Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan - 2012 - 5 episodes each roughly 1 hour
Based on the novel by Kanae Minato. The unifying germ is a crime against a child. The victim's four 10 year old friends are placed under a guilt debt by the child's mother and charged with a penance should the culprit elude capture. The episodes/chapters deal with results in the friend's lives 15 years later, presented as the present, and the final episode concerns the culmination of all the plot threads with the ultimate fate of the victim's mother. For Kurosawa fans, remember that this is a television production, not a movie, and set your expectations accordingly. The pace is deliberate and the dialogue, while avoiding explicit exposition, does tend to be intricate or overdone as one's taste dictates. I watched the episodes as made available by Fandor in one chunk. While PENANCE does not pack the punch of Kurosawa's cinematic offerings, they bear his indelible stamp and are worth watching. Watching PENANCE, I became aware of how many aspects of Kurosawa's technique are shared by another of my favorite directors, Hirokazu Koreeda*
. Kurosawa and Koreeda both have an elegantly economical style which is short on hyperbole and long on observational nuance and technical sophistication without resorting to gimmickry. In a way, it seemed to me that Kurosawa and Koreeda are two coins of the same denomination. They both mine their material from the complex lode of the human heart. Koreeda explores those veins which carry an unusual warmth. Kurosawa explores those veins which carry an unusual coldness. Of the two, Koreeda is the realist. Kurosawa, to produce his unnerving tableaux, at times manipulates events to produce his signature sangfroid goose bumps. Both are minimalists, not in the technical sense, but by virtue of using screenplays unencumbered by irrelevance, that most human of characteristics. Be that as it may, for those who enjoy Kurosawa's movies, be prepared to be patient with PENANCE. I almost gave up on Chapter 1, which is the longest by virtue of containing the most backstory and which is the thinnest, at least for me. The subsequent chapters contain more characters, more interactions, and more locations; making them more complete and filling meals. Chapters 3 and 4 were my favorites. Happy hunting.*Sometimes transliterated as Kore-eda. This is a clumsy attempt to deal with the discreet pronunciation of individual vowels in Japanese. Bad idea.
This is the bio text from the rottentomatoes.com
page for Mr. Kurosawa's movies. It impressed me enough to quote it here in full :
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films are unique in the film world. They are genre flicks that seem to defy the confines of genre. They are philosophical treatises on the individual in society, often as brilliant as they are obscure, though they still manage to thrill, amuse, and entertain. Widely regarded as one of the most talented filmmakers of New Japanese Cinema (other such directors include Shinji Somai, Takashi Miike, and Nobuhiro Suwa), Kurosawa is a bold new voice in World Cinema.Born in Kobe in 1955, Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) studied film under noted theorist Shigehiko Hasumi at Rikkyo University. An avid amateur 8mm filmmaker since high school, Kurosawa's short film Shigarami was selected as part of the 1981 PIA Film Festival, a prestigious showcase for young talent in Japan. From there, he landed a job as assistant director with Shinji Somai. In 1983, he directed his first feature, The Kandagawa Wars. He first garnered critical attention with his next effort, The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl, starring actor-turned-director Juzo Itami. Though financed as a pink eiga -- the soft-core porn genre that dominated much of the Japanese domestic market through the 1970s -- the film defiantly skews hard and fast categorization. Sex scenes are intercut with extended discussion on philosophy. Stylistically, the film bares more commonality with Jean-Luc Godard and Seijun Suzuki than with mainstream pinku directors like Noboru Tanaka. Since then, he steadily gained cult recognition for his films, particularly for his Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself series.His big break came with the supernatural crime thriller Cure (1997). Enigmatic, creepy, and genuinely frightening, Cure wowed audiences with its intensity and impressed intellectuals with its postmodern exploration of identity. Moreover, the film garnered a great deal of critical buzz on the festival circuit, including Toronto, Rotterdam, and San Francisco. Star Kōji Yakusho
won Best Actor at the Tokyo Film Festival. Kurosawa's subsequent films have all displayed his trademark elusiveness and have served to bolster his profile. License to Live (1998) which he wrote with the help of a Sundance Institute Scholarship, was screened at the Berlin Film Festival, while Charisma (1999) was invited to be screened the Director's Week section at Cannes. That same year, his work was showcased as a part of the Toronto Film Festival's Director's Spotlight. On the heels of the low-key drama Barren Illusions and the made for television frightener Seance, Kurosawa crafted Pulse, a slow-burn apocalyptic shocker that many considered to the one of the best horror films of the decade. A quiet, deliberate, and notably restrained tale of dread that would ultimately have all subtlety sapped for a rambunctious American re-make, Pulse spoke soulfully to many modern viewers who felt that their human connection had been woefully lost in the endless quest for technological convenience. Though such subsequent efforts as the existential drama Bright Future and the comedic thriller Doppleganger wouldn't be received with nearly as much enthusiasm as Pulse, the tireless director continued to challenge audiences with his philosophically-minded films and soon returned to the realm of horror with The Loft (2005). As with any semi-successful Japanese horror films in the early years of the new millennium, an American remake was quickly announced. When he is not making movies, Kurosawa teaches at the newly formed Film School of Tokyo.