A matter of life and death… and Japanese movies

There are a handful of films that give off a glow in my memory, like a candle flame. They’re not necessarily the Assassination of Jesse James etc. etc. or Magnolia type of films. They’re not by people such as Steven Soderbergh or Martin Scorsese. One of those films is Roderigo Garcia’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her (great acting in that one, but more than that, the film is amazingly gentle – not soft, mind you, not anodyne, but gentle), which I saw by sheer accident. Another one is Kore-Eda’s After-Life.

I’d been wanting to see the director’s Nobody Knows for a while now, but I only did so yesterday evening. After the very emotional final episode of Six Feet Under (it got to me just as much this time as it did when I first watched it) I wasn’t sure whether a film about four children who are abandoned by their mother and who try to continue their lives as best possible, ignored by the world around them, wouldn’t be too depressing.

The film is definitely not cheerful, and the ending is quite tough in terms of what happens, but there’s something as gentle and comforting about Kore-eda’s direction in Nobody Knows as there was in his deeply spiritual but never preachy After-Life. There are moments of simple joy in the lives of the children. There are just as many moments of joy in the filmmaking: scenes that are both realistic and subtly poetic.

Nobody Knows, by Kore-eda

It’s strange: in a way I feel the movie should get to me more, especially considering the ending – yet somehow I also think that I’d resist a tougher film more. Kore-eda’s work doesn’t do the emotional work for you. It doesn’t tell you what to think or feel. And it doesn’t allow for simple, clear-cut emotions. Yet you have to be willing to be taken along by the film’s flow. I don’t think I’ve seen many films that have this sort of pace; the film that popped into my mind when I tried to think of other movies that had a similar effect on me was Le fils by the Dardenne brothers.

Writing about the film now, I feel I’m only circling around the emotions that it touched upon. I don’t think I’m an inch closer to understanding the effect Nobody Knows had on me. But I think, somehow, that I may be remembering this film, much like After-Life, for a long time.

2 thoughts on “A matter of life and death… and Japanese movies

  1. Murphy February 22, 2008 / 10:29 am

    oh my god!!!!

    You are the only person that i’ve ever heard of who’s seen this film (apart from those peoplt that i’ve shown it to). I found a newspaper article at university about the film, then found it in an obscure art house cinema in london 3 years later. I now have it on DVD.

    It’s such a simple, eidetic film. I love the framing device, which lends these reminiscences extra resonance, with the knowledge that apart from the memory chosen, these too will disappear.

    A wonderful film.

  2. thirithch February 22, 2008 / 11:30 am

    We’re quite lucky with arthouse cinemas in Bern – a lot of the smaller films are shown, if only for a week or two. The idea of After-Life intrigued me so much (and still does… what memory would I choose? could I choose?) that I knew I had to see the film. I love how it takes such a workman-like approach to a deeply existential issue, yet it doesn’t lose one ounce of magic.

    Have you also seen Nobody Knows? While the story is very different, there’s something (can’t quite put my finger on it) that feels rather similar. Perhaps it’s the non-judgmental eye on the characters that finds beauty in small moments.

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