Carlos Reygadas‘ film Japon is a breathtaking work of image making, rich with scenes that unfold in unbroken time, story untold, and symbolic gestures and references left un-authoritatively open to interpretation. It’s a cinema of the immanent that accomplishes transcendence: in Deleuze’s terms, transcendental empiricism.
Reygadas uses image and sound with a strong degree of influence from Andrei Tarkovsky, Bresson, Kiarostami, Ozu, Rosselini, and though he’s not mentioned among Reygadas’ favorite filmmakers in the dvd interview, Hungary’s Bela Tarr. Actors are non-professional, the script is loose and, and scenes are allowed to run (in the manner of Bela Tarr and Tarkovsky) for as long as they take, or for as long as they remain interesting. His camera use suggests his presence as the film’s director, an eye wandering through the lens for an image that may have little to do with the action in front of the camera. Actors are captured for their authenticity and reality (verit&eacute), and their lack of professionalism only serves the film’s “higher” motives. While this would seem to be a highly religious film, or symbolic at least, Reygadas denies having such intentions.
The Madonna, Jesus Christ, miraculous events, the sacred and profane, come together in a Russian Mexico bound by the use of music familiar to Tarkovsky fans: Arvo Part’s Cantus to Benjamin Britten. The film even begins with a child, a tree, and the Cantus that closes Tarkovsky’s film The Sacrifice (which also ends with the child and the tree). It seems the film is a sequel to the sacrifice. And in fact our lead character (a Mexican Siddhartha, questing with cane, or Bela Tarr’s Irimias from Sátántangó?) is struggling to end his life, while allowing himself to be saved by a Madonna-like Mexican villager whose faith is nonetheless redeemed in a genuine human sympathy. (Tarkovsky, on the other hand, often chooses the miraculous.) SheÁ is the Samaritan, a story referred to by the film’s final road-side conclusion (I’ll not give anything away).
As Reygadas claims, life is in the little things. Though he clearly means that life is greater than the little things (the “ten thousand things:” a Taoist concept for the biggest number, for everything, the World). A transcendental empiricism, Spinozist film-making, affect-image through the shot. You will live in this film.