Dedicated to to the man who showed so little of himself because he was busy showing so much of everything. RIP.
Good film, a good life in general, is not just about a view of the ocean, that may be beautiful one day but stormy the other. Good film is reflections on the waters of the moon that adjusts the tides. This is a recurrent insight of Zen among other things, and you can’t be a Japanese filmmaker and not respond to the conundrum posed by Zen, even if it means outright rejection (as many Japanese New Wave-ers did). So it is not just a view, life isn’t, it is both reflection and mechanisms that control the view, and these mechanisms entail motion and flow, and that flow is only near the surface the everyday narrative of life. The conundrum? You have to express complicated in-sight with a simple view.
This guy, Koreeda, is still in his early steps here, but wants the adventure. In Maborosi, he chiseled a bit at the transcendent flow, even if it came across as a simple homage to Ozu it was good work. This time he challenges himself with layered narrative.
He’s still in his early steps means, in our case, that the mechanisms are entirely movielike, usually they are. The premise is that a group of people die and come to a house where each one will have to settle on a single memory to carry with them to eternity, this is the part that references old Hollywood fantasy (A Matter of Life and Death, the Capra Christmas staple also referenced in the title).
The French touch (most notably Resnais): each memory is going to be made into a film, and films are going to be screened for the audience in a way that they grant transcendence.
Each film poses a challenge to the crew, so the filmmakers have to seriously puzzle: how to film a flight on ground level, the sound of darkness, or the simples thing, the feel of a summer breeze. Others won’t or can’t even choose their film.
In new Hollywood hands, say Jonze’s, this would be done with an abundance of quirks and forced cleverness. One or the other from the usual group of selfaware actors – Julianne Moore, Seymour Hoffman, Malkovich – would be likely brought around to be the center of multiple overlapping vision. We’d get a big, complex synecdoche of the various threads, that is in line with the Western understanding of life as a complicated narrative.
But, this is Japanese and derives all its power from subtle flow in the view: one aspect of this, is that we never see the actual transcendent films except a few glimpses, and only glimpses of them being put together, usually involving camera set-up and rehearsals from memory. The action often takes place in some blurred foreground. See, it was never about the actual films as vaguely artistic tokens. It was about sculpting a feel that guides you back to the light, and that is left entirely in our sphere of having discovered our cherished moment, and rehearsed that moment as the film provides the framework of cinematic space around it. It is pure Zen: cultivating the air you breathe.
The other aspect is that we have actual people reminiscing. Oh, some of it was staged, some of it real, but you can’t know most of the time and there’s no point to that. It matters that all of it impresses as a seamless flow of graceful reminiscence.
I recently discovered a wonderful Russian film a bit like this, that one a documentary, this one ostensibly a drama, but the boundaries are slippery, about aged ballet dancers in their 80’s and 90’s conducting between them a wonderful ballet of remembrance.
Chris Marker would have liked both. He did his own film about a Russian filmmaker reminiscing on a journey of staged dreams and fleeting memories. It’s called The Last Bolshevik, the Russian documentary is Ballets Russes. You should look them up.
What say you Mubi?