Ichikawa Jun is this year's Director-in-Attendance for the Japanese Film Festival, and he was at the auditorium today, ahead of his scheduled appearance this Thursday for the masterclass session, to present an older film which he made more than 10 years ago. Saying a few words in Japanese to the audience, he shared that Dying at a Hospital was his 6th film, and that he was grateful to be in Singapore for the screening of his movies, before mentioning that he won't be staying through to the end of today's session, to grab some dinner during the movie.
I'm eagerly awaiting to watch the other Ichikawa Jun movies because the only one I've seen to date is Tony Takitani. The styles used in Takitani and Dying at a Hospital are no less at opposite ends of the spectrum. Takitani had the camera constantly flowing, if I recall correctly, from left to right, as if turning the pages of a book, and provided a somewhat natural scene transition. But in Dying, the camera stays so still, it's like watching a stage play unfold right in front of you, and fade to black transitions, for almost all scenes, was the preferred technique used.
Ichikawa captured the feel of a hospital succinctly. Recently, there was talk by our Health Minister with regards to allowing people to die at home, versus spending their last days in the confines of an institution, and I thought this film would have backed that reasoning perfectly. I've had my fair share of stays in hospitals / medic wards in my younger days, and it's no fun being in that environment. Watching the movie, it brought back memories when I was visited by doctors for Q&A and nurses for the periodic miscellaneous checks and pill popping, and being hooked up to a drip was no fun, especially when you need to go to the bathroom. In a public ward, sometimes you do see the frail and the very weak, and family members shuffling into and out of the wards come visiting hours, some with tears in their eyes. Despite its sterile environment, there's somehow this overhanging sense of sadness looming around the corner.
It's a mixture of fictional narrative short stories, interspersed with non-fictional documentary styled shots of various random scenes depicting the whizzing by of everyday life, outside of the hospital of course. It's as if you're witness to the struggles that the sick and the dying face within the four walls, while time waits for nobody. The short stories too were different from one another, involving an elderly couple who wished to stay together in sickness and in health, a vagrant who was picked up on the street, whose story was quite cold and sad in that there's obviously no instances where there are visitors made up on friends and family, and I particularly liked the story which served as the closing - an extremely touching piece. All the short stories are self-contained, but when strung together in a movie like this, provides a kaleidoscope issues you'd come to expect from a typical day at the hospital, especially when the narration (is it a hallmark of Ichigawa movies?) comes from different perspectives, which included doctors, patients and even nurses.
A quiet, contemplative piece with a sense of hope in its closing remarks, you seldom see the facial expressions of the characters up close, as the camera mimics the usual distance one would most times keep from the other patients (at least for me, for reasons unknown), in curious to know more, but yet want to maintain that emotional detachment.