Few narrative films achieve the tension with so few words that writer/director Shinji Aoyama establishes in Eureka. Confronting a three-hour-and-40-minute Japanese film, one might expect a lot of subtitles and much eye strain, but instead Aoyama offers stark black-and-white images with little explanation and a consuming feeling of danger.
The film begins with two children, siblings Naoki (Masaru Miyazaki) and Kozue (Aoi Miyazaki), boarding a bus. Next, without preamble, we see the bus in a parking lot strewn with bodies. A madman has killed all but three passengers--Naoki, Kozue, and the driver, Makoto. The rest of the film tries to describe how the massacre has affected the survivors' psyches. Like a soldier returning from the horrors of war, Makoto (Koji Yakusho) cannot resume his normal life; he disappears for two years and returns to his village to find that life has moved on without him. Looking for a way to address his trauma, Makoto moves into the house of Naoki and Kozue, who are orphaned and live together in total silence. In this silence lies the intensity of the film, for the children are like staring ghosts and the objects around seem alive and haunted. In the style of the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, Aoyama takes household items and instills in them a feeling of threat. Over the beautifully composed shots, the ambient sounds scream for a human voice to break the silence.
Unfortunately, Aoyama slowly loses the powerful sense of doom that pervades the first two hours of the film. Plot supersedes atmosphere, and the film's second half falters trying to explain the first. Soon after Makoto's return, young women start turning up dead and the bus driver is a suspect. Suddenly, there is a locus for the fear, which lessens the feeling of anonymous dread.
Like his main character, Makoto, Aoyama seems to be searching for the key to catharsis, but he gets carried away with his own desire for epiphany. The film repeatedly builds to a climax of revelation and then keeps going, each time trying to build to a higher exultation. The downfall of Aoyama's gorgeous, initially gripping film is the director's inability to part with any of his footage or to simply end the story. Eureka's first two hours are so exquisite that it would be worthwhile to go see the film and leave halfway through. You will have seen enough to get the point.