Beautiful Summer (1998)

13 07 2014

When a friend asks me to explain the magic or, hell, even the point of the films of a filmmaker like Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Tsai Ming-Liang, I often struggle. Sure, give me enough time and space and I’ll be able to confidently articulate the beauty and joy I find in these filmmaker’s work. The connection between Tsai and Hou in particular comes from their country of origin (Taiwan) but the more immediate link comes from their style. I’d argue that there’s a difference in their work, but they, for better or worse, became the iconic figures of (East) Asian Minimalism. Tetsuya Nakashima, who would direct Kamikaze Girls six years after this effort, seems far away from this type of aesthetic. Beautiful Sunday, although a bit more free-spirited formally than the work of Hou and Tsai, seems to work with a similar rhythm. A poignant story about a group strangers and the small, seemingly insignificant brushes against each other.


A young couple’s noise complaint finally gets the attention of their land lady. She goes to investigate the source, but the problem can’t be replicated. She attempts to stomp around to recreate the noise, but does so unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, a young girl attends to her homework with rigorous dedication as her mother seems to stumble back into their loft, perhaps reeling from a bender. An older woman screams at the same time everyday, while another is trying to deal with a stalker. The behavior of all of the inhabitants of the apartment complex seems to be something one can depend on, but for an initially easygoing Sunday afternoon, things change.


Beautiful Sunday is a movie about the end of a cycle. For most of us, Sunday itself is the end of the cycle that is the week. When we climb into bed on this day, we know that the next time we’re aware, a new week will greet us, and the cycle starts all over again. Nakashima’s characters seem to be at the end of a cycle as well. The man in the aforementioned couple (I guess now is a good time to mention that no names are ever uttered) is a writer for a television show, which he later finds out is not being renewed. Their primary source of income is now in major jeopardy. It seems like the couple’s relationship itself seems to be in danger, as their conversations frequently show both of them wanting something the other can’t simply offer.


One of the most incisive moments of the relationship’s troubles come when the woman makes the simple suggestion to her man: “Make me happy.” A few moments later, he tries to get in bed with her, presumably to be affectionate, but she’s not interested. She hasn’t changed her mind, she most likely still wants him to make her happy, but the two have very different ideas of how this can be accomplished. Happiness, which is ever so elusive and difficult to pinpoint, looks different to everyone. One could argue this is why the relationship is beginning to disintegrate, but in reality, such errors in communication happen all the time, even in loving and “healthy” relationships.


Rather than being about a relationship falling apart, which is still what is happening at the surface, I think the scene described above is an example of Nakashima’s meditation on attention. The idea of wanting attention is so frequently given a negative connotation. The truth is we all want attention, at least a certain kind of attention, because most of social interaction is basically, exchanging attention. This might sound like I’m trying to cheapen our relationships, but instead I am trying to move the negative stigma from attention. In addition to the moment already described, Beautiful Sunday also features a woman trying to escape the gaze of a stalker. However, when she invites him into her apartment, it’s revealed that she’s actually hired him to stalk her. One could read this as a simplistic satirical view of women’s vanity, but vanity is not the issue. The individuals in Beautiful Sunday seem to be constantly looking for emotional connections (again, in the vein of Tsai) but they seem to never work. Here, we have Nakashima navigated the idea of “good attention” and “bad attention” and validating are desires to want the former, and protection from the latter.