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‘Level 5’: A computer fight over the Okinawa battle

Receiving a belated U.S. release, “Level Five” (1996) is a poetic if occasionally opaque film essay on the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Distracting from striking documentary clips are musings by the fictive main character: “Do dragons honor gentleness?” and “Why do material objects display such endless, willful mockery?”

French filmmaker Chris Marker (1921-2012) inquires into the politics of memory and imagery. Earlier works in the digressive style of “Level Five” include “The Last Bolshevik” (1993) and “Sans Soleil” (1983). Marker’s 1962 sci-fi short “La Jetee” inspired Terry Gilliam’s 1995 feature “12 Monkeys.” Marker subtly recycles here a few of his music cues from 1962.

Looking into a video camera by her computer, Laura (Catherine Belkhodja, mother of actress Isild Le Besco) confides she’s named after a 1944 Otto Preminger film. She explains that she is editing a video game about the 82-day-long battle for a Japanese island.

This was the project of Laura’s lover, who disappeared. An offscreen narrator (Marker) takes over after Laura disappears too. “Level Five,” by the way, appears to be unrelated to “Level 5,” a video game company based in Fukuoka, Japan.

Marker excerpts testimony from a 1977 documentary by Nagisa Oshima: Told that Americans would inflict atrocities on Okinawans, a local teenager kills his parents to spare them that fate. Other islanders jump off cliffs into the Pacific. A scene from John Huston’s 1946 documentary “Let There Be Light” shows a military hypnotist treating an Okinawa vet at a Long Island hospital.

Techno-paranoid per William “Neuromancer” Gibson, “Level Five” implies the artificially voiced computer might thwart a code writer from revising WWII timelines. Although Laura’s repartee with a mechanical parrot is trivial, revisiting Okinawa is critical.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Icarus Films presents a film directed by Chris Marker. In French and Japanese, with English subtitles. Running time: 106 minutes. No MPAA rating. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Columbia’s Hokin Hall, 623 S. Wabash.