Filmed in Cinemascope and a black-and-white tinged with an elusive, not-quite-sepia color, Eureka is certainly one of the most original-looking movies to come along in a while. And before one can even adjust to its lushly alienated look, it hits the viewer with an impressively tense opening sequence, a bus hijacking during which a seemingly mild-mannered man starts shooting everyone in sight. Unfortunately, it also runs for three hours and 40 minutes, a serious miscalculation by writer-director Shinji Aoyama, whose story is much too slight (and psychologically dubious) to hold up under such weighty meditation.

Most of the film centers around the three traumatized survivors of the hijacking, the bus driver Makoto (Koji Yakusho — who played a similarly damaged type in Imamura’s The Eel) and a young brother and sister who now refuse to speak. The siblings live alone, their father having died and their mother having abandoned them, and eventually Makoto, who feels responsible for their plight, moves in and becomes a sort of surrogate parent. They’re soon joined by a cousin, Akihito, whose function seems to be to supply fairly obscure comic relief.

By the time Makoto decides to take his charges and their cousin on a bus tour through Japan, the narrative drive of the movie has become seriously unhinged. First there’s the matter of the serial killer, a development which initially seems somewhat irrelevant, then becomes ridiculous as we slowly realize that it’s going to turn out to be one of our four principals. Then there’s the snaillike pacing, superficially reminiscent of Tarkovsky in its dedication to real-time progressions, and also of early Wim Wenders, particularly his discursive Kings of the Road and Wrong Move.

Those aren’t bad role models, but Aoyama the writer can’t live up to the pretensions of Aoyama the director and the trancelike tug of his visuals is constantly being countered by a rather banal story line. Still, it looks great and if you’re patient (and it does take patience), you’ll be rewarded with a final visual epiphany of singular beauty.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Star Rochester Hills (200 Barclay Circle, Rochester Hills) as part of the Shooting Gallery Film Series. Call 248-853-2260.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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