Penance Screen 13 articles



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  • Most of the “action” consists of endless dialogue and exposition in underlit rooms; apart from some brooding grey Tokyo skylines and an eye for modernist furnishings, there is nothing deep in the formal bones of Penance to distinguish it as the work of a master filmmaker. In fact, in its needlessly attenuated pace and thematic reliance on damaged female psychology, Penance reminded me quite a bit of Veena Sud’s series The Killing, which is not what I’d call praise.

  • Penance is an example of a TV movie that definitely belongs on the small screen, to be watched piecemeal over the course of several days. Consumed in one gigantic, four-and-a-half-hour gulp, it becomes painfully repetitive and monotonous; even in this age of binge-watching, it’s unlikely that many people would eagerly rush to the next episode.

  • Kurosawa attempts to shoehorn humor into the fourth chapter, forfeiting nearly all the momentum of the prior chapters, which are more closely related to the thriller template. Meanwhile, the final chapter takes the grieving mother on a mission for revenge, contorting through plot contrivances and twists that make less and less thematic sense the further one steps back from the individual stories.

  • [Penance's] narrative preoccupation pushes Kurosawa's formal virtuosity (not just his use of silence and spatial perspective, but also his color symbolism) to the backseat in favor of the talking that must be done to explain the whodunit, which turns out to be unsatisfyingly typical and elaborate anyway. Penance is ultimately, and disappointingly, revealed to be a contraption that's less concerned with mental portraiture than with getting all of its expository ducks in a row.

  • It is as if the audience itself is wearing the glasses from Carpenter’s They Live that reveal behind the real world its bare, cruel architecture. The audience essentially shares the vision of its severely damaged characters: what we see is achingly vacant, mysterious, and quietly, inhumanly alive with strange refractions of scattered light, unearthly air currents, and the continuous, eerily harmonious way people seem to find mournful, isolating arrangement inside blank frames and empty spaces.

  • Kind of pointless to treat this as a coherent unit, because it's really not. Overall I didn't get bored and it's nice to have Kurosawa in play again, even if this is kind of lackluster material.

  • Each of these five tales—which could just as easily be called movements—concludes violently, with the protagonist left more or less unsatisfied. The overarching theme is the slow, trickling spread of evil; the old familiar story of violence begetting violence, which Kurosawa is able to render in terms that seem mysterious and sub-rational.

  • The resurgent Mr. Kurosawa, who’s had a low profile in the United States since his 2009 recession drama “Tokyo Sonata,” takes naturally to the multiple panels this serial canvas affords by fleshing out distinctive tales. Each is tightly wound around a character’s peculiar psychological and moral predicament, and in turn further nested in even creepier ways.

  • [Akiko's] bedroom, meticulously arranged with suburban comforts of the recent past, might feel like a set from It Follows if Kurosawa didn't present it as evidence of psychological regression. In "Brother and Sister Bear," Akiko's fetishization of her own childhood fuels her antisocial behavior. Penance finds a brilliant symbol for this condition in Akiko's jump rope, which takes on increasingly malign associations as the episode proceeds.

  • With brilliantly deployed color (including green that spans the spectrum from wan and sickly to lushly living), different musical genres for each chapter and recurrent visual motifs (watch the bouncing balls) “Penance” is a multiportrait of pathology that dizzyingly broadens to become an inquiry into sex, gender, identity and generational guilt.

  • It exemplifies the sort of clean, classical genre filmmaking that doesn’t get done in America very much. After watching all the GPS views and whooshes down to street level and nonstop bludgeoning supplied by Run All Night (still, an okay movie), it’s a pleasure to turn to a film that builds its tension through a fixed camera, calm clarity, and performances suggesting suppressed menace rather than explosive confrontations–though there are a few of those too.

  • Among the ever-increasing number of long form television shows directed by world class cinema auteurs (Agnieszka Holland‘s Burning Bush, Bruno Dumont‘s Lil’ Quinquin),Kiyoshi Kurosawa‘s Penance ranks among the most quietly unsettling... In a televisual landscape of fast-paced overstimulation, Kurosawa breaks the rhythms familiar to viewers to usher in a truly cinematic experience.

  • It’s a highly sensational story, yet one told with unnerving, sometimes almost absurd restraint. That fluctuating tone only heightens the strange folk-tale aura of Penance, which seems apropos of a director who makes ostensible thrillers of singular grace and psychological depth, sometimes as if on a lark.

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