It’s a familiar story. The rocker who burnt out looking for a moment of redemption and/or a rekindling of his spirit amidst a lifestyle now full of pills and attempts to find inner peace. People talk about him behind his back and the odds don’t look good when he decides to put on one last show. It’s the kind of plot that you could write in your sleep. Blindfolded. However, the character at the centre of Abraxas also happens to be a Buddhist monk named Jonen and his inner turmoil suggests something beyond the usual need to recapture a former glory.
Written and directed by Naoki Kato (with co-writer Dai Sako basing the screenplay on the novel by Sokyu Genyu), Abraxas is a fine mix of traditional movie moments and the traditions and everyday lives of Buddhists. It’s almost as satisfying on purely cinematic terms as it is for those who are interested in the ideas explored and the way in which Buddhism is incorporated into modern living.
Being a movie that focuses heavily on music and sound, viewers should be unsurprised to find that Abraxas is a real mixed bag of audio selections and covers everything from harmonious melodies to all out, heavily distorted, rocking guitar. The audio is almost as important as the dialogue in the way it helps to show the journey of the main character and establish feelings hard to verbalise. In fact, a moment that shows Jonen using his amplified guitar to rage against crashing waves is powerful and impressive, with no words required.
Suneohair plays the lead character and does an excellent job. He plays a man out of place in the world but with the belief that he can one day find his way back and make everything right once more. This is done with moments of quiet dignity, moments of sudden outbursts and moments of great sadness – all greatly performed by the actor. The supporting cast, including Manami Honjo, Hosshan, Kaoru Kobayashi, Ryouta Murai, Seiko Takuma and others, all do a great job and there’s a very endearing and realistic mix of reactions to the plan that Jonen forms to bring about the peace that he desperately craves and seeks.
Although my exposure to Buddhist cinema has been severely limited, Abraxas is the best I’ve seen in the way that it uses ideas and ideals from the religion and places them within a context that makes everything more accessible and enjoyable for those who, like myself, have only fleeting knowledge of Buddhism but aren’t averse to exploring it further.
DIRECTOR: NAOKI KATO
WRITER: NAOKI KATO, DAI SAKO (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SOKYU GENYU)
STARS: SUNEOHAIR, MANAMI HONJO, HOSSHAN, KAORU KOBAYASHI, REIKO KUSAMURA, RYOUTA MURAI, SEIKO TAKUMA
RUNTIME: 113 MINS APPROX