Another week goes by and the films come to me. I wish I had something romantic to share, since it was the week of Valentine’s Day, but, alas–no.
- Only Yesterday by Isao Takahata
- Porco Rosso by Hayao Miyazaki
- My Sassy Girl by Kwak Jae-yong
- Les Poupées Russes by Cédric Klapisch
Only Yesterday (1991)
Porco Rosso (1992)
I’ll be publishing my full thoughts on this tomorrow.
But I’ll take a minute here to talk about the two of them together.
I really can’t think of two films that are more different in the entire Ghibli catalogue. Porco Rosso is the most clearly comedic of any of the films and Only Yesterday is this quiet, meditative, almost Ozu film about how humans should behave and exist in the natural world. Porco Rosso takes place in the world between wars and is kind of about not very much. A man becomes a pilot in a war that disgusts him and becomes a pig where he’s sort of a Humphrey Bogart personality, full of misanthrope and a strange lust for life. Mostly he just wants to fly.
He chooses to be separate and different and finds a sort of comfort in being unlike the rest of humanity.
But Only Yesterday is kind of the opposite. It’s about a woman who struggles with what makes her different. She wants to exist in the world that everyone else does. She wants to be accepted and love, but she finds this difficult and rare. She’s separate, but not by her choosing. Rather, her Otherness is something she cannot seem to change. She can’t help but be difficult, different. She’s quiet and calm where Marco is boisterous and kind of a chivalrous louse.
These two films simply don’t go together. They share no resemblance, and I think this lies with Porco Rosso, which is kind of not a great film.
I mean, it’s a perfectly good animated feature, but it doesn’t live up to the rest of what Takahata and Miyazaki have done. Only Yesterday stands proudly as one of the finest animated films about the real world that I’ve encountered, but Porco Rosso is kind of like a grand epic magic realist comedy that falls short of what it should be. It’s a fun little film about not much. It’s insular.
But that makes it enjoyable. Enjoyable in a way that maybe none of the other Ghibli films are.
Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away are all enjoyable films, but we love them more than we enjoy them. It’s not a simple thing is what I mean. They’re complex and hold a lot of depth.
Porco Rosso is a much lighter film with super dark shades. Dark as fascism and WWII, but these shades only give us contrast and context. The film itself, and the story within, are quite simple and enjoyable.
It’s pretty strange, really.
But, yeah, more thoughts on Porco Rosso tomorrow!
Watched this with my fiancée on Valentine’s Day. Or, rather, she watched about forty minutes. It was pretty shocking to me, but she just didn’t get what was happening.
It’s something never thought about until I lived in South Korea. I would often ask my coworkers to recommend Korean films to me, and then I’d hunt them down online so I could watch them with subtitles. I remember most clearly when they recommended a comedy to me and I came back and told them that I loved it–oddly enough, I can’t think of what the name was or who was in it, but it was hilarious–and my coworker was pretty surprised.
She said, I didn’t think that would be funny for non-Koreans.
It struck me as very strange at the time, but only for a moment. Then, of course, it made sense: the film was kind of culturally specific and insular. It was about Korea and Koreans and had a very Korean sense of humor.
But I had seen hundreds of Korean films before even going to Korea. I watched some of their television shows too! So I suppose I was sort of into the cues or at least used to seeing them and was able to pick up on the cultural things. I mean, maybe these films and shows will never be as funny to me as a native Korean, but I enjoy them and that’s good enough for me.
At the time, I didn’t think about any of that. I thought it had to do with stories and comedy and humans.
The films were funny to me because they were funny. That simple. I was a human and the humans on the screen were doing amusing and clever and hilarious things and so I laughed with them and at them, as comedies often ask you to. I saw no separation between me and the humans on screen, despite thousands of miles and years of culture and language. It became a sort of grand experience to me, to know that art and laughter and humanity stretched well beyond these arbitrary borders, even past the delineation of culture and language [or, sort of–translation’s a different and bigger topic].
This is kind of what I thought, more or less, until we watched this.
The things I thought were funny weren’t usually the things said, and the things that were said were funnier because I had lived in Korea and experienced a lot of these behaviors and words first hand.
Not so much for my fiancée.
We’ve watched Korean films before but this was the first one that was a comedy, and I do think that makes a difference, because comedies are much more inside their culture, to put it a certain way. Tragedy and horror and drama–those transcend cultures, really. But comedy is often referential and playful with the culture it exists in and so if you don’t have those cues or tools to pick up on those cues, it can become really meaningless.
My fiancée has never been to Korea. She’s never been to Asia. For her, a lot of the comedy just didn’t make sense because she didn’t have any of those references built into her. A lot of things I took for granted in the story became questions for her. Like why they went to the hotel. Why he lived at home. Why the cops came. Why her behavior was both extraordinary and hilarious. All these things ran past her instead of washing over her and the film became mostly perplexing.
It reminds me of when she read Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, which is one of my favorite writers and a very fine novel by him.
She didn’t like it. She hated the protagonist, for example.
And that’s a very valid judgment, but I think it’s because of an unfamiliarity with Japan, because Kawabata was a very Japanese writer. His novels are insular and not as inviting as, say, Murakami or Mishima or even Abe. These are very Japanese concepts and behaviors he’s playing with and they’re very subtle human emotions he’s guiding you through. If you’re not used to the cues, you won’t even realise the landscape has features.
So we stopped watching and moved onto the next film I’m going to discuss.
But, me, I love this film. It’s funny in all the right ways. It’s thoughtful and beautiful too. So if you’re in the mood for a South Korean romantic comedy, I’d recommend this one, unless you’ve never seen I’m a Cyborg but That’s OK, which is just brilliant and odd.
Les Poupées Russes (2005)
Also known as The Russian Dolls. It’s the second in a trilogy of sorts, which begins with L’Auberge Espagnole and ends with Chinese Puzzle. Haven’t seen Chinese Puzzle yet, but I probably will this week.
Anyrate, this picks up about five years after L’Auberge Espagnole with our poor, dumb Xavier. Still looking for love, still failing almost always.
For a romantic comedy, it’s not very romantic, though it is very funny. Moments of the surreal mix in and really add to the comedy. Romain Duris is just fantastic. He’s great in everything he touches, but I especially like him as this bumbling idiot, Xavi. He’s charming and thoughtful but also reckless and absolutely stupid in the most heartless ways.
He really does remind me of so much. Maybe of who I was before I met my fiancée. I mean, I never saw myself that way at the time, but maybe I was. Less handsome, sure, and probably more sure of myself, but I had the same kind of heartless romanticism happening. I wanted this grand epic love and I wanted to fall in love and be in love but I was going about it all backwards. I was looking for something to have rather than something to share and create and build.
We had a good time watching this and my fiancée had no trouble with the comedy. She may have even gotten more out of it. She speaks passable French and lived there for a while, but most western comedy is kind of the same, so I didn’t have trouble following.
It’s interesting, though, these two films and translation. It shows that translation is more than just changing the words. You need to translate the culture or at least scaffold the viewer’s understanding. This is kind of impossible to do in a film, but it’s an interesting thing for me to consider.
How language is bigger than words. Culture is deeper than behavior and language.
But maybe that’s for someone smarter than me to discuss.
The Russian Dolls isn’t currently on Netflix, but the first and third part of the trilogy are. Check out L’Auberge Espagnole and, if you like it, come to this one. It’s very similar in feel but drastically different. Xavi’s now thirty and still trying to sort his life out.
It’s funny but not so romantic, despite his best efforts.
It’s also very French.