In New Religion, Miyabi (Kaho Seto) lost her daughter, Aoi, in an accident. Grief hits her every time she goes to her patio to water the flowers, an activity she vividly recalls Aoi doing before her death. As an escort, she begins seeing a client, Oka, who isn’t interested in sex, just snapshots of her body. “What a barbarous spine you have,” he tells her.
Oka’s moth obsession and propensity to only talk through speakers adds to the otherworldly vibe of his safelight-lit apartment. Meanwhile, a fellow escort has seemingly lost her mind and the news reports attacks across the city.
All of the seemingly disjointed aspects of New Religion eventually slither together like larvae on a rotting apple.
It is slowly paced, often repetitive and doesn’t offer jump scares. Still, its eerie scenes will stick in your mind, and you’ll want to rewatch to make sure you notice all parts of the puzzle. Like To the Lighthouse by Virigina Woolf, which Miyabi reads at the time of her daughter’s death, the film examines self doubt, perception, loss and growth. And it also begs the question of whether you can feel something that isn’t actually there once your mind tells you it is.
New Religion is one of two Japanese features at Slamdance this year, the other being Mad Cats. (Read our review of Mad Cats as well). It is directed by Keishi Kondo and made its North American premiere at Slamdance on Jan. 21.
The film is screened in Japanese with English subtitles. You can see it screen again at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 23.
Visit the Slamdance website for more details.