The Burning (2008) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for themes
Running time: 72 min.
Cast: Mika Nakamura, Rika Nakamura, Taiichi Harabayashi, Yutaka Oda, Tsuyoshi Setoguchi
Director: Kenta Hayashida
Screenplay: Kenta Hayashida
Review published June 27, 2009
One caveat: the distributors of Japan's The Burning have decided to spice up the plot synopsis. Here's is a description from their DVD release:
Twins Hinako and Minako (Mika and Rika Nakamura) haven't seen each other in 13 years -- and for good reason: They bring out the worst in each other. But when Minako discovers she's dying, she's determined to lay eyes on her sister one last time. Now, the girls -- and everyone around them -- are in grave danger as Hinako, a serial arsonist, and the secretive Minako display their combined psycho-pyromaniac tendencies in this Japanese thriller.
Perhaps "The Burning" of the film's title refers to how many viewers will feel burned by the misleading DVD cover (the pic of the twins kissing is very misleading -- it is actually a sweet, completely chaste moment in the film) and description pushed forward by the marketers, as this is most definitely is neither a thriller nor horror movie. It is a slow, somber mood piece about twins who were separated at an early age, then come together many years later when one of them discovers she is dying of a brain tumor. Granted, the other twin is a serial arsonist, but the inclusion of this facet of her personality is played much more for character effect than in anything that would thrill any audiences outside of pyromaniacs, or those fascinated in how crème brulee is made.
Taking the film on its own terms, which is as a drama, the 72-minute run time is already too long to support the scant story it tells. It has a "film festival" feel, which means that it is the sort of movie that would only play at a film festival where audiences are expecting low budget, contemplative films where you derive your own meaning to the events on the screen. There isn't much other than the story of two twins forming a bond once again after many years apart, and though the story is told in a delicate and deliberate fashion, the pace and lack of rich characterizations makes this more of an exercise in self-reflexivity for the audience than what might otherwise be called for.
As we know not long after the film starts that one of the twins will most likely be dying by the end of the film, it does manage to effect a certain level of emotional resonance to that which we see later in the film. I think it's a shame that the slow build-up didn't do more to enrich the characterizations of the main characters, as we are still distanced by the fact that we don't really know a great deal about any of the characters other than their dysfunctional childhood and separation after the deaths of their parents.
Like many independent films about troubled youth, the characters are shown often staring off into nothingness, and when they do engage in conversation, they often spout some very short sentences meant to be taken as evocative of a deeply philosophical mood. Odd behavior results, such as a mock scene of marriage between the two sisters, and an especially bizarre conversation between the twins where the dying one professes how she would very much want to be reborn as her sibling's future daughter so that she might be fed and cared for by her. I don't know that most audiences will care for these scenes, but I did find them to be unique enough to not consider the film a waste of time altogether.
However, there's just not enough here for me to ever want to sit through it again, as it was a chore just to get through it the first time even with the short duration. It feels like a student film, shot on digital cameras, and without much in terms of dialogue. As a showcase for Hayashida to display his sense of direction of mood, it definitely is a promising start. If only the story could have been fleshed out more to support its length and the emotional depth it strives for, I might also be praising his gifts as a screenwriter. Sadly, he we my never know, as he died shortly after the film's completion.
©2009 Vince Leo