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Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani?

Tadanobu Asano brings on the noise
Year: 2005  
Director: Shinji Aoyama  
Producer: Takenori Sento  
  Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Aoi Miyazaki, Mariko Okada, Masaya Nakahara, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Masahiro Toda
  The Skinny: A suicide-inducing plague is gripping the globe and the only thing that can stop it is Tadanobu Asano's really, really loud music. Director Shinji Aoyama tries to spin an already intriguing sci-fi concept into more artsy territory, but the result makes for a somber, painfully dull viewing experience.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Set in the not-so-distant year of 2015, Shinji Aoyama's Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani? deals with the consequences of a global epidemic, as the world's population has come under the attack of a fatal disease dubbed "Lemming Syndrome." No one knows how it's transmitted from person to person, but how it works and what it does to the human body have become disturbing common knowledge. Apparently, the virus attaches itself to the optic nerve and sets off some sort of internal self-destruct button inside the victim's brain. The self-destruct sequence manifests itself in an inescapable urge to commit suicide, an impulse that has claimed the lives of millions of people worldwide…with millions of more lives threatened with the same fate.
     The film itself focuses on the members of a once popular two-man noise band (Tadanobu Asano plays lead guitarist Mizui, and Nakahara Masaya plays his bandmate, Asahara), who have taken refuge in a sparsely populated rural setting near the coast. The men spend most of their time collecting new sounds and hanging out at an inn run by an older lady named Navi (Mariko Okada). And it's at the inn where the dramatic crux of the film begins to take shape. An eccentric millionaire (Yasutaka Tsutsui) blows into town with his private eye henchman (Toda Masahiro) in tow, looking for the two musicians. Why? Well, it seems that the millionaire's only grandchild, Hana (Aoi Miyazaki, from NANA), has come down with Lemming Syndrome, and he believes that Mizui and Asahara are the only people that can help her. According to his research, those afflicted with Lemming Syndrome had their symptoms alleviated when exposed to Mizui's and Asahara's music. Can their music cure what ails her?
     What I've just described sounds like a fairly inventive, possibly humorous sci-fi flick, tackling big issues like communicable diseases, depression, and suicide through the use of a high concept plot, but Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani? isn't exactly a feel good movie about the healing power of rock n' roll. The title of the film comes from Christ's final words on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?", and to be honest, sometimes I felt tempted to cry this aloud while watching the movie. The pace of the film is excruciatingly slow. In fact, my synopsis erroneously gives the impression that Eli, Eli moves at a brisk pace, but to tell the truth, this film is anything but brisk. It's slow going for most of the picture, with scenes seeming to run on forever, contributing nothing to film, save for an increased running time.
     "Slow" in and of itself isn't necessarily a criticism, especially if what you're witnessing onscreen makes the slow burn style necessary. But when you couple the film's plodding pace with its other problematic aspect, the two end up feeding off each other, making Eli, Eli a major test of one's patience. What is that other "problem"? For me, it was the music. They say music soothes the savage beast, but Asano's character is a noise musician, who by very definition experiments with sounds that would regularly be considered unpleasant, and even painful to hear. The fact that this so-called music might cure what ails the world may be an intentional bid for irony, but it doesn't exactly make for good cinema, especially if that genre doesn't suit your tastes. Case in point: the beautifully staged scene of Mizui administering the musical "cure" to a blindfolded Hana isn't nearly the triumphant catharsis one would hope for, even though it is seemingly meant to be taken that way. It runs for a good ten minutes of uninterrupted screen time. If your personal musical taste lends itself toward an appreciation of noise bands, then it's highly likely that this extended sequence - as well as most of the feature - will play out a bit better for you.
     Despite my reservations about the film, there are quite a few good things going for it - the execution of the concept for one. Despite its setting and its plot, the film seems to avoid most science fiction movie clichés. Instead, it merely introduces its high concept plot, but doesn't dwell too long in the minutiae of sci-fi technicalities. Lemming Syndrome is merely a springboard to explore feelings of ennui, outright despair, and suicidal tendencies. The visuals are fantastic, and the actors (Asano and Miyazaki namely) elicit enough excitement with their mere presence to help hold the audiences attention, even if the pacing leaves much to be desired. Viewers with a bit more patience or perhaps an avid interest in noise music might actually find the whole thing to be a rewarding experience. But for the rest of us, Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani? feels more like an ambitious movie that failed to live up to its potential. It won't quite push you to suicide, but not for a lack of trying. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Vap Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English Subtitles
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