Labyrinth of Dreams

Labyrinth of Dreams

If you told me this film had been made 30 years earlier, then, Hiroyuki Onogawa's ambient score aside, I would have believed you. Contemporary concerns - this film having been made towards the end of Japan's (first) Lost Decade - seep in beneath the level of form. Driving a bus, or being a bus conductor are not good honest work, but badly-paid drudgery, monotonous and lonely. Both are at the mercy of machines, and, it seems, regarded by passengers as little more than extensions of them. This leaves plenty of space to think, and fantasize...

The motif of an unstoppable train represents how bus conductor Tomiko Tomonari's fantasy life is beginning to overwhelm her. Her new driver is the possible subject of an urban legend about a serial killer bus driver who seduces his conductors and, when he has tired of them, kills them in staged accidents. This seems to awaken something else within her - a kind of hybristophilia at the prospect of being seduced by someone so dangerous.

We are never quite sure if, aside from a few exceptions, the scene we are watching is a dream, daydream, or real life for Tomiko. The music and languid pacing only trouble these distinctions further. Fans of Mirror or Kaili Blues will be familiar with this approach. What Ishii achieves here is something related, although not quite the same. He has managed to pour the concern with extremity that characterised Japanese cinema in this time (Kitano, Miike - at least for us audiences in the Anglophone world) into a dreamy, new wave mold. It is a rare film that feels quite as out of time as this one.