By Matthew Sorrento | July 12, 2011

Can a film redeem itself for excessive tedium? A case in point would be Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” which irritates some of the most patient viewers. In her observational cinema, a shot will linger beyond its potential. Though “Cutoff,” written by Jon Raymond, is a journey into the unknown, with the drawn-out moments underscoring the uncertainty.

“Birthright,” a film of a very different style, also makes up for its extended inaction. The long scenes in question feature Mika (Sayoko Oho), a young woman in a dark shed watching over Ayano (Miyu Yagyu), the ailing high school girl she’s kidnapped. Beforehand, Mika brings stalking to an extreme. In numerous scenes she watches a happy family of three in their backyard and through a rear window. She follows the mother to her job at a fishing dock, though we never see Mika arrive to either place, as if she’s lurking from some kind of purgatory.

When Mika tricks Ayano into getting in a car, where she cuffs her, the film’s title becomes uncanny.  Mika, with her eerie non-presence, could be stealing the girl away to a nether region. When she stifles the trapped Ayano, as she screams from the car, the film turns allegorical, as if Mika is aborting a fetus of hers depicted as grown, a la Toni Morrison’s Beloved (though such an idea is a red herring). Then begins Ayano’s constant watch over her captive. Mika vows to “destroy” Ayano – or, more accurately, let time and solitude destroy her, which in a way has already happened to Mika. But the abortion imagery resounds once director Naoki Hashimoto delivers his payoff, a climax that’s truly cathartic. Less of a surprise than the riskiest development possible, it accounts and rewards for all that tedium.

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