Endnote, and Goodbye. For now.

Despite having watched all the films—and it was truly a fun experience—I have to admit that it is a massive struggle trying to juggle the impending examinations whilst doing adequate research, analyzing key scenes and drawing frequent parallels between films, as well as maintaining the stamina of the standards of the write-ups that I have set myself since Day One.

Alas, the deadline of the project is coming right up, and I still have six films that I have yet to do a proper write-up for (the dates I’ve back-posted to the date I watched the film). I am not about to make excuses for myself; I have to admit that I got lost midway through the project with all the other assignments and readings that were piling up as well.

Yet whilst I was straddling the pros and cons between running the risk of not being able to finish on time versus sacrificing the consistency of quality of the report (at least, I would like to think that they are pretty good) I write for each film, I opted to go with the former instead, creating pieces that are on average 800 words long each (35,200 words *gasps*)

Hopefully this blog will be the start of something special, and will not die off after the conclusion of the FIL230 Asian Film History module, that indeed has taught me a lot about Asian films, their value and their innate quality, as well as the skill sets required to analyze a film, whether for aesthetic/cultural/historical context.  For that, thank you Bee Thiam for your patient guidance throughout the length of the course, and I apologize if I have not been a good student in any way. I have tried to include as much as what I’ve learnt as I can, and I certainly do hope that it has been a fun read.

I would like to hereby apologize once again for not being to keep up with the work I have done on the blog so far. But for now, here is a brief summary of the six films that I have not touched on, including a short analysis of the pertinent aesthetic style and my reflections upon watching the film. And no promises – but I’ll try to relook at this after my examinations end.

Blissfully Yours (2004, Thailand)

  • Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival
  • A believable experimental film (no, that is not an irony) set in a jungle near the Thai-Burmese border
  • You suspect that there is more to the jungle than meets the eye in this deadpan funny film
  • A lot of full-frontal nudity occurs in this movie. And sex. But it is admirable that Apichatpong Weerasethakul approaches the taboo head-on rather than shy away from it by creating shots that obscure the gist of the action. Reality has always been in your face, and when you’re out in the woods in the middle of nowhere there shouldn’t be anything to hide.
  • The opening credits only appear 45 minutes into the film, and that took me by surprise.
  • Rather than scrutinize the film for any political innuendoes that many online critics have done (I’ve read some that proposes connections to the shaky Thai economy, the Burmese military junta causing the collapse of the Burmese economy, which from the rather hilarious and tragic hyperlink it is easy to draw a correlation why), I much preferred to appreciate the film for its simplicity, and the rawness of the desire and longing for love.
  • Ultimately the film meanders but it is ultimately akin to listening to a jazz piece play on the stereo, ethereal and romantic.

Jellyfish (2007, Israel)

  • Israeli film directed by Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen
  • Winner of the Camera d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and was part of the official selection at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and 2008 Telluride Film Festival.
  • The cinematography is stunning little wonder it clinched the Camera d’Or prize, with poetic images cast against the emptiness of the sea.
  • “Life Stings” as the movie tagline perhaps the only connection between the title to the film, the allegory being quite an intangible one unless you consider how the jellyfish has no control over its movements – somewhat akin to the lack of direction of the characters in the film who opt to go with the tide rather than yield control over their lives.
  • Happenstance and chance occurrences are favored in a zero-sum game that gives perhaps just too much emphasis on fate.
  • An arthouse film that packs a punch in its very abstract yet ultimately haunting tale weaving the narrative threads of the three interconnected women together.
  • Some have even termed this film “spiritual”.

Shutter (2004, Thailand)

  • Thai film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
  • One of the most genuinely creepy horror movies of all time, and it has also cemented Thailand’s reputation in producing scary horror movies.
  • Rather than adopt cheap in-your-face thrills like—for the lack of my ability to conjure Asian examples at the moment—the American Saw franchise or a complete psychological affair like Paranormal Activity, Shutter is successful in being, simply, a marriage of both horror techniques. It eats into you, it toys into your psyche, and it leaves you scared.
  • Adding to its weight is how it revolves around analog photography – one of the most leisurely and common hobbies today – and how the darkroom scenes are at once creepy because there is no option of flicking a light switch on. Circumstances force the room to be dark, and the protagonist’s job as a photographer forces him to be in the darkroom. It is not like some B-grade horror flick like The Human Centipede that has the victims luring the killer to their doorstep themselves.
  • As in a horror movie, it is worth contemplating the elements of sound effects that can really add to the atmosphere of the film. By far one of the best elements of the film, it literally jolts you at the sudden moments, and pre-empts you in the scariest moments. The funny thing is, the sound usually precedes the imagery, but no matter how mentally prepared you are, you still get taken aback.
  • And no, do not bother with the remake. At all.

Nobody Knows (2004, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
  • Yuya Yagira won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, while the film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.
  • This is an emotionally affecting film based on a 1988 real-life event that is known as the “Affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo”
  • A mother has four children, but each fathered by a different man. Abandoned, they are left to fend for themselves.
  • There is no need to wring about any lengthy ethical discussion about the moral righteousness of the mother, who is plain in the wrong. But at least she had the decency to turn herself in.
  • Critics have lambasted the film for not being true to the original story and for painting the children in a more positive light as compared to their real trials and tribulations, but I find this necessary for the movie to be taken seriously. Any further sensationalization and it would have been degraded into a major sob story.
  • The stoic resilience of childhood is paralleled against the aloof nature of the big major city, pretending that everything is okay so as to escape the purview of the social welfare system.
  • There is hardly any dialogue in this sentimental tragic masterpiece that has evoked plenty of visceral emotions that are admittedly hard to grapple with – the senseless cruelty the root of it all.

Rashomon (1950, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • Clinched the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards.
  • Minimalist sets convey Akira Kurosawa’s love of silent film and modern art.
  • The crime/murder mystery unfolds in flashback sequence as the four characters, also involving the raped wife and the murdered husband, each respectively recount the events one fateful afternoon in a grove.
  • The audience is tempted into becoming the judge, the determinant of who is right and who’s wrong as the movie unfolds. Kurosawa dangles the carrot of taking sides, of forming judgment in such a cinematic arrangement.
  • This is perceptual cinema as its best, casting light on the respective characters and their different perceptions of the same event.
  • Lighting is an aspect of the film that has garnered plenty of accolades, with the clever use of natural lighting, albeit reflected by a mirror that creates a dappling effect that creates beautiful shadows amid the trees and branches, while the rain was tainted with black ink so as to appear visible on film.
  • But is there really a resolution to what must definitely be Kurosawa’s most defining film?

Eros Plus Massacre (1969, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
  • Black-and-white film that contravenes the color technology that was already available at that point of time. Why? Could it be because of the need to create a more realistic flashback of 1923 Japan, that would otherwise only be seen in black & white sequences on film?
  • The story is a biography of an anarchist, Sakae Osugi, who was assassinated by the military in 1923, and the story of the relationship with three women, while two students research on and discuss the ideologies of love that he upheld.
  • Moulds time and space within the confined edges of narrative cinema to create a world where the characters are real. It does not attempt to conform at all – as seen from the color choice. It is simply different from all the cookie-cutter biographical films out there. The movie doesn’t seek to solve questions and conjure answers, but to encourage more questions to be asked, thus is the elusive nature and ephemeral quality of the expressionistic scenes.
  • Could there have been an influence from Japanese theatre given the narrative devices used?
  • A cinematic classic, and a milestone in Japanese cinema for sure.

Waltz with Bashir (2008) ואלס עם באשיר

Country: Israel
Language: Hebrew
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Ari Folman
Starring: Ari Folman

Theme: War

Ratings: IMDB: 8.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 96% | Metacritic: 91/100

Film Festivals:
2008 Cannes Film Festival
2008 Palic Film Festival
2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival
2008 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
2008 Tokyo Experimental Film Festival
2008 Warsaw International Film Festival
2010 Perspectives Film Festival (Singapore)

Awards:
2009 Golden Globe Award: Best Foreign Language Film
2009 National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Film
2009 César Awards: Best Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger)
2008 Asia Pacific Screen Award: Best Animated Feature Film
2008 British Independent Film Awards: Best Foreign Independent Film
2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Animation
2008 Israeli Film Academy Award: Best Art Direction/Director/Editing/Film/Screenplay

Nominated:
2008 Cannes Film Festival: Palme D’or
2009 Academy Awards: Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
2009 Annie Awards: Best Animated Feature, Best Director in an Animated Feature Production
2009 BAFTA Awards: Best Animated Film, Best Film not in the English Language

This critically-acclaimed film is an “extraordinary, harrowing, provocative” picture, in the words of The Guardian critic Xan Brooks. And that can hardly count as an understatement for its ingenious marriage of the otherwise polarized genres of war and animation. The premise is simple in this pseudo-documentary feature that has director Folman retrace his previously-forgotten encounters during the Lebanon War, stricken by false memories and mental blocks as his trauma affects his recollection of the events. Lines such as “Memory is alive and can be fabricated as holes get filled up with things that never happened” and “Maybe memoryc an take us to places where we don’t want to go” explain the otherwise implausibilities of faux memories. Indeed, a recurrent nightmare is that at 7:40 and 20:10, and then repeated numerous times throughout the movie as survivors of the war rise from the sea and walk butt naked towards the shore, and the city is full of people running for their lives. We get a glimpse of claustrophobia as the camera surrounds the protagonist, with piercing screams filling his ears. I cannot help but draw reference to Freudian theory in his incessant nightmares, a sign of repression of the trauma he faced during the war – and nakedness and nudity a sign of personal fraility in light of the situation. Such Freudian tendencies are also evident in the entirely explicit sex sequence at 49:21 that uninhibitedly shows an anal sex sequence.

Opting to interview a whole range of people such as his comrades-in-arms during the war and a psychologist (“dissociative events”) to get to the root of the matter, Folman creates an animated cartoon that is replete with dream sequences and a strong musical soundtrack in a film that is both entertaining and affective in spite of the heavy topic. The music soundtrack featuring tracks such as “Beirut” (based on “I Bombed Korea” performed by Cake), “This Is Not A Love Song” by PIL, a retro gaming music (14:32), “Good Morning Lebanon” (26:05) and Chopin’s “Waltz in C Sharp” provides a stunning supplement to the running commentary too.

The heavy topic of wartime atrocities aside, the movie has been accused of feeding propaganda because it paints the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in an overtly positive light. But that is hardly faultable. The 19-year-old Folman was a member of that movement and had braved thick and thin with the IDF fighting for its cause. However traumatizing or however wrong the world might have deemed it to be, I would think it is a greater blasphemy and mockery to take a stance against the movement he had lost much sweat, blood and tears in. Further, the movie is, aside from a documentary, a pseudo-autobiographical feature and as such should be as truthful to reality as possible. Unsurprisingly, however, the film was banned in Lebanon and most of Middle East due to lingering sensititivies over the war. The use of car bomb as a wartime technique at 48:18 can also be referenced to today’s method of convenience of terrorists.

The animated drawings feature crisp lines, but are imperfect, thus invoking a source of dissonance towards the pictures that are at once both gorgeous yet understatedly flawed. Shadows and silhouettes are a strong feature throughout the cinematography, creating a sense of shady business given the nature of war as soldiers prone and hide in the darkness.

The colors are vivid, and the beats strong as the animated feature begins with a pan that gives us an overview of the deserted city, following the motion of a bevy of dogs that leap toward the screen, and the camera follows their movement as they dash across the city, wrecking havoc along the way. The starting scenes set the tone as the sleek movement of the dogs is captured through reflections in mirrors by the road and puddles on the ground (1:47). Whether this is a metaphor for the IDF’s vicious Palestine opponents is  a personal opinion that is debatable, but I find it valid given the half-a-minute sequence of the dogs standing growling and howling at the foot of a building that houses the protagonist of the story. The references further appear at 4:00 with a tie-in of the dog as the soldiers are seen making a nighttime ambush. A dog dies, as viewed through the scope of a rifle at 5:02. Yet a stark irony remains as the scenes leading up to the massacre are atypically vivid, as an indication of dream sequences that are solely a figment of imagination vis-à-vis the drabness of reality.

We learn the whole story in the end. “You cannot remember the massacre because… unwilling you took on the role of the Nazi. You were there carrying out the flares, even though you didn’t take part directly in the massacre(1:13:40). The line, a direct reference to the Nazi wartime atrocities of World War II, in which they brainwash a team of loyal supporters through propaganda and a promise of a better future. The camera, unsentimental and unflinching in its portrayal of the injured, wounded an d deceased among the debris (1:16:08). The camera tracks in on the face of the protagonist as he stops dead in his tracks at 1:18:13, as diagetic sounds of bloodcurdling screams fill the air. We follow his gaze to an area behind the camera, when the image directly cuts away with actual news footage of the Palestine War. This direct contrast between animation techniques and reality creates a much more powerful message that the audience eventually takes away from the film. In fact, I was literally left in awe with the ending of the film – the sheer reality of it all inevitably emphasized and propped up through the use of animation techniques within the film. There are cutaways to several discrete shots of the deceased and wounded. The camera at 1:19:04 then cuts away into utter silence as the shrieks break away, leaving behind stony silence (which itself stands in stark contrast to the heavy musical influence throughout the movie thus far) and the threatening undertones of a lower bass that resonates in a climactic undertone in the final seconds of the movie, where the audience is left to reflect and marvel over what they just witnessed.