Published Dec 01, 2002A nameless man wanders across the craggy Mexican landscape. He comes across a little boy and who is assisting a group of hunters. He tells the boy he wants to go up to the mountains to commit suicide. The hunters agreeably give the man a ride, and even arrange for him to stay with a kind old woman named Ascen. This is the set-up for the mysterious first feature film by director Carlos Reygadas. It's reminiscent of Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, only it requires much more patience and tolerance from its audience. Japón is a beautiful, frustrating film that is, at times, profound, but is more often tedious and inexplicable. I spent a lot of it squirming in my seat. Japón has been hailed as some kind of masterpiece, and the birth of a genuine auteur, but I'm not so sure about it. The solemn, meditative pace is countered by moments of what are supposed to be "primal beauty." There's a scene of two horses copulating that is so protracted and graphic that I really wondered if the director had totally lost his mind. I've seen better directors counterpoint the sacred with primal to much greater effect (most notably Bruno Dumont in La Vie de Jesus and L'Humanité). Here it seems like Reygadas is operating on such a loose, oddly instinctive level, that it can only inspire incomprehension. Even the title is deliberately elusive. It literally means nothing in relation to the film, but Reygadas says it's supposed to be poetic and rich with implication. I can't entirely dismiss this film, but I can't recommend it either. It has a Zen-like quality in how it deals with life and death. The old woman, Ascen, is a sage of sorts who lives by example and accepts what life has to offer with calm resignation. Unfortunately, I couldn't accept the film with the same kind of equanimity. Maybe Japón is some kind of litmus test. It would exhaust the patience of a saint.