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(The 2017 Slamdance Film Festival kicked off on January 20 and runs through January 26. The HtN staff is repping Slamdance hard with reviews like this, Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko’s Kuro.)

Co-written and directed by Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko, Kuro is an engrossing cinematic vessel that permits Romi to freely reminisce about life with her boyfriend, Milou. Mostly remembering when they both lived in Japan, the narrative often finds its way back to the presumed present as Romi cares for Milou, now a paraplegic. Two somewhat oblique characters, Mr. Ono and Kuro, also find their way into Romi’s story.

Told solely via narration (Noriko), Romi’s story unsuspectingly alternates from first-person to third-person subjective points of view; the fluidity of the narrative’s notions of time and place are equally disorienting. Aspects of the story seem heartbreakingly authentic, like pages torn from a diary, while other threads are too ambiguous for us to gauge the level of fabrication. As the audience digests the narrator’s words, the aforementioned fluctuations suggest that Romi is doing the same – sometimes consciously, but other times her subconscious seems to take hold. It seems entirely relevant to question the truthfulness of Romi’s memories and ponder whether distracting elements of her present reality might cause unsuspected narrative diversions.

A skillfully deconstructed narrative, Kuro separates words from images and engages the viewer’s mind to populate the void in between. Not unlike Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), Kuro’s images have a meandering relationship with the verbal text. Sometimes the images inform the spoken words, other times the two distinct narrative devices contradict each other. Intended to be juxtaposed, the images and words are sometimes perpendicular and other times exist in parallel with each other; occasionally, they fall so out of sync that they end up in alternate universes.

While the narrator’s words represent the nature of storytelling, the images encapsulate the vagueness of memories. A recurring theme in Kuro is the literal meaning of names and words, but the images are purely figurative and metaphoric. Additionally, Koyama and Noriko visually showcase how the human mind wanders through images as it contemplates the spoken narrative. The audience must decode the exquisitely composed images (presumably echoing Milou’s passion for photography), as the film guides the viewer to add their own individual layer of the story. Therefore, everyone is destined to walk away from this particularly challenging film with their own unique understanding.

Seemingly disciples of Stuart Hall and reception theory, Koyama and Noriko use Kuro as an exercise to examine the audience’s role in cinematic storytelling and the narrative form. With steady streams of audible and visual information available to decode and reconstruct, Kuro is brain candy for a willingly active audience to experience.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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