Starring: Yuki Inomata Hans Kremer Orlando KlausImke Büchel Zora Thiessen
Running time: 82 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
Global networking has become a more prominent and widely carried out activity in recent years than ever before. With the rise of internet culture and web sites like Facebook, Skype and even Chatroulette, it has become incredibly easy to make and maintain relationships with people all over the world. I myself have been privileged to form many such connections over the past year with people living in different parts of Canada , the U.S. and even Europe, either through my own travels or them coming to Toronto . Consequently, concepts of global community and cultural interaction are being touched upon in a number of ways in more and more films, one of which being Marie Miyayama’s debut feature The Red Spot.
The heroine of Miyayama’s film is Aki (Yuki Inomata), a Japanese university student who lives with her aunt and uncle. While struggling to find a job, she revisits the memory of her mother, father and infant brother, all of whom died in a car accident in the Bavarian region of Germany eighteen years previous. Aki keeps a box containing their belongings and photographs of them, included among its contents a map with a sinister red spot marking the place where her family perished. She decides to travel to Germany to find the place for herself, leaving behind her aunt, uncle and confused boyfriend. Upon her arrival, she meets a friendly young man named Elias (Orlando Klaus) and is given a place to stay with his family, the Webers. As she carries out her search, she observes a visible friction between Elias and his father Johannes (Hans Kremer). Gradually, Aki and Elias form a close relationship with each other, coinciding with the discovery of several troubling truths.
Like Tsuki Inoue’s Autumn Adagio, which I caught earlier this year at the Nippon Connection film festival, The Red Spot possesses an impressive amount of confidence and maturity for a director who is just getting started in feature filmmaking. Using beautiful visual compositions and a noticeably desaturated look, Miyayama gently depicts Aki’s personal quest, nicely balancing her relations with the Weber family with her investigation into the past. In this way, the film unravels at a consistently engaging pace, smoothly integrating Elias and Johannes and their own individual concerns into the narrative flow. All of the actors perform well in their parts, but Yuki Inomata does an especially stellar job as Aki, whether quietly lamenting the loss and absence of her family or enjoying more light-hearted moments with Elias and his sister Martina (Zora Thiessen).
The majority of The Red Spot takes place in Germany , with a minimal score provided by Helmut Sinz that frequently features a harmonium. The unusual instrument nicely compliments the sequences set in the quiet Bavarian countryside where Aki, with Elias’ help, searches for her family’s gravestone and makes peace with her haunted memories. As the film progresses, Miyayama shifts between intimate moments of friendship and warmth and more serious scenes concerning guilt and atonement. Johannes is the key character at the heart of the latter, and in a sense acts as the most direct source of conflict within the film. Though the circumstances under which his path crosses with Aki’s could be seen as a little too contrived for comfort and his quarrels with Elias too often present him as a typically stiff, simplistically written father figure, his personal struggle and interactions with both Elias and Aki are nonetheless moving and admirably acted.
In all other respects besides the abovementioned weak points, The Red Spot is very nearly flawless. Through its mature themes, impressive performances, portrayal of bonds formed across cultures, polished execution and poetic quality, it delivers a solid viewing experience that will surely keep people waiting to see what comes next from Marie Miyayama.