Thursday, 13 September 2012

REVIEW: Heart, Beating In The Dark (2005, released 2012)

Shunichi Nagasaki's Heart, Beating In The Dark

Heart, Beating In The Dark is a 2005 film from Shunichi Nagasaki, based on that director’s own 1982 original, in which a young couple, Ringo and Inako, try to deal with life after killing their own daughter. Part re-imagining, part reappraisal, the film concerns itself with questions of morality, guilt, regret and memory.

The film begins with the following voiceover: “In 1982, Nagasaki Shunichi made a Super-8 film called Heart, Beating In The Dark, starring Naito Takashi and Muroi Shigeru. It was the story of a young couple on the run after killing their own child. 23 years later, a remake of the film was to be made.”

What goes on in Heart, Beating In The Dark is rather difficult to describe. It is, in essence, four films in one. The film intercuts between the Super-8 original, a sequel with the original actors, a remake with new, younger actors, and a faux-documentary about the filming of the remake – all to somewhat confusing effect.

Naito Takashi and Muroi Shigeru return twenty-three years later to play the older Ringo and Inako in the sequel, as well as themselves in the making-of documentary. Naito and Muroi wish to return to the characters in order to do right by them as, in the intervening years, they have been troubled by how the original Heart, Beating In The Dark ended. Naito wishes to meet Ringo in the remake in order to slap him in the face, while Muroi wants to give Inako the help she always needed but never got.

Meanwhile, two young actors, Shoichi Honda and Noriko Eguchi, are recruited to play the child-killing couple, now renamed Toru and Yuki, in the remake. In the end, the boundaries between original, sequel, remake and documentary clash – Naito and Muroi are confronted with their younger selves, in the figures of Honda and Eguchi, and in their characters, Toru and Yuki.

Heart, Beating In The Dark is undeniably a multi-layered and fascinating work. It addresses regret and self-loathing in both a fictional and (apparently) non-fictional manner, as well as looking at the connections between memory and cinema. Naito Takashi, the lead actor of the controversial original film, has come to see the film in a different light, now finding it to be the contemptible work of a young man. Older and wiser, Naito seems to want to readdress the film from a more moral standpoint. So, evidently, does Shunichi Nagasaki, although he is largely invisible but for brief glimpses during the documentary segments.

However, as interesting as the film may be, Heart, Beating In The Dark is a rather difficult watch. It can initially be difficult to work out what each of the mostly-independent segments are, especially at one early stage in which Muroi, or Muroi playing Inako, is seen watching over Yuki, or Noriko Eguchi playing Yuki. However, as the film progresses, this problem is dealt with, such that the moments when the sequel and/or the documentary invade the remake become the film’s standpoint scenes.Essentially, the original and the remake sequences of the film enact a narrative of shame, mutual loathing and punishment rituals, with a Brechtian interlude in which Ringo and Toru both give interviews, or confessions, about the events that led up to the killing of their daughters. A strong feeling of fatalism pervades with the sequel haunting the remake, as the original seems to haunt the faux documentary. We see what the characters will become just as we see what the actors will become, and how shame has, in one way or another, effected their lives.

As well as this, the film is extremely static, with the bulk of the original, sequel and remake all occurring in one room, each with only two rather immobile characters. Seemingly in order to counteract this stillness, Shunichi Nagasaki adopts a heavily symbolic and overtly stylised approach, which keeps the drama rather distant and uninteresting. A character can’t confess their crimes without being naked (read ‘baring all’) and stepping out into the light (read ‘shining a light on the truth’). Worst of all is the slight, niggling feeling that it is all overdone. As interesting and original as the documentary might be, the sight of Naito Takashi trying to readdress a long-past acting role and skulking off afterwards like a broken man is a little overbearing and rather silly.

Heart, Beating In The Dark is an interesting piece of work and is good for long discussions afterwards, but it is a difficult film to get a hold of. It doesn’t have any real emotional punch, instead keeping everything at a low register. As a result, the film slips away from Shunichi Nagasaki and his cast, becoming a film that is easier to talk about than it is to actually sit through.

See also: A Stranger of Mine (2005)

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