Japan’s biggest hit last year, and one of the 10 top-grossing Japanese films of all time, The Eternal Zero will no doubt provide the most extreme film experience of the NYAFF/Japan Cuts 2014 lineup. Infuriating in its ideological and political black holes as it is exhilarating in its superb visual artistry, particularly the grand cinematic spectacle of airborne combat that bookends the story, The Eternal Zero follows the quest of a young man investigating the life of his late grandfather, the reluctant kamikaze pilot Kyuzo Miyabe (Junichi Okada, in his best performance yet) during the Pacific War. The quest goes from ever-more-troubling revelations to shocking truths about heroism, history, and his own family. In flashbacks that progressively reveal that his alleged cowardice in battle actually concealed a specific moral philosophy of survival, the film becomes not just an ambiguous war movie but a touching celebration of family values and ordinary individualism. In addition to the raw emotions it stirs in its depiction of the cruelties of war, the film generously shares the sensory rapture of breathtaking airborne battles, with sumptuous visuals of the Zero fighter planes in deadly action. Kinetic, emotionally intense, but also politically and morally thorny, it is, in short, a film that will leave no one indifferent. Presented with Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema.
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