It may not have the crossover potential of other recent Mexican films, such as Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Amores Perros" or Alfonso Cuarón's "And Your Mother Too", but the ambitious first feature of writer-director Carlos Reygadas is the work of an exceptionally talented filmmaker.
In this enigmatically titled parable, a lame and unnamed man (Alejandro Ferretis) leaves Mexico City and heads to the countryside to commit suicide.
He is directed by a group of hunters to a remote village overlooking a canyon. He finds basic lodgings with an elderly, uneducated, and devout widow Ascen (Magdalena Flores), whose relatives are cheating her out of some of her property.
Plagued by vivid dreams, the stranger attempts to commit suicide but fails. The days slip by and, visibly affected by the kindness of his unselfish host, he rediscovers his will to live.
Inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky's mystical epics, Reygadas has fashioned a slow-burning meditation on life and death, faith and rebirth. The generous actions of the saintly figure of Ascen allows the possibility for a sinner's redemption.
Peopled by an entirely non-professional cast, "Japón" may frustrate some viewers with its leisurely pacing and its brooding silences. Yet its stunning, other-worldly landscapes are impressively photographed by Diego Martínez Vignatti in distinctively bleached-out tones.
"Japón" confounds expectations - whether it's the palpably awkward sexscene between the characters played by Ferretis and Flores, or the moment where a drunken, disruptive actor starts complaining about the film crew.
The closing tracking shot over a railroad line, in which the camera makes several 360 degree pans to the soundtrack accompaniment of Arvo Pärt's "Cantus for Benjamin Britten", is quite magnificent.
In Spanish with English subtitles.