Suzuki Yohei’s Ow has been one of those movies that seemed to have slipped through the cracks, or perhaps been a bit ahead of its time. After getting made as a 9th CO2 grant movie, it was completed in 2014. Only now, three years later, will Suzuki’s efforts finally see a domestic release. This might be a good time, then, to revisit this unique entry in Japanese indie films in commeration of its July opening in Shibuya.
Described as an indie “whatsit” (as opposed to a “whodunnit”), or a blackly comic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, Suzuki’s movie defies easy categorization. In fact, in their review of Ow, Slant Film used Spielberg and Jarmusch in the same sentence to praise Suzuki’s deft direction as possessing a “Spielbergian flair for capturing how the comforts and discomforts of cohabitation seem to nest within one another, as well as a Jarmuschian taste for mining social alienation for the occasional stray deadpan punchline.” (Chuck Bowen) Having his eyes opened to cinema by the genre movies of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter as well as being a fan of David Lynch’s peculiar brand of humor, such praise is most likely warranted and well earned. Ow’s story revolves around a middle-class family: a father hiding his recent unemployment, a jobless adult son still living at home, a grandmother with dementia, and a mother growing tired of minding them all. It starts as a portrait of domestic pain, fear, disappointment, and shame before veering into allegorical sci-fi when an orb appears out of nowhere in the son’s room and immobilizes anyone who lays eyes on it. When are all released from their frozen state, they are left permenently catatonic and thereupon the movie unspools as a clever commentary on 21st century Japanese society.
Ow played at a few festivals including Rotterdam, Vancouver, and Vienna, but its appearance at the screening events of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, MoMA in New York, the Northwest Film Center of Portland, Oregon as well as a recent write-up in ‘Sight & Sound’ may be the most indicative of its quality, and perhaps its primary audience. All things considered, Suzuki has not made a movie since 2014, and given the current socio-political state of Japan, it would be no exaggeration to say we are very much looking forward to what a director of his sensibilities has up his sleeve.