Miyabi lost her only daughter in an accident. After her daughter’s death, she got a divorce. She now works as a call girl and is living with her new boyfriend. One day, she meets a weird customer who asks her to let him take a picture of her spine. She does as the man says and lets him take her picture, but he then asks for a picture of her feet. Since then, the man has been taking pictures of Miyabi every time. Then one day, when Miyabi is at home, she is struck by the sensation of a small hand caressing her leg. She intuits that it is her dead daughter and realizes that every time one organ is photographed, that part of the body will be able to perceive the spirit of his daughter. The last remaining part of her body is her eyes. The story of the loss of an individual eventually leads to the collapse of a society.
New Religion, a Japanese horror film, is an examination of grief tricked out to its metaphoric and visual max. Like other Japanese horror, it has an arty style, unique color palette, often verges into the incomprehensible and mysterious but doesn’t go into the supernatural. It’s content to examine grief through the inside and let the viewer figure out everything for himself.
Visually and tonally it reminded me of Michael Powells’s Peeping Tom, about a serial killer who uses the camera as both fetish and murder weapon. Instead the camera here is a form of abnegation, a chopping of one’s self into concrete Polaroid moments in order to reconstruct overwhelming grief by walking just up to but not entirely through death’s door. it’s survivor’s guilt perfectly expressed and felt clearly in the emotions but never fully in the mind.
If you’ve known death this an easy film to feel but not fully understand. It replicates the internal staring needed to live with the death of a loved one. Grief takes you to the abyss of death while memories of love keeps one from jumping in. It requires not a new religion but a new way of being.
New Religion gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+.
New Religion is part of the 10th annual Chattanooga Film Festival playing online and IRL through June 29th.