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ASIAN LIGHTS ON THE
by Harlan Kennedy
HOW MUCH world cinema tells us about the world!
This was a truth perceived and universally acknowledged at the 61st Venice Film Festival, where 2004’s most revealing and bewitching one-to-one contest was between Hayao Miyazaki's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE and Jia Zhangke's THE WORLD.
visions. One from
One from an aging lion who has seen the last twilight of empire, the other from a tiger economy spying new dominions in the streaks of a fresh dawn. One from a veteran animator hewing to handcrafted traditions, the other from a Sixth Generation youngster hewing Sino-realism into new shapes.
Miyazaki's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, like his SPIRITED AWAY with its setting in an abandoned theme park, finds a tragic grandeur in the decay of fantasy. His film is captivated by the speed with which innocence turns to disenchantment and back again, by the spooky interchangeability of old crones and young women, of old warriors and young princes.
Zhangke's THE WORLD sees the
theme park in which it is set, a fabricated global fantasyland, as a symbol
of his nation's ambition. His
The veteran Japanese,
who put traditional animation back on the international map with PRINCESS
MONONOKE, is all-accepting. The paint-and-brush techniques in HOWL'S MOVING
CASTLE are as old as Disney. The ghosts of SNOW WHITE and FANTASIA move
through its tale of a girl's friendship with a moving, clanking, breathing,
Zhangke - Yang to
When Zhangke uses animation it is with sarcastic zest. He even deploys little cartoons. Sometimes they are mock-promos to hymn the joys of this ride or that attraction. Sometimes they take off from almost nothing, just a text message sent between characters. They are all like advertising spots, though, complete with jingles: born of a designing culture that wants you to buy what you don't want to buy, to dream what you are commanded to dream.
THE WORLD is about a
culture of obedience that is modulating from Maoism to market capitalism.
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is about a culture celebrating old freedoms, old
anarchies, that have somehow risen again - and will keep rising - out of the
battered machinery of dynastic and imperial tyranny.
Which is the wiser,
truer vision? Or is it different takes for different states? Jia Zhangke may well believe
that China can be arranged and disposed like an amusement park, that its
people really are gullible visitors or exploitable workers, forced to promote
the ideal symbol of their nation: a consumer franchise that has consumed
other countries! Planet
But for all the acuity
of THE WORLD, one feels the movie slowly become its own message; that it is
ultimately as finite, as closed as the self-dooming lebensraum it sees in
The Japanese filmmaker sees ruin, war and terror everywhere: he has lived through them. He sees them even in landscapes trodden by princes and pet scarecrows. But there lies the salvation. His heart and belief are with the princes and pet scarecrows.
might think this was decadent sentimentality. His own film is devoted to the
perfidies of fantasy, facile optimism and blue-skies thinking. But THE WORLD's belief in ephemerality
as the writing in the sky is ultimately the reason why it, too, seems a
little ephemeral. It goes nowhere by telling us there is nowhere to go. By
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.