Married couple Ayumu (Furuya Konosuke) and Ema (Murakami Yukino) live on a planet different from Earth. Almost all of the inhabitants of this planet, including Ayumi and Ema, were sent here by the religious group Hanukka Hill from an Earth in danger of depleting its oxygen.
On this planet administered by Haukka Hill, childbirth is fervently advocated as it is said to be the most precious thing. People who have grown old become “sacrifices” and are cast away. Ayumu and Ema are without children. For them, their child is an infant doll. Ayumu continues to worry and anguish their inability to conceive a child is his fault. The actions finally taken by the troubled Ayumu will raise questions about family, blood relations, and the prosperity of a species.
Director Sakata Takahiro graduated from the Nihon University College of Art’s Cinema program following in the footsteps of some of Japan cinema’s leading directors such as Ishii Gakuryu, Tominaga Masanori, and Irie Yu who also were educated there. The 23-year-old “troublemaker” appears to have a penchant for tackling contemporary social problems in his work. In 2016, at the age of 21, he directed the 16mm short Aho no Mai (lit. Fool’s Dance) which used a dystopian world to satirically deal with a surveillance society. It was given a second place award at the 11th Toho Cinemas Student Film Festival as well as earning Sakata a Promising New Director award at the Kanagawa Film Festival. Kuma Elohim is his theatrical debut, and likewise deal with social problems confronting Japan. In this case, its low birth rate and aging population in addition to the issue of Japan’s first ever successful childbirth by the artificial insemination of donor ovum. Sakata apparently based the concept in part on an experience he had in high school.
He and a friend went to a Chinese eatery where he spotted an average looking couple enjoying themselves, but who oddly seemed focused on a space on the floor near the table. When the woman got up to go to the bathroom, he saw there was a doll of an infant there. He couldn’t understand why the couple would go out to eat with an infant doll, but the experience left a lasting impression. Shot in Super 16mm, Kuma Elohim possesses a lovely texture providing its concept a grainy patina separating its world and ours even though Sakata hopes to portray a love between a ubiquitous man and a woman. Filmmakers using this kind of allegorical settings to tackle real world issues is a rather rare thing in Japan making Sakata a bit of a square peg in a round hole. One can only hope he will stick to his “troublemaker” moniker and continue to use cinema as a means of provoking public examination of important topics.
Kuma Elohim modestly opened in December of 2018 though its production and themes seem primed for international audiences. Perhaps there is no English subtitled print available. The film co-stars Kimura Yukino who is the lead in Orphans’ Blues which also possesses it’s own unique backdrop.