Synopsis: An astronaut dies on a mission, but never fear – he’s got a clone, which has been imprinted with his memories. Unfortunately, the upload malfunctions, and the clone fixates on a tragic memory from the dead astronaut’s youth, setting off a chain of events that will result in tragedy – and a profound exploration of what it means to be human, and have a soul.
eyelights: its plot. its abstract quality. its visual quality. its aural quality.
eyesores: its inscrutability.
‘Kurôn wa kokyô wo mezasu’ (or ‘The Clone Returns Home’) is a metaphysical science-fiction drama by writer-director Kanji Nakajima. Released in 2008, it tells the story of an astronaut who dies on a mission but is brought back to life with a new cloning technique.
It’s a slightly abstract motion picture that explores the connections between the body and the self as well as the ethical implications of cloning. In it, we are presented with three variations on the same character: the original astronaut, and two subsequent clones.
The picture begins with Kohei being offered to participate in a process by which his synapses would be mapped out and recorded so that he may be cloned should anything happen to him while out on a mission. He agrees, but never tells his spouse, with whom he barely speaks.
His exact motivation is unclear, but one gets the impression that it’s partly rooted in a promise he made to his mom when he was a child, after the death of his twin brother (we are granted a little bit of flashback time to explore the familial dynamics and his sibling rivalry).
It’s a good thing that he signed on when he did because, on his next mission, he has an accident, never to return. The situation gets complicated however, when his spouse initially refuses to give authorization for the scientists to go ahead with the procedure. But that is soon resolved.
Kohei is brought to life again, but he soon decides to wander off, journeying until he finds an astronaut suit near a river. For some reason, he sees himself/his brother in the suit even though no one is in there. He decides to carry this “astronaut” on his back – a literal weight on his shoulders.
But the clone was never designed to survive and he soon collapses in the countryside. When he dies, strangely enough the astronaut suit gets up and takes him to Kohei’s childhood home (a second, permanent, clone will later find the first one there and bury him in the yard).
The film briefly touches on the societal impact of cloning, with legislation being passed and with protests against it. There is also a side story revolving a scientist who had his daughter taken away by the authorities after he illegally cloned her. He has a theory about clones’ souls…
Frankly, I didn’t get all of it. There were interesting ideas being presented, but I’m not 100% sure that Kanji Nakajima did it coherently enough. Or perhaps he purposely left it slightly abstract to force viewers to reflect upon it more. But it left me with tons of questions.
For starters, there’s the matter of what happens to a person’s soul when it dies. Does it go anywhere? Does it dissipate? Can it reconnect to a clone, making it a copy of the original? But, further to that, would programming a clone be enough to bring a person back to life, truly?
That’s complicated simply by virtue of the fact that the person’s synaptic mapping would have to be updated regularly in case of death, so that there isn’t too much disparity between the original and the clone – otherwise many life experiences would be forever lost.
This leads to another question: could they copy the synapses of the clone and get good results? Or would it turn into a copy of a copy, therefore create an imperfect/flawed clone of a copy of a person? Would they have to keep the original data on file just in case?
There is also question of the ethics behind all of it. The old scientist wasn’t allowed to clone his daughter, but the government could. Who gets to decide if a clone can be created? Who has final say? The deceased, or their loved ones? And how is the public involved/consulted in this?
What I found interesting is that all descriptions of the film say that the first clone returns to a childhood state. However, to me it seemed more like he was obsessing on childhood memories. Not quite the same thing: a childhood state would have had him act like a child.
These online references also say that he finds the original body when he goes wandering. Problem is, it’s not just impossible (it wouldn’t land in Japan at all, even if re-entry didn’t destroy it), it’s proven false when others look at the suit and find nothing in it; it’s all in the clone’s mind.
But what does it mean? And why would he find the suit, which others can see as well? What was it doing there, lying by the stream? And how did the suit pick up the first clone when it collapsed, and bring it back to Kohei’s childhood home? And why did no one seek the clone after it escaped?
Also bewildering was the relationship between Noburo shouting after his mom at the beginning of the picture and the clone of Kahei doing the same thing at the end. What did that mean? Did it have something to do with the whole resonance of the soul? Or was it something else?
I made a point of watching the “making of” documentary the next morning, hoping for answers. Alas. The only interesting thing was that the actor said that he played all three parts differently and Nakajima said that he shot all three differently. Frankly, I didn’t see much difference.
I mean, it’s obvious that the director had intentionally done certain things in the picture, such as muting a tear-jerking scene entirely instead of adding strings for dramatic purposes, or using the sound of the mom’s water glass music when the clones were around people. There is intent here.
It’s just that not everything was particularly clear.
I really did appreciate his stylistic choices, though, like the aforementioned soundtrack choices or even the visual side of the piece, with its hyper deep blacks and bright whites (thank goodness for the yellow subtitles!). He did things in an understated fashion that I love.
However, it remains that ‘Kurôn wa kokyô wo mezasu’ is a movie that I will have to watch a few times to properly decrypt. Because I love these intellectual challenges, for me that’s a huge enticement. But I suspect that most people prefer to have everything laid out for them.
Thus I recommend ‘Kurôn wa kokyô wo mezasu’, but only to those who can savour a great metaphysical puzzler. It ain’t easy, but nothing good ever is.
Date of viewing: March 3, 2015