16 August 2010

The Red Spot (Der Rote Punkt / 赤い点, 2008)

Shinsedai Festival
When Marie Miyayama’s debut feature film The Red Spot (Der Rote Punkt /Akai Ten /  赤い点, 2008) was released here in Germany in 2009, it created a buzz of a similar level to that of Dorris Dörrie’s Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossoms/Hanami, 2008) the previous year. It was a real delight for me to finally be able to see the film at Shinsedai this summer. My delight only increased when I discovered that unlike Kirschlüten, which disappointed in its superficiality of emotion, The Red Spot moved me with its simplicity of plot, beautiful cinematography, and the excellent performances of its cast.

Part of the authenticity of the story comes from the fact that it is inspired by a real incident. While working as an interpreter in Germany in the late 1990s, Marie Miyayama was hired by a Japanese woman to assist her on her quest to find a spot marked in red on a map. They took a taxi to the spot on Highway B17, southwest of Munich, where they found a memorial stone dedicated to a Japanese family that had been killed there in a hit-and-run car accident in 1987. These were relatives of the woman accompanying Miyayama, who told her that only a 6-year-old girl survived the accident. The orphaned child was then adopted a raised by other relatives.

Inspired by this story, Miyayama reimagined it from the point of view of the orphaned girl. The Red Spot, tells the story of Aki Onodera, a young college woman nearing graduation whose future path is clouded by memories of the past. Her adoptive parents, her aunt and uncle, have provided a loving home for her, but she has never properly mourned the loss of her parents and infant brother. Before seeking a graduate job, she decides to travel to Bavaria to find the red spot on the map where she lost her family.

Intertwined with Aki’s story is that of the Weber family, Johannes and Erika, whose children, Elias and Martina, are now reaching adulthood and on the verge of leaving the family nest. There is a lot of tension between the father and son, which reaches a fever pitch with the arrival of Aki as a guest in their home. By coming to Bavaria in order to connect with her dead family, Aki unwittingly sets of a series of events that will cause a Weber family secret to be revealed.

The underlying concept behind The Red Spot is how a traumatic incident can create a ripple effect throughout the lives of people who are in some way touched by it. The silence of Aki’s family regarding the past is mirrored by Weber family’s inability to talk freely about the underlying problems in their relationships with one another. The result is a tangled web of emotions and conflict that are always threatening to come to  the surface.

Marie Miyayama and Chritoph Tomkewitsch have written an impressively restrained script for first time feature film scriptwriters (though Miyayama has done quite a number of short films and docs).  Oliver Sachs’s cinematography captures the tranquil beauty of Bavarian Swabia. I liked the added dash of red objects throughout the film as a poetical, visual reference to not only the dot on the map, but to Japan itself. It was interesting to see small Catholic shrines erected on the sides of Bavarian country roads, just as one sees Buddhist and Shinto shrines on roadsides in the Japanese countryside (there is a quite memorable one in Totoro, for instance).

Some have criticized the film for having a predictable plot. While I was able to work out early on the general direction the film was taking, I did not feel that this took away from the emotional impact of the film. In fact, the suspense of waiting to see everything unravel was part of the pleasure of watching the film for me. The success of the film on an emotional level was made clear to me during the Shinsedai screening by the quiet weeping of the Japanese-Canadian women in the row behind me throughout the second half of the film.

Along with Naoko Ogigami’s Megane (2007), Momoko Ando’s Kakera, Yuki Tanada’s One Million Yen Girl (2008), and Miwa Nishikawa’s Dear Doctor (2009), Marie Miyayama’s The Red Spot joins a growing number of films by women that have genuinely moved me this year. It will be interesting to see if Miyayama continues making features or if her next project will be another documentary like between earth and sky (2004). Either way, I look forward to more films from this multifaceted young director.

Yuki Inomata as Aki Onodera
Hans Kremer as Johannes Weber
Orlando Klaus as Elias Weber
Imke Büchel as Erika Weber
Zora Thiessen as Martina Weber
Mikiko Otonashi as Aki’s Aunt
Shinya Owada as Aki’s Uncle
Yuu Saito as Jun
Toru Minegishi as the Photo Shop Owner
Toshihiro Yashiba as Aki’s Father
Nahoko Fort-Nishigami as Aki’s Mother

The Red Spot is available on DVD in Germany with German and Japanese subtitles.

Other great movies by women directors: