The Clone Returns Home is one of my favorite films that I’ve seen in 2013. It’s also the type of film that has some on-the-nose sci-fi script moments that are a little ludicrous, but director Kanji Nakajima has technique for days that makes some of those lesser story moments a moot point. That said, the script (also by Nakajima) is very strong. It’d be hard to watch this film and not make a Solaris comparison, which is certainly fair, but it also plays with the grief and dualism in ways that remind me as much of a Dead Ringers than anything by Tarkovsky.
You can pause The Clone at any moment for heartbreakingly gorgeous images. This is the type of aesthetic that I not only admire, but also aspire to:
It’s a foggy film, very blue and grey throughout. Nakajima’s camera certainly moves, but it often does so slowly.
Here’s a great moment that features the type of edit I really like in here. The protagonist, Kohei (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), who has been cloned at least once and feels an overwhelming nostalgia for his deceased twin brother, lies on a bed of hay in a barn:
He looks up to the moon-
-and there’s a cut back to the overhead medium shot:
It’s only now that Nakajima cuts to a medium close-up profile. It’s an odd cut because there seems at first to be no motivation for it. Traditionally, the editor (Ken Mimeta) would cut on an action. Kohei would turn his head to his left, and mid-turn, the edit would happen, so that it would appear that he continued that turn Simple stuff. By cutting on a decidedly static image, Mimeta and Nakajima hint that something important must be about to happen – otherwise, why cut to the profile?
That hint pays off. Kohei opens his eyes, the camera dollies away, and he finds an empty spacesuit next to him:
It’s a subtly magical moment, told in a strong visual way, using simple “rules” of editing (why do we cut?).
Here’s more of Nakajima’s technique. This is one of a few of my favorite scenes (sorry about no subtitles). Watch it HERE.
That graphic match at 0:39 is akin to the edit I discussed above. It’s a visual way to connect time and space (think of that bone in the air in 2001 or Cary Grant pulling Eva Marie Saint up from Mount Rushmore/a train car in North by Northwest) without explicitly stating that time and space are connected. In this case, Nakajima connects the mother (the glass) with the woods (the sky); he’ll also return to that sound later in the film more than once.
This is probably the best part of the film. SPOILERS in this scene. Watch it HERE.
This is one of the few scenes from a narrative film that I can think of that goes to almost absolute silence. In fact, if you’re listening to it through poor headphones or speakers, it might sound like it does go to complete silence, but there’s a low rumble that persists throughout.
I love this scene for so many reasons. That first harsh sound cut at 0:43 is so risky. Like I said, there is a low rumble, but it’s still relative silence. I love how sound and image both take a chance – the overhead is pretty, but it feels closer to an Ozu-type pillow shot than anything else. It paces things out, and really functions to let that silence settle in before the hugely dramatic moment to come.
I also love the hyper-realized sound immediately following this moment. The woman’s footsteps the only diegetic sound, the extreme slow-motion, the men uncomfortably shifting about. It’s such a strong way to capture the grief of the scene. It’s all so delicate and Nakajima gets fantastic performances.