Only love provides a reason to live in “The Rebirth,” an overlong, numbingly repetitive portrait of grief and alienation by cult Japanese helmer Masahiro Kobayashi. When a murder victim’s father and the murderer’s mother, both of whom have clearly given up on life, meet by chance in the confined space of a workers’ dormitory, they (very) slowly start to feel something once again. Helmer heightens tension between the two — and tedium for auds — through an absence of dialogue for most of the pic, with music confined to closing credits. Minimalist item is strictly for fests.
An off-screen female interrogator reveals that a Tokyo schoolgirl stabbed a classmate to death. She questions the killer’s mother, Noriko (Makiko Watanabe), and the victim’s father, Junichi (helmer Kobayashi). Both express a desire to leave the area.
Junichi, a widower, quits his job at a newspaper and winds up doing manual labor at a noisy factory near Hokkaido. Noriko, a single parent, cooks and cleans at the dorm where he lives. Hunched and blank-eyed, each shuffles repeatedly through dreary daily routines. These are observed from a fixed middle distance that keeps viewers as estranged from the silent characters as the characters are from their surroundings.
About halfway into the pic, Junichi buys a pair of prepaid cellphones and leaves one for Noriko. She returns it to his room while he is out. He goes to the kitchen and grabs her arm. She slaps him. That’s about as exciting as the narrative gets.
Although Noriko rejects Junichi’s overture, it seems to awaken something in her. Eventually, she buys a pair of cellphones and leaves one for Junichi, but he dumps it in the trash. Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that life without her is impossible, but that he doesn’t have the capacity to live with her.
Just in case anyone’s missed the message, a song written and sung by Kobayashi over the end credits proclaims “Only by loving can people live.” Tech credits are efficient. Pic won the top Golden Leopard prize at its Locarno world preem.