Aki and Naoko are childhood friends who are drifting apart as adults. Immersed in her family life, Naoko now has a husband and daughter; Aki, on the other hand, remains single and is on leave from work due to a personal crisis. The plot might sound familiar but it has never been told like this. The director Kusano Natsuka stages the interactions through an actors’ table-read and, as the lines are repeated, the scenes gradually develop into on-location conversations. Moreover, she repositions the dramatic peak of the story to the beginning: Aki has murdered Naoko’s daughter.
Structurally inventive, Kusano’s daring cinema implements ‘distantiation’ effects to get to the heart of friendship issues at times when life has settled. While the repetitions convey the suffocation of role patterns in both friendship and family, a line left out or added in unsettles and reminds us life can take unexpected turns. (IFFR 2018)
Kusano Natsuka’s Best Director and SKIP City Award-winning debut Antonym is an intriguing character study of a relationship between opposites, of differences that define the other as the title suggests (more intriguingly so when considering the original Japanese title which translates to “spiral galaxy”). Her first film in approximately five years (actually three years…more on this below) Domains also seems to deal with the relationships between people, but where this movie distinguishes itself from its predecessor is Kusano’s unique take on storytelling. Through the repetition of scenes featuring the actors’ script readings and rehearsals, the process of the actors grasping their characters is captured on screen in different patterns or takes. As it unspools the story alternately between documentary and fiction, the movie harnesses familiar themes of friendship and family to scrutinize human feelings. Shot through a grant from the Aichi Arts Center and the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, a 64 minute version was released in 2017. A re-edit of the material has resulted in the current 150 minute movie though the fundamental concept was always to feature the actors sans sets reading through their dialogue and progressing through rehearsals. Originally, however, Kusano did plan to shoot normal movie sequences only for the beginning and the end but realized doing so added nothing measurably different resulting in the movie’s current presentation. Domains aims to convey a complete story through a new visual language as director, actors, and staff committed to tackling questions of what exactly is “direction”, what exactly is “acting a role”, and what does it mean to “film a movie”. The movie world premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam where Domains was one of ten movies selected by IndieWire as “standout world premieres from IFFR to look out for in 2019”.