Life is by no means a simple endeavour. Rife with unforeseeable complications and seemingly insurmountable odds, it is no wonder that people develop their own unique methods to cope. However, should one’s attempt to clutch normalcy become a detriment to others, just how far can the ideals of compassion and understanding be stretched? Rebirth tests this within all of us. Forcing us to bear witness to the positives of an inconceivably negative act.
Nonomiya Kiwako has by no means lived what would be considered an ordinary life. Having been intimately involved with a married man, she was convinced by her lover to abort the child that had resulted, in hopes of having another at a more opportune time. However, the procedure left Kiwako unable to conceive, shattering her dreams of a family. Compounded by the fact that her love had returned to father a child with his wife, her sadness is understandable, regardless of the ethics of her actions. Gripped by her melancholy, Kiwako visits the house of her love, only to discover that they had left their infant daughter alone in the house. It is at this point that she decides to begin down a path from which she can never return and takes the baby for her own. As revealed to us in the opening moments of the film, Kiwako raises the baby, renamed from Erina to Kaoru by Kiwako herself, for a total of four years before she is captured. However, it is what happens in those four years that is the true essence of the film, as they are slowly revealed to us through a series of flashbacks, interlaced with the life of a fully gown and understandably affected Erina.
A large portion of the films drama, and commentary on the effects of trauma, come about when we witness Erina’s adult life playing out eerily similar to that of Kiwako. It is as this becomes apparent, that she begins to finally delve into the events of her past in an attempt to finally overcome that which has defined her for so long. As her life is unravelled before her, Erina becomes only more conflicted as she realises that she holds nothing but loving memories of a woman she has been told by society to despise. Amidst this discouraged connection of compassion and her enforced return to her “true family” Erina is left nothing but a victim to parents who cannot cope with the circumstances that have been thrown down on them. It’s no wonder that Erina grows up to be a rather broken individual. However, the film does throw in some subtle hints regarding her true feelings even in the early sequences of the film, creating a rather beautiful connection if you simply accept them as they are presented.
What I found most interesting about Rebirth was the unbridled ability it possessed to manipulate its audience. Though by all means Kiwako should be considered just as villainous as her crime professes, she is consistently shown in a positive light throughout the events of the film. Nothing but a caring mother to Kaoru/Erina, we come to understand how her state of mind compelled her to act as she did. It reaches the point that her actions seem more like a rescue than a kidnapping. Conversely, Etsuko, Erina’s biological mother, is shown rather negatively. Though her hysteria is completely understandable, and unequivocally heartbreaking, we never see her as she was before Erina was taken. We therefore have no counterbalance to her broken self and come to see her as nothing but a dark presence in Erina’s life. That being said, there is one particular scene where a more sombre moment tore away the violence and showed Etsuko in true distress (posing a question I has held since the film began) sobbing, “Why did we leave [Erina] in the house?” Showing that, amidst all of the rage and pain, she realises that blame does not solely fall to Kiwako. A similar treatment is also given to Erina’s father who, despite being the centre of this entire debacle, is relegated to an inconsequential figure for the most part. Though he does attempt to atone for his transgressions to a degree, from what is presented to us, he seems to avoid a vast majority of the scrutiny he should receive. However, there is an honest sadness in his emotional distance from the entirety of the plot, analogous to his treatment of his daughter upon her return.
In order to express the true emotions of each character without any unnecessary distraction, Rebirth often relies on facial close ups. Most noticeable in the opening moments of the film, these extended close ups reveal to us nothing beyond the character shown. Though dialogue explains the story, our inability to see beyond a single face forces us to be present within Kiwako’s monologue. With nowhere to go, our eyes are drawn to the face that Erina cannot forget, and now nor can we. This stark and sombre visage also serves as a contrast to the majority of the film, wherein Kiwako is nothing but a smiling mother, living with her child in a number of surprisingly varied locales. From city, to country, to cult, we witness quite a physical journey despite the focus obviously being drawn to an emotional one. However, both are connected by the John Mayer song “Daughters” which is played for an almost awkwardly long sequence, combining both journeys under the banner of familial development.
All plot considered, the most negative element about Rebirth would have to be it’s length. Though the film possesses an understandably slow pacing, there are certainly moments where it crosses into the realm of tedium. Certain scenes just seemed to drag on and add nothing but more time for contemplation about the events prior. If used sparingly, this could have been quite a powerful technique. For example, a drawn out sequence featuring a distraught infant Kaoru, while tragic and raw in its depiction, simply lost the impact of this length due to the scenes that surrounded it. Though the film still remains a quest that bears great impact, I can’t help but believe that it could have been even stronger were it condensed into a more reasonable length.
Rebirth is a powerful film, there’s no questioning that. From the onset we are thrown into a tumultuous situation wherein we have no true grasp on “good” or “evil”. Those we should sympathise with are presented in forms which, though understandable, do not inspire compassion. Those who we should rally against instead draw us into their reasoning, honestly making us feel for their plight. Through powerful performances we are forced to question the efficacy of nature and nurture, regardless of their origin. However, one thing is made painfully clear. Only once one truly accepts every aspect of themselves can they find solace in memory and experience that which they so desire: Rebirth.
The film aired as part of the Japanese Film Fest Encore, for more information of the Japanese Film Fest check out the official site here.