The worst has happened. Earth is a barren shell. Finally, thirst and hunger force the last man in the world to the surface. He drinks greedily. Ugh! From the river! (Yet the nurturing liquid looks pristine.) Then, a blessed sighting: another. But he can’t call out to the vanishing survivor, for, in the aftermath, impairments to tongues and voice boxes reduce all utterances to pathetic squeals.
Yasuaki Nakajima’s futuristic look at the death/rebirth of humanity is a thoughtful view of the failings, drives and hope for mankind. Following the collapse of a world that boasts the most varied, fast and available means of communicating with anyone, anywhere, anytime, the irony is rich indeed that the four remaining souls cannot speak to each other.
Once accepted by his bearded, knee-injured post-apocalypse companion (Zorikh Lequidre), the pair fish together for their dinner. As will happen throughout the wordless film, Hiro Ohta’s soundtrack is at one with the action, providing good vibes and mallets for the fish fry, anxious drums while Nakajima harvests his personal seed inspired by the charcoal image of his lust, and a truly fantastical covey of appalled saxophones when only post-death cannibalism will save the mother-to-be (Jacqueline Bowman, first-rate in her mix of child-like innocence and blind loyalty to her wretched husband). The steel drum interventions compellingly reinforce the voiceless landscape.
Momentary comic relief comes in the personage of Moises Morales. In his garish, checkered jacket and unmatched, striped pants, the lost entertainer amuses his tiny audience with juggling and artful spoons’ Moment musicale, (Ohta scoring another metallic triumph that integrates beautifully with the grainy black-and-white frames). In a flash of memory, the imagery of Carolyn Macartney’s camera seems to jump off the screen into James Agee’s unproduced screenplay, The Tramp’s New World, written for Charlie Chaplin and set in “some huge ‘internationalized’ metropolis.” That story follows the famed comic’s relationship and upbringing of “an almost newborn baby.” There is nothing new under the sun (cross-reference, below).
Primal grunting must suffice for dialogue, forcing everyone to converse with body language and facial expressions rather than the frequent half-truths and vagueness that permeate everyday speech. Still, the total absence of written-word “conversation” dents the literal believability of Nakajima’s conceit. If images can be etched, cannot words be penned?
Not surprisingly, the four last souls are unable to coexist peacefully. As the Mother of Them All, Bowman is a sensual magnet to the men’s undiminished carnal urges but natural selection rules: an untreatable deadly virus thins the herd more efficiently than physical combat between the suitors.
Soon, there’s nothing left but the screams of a newborn, mixed-race boy that fade into the soothing and endless soundscape of waves greeting the shore. Indeed, water is the film’s glue: it lures the survivors from their hiding places, nearly drowns the protagonist (only to be rescued by his natural enemy), provides a source of food (however laced with mercury), a baptismal cleansing for Nakajima as he washes every inch of his slight frame, and serves as the method for revenge when Lequidre dissolves the sketched family-unit from the graffiti-rich walls of a railway underpass.
Given the overwhelming power of one substance, does humanity stand a chance at re-harnessing others for the common good? Can’t wait for the next installment.
The “Behind the Scenes” bonus is, essentially, a monologue from Nakajima as to the film’s long gestation from original concept while hitchhiking in Australia to his determination to “do anything” to have his special child seen worldwide. Notable is the fact that most of the 1999 New York City locations have since disappeared as progress marches on.
Be sure to watch this after the film. JWR