How do you even start to write about Chime, a film that keeps secrets guarded and lives off the shocks of its knife-edge turns? It’s safe to say the director is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It’s also safe to say Chime is 45 minutes long, making it feel more like the pilot for a TV series we’ll never see––only adding to the intrigue. Like much of the director’s work, it’s the kind of thing you could have seen late night on television when you were much too young. It would have also left a mark.

The story follows Matsuoka (Mutsuo Yoshioka), a strick-ish teacher at a culinary school, where the story begins. We’re in a classroom where nothing seems out-of-the-ordinary, the usual washing and slicing, then Kurosawa draws your attention to one student at the back, Tashiro, who seems to be working erratically, chopping onions in a way that might have been funny were it not so unnerving. Tashiro later explains that half of his brain has been replaced with machinery and also claims to hear a “chime.” Almost nothing of this is explained. In a later class, another student named Akemi balks at the sight of raw chicken. Matsuoka is shaken. Kurosawa would probably appreciate us not saying any more.

The director has always shown a certain belief that unfathomable unease lives just below the surface of ordinary life, which of course it does: never more than the press of a button away or, say, the flick of a knife. The shocks of Chime‘s opening sequences have little obvious afterlife, making them all the more unsettling. Instead we are left to shadow Matsuoka in a world that has turned uncanny. He goes home. He sees friends. You wait and wait, almost begging for release. Aesthetically, Chime begins in clean, metallic sterility (evoked by Matsuoka’s pristine classroom) but ends in jarring handheld video, as if we have entered one film and left another entirely. For a second you’re reminded of the stalkers in Caché. Then it ends.

Chime is the first of three Kurosawa projects set to be released this year. The second is a remake of his own film, Serpent’s Path, starring Damien Bonnard and Mathieu Amalric. The third is titled Cloud and is already set to release in Japan this September. The director has described it as being about violent incidents that “occur for seemingly no reason whatsoever.” Much the same could be said of Chime, which relishes in the awful psychological residues of violence while suggesting a lucid dream, the kind of fragmented nightmare you are grateful to wake up from but just as terrified to leave so unresolved.

Chime premiered at the 2024 Berlinale.

Grade: B

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