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Recently a 17-year-old boy, along with two other juveniles, was arrested and charged with ten crimes including that of raping a young boy at a soccer camp in Somerville, Massachusetts. His name became spread all over the media as articles, blogs, and message boards prejudged his guilt before any evidence was presented in court, typically proclaiming that the accused was a sick psychopath who deserved to rot in prison for the rest of his life. It was only after the media frenzy had subsided, however, that prosecutors admitted that they had widely conflicting accounts of what actually happened. Though some agreed that the boy participated in the attack, others said he tried to stop it, and still others said he wasn't even in the room.
Though the facts of the case are as yet far from clear, what it may indicate is that situations that appear to be clear cut on the surface often turn out to be more complex than we thought and that knee-jerk reactions tend to obscure the truth. Such is the case in Tatsushi Ohmori's The Ravine of Goodbye, winner of the Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival. Based on a short story by Shuichi Yoshida, the film tackles the controversial relationship between victim and victimizer in a compelling, though very somber story whose long pauses and lack of sustained dialogue make it a difficult watch. The film opens with a frenzy of media activity as police besiege the apartment of Satomi Tachibana, a woman suspected of murdering her own child.
The child-killer suspect tells the police that she has been having an affair with a neighbor Shunsuke Ozaki (Shima Onishi), causing police to think that he may have convinced her that the child was in the way of their relationship. Ozaki and his wife Kanako (Yoko Maki), a seemingly happy couple whose sex life appears to be very active, at first deny that he is connected to the crime, though later Kanako shockingly tells police that the story is true and Ozaki is arrested and interrogated, apparently without the benefit of counsel. Watanabe (Nao Omori), a Columbo-like journalist, and his perky partner Kobayashi (Anne Suzuki), enter the case and try to sort out fact from fiction, discovering the fact that Ozaki, in his high school years, was a participant in the gang rape of a fellow student, Natsumi, with distressing consequences for both.
The initial reaction to this revelation in the media is that Ozaki must be guilty of being an accessory to murder, even though no corroborating evidence had been presented. It is left to the probing journalistic duo, Watanabe and Kobayashi, to unravel the story which grows more multi-layered by the minute. The ultimate revelation of events that followed from the high school rape including what happened to the rape victim is startling and controversial. Needless to say, our initial impressions do not reveal the entire story which, as it unfolds, allows us to see the real people behind their labels. Though flawed in execution, The Ravine of Goodbye is an honest character study that has the courage to challenge society's patterns of prejudging someone's character before the evidence is clear.
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