Vision
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Vision

Say what you will about rarefied Japanese enviro-auteur Naomi Kawase, but there are relatively few filmmakers whose work can be identified from its image system alone, and she is firmly in that club. It takes mere seconds for “Vision” (her tenth feature, and her first to be shot partially in English) to announce itself as a Kawase enterprise, as its opening shots dwell woozily on translucent clouds masking the sun, an emerald shag-pile carpet of forest treetops viewed from above, and a sudden shaft of sunlight hitting a single taupe tree trunk like a flaming arrow. The quasi-mystical marvels of nature in repose are Kawase’s earnest stock-in-trade, and they’ve rarely been quite so gorgeously gazed upon as they are in “Vision”: When Juliette Binoche’s heartsick travel writer Jeanne wanders into these woods, her eyes and ours are very much aligned in beauty-drunk wonder.

The spell is likely to wear off a little sooner for the audience than it does for Jeanne, but for nearly an hour, “Vision” is restfully enrapturing and surprisingly sexy. As Jeanne sets off in search of a magically pain-relieving herb — no, not that one — Kawase’s filmmaking is so serenely tuned into its protagonist’s besotted point of view that this fey supernatural premise seems perfectly reasonable, a simple pretext for a more enveloping sensual awakening. But when “Vision” goes full windchime nirvana in its second half, fudging chronology and existential dimensions to borderline incoherent effect, its delicate dreamscape collapses a bit. The final result is a mixed hessian bag of Kawase’s best and worst creative impulses; still, buoyed by Binoche’s ever-disarming presence, it should be her most widely dis

That “Vision” premiered in Toronto rather than Cannes, Kawase’s usual stomping ground, arguably reflects its slightly more crossover-minded commercial sheen. “Commercial,” however, will always be a relative term for a filmmaker who remains committed to a defiantly elusory storytelling style. The film actually makes more sense the less its characters speak: “A thousand years ago, on the day the spores flew, I was born,” announces Aki (Mari Natsuki), a blind, elderly woodland hermit, near the outset of proceedings, which should clue viewers into the kind of reality they’re entering.

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Vision