A salaryman and yakuza are each sent by their bosses to a remote Chinese village but discover more then they expected.A salaryman and yakuza are each sent by their bosses to a remote Chinese village but discover more then they expected.A salaryman and yakuza are each sent by their bosses to a remote Chinese village but discover more then they expected.
Tonight I watched "The Bird People In China" (made in 1998) which is, without question in my mind, the most mindblowing Miike film I've come across so far. "Bird People" is the type of masterpiece that most directors could never possibly hope to achieve, even after years of practice... But to give you an idea of this man's insane work ethic - he also made three other movies that year.
Typically genre-bending, "Bird People" begins as a quirky, gently comic adventure story and gradually morphs into a truly epic exploration of the very nature of human emotion, loaded with rare insight, a deep, true warmth and some utterly unforgettable imagery.
Our strange story begins with Mr Wada (Mashahiro Motoki), a Japanese businessman, being shipped off to China by his company in search of a priceless vein of Jade that can only be found in a small village amongst the unchartered depths of the Yun Nan province. Upon his arrival in the country, he is quickly accosted by Mr Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), a Yakuza who is owed money by Wada's corporation and intends to collect his debt by following Wada out to the village and usurping some of the Jade. They are to be guided by the perpetually jolly but somewhat seedy Mr Shen, an old Chinese explorer who has been to the Jade Village before.
It's not long until they're way off the map, stuck on a rickety raft that's pulled by turtles and smack-bang in the middle of a Mountain range. Shen, around this point, has a rather embarrassing incident with hallucinogenic toadstools, bumps his head on a tree and loses his memory of how to find the village. This is when things start getting a little strange, as the three mismatched men find themselves on an overwhelming adventure that will inevitably shape their entire lives and change them all forever.
To analyse the film's rabid lust-for-life philosophy and examine the complexities of the script would be a media student's dream come true. Rich in symbolism and wild directorial flair, Miike continually pushes the question of whether technological progress, modern day perceptions of civility and even spoken language itself are adversaries or allies to man's untamed nature and desire to be free.
Yadda-yadda-yadda - I know that, as a subject of discussion, it sounds like old hat (and I'm probably doing little more than making this come across like a glorified road movie) but Miike uses a combination of hugely unpredictable situations, poetic dialogue and some of the most unbelievable, bizarre and downright beautiful imagery I've ever seen. Loaded with breathtaking aerial shots of sumptuous green vistas, the film is shot with such magnificent grace as to make it unrecognisable as more being from the same eye responsible for unleashing the breakneck splatterpunk deathtrip of "Ichi The Killer" upon the world. The crowning jewel, however, is Miike's trademarked humour - self-deprecating, occasionally misanthropic and surreal, but ultimately just very funny indeed. There are many genuine laugh-out-loud moments in amongst the soul-searching and Deep Thoughts (tm), which make the film infinitely more accessible and, well... human.
Of course, I'm of the firm belief that a film is only as good as its ending and (with the possible exception of "The Wicker Man"), I don't think I've seen one that packs as much of a punch as this one. I have no desire to spoil any second of this movie for anyone, so I'll just say that the final few frames of "The Bird People Of China" are some of the most pleasantly surprising and magically filmed images I've EVER seen - it just left me slack-jawed, reeling with joy and wonder.
If you're not sold on how much you need to see this film already, I'm afraid there's no hope for you. This is as good as it's ever going to get. Seriously.
- Feb 23, 2004