This singular drama from Japan opens over a somber landscape in a quiet coastal town. It holds many provincial features, such as a festival meant to appease an evil spirit carried on year after year by an alarmingly superstitious populace, and a tendency for gossip. Tsukisue, a civil servant is sent to pick up 6 individuals and bring them into town. He is also charged with helping them integrate into their surroundings. Soon after, we learn that this is part of a social experiment; the new arrivals are inmates serving time for violent crimes, their sentences commuted so that they can be rehabilitated in a new environment. This sets the stage for a story rife with moral and philosophical conundrums, to be debated and explored.
While the unwitting official is left with responsibility over the lives of the ex-convicts (which proves to be a varied group), he also deals with relationship woes, magnified by the suffocating small town atmosphere. In all, he has quite a lot on his shoulders.
If the premise sounds as though it would make for a great mini-series, extended over several episodes, we are on the same page. In fact it is based on a manga, a format perfect for stories to sprawl outwards. And with all of the potential character interactions laid out, sprawl is exactly what the story should do. While off to a promising start, things begin to line up a little too conveniently. Characters take on developments or newfound interests that seem rather abrupt. It as though a linear conclusion is being raced toward, with all of those moral intricacies crumbling away to carve a path.
While the development of story does not satisfy through and through, there are aspects of it, in addition from its potential-laden premise, that are praiseworthy. Sound design, credited to Tatsuo Yamaguchi, is used to great effect. At times, electronic effects plod forebodingly. There is something akin to big drops of water falling into deep wells and causing ripples of foreboding that disrupt the calm. Then there are the jams forged by Tsukisue and his two friends, who reform a noise rock trio from their past to practice. (this would not be the first time that reliving or recalling one’s former band as a way to reconnect with the past surfaces as a theme in the festival) They forge propulsive sonic rumbles, something like a therapeutic cleansing of the air around them. While Scythian Lamb doesn’t hit the mark completely from beginning to end, it has enough going for it to make it interesting viewing.
THE SCYTHIAN LAMB is being screened at 2018 New York Asian Film Festival on Thursday, July 5, at 9:15 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Visit the NYAFF homepage for tickets and information.
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