Yoshida's arguably most opaque work provides ample subtextual readings yet as I revisit this film it's most strikingly for me an affront to notions of objectivity in the modern world. The promise of technological advancement as a tool for collective clairvoyance is deconstructed via a formal construction that borders on impressionistic nightmare. The elusiveness of the temporal and the restrictiveness of the material world are projected to invoke the implausibility of any true form of homogeneous objectivity given the disparate nature of our souls. The planned spaces of society - apartments, offices, etc - are never given any form of objectivity to the viewer, they are deeply subjective in how they are portrayed through the camera's gaze. Invoking notions of repression, Yoshida's use of the frame - from top to bottom - amplifies the tension and isolation of these characters as they navigate the labyrinths of communal and non-communal spaces in search of their own version of the truth. Incorporating the spy motif into its narrative framework, this loose narrative device is used as a tool to elucidate the film's themes centered around objectivity vs subjectivity. Many call this film cynical or nihilistic but the film does have some optimism and beauty to it when viewed through an individualist lens. Technological progress is the god who failed to Yoshida, and with objectivity as an impossibility collectivity, he views love & affect as calcifying forces for the soul against the labyrinths of subjectivity and uncertainty to the outside world. For Yoshida, affect may be ephemeral but it remains one of the only guiding lights in a future in which information itself becomes increasingly ubiquitous and in turn malleable to any ideological persuasion
Rita Azevedo Gomes' Fragile as the World is such a visually spellbinding evocation of forbidden love, an experience in itself that demands to be viewed on the largest screen possible. The ephemeral nature of forbidden love constructed through acute visual symbolism and deeply lyrical formalism in which the metaphysical and material feel progressively intertwined. World-weary traditionalism juxtaposed against the idealism of youth, who themselves have yet to fully recognize the perilous nature of individual desire against the normalizing machine of the socially constructed rules and expectations of society. Impermanence of being and its intrinsic dissolution is what makes affect so powerful and essential to living. A stunning work - rigorous and assured in its visual constructions, while delicate and warm in the way it purveys this young forbidden love, finding solace in the fact that in at least a moment, their embrace and shared connection transcends the tragic nature of the world as we know it.
Traversing a multi-ethnical crime narrative in which a hardened cop uncovers an underground crime war between Chinese and Japanese crime syndicates, Takashi Miike's Shinjuku Triad Society sees the iconoclastic filmmaker employ a disruptive perspective on the normative, focusing exclusively on the often unseen and unspoken of aspects of society, those who live on the periphery, outside of the socially-acceptable or morally-agreeable ways of living. In Shinjuku Triad Society, there is no normative moral lens for the audience to grasp, with nearly every character being abhorrent in one-way or another, even those who are characterized as being on the right side of the law - the police - succumbing to barbarism. The fine line between good and evil is something which fascinates Miike, specifically the outsider, who due to no choice of their own, whether it be via systemic disadvantage or natural selection, finds themselves in the precarious position of being on one side of the law or the other. For Miike, a character's actions cannot be viewed solely in a disparate moral context but one which requires a holistic view. This is why his lens is often so empathetic, his curiosity allows him to lack an aversion to perversity or depravity. The cops and criminals of this story become increasingly ubiquitous from a moral perspective, allegiances mean nothing, shifts occur whenever an advantage presents itself - all outcasts fighting for their slice of the pie in this crazy, mixed-up world in which day-to-day survival trumps all else
An absolutely infectious piece of blockbuster cinema, S.S. Rajamouli's Eega transports the viewer into an experience likely like none they've ever seen before, being a heightened piece of pop entertainment in which the very nature of how one sees the day-to-day is subverted through its high-conceptual framework. The story of a man reincarnated as a housefly who seeks vengeance against the evil businessman who not only took his life but also has his sights set on the woman he loves, Eega is a high-concept fantasy which provides ample opportunities for unique and compelling visual constructions, and the astute pairing of director S.S. Rajamouli and cinematographer K.K. Senthil Kumar don't disappoint. Together they create such an ingenious and assured film, one in which the integration between digital vfx and live-action has expressive utility, a symbiotic relationship imbued with a consistent sense of vitality. From set piece to set piece, Eega is an utterly engaging piece of pop entertainment, taking advantage of the malleability of its heightened premise to deliver a highly digestible, throughly engaging piece of escapism which galavants between comedy, romance, and action/adventure with ease, delivering a one-of-a-kind experience.
Considered by many to be the greatest Chinese films ever made, Fei Mu's Spring In A Small Town lives up to its reputation, being a powerful work of melodrama that grapples with the complexities and nuances intrinsic to individual agency when juxtaposed against the larger societal forces. A story in which the degradation of hope evinces the stagnation of progression, Spring in A Small Town features such a rich characterization at the fulcrum of its story - a femme fatale, in ways, whose situation is sympathetic. Her actions are deliberate but rest in a space of cognitive uncertainty, yet they are viewed consistently through a lens of empathetic understanding by Fei Mu. This character is driven by her desire to live a more fruitful existence than the sheltered and static existence which she has been dealt by the throngs of war which left her with a husband who cannot provide and offers no future, leading her to fall victim to the deceptive allure of past connections - Monotony and despondence of the soul lead to resentment. Spring in A Small Town's poignant melodramatic text also offers an ample opportunity for readings in its subtext, particularly its examination of patriarchal notions of man & woman, and the crude, false dichotomy between individual-collective. Makes sense the CCP banned this film, as it is deeply rooted in examining - sympathetically - individual agency and personal autonomy, exhibiting personal emotion outside of the familial collective, recognizing that humans aren't monolithic machines of rationality but disparate emotional creatures sculpted by the spatial and temporal environments they inhabit.
A kaleidoscope of tonal variations, Raja Nawathe's Gumnaam is ostensibly camp, in which the bravado of Bollywood is brought to Agatha Christie. The murder mystery plotting of this film is by far the least interesting or engaging aspect. I wouldn't go so far as to call it inconsequential, but the lavish inter-workings of the narrative hold little weight when compared to this film's rich, vibrant aesthetics and a formal design which is infused with the consistent dynamism of lavish music numbers which border on infectious. I particularly enjoyed the dance number where two of the character's that the bottle will provide the only solace needed in times of great fear. Like most Bollywood films, the pacing will be jarring for those not familiar with the unique rhythms of cinema from this region, yet the film is beautifully composed, and wildly expressive - my favorite fragments being in how the film enunciates the horror sensibilities through some expressive background imagery and a heavy dose of canted angles. A wild ride - the film's main theme will be stuck in my head for days.
An often overlooked Japanese filmmaker for reasons which I can't fully comprehend, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest film, To The Ends of the Earth, sees the director employ his dread-inducing formal sensibilities tactically to a relatively simple drama story, invoking the tension and unease of day-to-day anxieties and existential dread. Featuring a great central performance and rich characterization centered around a travel show host whose insular nature and insecurities are continuously amplified by an environment which is deeply foreign to her own, To The Ends of the Earth astutely details the complexities of the human psyche, the cognitive trappings it manifests often being far more debilitating and danger than material concerns. Fear largely drives this woman's reactionary decision-making, fundamentally pushing her further and further from her ideas. The pejorative notions of genre filmmaking are skewered time-and-time again by Kurosawa, a master filmmaker who with To The Ends of the Earth delivers one of the more emotionally poignant films I've seen in recent years; Narrative theatrics are non-existent, very little is told through exposition, the effectiveness of the piece being much more organic in which it is shown not told to the viewer through Kurosawa's acute formalism that is met by Atsuko Maeda great performance
Ryosuke Hashiguchi's Like Grains of Sand is a poignant and provocative coming-of-age tale which formally manages an impressive amalgamation of classicalist aesthetic sensibilities with that of the more rebellious/ revolutionary modes of the Japanese new wave which signaled angst towards the normative social constructions. A coming of age story which places sensuality and affect above narrative rigor, Like Grains of Sand isn't interested in character development in the traditional sense, yet through its evocation on this spectific temporal space of adolescense - one in which one's identity is still formally tenuous - the film delivers an incisive portrait of the complexities of youth and the socially performative modes one partakes in for the sake of assimilation into normative society. A poignant and penetrating evocation of youth, identity, and repression, detailing how the later often calcifies itself to the psyche due to the performative nature of social interactions under the collective cultural weight of traditionalism, Like Grains of Sand is tender yet fiercely counter-cultural, ultimately being an affront to false-notions of sincerity, recognizing through its formal construction that collective salvation as a society comes when empathy and sincerity are elevated over empty-notions of politeness or acceptance, which in turn ultimately lead to repression
Perhaps a bit of a superfluous comparison but Patrick Wang's A Great Wall reminded me quite a lot of Lulu Wang's The Farewell. Both films wrestle with Asian American identity - the juxtaposition of Western vs. Eastern principles and the familial elements disrupted by diaspora and cultural stratification but for-my-money, A Great Wall manages to be far more incisive in its execution due largely to how well it balances its depiction of both cultures. Both films rely on comedic sensibilities which come at the expense of cultural disparity yet A Great Wall's comedy is met with overwhelming respect and admiration towards the complexities of identity, elucidating the false binary of individual/collective in a way which The Farewell - being much more attached to one principal lead character - Awkwafina - simply cannot manage. Showing respect for the individual despite the tenets of collective culture, the film's exploration of identity manages to skewer crude notions of individualism vs. collectivism, delivering through its narrative schematics multi-varied and complex characterizations which feel fully-formed and uniquely singular despite their cultural background and lived-in experiences. The ensemble nature aids the film's exploration of culture and identity, as A Great Wall manages to be quite funny while also carrying a genuine tenderness that evinces the film's underlying commentary centered around family, identity, and culture.
A perfect action film in many respects, Dragon Inn is a beautifully orchestrated work in which King Hu's considerable talents are on full display. The cinematic grammar here perfectly synthesizes with its action schematics invoking an action-reaction formalism which feels elemental. The contained spaces of the Inn and its interiors are maximized by Hu in a way few filmmakers are capable, instilling the film with continuous tension and dynamism - It truly feels like a perfect cinematic experience in which mystery and intrigue permeate and the threat of violence is palatable . Dragon Inn is imbued with a consistent sense of grandeur despite its relative simple construction, culminating in a high-octane final showdown which lives up to the film's methodical pacing and the increasing stakes embedded into its narrative schematic.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.