Japon (2002): Mexican Director Reygadas Promising Feature Debut

Two years after the release of his short film, “Maxhumain,” Reygadas wrote and directed his first feature, Japon, which world premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Fest (in Directors Fortnight), winning special mention from the jury of Camera d’Or.

Japon defied the conventions of dramatic structure and mainstream style in favor of a more expressionistic and transcendental experience.  Thus, though the film is named after Japan, the country is not shown or mentioned–the story is set in a remote and poor Hidalgo town.

The focus on the region’s harsh atmosphere through expressionistic (dreamlike) style promoted the metaphysical crisis of the protagonist, a man who plans to commit suicide, but is saved when he falls in love with Ascen (Ascension), an older religious indigenous woman.

The couple’s relationship goes beyond pure physicality, emphasizing the universal need for meaningful human connection, and Reygadas has said that his interest was in raising the viewers’ exposure to and understanding of the foreign and unfamiliar elements of reality.

Scenes of animal cruelty made the film controversial, and in some countries some acts were excised (an attempt to strangle a bird, a dog forced to ‘sing along’ through a painful stimulus, off cameras laughter of a pig).