Blissfully Yours (2002)

12 01 2008

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film, Syndromes and a Century is coming out on DVD this Tuesday and it already has a very large following. Four years prior, he made Blissfully Yours which basically lays out a lot of the territory he would work with in his future films, the lone exception being The Adventures of Iron Pussy. Calling him a hybrid between Tsai Ming-liang and Werner Herzog may be a bit too short-sighted but I’m saying it as a compliment. All of Joe’s (Weerasethakul’s nickname) films that I’ve managed to seen bring out the best in the nature driven visual poetry of Herzog’s work as well as the deadpan humor and style of Tsai’s films. At one point, I felt that this was almost like Vive L’Amour just with a different setting. Still this is Joe’s film and while I don’t put him on the same level as Tsai, I do like him quite a bit.

The film is very easy to follow but obviously, not recommended to those who haven’t familiarized themselves with some of the other minimalistic work out of east Asia. Min is an illegal immigrant who is visiting the doctor to have a rash of his examined. His girlfriend, Roong is also there, as well as a friend, Orn. The film opens with a few very funny trade-offs in the doctor’s office, which definitely anticipates a lot of the humor found in Syndromes and a Century. The first fifteen minutes have more dialogue than the rest of the film which is a bit awkward. Also awkward is the fact that the opening credits don’t show up until one hour in. The only other that I can think of that also does this is Last Life is the Universe.

After the opening credits end, the second half of the film is set up: Roong and Min begin to drift along beautiful landscapes (a la the first half of L’Avventura) and end up deep in the forest which is where the film ends. Pretty simple for two and a hours so it’s easy to see why a lot of people got bored by this but if you enjoy this sensory driven type of cinematography then you’ll basically be in heaven. Unfortunately, the film never really goes anywhere and it seems almost self-consciously against having any closure. This is a great film, though. The screen shots do more justice for the film than my own words.

Ozu double bill

12 01 2008

Well, what better way to start this blog than with two films from the filmmaker that basically gave birth to everything I love about modern cinema in Asia. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Ozu (I’ve seen somewhere around 18 of his 35 surviving features) but I’m pretty much unfamiliar with his silent films. I suppose this might be because I’m generally turned off by inter titles and I’m a bit of a modernist but my first venture into silent era Ozu territory turned out quite good…

An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu, 1935)

Outside of the obvious limitations that plague any silent film, this is pretty much perfect. The score is way too expressive (i.e manipulative) and never goes away. I guess I haven’t adjusted enough to the intertitles because they seem to mess up the pace at times. Even then, this is still very much an Ozu film. All the great visual compositions that I’ve become to known and love from the man are present. This is considered Ozu’s last silent film and much of the industry had already begun making talkies so I guess that could play a part in why this looks so good.

Not only does this predate all the neo-realism films of Italy but it’s also a lot better. De Sica and company would never make a film that is essentially this plotless. This probably deserves to be mentioned along with stuff like Los Olividados and Pixote. Now that I think of it, this does remind me even a little bit of Gummo, if only in a strictly narrative sense. The two boys in this have to catch dogs for financial support just like how Solomon and Tummler hunt cats for financial support. Yeah, a dubious connection but that’s the “tone” of the first half of the film.

It becomes a bit less aimless and a bit more conventional once Kihachi gets a job and Otsune becomes a more central character but it’s still really great. I mean, nobody was making something like in 1935, at least not to my knowledge.

The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (Yasujiro Ozu, 1941)

One of only two films that Ozu made during the war (the other being There Was a Father, which I plan to see shortly) implies a lot of steps he would take in his later films, unfortunately this isn’t quite as good. The setup of a family coming together and drifting apart by the death of a key figure is obviously something that is portrayed a bit more convincingly in Tokyo Story. I might actually go as far as to say that this is really just a warm-up for the whole Noriko trilogy. But this actually does hold up quite well on it’s own but in the grand scheme of Ozu’s filmography, this is only a minor footnote.

At this point, Ozu was still developing his style. Thus, there are some technical “flaws” that you won’t find in later Ozu films. The most interesting being the shot length, which is very inconsistent. There’s a few shots that go on for minutes, which is fine by me, but the film doesn’t flow in the same way as the post-war films. After the war, when Ozu had “perfected” his vision, his takes started to flow together a bit more. The timing on the shots are more consistent, which does indeed support the claim that Ozu films feel like slide shows. I actually find the long takes in this to be sort of endearing (assuming one might view them as a flaw) and feel closer to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s style.

I’m guessing that a lot of propaganda material was coming out of Japan at the time and it sort of shows by Ozu wanting to wrap everything up into a more tangible “message.” I suppose this a bit unavoidable when the story is meant to be slightly tragic but it obviously dates the film. In that case, we’re lucky Ozu’s output during the war was so limited; he could have ended up being a full-fledged “political” director.

Opening statement…

12 01 2008

First of all, welcome! This is meant to be an extension of my viewing log page at YMDB2 – link, so the few people who are reading this probably know what to expect from me but I’ll go over it a bit anyway. I consider myself a fan of cinema, assuming such a thing exists, and anyway for almost the past year, I’ve written little blurbs about the films I’ve recently viewed. They’re usually very spontaneously written in a single (long) paragraph where I quickly discuss my general feelings about the film. I never go too in-depth because I assume that if someone is reading about a film, they already have some knowledge about it. Anyway, that all changes now. I’m going to try to be a bit more articulate in my writing and perhaps introduce each film a little just to keep the uninformed interested. As always I’ll keep the experience somewhat visual. I always take a lot of screen shots anyway so now I just actually have something to do with them. This is still very much a work in progress. Stay tuned for more updates.