REVIEW: Missing Pages
A temporal physicist mourning the loss of his son learns that tampering with time is not without consequences
Starring Hatsunori Hasegawa, Shinsuke Kyo, Nobu Mizutani, Takahashi Murata, Makoto Honda, Austin Uchino, Hinonori Okuyama, Daiichiro Yuyama, Florence Duranton, Fu Takato, Daisuke Hibiki, Sumiko Nogi, Go Hirokawa, Moe Nagata, Junko Iemura
Written by Jerome Olivier
Directed by Jerome Olivier
Running Time: 24 minutes
After thirty-five years of hard work, Professor Kiyoshi Tanokura (Hasegawa) has finally perfected time travel.Following a press conference announcing his success, Tanokura sits at home, remembering his dead son, Masahiro. It’s unclear if his son’s death is what inspires Tanokura to develop time travel, or if he was working on the project already, but it is clear that Tanokura and his family were quite happy together before this accident, and that this loss haunts him.
Tanokura’s somber reminiscences are interrupted when a group of people suddenly appear in his apartment. One of these new arrivals is Shoh Yokogama (Kyo), an “archivist” from the future, who claims he’s there to protect Tanokura.
Before any explanations can be made, a group of ghoulish-looking, white-faced bald men (known as “Core Units”) beam into the room. Their faces are distorted by disturbing grimaces and expressions of out-of-place mirth, resulting in an ominous and undeniably creepy vibe.
Tanokura doesn’t know what’s going on, but Shoh gives him a device—a translocator remote—and instructs him to push its button. At Tanokura’s hesitation, Shoh explains that there are no other options: “Either you follow my instructions, or you deal with them,” he says, indicating the Core Units.
As Shoh’s crew begins beaming away, another sinister figure beams in, this one dressed entirely in black. This black-clad man, The Commissioner (Mizutani), informs Tanokura that he has been found guilty of terrorism and has been ordered to stand trial. On orders, the Core Units rush toward the Professor, who, at the last moment, pushes the button on the device and disappears.
Now safe in another place (and another time?) with the archivists, Tanokura demands to know what’s going on. Shoh tells him that two years after Tanokura’s press conference, a committee known as The Core was established, whose purpose was to regulate time travel, to determine which events in history could be altered. “Their ultimate goal was to create an utopian world free of famine, war and other calamities,” Shoh says, “But their plan backfired. By tampering with history, they set in motion a chain reaction creating greater damage than what they hoped to resolve.”
The archivists’ goal is to reverse the damage caused to the flow of history, and simply helping the archivists makes Tanokura an enemy of The Core. Because Tanokura was their founding father.
Missing Pages is quite likely quite unlike any film you’ve ever seen. It was shot entirely with a digital still camera, and the photos were then manipulated with a technique called “fotomation,” which results in the illusion of motion on film, similar to the way a flipbook simulates animation.
Every scene of Missing Pages is beautifully-shot, making the film a truly stunning visual experience. The images are all crisp and vivid, so utterly life-like that they seem to pop off the screen. At times, the film looks like it has been rendered in 3-D; the way the camera seems to zoom in on the image causes it to appear as if the viewer is advancing through the frame.
It’s difficult to compare the acting in Missing Pages to the acting of any other film. Not only is it a foreign language film (all the dialogue is in Japanese, with subtitles), but since the film only uses still images, all of the acting has to be accomplished one frame at a time. Hatsunori Hasegawa (Tanokura) is an engaging lead, and displays more emotion in a single frame than Keanu Reaves has in his entire movie career. The supporting cast all hold their own as well, with Nobu Mizutani in particular deserving some kudos for his pitch-perfect portrayal of the creepy Commissioner.
As for the actual plot of the film–it’s compelling and pleasantly puzzling, and is one of those films, like another indie time travel flick, Primer (2004), that would benefit from multiple viewings.
At the end of the seven minute online trailer, Tanokura asks “What the hell is going on?” After watching those seven minutes, you’ll likely want to know what the hell is going on too. Fortunately, the other seventeen minutes are just as riveting, and do not disappoint. Although the plot itself is not as original as the style in which the film was shot, both are extremely well executed.
Any project of this sort, which uses such an unusual filming technique, can immediately be criticized or dismissed as an example of “look-what-I-can-do” directing. In many cases, the response would be: so what, what’s the point? In this case, the only rational response is: wow.
NOTE: This review originally appeared in Science Fiction Weekly. Watch it on YouTube.