Sunday, August 31, 2008

[Japanese Film Festival] Embracing (Nitsutsumarete) / Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth (Kya Ka Ra Ba A)

Naomi Kawase was in attendance to introduce today’s screening to the audience, and this afternoon we go back in time before the loose “grandmother” trilogy to her earlier documentaries about her search for her identity. It’s been eleven years since she was last in Singapore to present her film at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Nonetheless it was great to be able to finally meet the director in person, especially when her earlier movies screened had very brief glimpses of her in front of the camera. In Summer Vacation with Naomi Kawase, we learn of her penchant for shooting images that capture the wind, such as flora swaying rhythmically to the gentle breeze, and the likes, that we see being featured in most of her films.

In Embracing, Naomi Kawase embarks on a quest to look for her birth parents, who had separated before she was born, and was brought up not by her mum, but by Uno Kawase, Naomi's grandmother. As a film, it was filled with countless of old photo stills that become road maps, where she visits those locations on those photographs, but the places now seem fairly quaint. However, what continued in the narrative was having Naomi flit from address to address in her attempts to locate her parents, and the film became somewhat experimental in nature, with the travelling from one place to another interspersed with related images from the past. While not very interesting stylistically, it did highlight the repetitive dread of her searching and constantly hitting upon dead ends and a cold trail.

While Embracing was somewhat OK for me, I couldn't quite fathom Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth. It had really long continuous takes, and contained certain elements from her works which I taught was last seen in Katatsumori or Ten, Mitake, with vaguely familiar scenes coming back all over again. This despite having its introduction go back to elements from Embracing.

For some parts, it felt like a recycling, or an overlap in the material covered, although the central theme to this movie is the dealing with the news on the death of her father, whom she did not know personally. It then became somewhat like a search for self and identity, right down to the final moments where she decided to get the same tattoos as her late father. And the lines between documentary and fiction really got blurred this time round, as even her receipt of the Camera d'Or award on stage in 1997 got featured here as well, being the first Japanese recipient, and the youngest ever award winner to receive it.

Somehow, these documentaries were extremely personal in nature, and for one, I couldn't get past those personal elements, and found it difficult to do so with my constant questioning of the whys. I guess not being privy to that kind of information on a deeper level, naturally made it become more of an interpretation of the images at face value, at least for me.

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