Director – Yohei Suzuki, Screenplay – Yukiko Kuyama, Producers – Samori Imamura & Yohei Suzuki, Photography – Yohei Kawashida, Music – Samon Imamura & Yusuke Yamamoto
Iida Kaoru, Kihara Masatoshi, Ikeda Shu, Kaneko Sari, Karube Hitomi, Rock Murakami, Omiya Shoji, Tanaka Shigeko)
While his parents are out, jobless twenty-six year-old Tetsuo Suzuki is visited by his neighbouring girlfriend Yuriko Tsuda. As they get up out of bed afterwards, they both see an orb floating up around the ceiling and freeze in position. Tetsuo’s father Jun comes home to confess that he was laid-off from his job some months ago and has been pretending to go to work ever since but is paralysed too when he sees the orb. The police are called but they too become frozen in place when they enter the bedroom. When investigating detective Nakagawa goes into the room, he pulls a gun but trips and shoots Jun in the head. Afterwards, the incident is dismissed as a suicide. The rest of the family are left trying to deal with Tetsuo who is comatose, only occasionally moving and coming to life (as are all the others who were in the room). The journalist Ryuichi Deguchi who was near the scene becomes obsessed with the case and is determined to find what everybody was staring at.
Ow is a directorial debut for newcomer Japanese director Yohei Suzuki. This Vancouver International Film Festival screening marks its world premiere.
I have always had a fascination with films concerning mysterious/cryptic objects usually of alien origin – perhaps the result of having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Stalker (1979) at a young and influential age. There have been a number of these – works like Solaris (1972) and Cube (1997), even the initial premise for tv’s Lost (2004-10) and Under the Dome (2013-5) before either disintegrated into shows that demonstrated the writing staff didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on, and the amazing tv mini-series The Lost Room (2006).
Ow is one of these Mysterious Alien Objects films. It has a fantastic beginning where first a slacker Japanese youth’s girlfriend and then he when he gets out of bed to see what she is staring at, both become frozen in place looking at an object resembling a pock-marked diorama of The Moon that conducts a wobbly rotation as it floats up around ceiling level. They are joined by his father who comes in to talk to him and then one by one several cops come to investigate the menace. These scenes sit rather well between the strange, the comical (in the bumblings of the cops) and wondering where on earth the film is going to take such a premise. Unlike most of the other abovementioned, the film does not construe its alienness with a sense of eeriness and awe – the surroundings are a cramped and untidy Japanese home, while the effects making the orb rotate seem (possibly intentionally) uneven.
On the other hand, after setting up an intriguing idea, Ow promptly takes maybe one of the worst conceptual nosedives one has seen a film take in recent memory. This is a film that has a great first act but lacks any idea of where to go after that point. After around the first thirty minutes, the rest of the film is spent with the family dealing with Tetsuo who has been left a vegetable and sits staring into space, very occasionally coming to life to move. You keep waiting for him to wake up or this to be revealed as part of some purpose but the film never does. Similarly, the film then expands out on the previously peripheral character of the journalist Deguchi who was a partial observer to the incident and has him become obsessed with trying to find what happened in the room. The trouble is we already know what happened and much of this plot path involves him merely trying to move beyond the police version of the story and find what we already know – something he never does. What we want is for him to discover what the orb was but the film never gives us that. Instead, Ow arrives at a complete non-ending where Deguchi loses it in a left-field meltdown, waving a knife around and dragging people into the room to restage the incident, before Tetsuo comes back to life and begins ranting incoherently as they fight over a kitchen table.