The Box / Fe

2.0 out of 5 stars Two Japanese “art” films

The Box / Fe

Nakajima Kanji’s films fall under what can be charitably called “art films,” but could also be called “boring pretension” depending on what you like in your cinema. If slow-moving or non-existent, high-contrast black-and-white scenes, and dense, impossible to understand metaphors are your bag, then you might just be a Nakajima Kanji fan.

Nakajima has made three films in total, and this DVD contains two of them. The other, The Clone Returns Home, is his only full-length feature film. Both of the films here, “The Box” (Japanese title “Hako,” 2003) and “Fe” (Japanese title “Hagane,” 1994) are around sixty minutes each. Thankfully, because it was hard to sit through them even at that length.

Thematically, Nakajima likes contrasts. Old people with young people. Metal with nature. Industry with art. Both “The Box” and “Fe” contain these elements. He prefers wasteland scenes, and his visual elements are the most interesting parts of his films. He is a good cinematographer, and a poor storyteller.

“The Box” has as its underlining story an old man who speaks to chunks of raw ore, that tell him what they want to be. His work is to refine and build the ore into whatever machine they wish for. In this world, nature has all but died, and a single tree is kept alive by the old man’s machines. There are two kids running around as well, playing with an airplane. And a sick old woman being cared for. And a sort of feral man. And a box. The box clunks around through the whole film, moving seemingly independently. The old man is still trying to figure out what the box wants to be.

This film is shot in high-contrast black-and-white. It creates an interesting visual, which is the best part. The animation of the box is so clunky that it is funny to watch rather than profound. And whatever Nakajima wanted to say was completely lost on me.

To my mind, “Fe” was the better film. Shot in color, with more of a continuing story, it concerns and old artist who looks to industrial wastelands for inspiration. There he meets a young girl, curious about his work and the machines and metal waste all around them.

Visually, “Fe” was much more interesting. It is filmed in color, and Nakajima used a device where he framed the scene so that it matched the rectangle of the artist’s canvas. Unlike “The Box,” where the story and characters just seemed like random noise, there was an actual connection between the old man and the young girl in “Fe.”

Both of these films are going to be of limited interest at best. I went to art school, and I remember the video artists who were interested in creating visual imagery unencumbered by narrative. Those people would probably find something to enjoy here. But anyone looking for an interesting film had best look elsewhere.

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