I tweeted earlier that Liu Jian’s début movie Piercing 1 is like “Beavis and Butthead Do The 2008 Economic Collapse And Its Effects On China.” The animation is like Mike Judge’s early work – gaunt two-dimensional figures, the movements are pretty one-two. But it also adds its own spin to a seemingly primitive, 90’s era take on the visual medium. It’s as if there’s no air in this fictional universe – flags and lamps don’t move but smoke rises up in the air. And the palette, lacking the colours yellow and purple, is dour and dark, which seems right with its depressing and scary subject.
Among the handful of characters that it follows are two men who have moved to Beijing. After a boss beats one of them for allegedly stealing, they hang out on a public space. Their litanies in their first scene together resonate with younger people and/or immigrants, as one of them is more defiant against returning to their small town, not even considering if their lives have been better or stable there. It’s like this refusal of an alternative because it feels like a million steps back. The more defiant youth also seems attracted to the trappings of capitalism. The money, the clothes, the promise of women – of which there are only two in the movie who aren’t sexually pursued – the exciting day and light lives, the population.
It loses steam after that scene, as it’s littered with Kafkaesque accusations and assaults. It’s as if every person they meet is misanthropic because of the anomie-inducting big city. The beaten youth comes back to his boss and asks for ‘mental damages’ and gets beaten. While eating noodles, he sees a woman get hit by a motorcycle only for that woman’s police officer daughter to beat him again. It’s like Jia Zhangke and Sion Sino collaborated and made an animated feature, the former’s portrayal of ghostlike modernity mixes with the latter’s theatrical violence. The last scenes veer into ridiculous heist movie territory since i this movie’s world, all Chinese businessmen are also sketchy money dealers. But I do give the movie credit for going into unexpected places.
According to iMDb, I’ve seen less than fifteen hundred movies and sometimes I wonder how the hell did I get here? How did I end up practically living in front of my television or a movie theatre? How did I end up being able to pronounce – AND spell! – Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Jerzy Skolimowski without a bat of an eye and what possessed me and my younger selves to watch more?
I had a good foundation with healthy doses of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick as a child (my dad actually showed Eyes Wide Shut to my older sister in high school and if any of make any jokes…). But college came. I think it was 2007, between my second and third year studying English and Art History that I realized that even though it might have been too late to switch, that I might have picked the wrong majors.
Not in any particular order, I watched my first Godard (It was Le Weekend, which is more visual than dialogue so I was ok. I still have to see Pierrot le Fou, which used to play a lot here). Then there were three films from fellow Frenchman Louis Malle for the first time. Four from Woody Allen and one from Ridley Scott on an outdoor, downtown big screen, so good that the flashing advertisements around the screen couldn’t distract me away. I’ve seen my first Lars von Trier on a big screen and of course, I drank vodka from a flash minutes after watching the movie, rethinking the sadness of my life. The first Danny Boyle I’ve seen in entirety – I’ve seen parts of and the ending of Trainspotting before. Two from Sidney Lumet, a favourite because his theatre background kept creeping up into his films. Two Johns at their later, tamer years – Waters and Frankenheimer. My first Hitchcock which should have come earlier in my life. George Cukor’s celebration of the feminine. Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket). Two from Nicholas Ray and two more from Frank Capra.
There were also the films in classes under the English major bracket, where my professors were self-loathing whites. They introduced me to George Stevens’ colonialist propaganda, although I’m pretty sure not all of them are like that. John Ford, poking criticism towards colonizers under the guise of propaganda. D.W. Griffth, who is quasi-apologetic for being a colonialist in his first and most important film. Errol Morris, Ousmane Sembene and more capturing depressed people in both developed and developing nations. Find out why I wrote this entry after the jump.
The reason why I’m prattling on about my lifetime journey in cinema so far is because recently, a few weeks before I’ve seen a movie directed by an auteur whose name everyone can pronounce but who is nonetheless elusive – Yasujiro Ozu. His last name smoothly rolling off the tongues and keyboards of the better movie critics and bloggers. When Roger Ebert – hi! – and other film critics and bloggers write about the director, the more intimidating he got. Deathbed movie intimidating. I didn’t go to regular film school so I didn’t watch Tokyo Story during 101. I also don’t do the Criterion thing like all of you – finances and clutterphobia are both to blame. I watched my first Ozu, the auteur to end all auteurs, a few weeks before my twenty-fourth birthday and I don’t feel ready.
But a film group here showed Ohayo, a film produced by Shochiku and not Toho. It’s one of his lighter, more jokey ones. Here he chooses to film in colour, giving the film a more modern feel. The film’s supporting characters have such strong impressions that I don’t feel like there’s a central character here, although I don’t see that as a bad thing. Some characters include a set of children with no female friend and housewives talking about shares of money that makes it feel like a Mamet film avant la lettre. And Ozu has a more elastic definition of the word ‘trapped.’
I might also be overreading when I notice how the camera’s so close to the ground or how the frame almost hugs the body. I’ve seen more medium shots and close-ups here than in, say, a Kurosawa (other than Kurosawa I’ve only seen one Mizoguchi and one Sion Sino. It’s really sad). I also noticed on the pictures of this film that are available on the internet, as well as my screencaps, that it focuses on the faces and figures of the targets of the jokes. It’s as if these characters look depressed, that we need sound and movement to understand that they belong within a comedy. I suppose it’s foolish for me to believe that I’ll understand everything about Ozu within a single film, that I need to see more to get a sense of the man.
- A Little Late Ozu (harmonyguy.wordpress.com)