Photo: Japan Cuts
by Paul Attard Film

Cenote | Kaori Oda

July 24, 2020

There’s a half-hour experimental short located somewhere in Cenote, one that drops the lame docu- framing device as a pretext for the gorgeous underwater footage shown and is willing to just indulge in expressive, opulent imagery. Until that massive re-editing occurs, left are the morsels of a fully developed work within the husk of Kaori Oda’s latest feature, one that interrupts long sequences of visual ecstasy for history lessons regarding the nature of humanity and the spiritual connection one forms with the planet — in other words, a bunch of discursive kumbaya bullshit. The message is virtuous but unnecessary. 

Considering what’s shown of the naturally-produced sinkholes without the intrusion of any voiceover (save for a few annoying lines of faux-introspective narration), it seems like an illogical move for Oda to make here: she’s essentially finding ways to linguistically articulate something that’s best and most powerfully communicated in image and atmosphere. No amount of verbalized context could further enhance the sensation of being fully submerged without the weight of one’s body restraining their movements, on the verge of breaking surface tension as light pours through — one can look to either Stan Brakhage’s A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea or Barbara Hammer’s Pond and Waterfall, both of which capture the beauty, power, and sensuality of water in these regards, for this type of perceptual experience that forgoes needing some form of human drama to center the phenomenon. The moments where we are treated to extensions of these visual ideas (one can only imagine what either of these makers could accomplish with 4K digital technology) usually stimulate on a euphoric level; the variety of colors and sheer intensity of the strobing lights almost feel straight out of a nightclub, the totality of nature creating figures more intoxicating than man. One only wishes the rest of this material was equally concerned with stimulating on a level this phenomenological.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2020 | Dispatch 2.