Friday, October 19, 2007

Bird People in China

You've seen the rest, now see the best

Everyone's seen Takeshi Miike's Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1 , 2001), Audition (Odishon, 1999) and Dead or Alive (1999) and, as a result, most people tend to associate him with horror or yakuza films that push the envelope in terms of violence. All of these films were great. But I think the prolific Japanese filmmaker's best work may very well be 1998's quiet arthouse drama Bird People of China (Chûgoku no chôjin). I saw this last night and, well enough of my blather. Let Wikipedia do the work:

The Bird People in China (中国の鳥人 Chûgoku no chôjin) is a Japanese movie directed by Takashi Miike. The film is considerably more mellow in tone than some of the director's other works. The story tells of a Japanese businessman who is sent to assess some gems in a remote Chinese village and a yakuza, who is accompanying him to make sure his organization gets its proper share. The scenery of China is something not usually explored in Japanese Film and this was a massive change of pace for Miike, and a far cry from his oft-called upon violence and sexuality.

The film explores themes of Ecology and Third world vs. First world, it depicts the 'East' as a legendary place having a kind of mystical knowledge not shared by the West (including Japan), but twists its message by inserting the figure of the Grandfather who is a former British pilot. Near the end, the Yakuza soldier decides to kill all foreigners in order to keep the village away from civilisation, but is reminded that in order to get to the village he had to use trains and airplanes. All in all the movie's message is a mixed one, technology is a good thing and a bad thing, tradition is a good thing and a bad thing. Human suffering exists in both, but also human happiness. It is a complex message worthy of Miike, and the film shares the same humanistic message and feel which can be found in most of his output.

It's well worth a look and tops my short-list of the best Miike films, followed by #2 Audition and, taking the bronze at #3, Miike's other against-typecasting masterpiece, Zebraman (2004).


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