The aftermath of a Japanese catastrophe gets a measured Western mythologizing in French-Canadian co-production “Memories Corner.” Centering on an attractive Parisian journalist intrigued by an enigmatic survivor of 1995’s Kobe earthquake, this subdued but sturdy pic is boosted by quality perfs, and is due for a Gallic release early next year, with a Quebec rollout to follow soon after. With almost one-third of its dialogue in English, writer-director Audrey Fouche’s debut feature has wider prospects and will appeal to the niche Japanophile market. Inside Nippon, its more fantastic elements will be met with polite skepticism.
Somewhere in a Kobe suburb, authorities discover a case of what is known as kodokushi, or “lonely death” — someone who has died in isolation, without the knowledge of relatives or friends. However, the script imbues this phenomenon with a supernatural significance, relating it to an epidemic of mysterious, sudden deaths striking survivors of Kobe’s massive 1995 earthquake, which killed approximately 5,000 people.
Visiting French journalist Ada Servier (Deborah Francois) is part of a Japanese government-sponsored press junket to let the outside world know what is being doing a decade and a half later to support traumatized citizens. Accompanied by interpreter Akira Okabe (Hidetoshi Nishijima), Ada meets some of the survivors, the most memorable of whom, Kenji Ishida (Hiroshi Abe), is not exactly what Ada’s Japanese hosts had in mind. With barely concealed hostility, Ishida speaks to Ada in English, revealing his disdain for the government’s efforts and his low tolerance for foreigners with a superficial view of the problems caused by the earthquake.
Smelling a news story, Ada discovers Ishida was a photojournalist at the time of the quake and is now apparently estranged from his wife and daughter. Ishida continues to be enigmatic, but he promises to reveal more of his experiences and the solitary death phenomenon.
With Ada standing in for the gaijin (non-Japanese) viewer, “Memories Corner” plays on cliches about Asian inscrutability, and uses cultural superstitions like lucky Buddhist charms as red herrings to disguise what’s really going on. Rather than jump out and yell boo, helmer Fouche prefers a quieter approach. The subdued, supernatural climax has a poetic resonance that will inspire awe or yawns, according to taste.
Dardenne brothers alumna Francois is magnetic as the precocious young Gallic journo visiting Japan; Abe, whose thesping abilities seem to fluctuate depending on who’s in the director’s chair, is oddly stiff, but believable enough to hook a journalist’s (and a viewer’s) curiosity. Nishijima is appropriately irritating as the government interpreter whose bureaucratic mindset keeps him from cooperating with Ada.
Tech credits are pro.