clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It took 9 years to make this 25-minute sci-fi film. It was worth the wait.

Filmed on location in Japan, "Dust" culls a fragile beauty from a disease-ridden, post-apocalyptic world.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

It's been 10 years since a trio of filmmakers conceived the idea for a visually rich science fiction parable filmed in Japan, but Dust, the short film they labored nearly a decade to make, proves that great art is sometimes worth the wait.

Dust is just 25 minutes long, but manages to create a mesmerizing portrait of a society on the brink of collapse. Combining elements of everything from Tarkovsky’s Stalker to Silent Hill and Beowulf, Dust feels more outsized and epic than you’d expect from its short film status. At its heart it’s a classic hero’s journey, a story of man versus monster versus mysterious disease — but one with a succinct, timely modern message.

In 2007, filmmakers Jason Gallaty, Josh Grier, and Mike Grier embarked on a nine-year process to shoot and produce the film. The journey included $100,000 in crowdfunding, the founding of one visual effects production company, and a successful film festival circuit run before the film's final release in 2016.

Featuring stunning visual effects and filmed on location all across Japan in 2011, Dust follows the search for a cure for a strange disease, a thick dust carrying toxins that have decimated populations throughout the countryside. Now, the dust has come to the great city whose walls have, until now, shut out the effects of war and environmental devastation.

Veteran actor Masashi Odate, with his distant eyes and forearms like Hercules, effortlessly sells the character of Irezumi, a powerful but lonely tracker who has turned away from his people and his calling, lost in mourning for his young daughter. When a city medicine man comes to him for help tracking down the cure, Irezumi must return to the mountains and face his grief a final time.

Though the plot seems simple, the beautiful imagery, the seamless blending of filmed footage with CGI, the mix of pure fantasy and magical realism, the careful acting, and the focused direction from Mike Grier combine to create a gripping, surprisingly moving story.

For those who assume all sci-fi contains lots of action, this is evidence otherwise, and a nice change of pace. Homages to Miyazaki, Tarkovsky, and more abound in the quiet pacing, the lingering photography, and the moments of singular beauty that emerge from this portrait of a character’s struggle to move on.

The cool sci-fi conceit may be the hook, but it’s the glimpses of humanity that linger long after this half-hour trip into the future is over.

Go deeper:

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.