The Burning



4.0 out of 5 stars Singed, not burned

“The Burning” (Japanese title “Buryure” or “Cream Brulee”) is the type of small, quiet film that one often sees at international film festivals showcasing independent and low-budget works of high quality. Although it was not what I was expecting, I really enjoyed this film.

Don’t be fooled by the box cover. “The Burning” is in no way a horror film featuring insane lesbian sisters out on a burning rampage. One could be forgiven for thinking that, seeing the prominent placement of the picture of the two girls kissing on the back cover (actually quite a touching and important scene in the film, but in no way salacious), and the promise of fiery destruction on the front.

In truth, the film is much more Tony Takitani than Firestarter. A beautiful and moving story, it is essentially a character study of two sisters, haunted by their past and afraid of their future. The soundtrack is dominated by a slow, somber cello with occasional piano and the movie plays along at that same gentle pace. This was director Hayashida Kenta’s first film, and he keeps his camera tight and intimate. Dark in both tone and imagery, “The Burning” is a sweet, doomed tale of sisterly love.

The story begins with the return of Hinako (Nakamura Mika) carrying the ashes of her grandmother on a lonely bus ride. She is returning to the home of her sister, Minako (Nakamura Rie), from whom she has been separated for thirteen years. When they were young, the girl’s father died in a fire set by the twins, and they have been kept separated ever since. What follows is an uncomfortable reunion, as the two girls barely know each other, and find ways to bridge the gap and come to terms with their past. Minako was adopted by her Uncle, who owns a sweets shop, and they bond when Minako teaches Hinako to make cream brulee, and the fire of the culinary torch brings them together again.

From there, the story takes a darker turn. The two girls find that, like the crust of the cream brulee, the burning makes their lives sweeter, as does the special closeness brought on by their renewed sisterhood. But their bliss is not too last, as Minako is sick with a brain tumor, and doesn’t have long to live. Hinako and Minako strike out together in order to spend the rest of their lives together as best they can before harsh reality closes in on them.

I thought “The Burning” was a beautiful little film. The two real-life sisters, Nakamura Mika and Nakamura Rie, both do an incredible job in their roles. This was a first film for both of them, and I was impressed. Director Hayashida made really effective use of music, especially the lone cello.

At only 71 minutes, the story is just long enough without dragging out unnecessary scenes. The DVD includes a “Making of” feature that is largely behind-the-scenes footage accompanied by the cello soundtrack which was a nice addition but a little disappointing as I was hoping to see an interview with the director and the two sisters.

I do feel that the film was somewhat poorly marketed, and the box cover is misleading, which is too bad because it might lead some people to feel cheated by what the film is not instead of enjoying what it is. However, sometimes not getting what you expected can be a good thing, and I happen to really like well-done independent films of this nature.


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