Overview: While caring for her paraplegic lover Millou, Romi recounts for him the story of a time they spent in Japan, caring for a man named Mr. Ono. 2017; Not Rated; 84 minutes.
Space: There’s a lot of in-between space inside of Kuro, the new film from directors Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko that premiered this week at Slamdance Film Festival. There is the space betweeen scenes, the physical emptiness often contained in Koyama’s framing, the gap between the present tense screen action and the dreamlike voiceover recalling the past, and the difference between the events captured by the camera and the detached story being told in voiceover form by Romi (the actress credited as just Jackie). But beyond that, inside of the traditional boundaries, there is also thematic space—the gap between existing and living, between life and consciousness, between time and reality. Kuro is multiple poems recited simultaneously in separate languages, not all of them verbal, and the humming rhythm hits like a hypnotic infinity. Maybe this explanation seems strained for those who haven’t seen the film, which is one of many reasons I suggest that you see this film.
Story: Kuro isn’t a work overly concerned with clarifying story. In fact, it explicitly tells two stories at once, not interchangeably with cuts or flashbacks, but one with what you see and the other with what you hear, the latter playing over the former with no separation. For anyone expecting a singular narrative or even two clear narratives, Kuro will prove to be a frustrating exercise. The film does not have one or even two stories. Rather, free interpretation of the space between the screen and spoken stories allows for the movie to contain a countless number of stories. In a sense, Kuro unfolds like a bold mashup of other experimental films. It recalls the thematic exploration of the role story plays in defining love and life that we saw in Aronofsky’s The Fountain, the deconstructed and memory-emulating image arrangement that was once most famously utilized in Chris Marker’s La Jetée, and the pressure test of the instability of an identity built through those images of memory that was employed in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. And Kuro manages to occupy all three of these rooms at once because of its space-creating architecture.
Time: As we watch a quiet and perhaps disheartened Romi taking care of Millou (Tujiko Noriko) and listen to her mismatched story, the separate narratives don’t always run parallel or divergent from one another. There are times of intersection, where we see some impressionistic representation of the spoken story in its accompanying visuals. During the moments of the story in which Romi removes and preserves the warts from Mr. Ono’s knees, for example, we are shown the display of small bits of flesh. Other times, we see a clarifying event for what we presume to be a dishonest chapter of the verbal narrative (Romi having a sexual encounter in the forest while she speaks in voiceover about a trip to the grocery store). Then there are moments in which the screen material suggests that the spoken story is built or at least influenced by the sadder current reality (Romi moving Millou’s arms in a free form grace while speaking toward Mr. Ono’s having been caught dancing in a mirror). Because of this, the movie feels both comfortingly warm and mournfully cold, with segments where Romi is intimately sympathetic but then chillingly protected and far away. This is why, even when the narrated story becomes one of tragedy and murder moving toward a final apocalyptic chapter, Kuro continues to also be a movie about committed and unconditional love, the sadness of life’s failing that love, and the narrative efforts we will put into preserving that love’s comfort, meaning, and power no matter what reality has done to damage it.
Overall: Strange and graceful, hypnotic and meditative, Kuro is a daring work of cinematic literature.