Facing the Waves

Norlan-Dunkirk

When it comes to tragedy on screen, the presence of sea generally creates a sense of tension to the story and makes it more powerful, like Titanic.

It’s hard to say if Dunkirk is trying to tell a tragic story. Over the viewing experience however, I could strongly feel how a war battle in the vicinity of sea left people being extra exposed and vulnerable, to an extend that the so-called enemy and alliance, defeat and victory seem less significant. Under the pressing situation, people had to make choices, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the solo hope of survival or going home.

One of the stories that stuck with me and worked its way into the film was a veteran telling me about watching people walk into the sea, just as if they were going to swim home. I asked him, ‘Were they literally trying to swim back to England or swim out to a ship; were they killing themselves?’ He didn’t know, but he knew they were going to die. It’s a chilling thing to hear.    —-

For a war film that doesn’t involve much bright colour or long dialogue, what we are shown is three episodes of the famous World War II evacuation and a vivid depiction of lives associated with it. The desperate struggles happening near, above and at the sea clearly bring out a sense of belonging and patriotism among the British soldiers as well as civilians, which then led to a spirit of solidarity and people’s willingness to sacrifice. In contrast to the vastness of sea, the ugliness and narrowness of the nature of war is also largely revealed at the same time.

A sense of admiration and fear to sea seems to be universal, whether they are threatening a few little boats like what is portrayed in The Great Wave off Kanagawa (A print of which is recently showing at NGV), or an array of military ships in Dunkirk…It seems that any hatred, blood, screams could all be easily erased and conquered by the roaring waves, which in a way enable people to stop, to reflect and to forgive.

Waves
The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai (36 Views of Mount Fuji)

Silence

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2 missionaries, 1 boat, an isolated island.
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Long journey, troubled souls, diminishing hope.
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No redemption, on the soil full of oppression.
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Only more blood, despair, and death.
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Silence, silence, endless silence.
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Do people want to be saved, or too scared to live?
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In the movie, there is a few scenes where Christian villagers were asked by the governor to spit or step on a piece of wood carved image of Christ or Virgin Mary, as a gesture of rejecting the faith. It’s a decision of life or death, while most of them chose death, holding onto the hope that they would be in Heaven eventually. The Father, after suffered all the extreme pain for being devout to his belief, chose to live. Before he stepped on that piece of wood, he seemed to have a moment of enlightenment by seeing a vision of Jesus and hearing him giving the permission to step on him. His desperation got deeper and he struggled to comprehend the meaning of praying to silence. The choice puts an end to the physical pain from the outside world, yet is that the end of his doubt? Or the start of more questioning by the silence.
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I was surprised that the film was shot entirely in Taiwan — a slight compromise of authenticity given the costs to deliver the message I guess. It more or less shows Scorsese’s approach to survival as a devout filmmaker, and a Father to Hollywood cinema.

Gone with The Wasted Times

Wasted times

This is a film about 1930s Shanghai and its gangster past during the chaotic Japanese occupation period.

As a Chinese film, it is a nice piece of work that entails a sophisticated storyline and a unique style of art-house aesthetics, while still maintains its clear commercial intentions. With an all-star cast, it depicts the stories happening around three leading characters including a ruthless gangster leader (You Ge),  a Shanghaiese- speaking Japanese spy (Tadanobu Asano) and a lustful concubine (Ziyi Zhang) of a gangster boss. Each of them was after something they wanted during the wartime, and all thought that they had had  full control of the situation during the process of pursuing, while the end is pretty much tragic for all of them.

To me the film pays tribute to a wartime era where everything was unpredictable, all relationships seemed fragile, and people’s fate could turn into different directions at a blink of an eye. This might be the case for any wartime stories, however there seems to be an extra level of fascination involved when they are told in the 1930s Shanghai — back then a city under influences of different political parties, east and west cultures, while the local gangster groups still dominated the backend of the city’s criminal activities, and determined the ways things should be done in many circumstances.

I especially like the touch about the lives of a few supporting roles who have side stories that are peripheral to the main storyline. They include a maid who served the gangster family loyally but died as a victim as the result of a revenge spree by an enemy group, a dying gangster chauffeur who got rescued by a prostitute and then fell in love with her, and an actress who rejected the courting from the gangster’s top leader and hoped to get back with her estranged husband. They help the audience to catch a glimpse of people’s mentality during that era, where everything had some sort of unspoken rules, but they could also be steered away as lust and caution intervened.

The Chinese title, which literally means “A history of disappearing romance”, conveys a sense of both nostalgia and melancholy. With the end of war, aspects of the wartime humanity, genuine or distorted, all started to fall apart and became powerless, to a point that all comments seem absurd and further interpretation no longer seem necessary.

Life and death under LED lights

I encountered two amazing LED-based art installations when travelling. Both artworks featuring twinkling LED lights in the darkness — one is set outdoor in the desert field of Uluru while the other one is indoor at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney.

  1. Field of Light-by Bruce Munro

Over 50,000 bulbs light up a massive block of land the size of a football field at the foot of Uluru. The colours and strength of light of the bulbs change automatically and gradually as the audience move around the field in the darkness, making the whole filed come to life in a quiet and calm way.

Being in the red centre of Australia is already a mind-blowing experience. The Field of Light exhibition is certainly a nice touch that adds another layer of fascination to the place.

“I saw in my mind a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light,” he (Munro) said. “Field of Light is a personal symbol for the good things in life.”
(http://www.thenibbler.com.au/article/field-of-light-graces-uluru/)

2.Mega Death by Tasuo Miyajima – MCA Australia

Mega Death (1999) features about 3000 white LED counter gadgets on a three-walled billboard. The counters count down from nine to one, on to darkness without indicating “zero” then return to nine and repeat themselves. They are programmed to be completely switched off every few minutes, leaving the viewers in complete darkness, then go back to counting at various speed again.

The changing faces of numbers or digits appear in different forms in almost every piece of artwork in Miyajima’s exhibition- Connect with Everything, and this piece is the most impressive work in terms of its scale and design. Almost like some kind of ritual, the blue illuminated room and its numerous glittering LED counter gadgets is a very power visual expression that challenges the audience’s perception of time and changes.

“It is about the Holocaust, but it has parallels with global tragedies. It holds the meaning of many of the human-caused tragedies of the 20th century: the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terrorist attacks … any mass death or destruction or killing where a life is taken before [its natural term].”
(http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/japanese-artist-tatsuo-miyajimas-digital-genius-on-show-at-sydney-mca/news-story/09b11f9888762c46102f08ee97d58186)

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The use of LED lights in the darkness opens a gate for me to be fully immersed in these installation space. It’s interesting to see that both artists have chosen the same medium to express their concepts and ideas yet shape them into something quite differently, as one celebrates the greatness of lives, the other contemplates the meaning of death. While it is also undeniable that the two themes are closely interlocked with each other at all time and are simply showing the 2 different sides of the same story.

To remember, to forget, to heal

It’s been a while since the last time I watched a stage show in a small theatre…and I forgot what an intimate experience this can be. What made me feel this way are two Japanese theatre productions at Arts House Melbourne as part of the AsiaTOPA festival.

Both productions deal with the topic of 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, reflecting on the disaster’s impact on people’s living with a close glimpse to their inner minds. The simple settings on stage open up a new dimension where my attention is exclusively dedicated to the stage and the performance happening there.It hence becomes quite intimate — like witnessing a tragic process that interweaves the past and the future, the deceased and the lived and is something that is very delicate, fragile and easy to be overlooked if not contemplated carefully.

The first production: Time’s Journey Through a Room is about a man’s dialogue with the spirit of his deceased wife and his new girl friend, revealing his desperation for hope while also a sense of frustration of being worn out by the sadness.

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Source: http://artsreview.com.au/times-journey-through-a-room/

The second production: Kagerou – Study of Translating Performance is a performance involving simultaneous interpretation of a woman’s voice talking about her husband who died in the earthquake. Performed by one person with headphones on, the production also uses a projection of moving images in the background as the person does the oral interpretation. Her shadow projected on the background creates a special presence of a person among the images of objects and sceneries.

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Each of the two shows has a unique way of depicting the character’s mental reaction to their loss at the natural disaster, by gently letting the character’s voice being heard with a series of subtle and distinct expressions. They captured moments after a person is finally settling in the fact about death of the loved one and is trying to get on with life. Somehow, making sense of the unforgettable is actually helping the lived ones to forget, to move on and in this case, to heal as part of a national tragedy.

More Than a Dreamer

It’s very hard not to associate La La Land with The Artist, not just because of the singing and dancing part, but more the vintage style and nostalgia feeling the two films both have, even though I have pretty much forgotten about the actual story of The Artist.

La La Land has won 6 awards out of its 14 Oscar nominations. So it wouldn’t be surprising if La La Land harvest similar amount of attention as The Artist, who won 5 Oscars.

In fact, the film has already connected with audience on different levels all over the world, such as:

Naomi Watanabe dances to the theme music of La La Land.

and “Lie Lie Land”graffiti.

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Back to the film, the main characters-  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling made a lovely couple — A young actress trying to build her career in L.A and a musician who is constantly facing the dilemma between art and living.  The opening and the ending scenes are the highlights of the film to me.  Especially, the ending is a flashback of the what-ifs that could have happened in their lives — a made-up “happy ending” that completes audience’s imagination for that couple, just as we have all wondered about wot-ifs at some stage of our lives. Watching the whole process actually unfolds in details are something that is quite powerful and fascinating.

Overall it’s a film showcasing the distance between dreams and reality, and the romance that happens on the journey from dreams to reality, presented with great music and dancing performances.  Not so much a film for Valentine’s day maybe, but is a good  option for couples who are facing choices or singles who simply want to fall in love.

Unreachable love from past past past life

Your Name [君の名は] has now generated over $1 Million at the Australian box office according to Madman Entertainment.

I am not a big Japanese anime fan, and sometimes would prefer to keep a distance from watching them, mostly because I see animation as something that happens in a world parallel to the reality.

To me I’m not really sure which one I like better — The theme song  “Zen Zen Zense” or the film itself. The film is a love story involving the switching of destiny and identity between a boy and a girl who met in the alternation of space and time. Complicated as it may sound, everything becomes crystal clear once “Zen Zen Zense” starts to play, as it nicely fills the gaps of the bitter sweetness of unreachable love depicted in the film.

The lyric line of Zen Zen Zense [前前前世] – even though it is just a simple phrase describing “past past past lives (many many many lives before… )”,the perfect rhythm gives the line an extra layer of power and firmness that echos in my mind. The dreamworld in the film has been brought even closer to me by this song, to an extend that it crossovers with the reality and sparks endless emotions and pictures about love, destiny and the boundaries that make them even more cherishable.

Zen Zen Zense in a nice female voice: