You know you're in trouble when a movie that lasts nearly four hours centers on four characters: two who won't talk, one who'd prefer not to talk and one who rarely has anything interesting to say.
Writer-director Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka" is a ponderous, overwrought meditation on tragedy and the extreme means people use to deal with it. The film, shot in muted black and white, centers on a journey of redemption that ought to be epic and mystical, but instead is just taxing and perplexing.
The promising setup involves a bus hijacking that leaves only three survivors - the driver (Koji Yakusho) and a sullen brother-sister pair, Tamura Kozue and Tamura Naoki (real-life siblings Aoin and Masaru Miyazaki). All three find their worlds destroyed: The children return home, and within two years the mother has left and the father has been killed in a car accident, leaving the two teens to fend for themselves.
Meanwhile, the bus driver disappears for two years. When just as mysteriously he returns, he takes a job as a laborer and tries to recover a semblance of normalcy.
Fat chance; the ghosts of that bus tragedy won't leave. Only when he happens upon the two children and subsequently moves in with them does his emotional load begin to lighten. Looking to help Kozue and Naoki as much as they've helped him, he buys an old bus and sets off on a road trip where the destination is nowhere near as important as the journey.
Complicating matters further is a series of murders that occur in every town the bus visits, and the presence of the children's cousin, who insists on coming along, acting ignorant and saying the wrong thing whenever possible.
Yakusho does his best to breathe some life into this lumbering beast, and sometimes he succeeds. His driver is a tragic figure, made even more so by his inability to articulate what bedevils him. However, the children are a major miscalculation: Even before the bus hijacking, they seem sullen, moody and excessively introspective. It's hard to separate their reaction to the tragedy from their reaction to life in general.
There's the outline of a good story here, but not four hours' worth. "Eureka" is simply too lugubrious and too self-consciously artsy to justify the effort required to watch it.
Starring Koji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Masaru Miyazaki
Written, directed by Shinji Aoyama
Released by Shooting Gallery
Rating Unrated (Adult situations) In Japanese, with English subtitles
Running time 220 minutes
Sun score * *