Some films seem to arrive at just the right moment. When Natsuka Kusano’s “Domains” first appeared on the streaming service Mubi in March 2020 after screening at a handful of festivals, it resonated uncannily with a world adjusting to the new reality of COVID-19 lockdowns.
The film, which is finally getting a proper theatrical release in Japan, would be a striking piece of cinema in any year. It exists in the hybrid space between fiction and nonfiction filmmaking, mixing elements of documentary and drama to create something truly original. On one level, it’s a deconstructed murder mystery in which the question isn’t so much “whodunnit” as “why.” However, Kusano has other ends in mind.
An outline of the story would go something like this: Aki (Asami Shibuya), a youngish woman on leave from her job at a publishing company in Tokyo, returns to her hometown in a nearby prefecture and reconnects with childhood friend Nodoka (Tomo Kasajima). The latter is now married and raising a 3-year-old daughter, Honoka. But her husband, Naoto (Tomomitsu Adachi), is cold and controlling, while the seemingly perfect home in which they live strikes Aki as oppressive.