Eureka’s running time of three and a half hours may put off even the most hardy of film fans. This would be a rookie mistake as it is an engaging, gentle, and immaculately composed treatise on violence, loss, and trauma that deserves not only every minute of the audience’s attention but also the accolade of a modern masterpiece.
Eureka starts with the hijack of a bus journey that leaves three survivors; the driver, Makoto, a young girl, Kazue, and her brother Naoki. The film is not interested in the nature of violence per se, but rather with the effects on the private and social identities of survivors of violence.
Following the events on the bus a clearly traumatized Makoto leaves his wife and disappears. Kazue and Naoki are shocked into silence, and suffer further loss that leaves them parentless. Alone in a huge house and with a sizeable insurance pay-out, the children grow increasingly detached from the world.
This ‘prelude’ lasts a mere nineteen minutes. The remainder of the film, set two years later, deals with the slow, painful process undertaken by the three to reconstruct their disintegrated lives following Makoto’s return home. Makoto soon moves in with the children to be joined by Akihiko, the children’s talkative teenage cousin who has survived a similar traumatic violent experience. Together, these damaged souls begin the struggle to take control of their lives in an attempt to rediscover meaning and joy.
Whilst such ponderous territory has the potential to be boring, the characters’ regeneration remains interesting because of its unpredictability. Director Aoyama plays out the scenes in long takes that are cleverly composed and meticulously timed. Wide shots with multiple planes of action permit the camera to remain still or make minimal movements to reveal unfolding events, suggesting the characters’ individual actions are inseparable from the group’s dynamic. Elsewhere, they are framed in flat contrast to their stark backgrounds; as tiny figures slowly making their way across vast landscapes, or trapped in claustrophobic rooms.
At all times the apparent stillness of the frame suggests a deep inner movement. This tension-in-stillness is exemplified in a visual motif that reappears throughout the film, a glass office toy placed on the house window frame gently rocks back and forth whilst inside it a tumultuous wave crashes around, a reference to the opening words of the film spoken by Kazue: “A tidal wave is coming. Soon, I am sure, it will sweep us all away.” The omnipresence of the ambient noises of the quiet rural setting, set at elevated volumes, reinforce the tension; the continuous rumble of wind and chirp of crickets a further sign of the disturbed inner lives of the characters.
One of the most effective moments of the film, and that also demonstrates Aoyama’s skill as an editor, takes place when the ‘whoosh’ of Akihiko’s golf swings reach an unbearable level for Naoki who races into a field and cuts down the plants. The action clearly grants him temporary relief and Aoyama’s camera lingers on a bleeding plant that pours out its sap, inter-cutting with Kozue silently watching at the window. The children’s inner anguish suggested by this scene is heart-rending.
Eureka’s final section provides renewed momentum following the characters’ relative inertness in the middle passage. Makoto buys “a different kind of bus” and takes the children on a road journey. This begins the process of reclaiming their lives and they seem able to envision a positive future in which they are at peace with their loss, and the violence they experienced is no longer a controlling force.