silence (Desert Moon), he remains an uncompromising, totally idiosyncratic filmmaker. After the mainstream whodunit Lakeside Murder Case saw him back in the domestic spotlights once more, he turned in this 107-minute meditation on how noise music can save mankind from certain doom, especially when played really, really loud.

Mizui (Asano) and Asahara (real-life musician Nakahara) form a two-man band, an experimental noise music outfit that was once the toast of the town. Today, 2015 A.D., the pair live secluded in the countryside not far from the sea, where they scour the environment in search of waste and abandoned objects to use in their sonic experiments. While on their routes, they blissfully ignore the mountains of corpses that dot the land, victims of the virus dubbed 'The Lemming Syndrome' that is sweeping the world leaving only death in its wake.

Oddly enough, the two men and their only human contact, a lady innkeeper named Navi (veteran actress Okada of Eros + Massacre fame) seem unaffected by the disease, which is exactly why an enigmatic millionaire (science fiction writer Tsutsui, previously seen in Shinya Tsukamoto's Gemini) shows up on their doorstep in a stolen ambulance one afternoon, his gun-toting P.I. flunky (Toda) and teenage daughter (Miyazaki, re-united with Aoyama after her star-making turn in Eureka) in tow. The girl has caught the disease and her father is convinced that Mizui and Asahara's music is the key to beating its symptoms and saving her life.

If, as is often the case with Aoyama, the plot outline sounds vaguely similar to a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film (the equally dystopian Barren Illusion, in which Aoyama appeared as an actor), the execution is all his own. The film plays out in lengthy sequences of the two leads fiddling around with household appliances, sequencers, drum computers, and various handmade contraptions, attempting to create music from noise and harmony from chaos. The ghost of the director's collaborations with experimental guitarist and producer Jim O'Rourke looms heavily over this film, in which musicians will no doubt find a rich source of inspiration.

But in addition to a film of sounds, it's also a film of images. With Masaki Tamura (credited here as Tamra, without the u) behind the lens providing images of muted colours but astonishing clarity, Eli Eli is something to behold as well as listen to. Does form outweigh the content, then? If you define content as a linear narrative that neatly ties up loose ends and answers all its own questions, then yes. But if that is what you're after, you probably wouldn't be interested in an Aoyama film in the first place. He is one of those directors, like, again, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, to whom the question itself is everything. The answer must be found by each audience member individually, not be dictated by the filmmaker. Even if its emotional pay-off is closer to music video territory than to catharsis, Eli Eli contains plenty to chew on.

And then that Takenori Sento, eh. Bless him. He's had mud slung at him from all sides since the demise of his prestigious, but commercially terminal Suncent Cinema Works, but here he is, back again with a new company and up to his old tricks. Still completely behind his directors, no matter how outlandish their ideas. As long as he can resist Gojoe-shaped dreams of blockbuster glory, he should be able to pull himself through just fine this time. With Eli Eli, he already has his first Cannes selection in the pocket, but whether a film with such subject matter and such a title will do much business remains to be seen. If you do chance upon it, make sure it's in a theater with a great sound system.