June 18, 2020
H Story – Japan, 2001
The Wikipedia page for Alain Resnais’s seminal film Hiroshima mon amour contains the following footnote: “In 2001, Japanese film director Nobuhiro Suwa directed a remake, titled H Story.” It is inaccurate. H Story is actually about a director attempting to remake the film and how his efforts are thwarting by his talented, but temperamental lead actresses and by the director’s own lack of vision and feeling for the subject matter. It is therefore about the failure to remake a classic, and, oddly enough, it is a victim of its own aloofness.
The first hour of Suwa’s film consists mainly of long scenes of filming. In fact, the film opens with French actress Beatrice Dalle (here playing herself and giving quite an effective performance) and Hiroaki Umano (also playing himself) re-enacting the famous scene of the lovers in bed after a night of passion. We also see bits of other scenes – a few seconds of a shower, a brief scene of them descending a staircase, a longer conversation in the hallway outside a hotel room. In between these scenes, we see a movie clap board in action, watch the director (or at least the back of him) give instructions to the cast, and hear his desires converted back into French by Beatrice’s translator. In one scene, we hear Beatrice reveal to Umano that she is growing increasingly disenchanted with the film and, in particular, the methods of its director, not surprisingly played by Suwa himself.
So, just what is there to do with such a set-up? Conventional storytelling would call for the introduction of either a friendship or a romance, something that would awaken Beatrice to the beauty of Hiroshima and teach her something about, let’s say, the importance of bouncing back from adversity, and the likely catalyst for this would be Beatrice’s co-star, if for no other reason than the amount of screen time he is given. Suwa goes in a different direction, though. He introduces a screenwriter-actor named Kou Machida (here playing himself), who is also interested in learning more about the long-term impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Machida is introduced in an excruciatingly long and meandering scene in which he quizzes the director about his motives for relying on Resnais’s shooting script and asks whether he thinks today’s actors can adequately understand the emotions of the characters depicted in Resnais’s film, the implication being that those who did not personally experience something cannot adequately convey it on screen.
Thus, instead of Beatrice bonding with the man she has probably spent tons of time with, she begins hanging out with Machida, and this would be somewhat reasonable were if not for the fact that neither of them can speak the other’s language. No problem, you say, just make their relationship purely physical. Well, that might have worked, but it takes much more to establish that than a trip to a museum dedicated to artists inspired by the atomic bombing of their city, a visit to the beach – in which they stand so far apart that you’d think they were trying to avoid a virus – and a long walk down a popular street frequented by young musicians and dancers. And it takes direct acknowledgement of an uncontainable attraction, not slightly humorous conversations in which they frequently concede that the other person can’t understand them.
Put bluntly, almost nothing about H Story works. It does not have anything to say about the wisdom or foolishness of remaking a classic. It has an opportunity to comment upon the difficulty of bringing one’s cinematic visions to fruition, but squanders it. It never seriously attempts to explore whether Hiroshima mon amour still speaks to moviegoers the way it did upon its initial releases, and its exploration of young people’s disconnect from the events of the Second World War remains woefully incomplete. By the end of the film, I completely sympathized with Beatrice. I too had no idea what Suwa was doing. (on DVD in Region 3)
1 and a half stars
*H Story is in Japanese and French with English subtitles.