After producing some of the more interesting and unique films coming out of Japan these past 10 years (Tony Takitani, In Za Puru, Kame Wa Igai to Hayaku Oyogu), Naoki Hashimoto takes the director seat to bring his vision to the big screen. While Saitai (Birthright) is actually his third film already, it's the first to hold some international appeal. And even then, it's a film that will only cater to people with a very specific taste in films.
How dry and lifeless can a film really be? How slow can it be and how little information can you give your audience before they zone out? Hashimoto plays with these elements without abandoning the realm of commercial cinema (after all, Saitai isn't some experimental video installation). Saitai is by nature a revenge flick, but fans of the genre should do well to read up before sitting down. There is little to no violence, hardly any blood, no noticeable action to speak off. Instead Hashimoto focuses on tension and atmosphere.
The entire first hour is practically void of music and dialogue. We witness a kidnapping but aren't given any information beyond what we see on screen. A young girl starts off by stalking a family, soon after she kidnaps their daughter. She locks her up and together they wait. Through static camera work and subdued ambient noises, Hashimoto creates a dreamy, dark, distant and entrancing atmosphere.
The second hour reveals the mystery and brings everything to a grim yet satisfying conclusion. Saitai is a diamond in the rough, because even though the pacing, the editing and the overall atmosphere are enticing, the film lacks visual punch to make it truly outstanding. Hashimoto definitely deserves another chance though, because what he delivers is truly unique and pretty much impossible to compare to other films out there.
A film suited for people who love minimalism, slow (glacial) pacing and apathetic characters. That's a very limited group, but those who think they can handle it would do well to seek this one out.