Heart, Beating in the Dark
Heart Beating in the Dark
by Joe Sinclair, November 2006
A young couple are on the run after killing their baby. They hide out for the night in a dingy apartment. They drink. They fight. They have violent sex on the floor.
But in this uniquely disturbing film, it is not the horrific crimes of the past which catch up with them, but a guilty future.
More than 20 years after making the underground classic Heart, Beating in the Dark (1982), director Shunichi Nagasaki has returned with another remarkable film of the same title.
It is both a remake and a sequel, as well as a film within a film.
At the start the actors from the original film, Shigeru Muroi (Inako) and Takashi Naito (Ringo), are discussing the possibility of a remake. But Takashi wants to be in the film - he has the idea of hitting his young self.
And so the film features not only a young couple on the run, but also the original couple reunited after two decades, trying to face up to their past. The two stories run in parallel until their eventual collision.
The acting of Muroi (Bakayaro) and Naito (Spirited Away, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, After Life), and the younger couple played by Shoichi Honda and Noriko Eguchi, is understated and honest.
The film sucks the audience in to its bowels before spitting them out again, as the camera pans backwards to show that this is a film in production.
These interludes provide welcome breathing space from which to escape the claustrophic depravity.
They also provide some genuinely comic moments, mainly centred around Takashi's unhealthy obsession with hitting his younger self.
There is a sense that the original film has permeated the lives of the cast in the same way that the murder of their child has dogged the lives of the characters.
But the film does not fit neatly in to any genre, comic, horror or otherwise. Instead Nagasaki (Some Kinda Love, London Calling, Shikoku) is busy dissolving boundaries, not just between genres, but also between male and female, past and future, reality and fiction. The director even cuts old super8 footage from the 1982 film in with the new.
Although the director plays with the audience's sense of what is real he weaves such a perfect, multi-stranded web, that the film is never unduly confusing.
The collapse of past and future brings the two sets of child killers together in a single present, and the contrast between the different generations is at the moral heart of the film.
The younger couple are gripped by their base instincts, like children who have not yet learnt to tell what is good or bad. Or like animals, sprawling on the floor, attacking each other physically and sexually.
The question is whether the older couple have been able to grow up.
Ringo, who owns a small repair shop, has just separated from his wife. When his daughter phones him for help he is appears blunt and uncaring - it is a telling moment.
Inako is still on the run, lying and cheating, trying to escape her debtors, living in the underbelly of society. She has arranged to meet back with Ringo to ask him for money.
He tells her that he has managed to forget their baby, but the past is a menacing fissure running through their lives, threatening to open up. It is a past they have avoided facing up to, a guilty secret ready to engulf them.
The film asks the question whether Ringo and Inako find redemption in each other, and in the possibility of influencing their younger selves. But there are no simple answers.
There is certainly a sense that their shared history binds them together and this bond is profoundly human. They are capable of tenderness as well as unthinking cruelty.
This film is a disturbing meditation on human cruelty, the cloying consequences of the past, the possibility of redemption and what it might mean.
And through the dissolving of boundaries it also asks the question of what boundaries cannot be truly dissolved. Ringo and Inako cannot take back what they have done.
It is also a film which reflects on Japan. Like an open wound, it reveals a culture of suppressed emotion, hidden lives, and strong feelings bleeding beneath an emotionless surface.
The film is beautifully constructed, somehow avoiding dramatisation whilst drawing attention to it with its film within a film structure.
It is bleak, almost without hope, but not quite - the film has a beating heart.
Japan Articles by Joe Sinclair
Interview with a Kabuki Actor
Hitch-Hiking in Japan
Japan Travel Tips: Missing the last train in Tokyo
Hot Spring Bathing in Japan
Tokyo Story - Movie Review
Memoirs of a Geisha - Movie Review
Tony Takitani - Movie Review
Twilight Samurai - Movie Review
Fear And Trembling (Stupeur et Tremblements) - Movie Review
The Fog of War - Movie Review
Zatoichi- Movie Review
Interview with David Mitchell, author of "Cloud Atlas"