Tue, Nov 27, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Girl's morbid beauty a sight to see

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ayako Fujitani stars in Ritual.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF GOLDEN HORSE FILM FESTIVAL

She dresses in a thin bright-red silk robe, paints her face a palid white with darkened gothic eyes and lies on a deserted railway, murmuring and repeating "Tomorrow is my birthday." The next day she repeats the same line, only with green eyes, newly dyed hair, and while standing on a roof.

She is 21-year-old Ayako Fujitani starring in the film Ritual, based on her own novel Escape Dream. The movie seems to be her attempt to expose her desire for art, both in her neurotic acting and her writing. Although somewhat dense and self-indulgent, for non-Japanese viewers the movie provides a new angle from which to see the actress, who is usually simply known as the daughter of action film star Steven Seagal.

The film is also a recognition of artistic achievement for director Hideaki Anno. Having directed two exquisite animated films, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) and New Genesis Evangelion (1995), as well as two feature films, one of which was awarded Best Artistic Contribution at the 2000 Tokyo Film Festival, in Ritual he presents one poetic shot after another, all rich in symbolic meaning. Anno's unique and beautiful scenes instill a fresh feeling to the otherwise slightly flat story.

The story begins with a famous director who has a case of writer's block and decides to return to his hometown for inspiration. There he finds a girl lying on an abandoned rail track. She lives alone in a ruined office building and performs strange rituals, either on the tracks, on a roof, or in the flooded basement of her building, constantly repeating the line: "Tomorrow is my birthday." Drawn by her strange behavior and craziness, he begins a one-month visual diary about this girl, filming her with his hand-held camera. He also begins to live with her.

The more the director films the strange teenage girl, the more involved he becomes in her world and in the evidence of her traumatic childhood and family relations. She has a sharp-tongued mother who was deserted by the father and vents her anger and bitterness on the two daughters. Her sister, who is always considered superior and has only a distant affection toward her, has always been her egoistic nightmare. So she engages in her daily ritual, dressed in crazy glamorous outfits, as a means of disavowal.

There is a strong sense of desolation and obsession in morbid beauty during the 30-day love affair between the creatively stumped director and the mentally hurt young girl. The intensity of the girl's dark psychological condition is emphasized through Anno's use of strong colors and theatrical visual presentation. And the wide-angle shots of the two characters lying on the railways, walking by the factories, watching the sky and the sun reinforce the atmosphere of solitude and the sealed worlds of the two characters.

The film's heavy poetics save the film from being a melodrama in which the male character heroically saves the fallen angel, solves her family problems and teaches her how to love, and ultimately finds new inspiration. The resolution the two reach at the end is anything but sappy.

Screening Note

What: Ritual

When: Today 2:30pm

Where: Carnival Theater, 52, Omei Street, Taipei

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