Saturday, September 22, 2007

[Japanese Film Festival] Nianchan (にあんちゃん)

Actress Yoshiyuki Kazuko was at today's screening to present the movie to the audience. She mentioned it was a special day for her, and that Nianchan was the second movie she had made in her career of 50 years. Shohei Imamura had actually told her to become rounder and fatter for the role, and she thought that since it's only her second film, the acting here is not on par yet and felt that it probably might be the last role she'll ever star in!

She told the audience she was excited about today's screening, and shared that while Imamura was fierce in his directing of the film, it is thanks to him that she has been acting for the last 50 years. She thanked the audience for turning up, and told us that it was great to watch the movie again (and she did stay until the end of it!)

Depressing Timesa

Nianchan is the film that brings together both the director-in-focus and the actress-in-attendance for this year's Japanese Film Festival. The movie is directed by Shohei Imamura, and just last week, we had seen a series of his movies, like the excellent Ballad of Narayama, and the World Cinema Series kickstarted with his Profound Desire of the Gods. In Nianchan, he directs Yoshiyuki Kazuko to an award winning performance.

Set during Japan's depression years in the 50s, Nianchan (read: My Second Brother) tells the story about a family of 4 orphans, who are forced by circumstances to fend for themselves. Being in a mining town where the mining company is beginning to right-size its operations, jobs are getting scarce, and wages are getting lower with frequent cuts. Sticking together trying to find a way out of the vicious circle is close to impossible, and they realize that they have a better chance at carving a living if they split up.

Imamura again proved his deftness in handling a piece treading on the lower rungs of society. Here, he puts the spotlight on the minority of Koreans who were left in dire straits after the war when they decide to remain in Japan, only to lose their livelihood to returning Japanese soldiers. We see how in a depressive state, help is not always readily available, and if that extra hand is extended, it may at most be temporary, most times with the disapproval of somebody else, of an opinion that these extra resources should go into their own pockets rather than to someone else's.

There are some references from more contemporary movies which I was drawing references from when viewing this old black and white film. With the mining town setting and the depression it faced, it brought to mind the movie Hula Girls, where the female inhabitants of the town pick up a new skill, and with it set about transforming their town into an integrated resort with the Hawaiian theme. Also, with the younger siblings taking care of each other, it somehow brought to mind Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven. Maybe not quite the same premise, but the dynamics and relationship between the brother (the titular Nianchan) and his sister, reminded me of the dynamics of the siblings in Majidi's movie.

While the movie print has aged, the spirit of the themes still ring through well. But I felt it's not exactly A material, but one that's still quite passable, which I thought ended on a good note of hope rather than with despair.

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