Along my journey of trying to understand Southeast Asia as a region and the construction of my identity as a Southeast Asian, I encountered a historian named Farish A. Noor whose writings have always been an anchor of my studies. Here are some excerpts from ‘Where Do We Begin? Reclaiming and Reviving Southeast Asia’s Shared Histories and Geographies’––one of his most insightful writings that I must share: Almost all of the schoolbooks that we use to tell the story of ourselves begin with the postcolonial nation-state as the primary actor, and the story of that actor is then backdated to the past. Such national histories, nationalistic as they are, are also populated by heroes and villains, who likewise assume the form of nations readily constituted and presentable as unitary, atomistic entities. And so schoolchildren in Viet Nam may learn of the incursions by China (though to what extent China was an entity that is singular as we understand it today may be disputed). Similarly, the conflicts between the polities and kingdoms of both mainland and maritime Southeast Asia are represented in solid, bold, dualistic terms, marshalling the names of modern present-day states like Burma vs. Thailand, Cambodia vs. Thailand, in an effort to frame neat and simple dichotomies. In all these cases, we assume that these entities were as solid, distinct, and particular in the past as they may seem to us today. Yet we forget that these instances of conflict, migration, settlement, and movement took place at a time when Southeast Asians did not see or know themselves as ‘Malaysians’, ‘Indonesians’, ‘Filipinos’, or even as ‘Southeast Asians’; and that they occurred at a time when the passport and the modern boundary were distant concepts that had yet to make their appearance in the world. I have to admit that the growth of Southeast Asian cinema is very much affected by politics and warfare if not employed as a tool for such means. In the past decades, the golden ages of Southeast Asian cinema were obstructed due socio-political reasons that subsequently affected the economic situations in the countries. Many Southeast Asian countries are still living in the recovery stage. I do not wish to channel everything into political and economic discourses but we must confront with what had happened in the past. During the process of curating this program, I was not seeking for the ‘best’ films but the works by filmmakers who contributed to Southeast Asian cinema in many different ways. Some of them are the driving force behind the vibrant filmmaking scene in the region and I think it is fundamental to present them in this program. I was also trying to figure out what shapes the fluid identity of this region and have failed to find an exact answer to it. This program consists of a diverse selection of short films that each represents a voice, style, theme, and signature from the region. In a bigger picture and in between the lines, you can feel if not see the similarities among these films that resonate not only with Southeast Asians but also global citizens. Lastly, I would like to thank SUBTITLE Magazine team for giving these films a place to voice out and to be understood. - Elise Chong
BEAUTY IS PAIN by Jasmine L. People assume “having it all” means there are measurable factors—a checklist of things to truly be successful and happy in life. And though a career, a salary, a family, a partner could all be considered factors the thing is that trying to maximize your life like this Would make measuring these things...of no value. Having it all whether that be spending life with friends or traveling the world is having it all without the label. It’s immersing yourself in your own being rather than comparing yourself to the preset standard the world made to make others feel insecure at what they don’t have and blind to the blessings they do have. Having it all is about taking charge of your life through divorces, exclusion, loneliness, illness, pain, miscarriages, heartbreaks. In this sense we would not only have it all, but we would glow in the presence of it all.
Facing Home I I return to an unholy ground where pirate crowns beneath apricot leaves sun-shine. A romance of fireworks and lightning jarred drip that crackling soda-corn she longed on sticky nights. She butters a jelly roll cake with matcha as I knead the present into ghost-crumbs. Before sharpened pencils and timed lunches, starving to be the one and only Martyr-Saint Skinny Ass Fry Moocher Before petty mall theft and yearbook promises, before our memories re-knit: cotton strips threading blister juice Here lies a braid of hair too fat, a pile of snapped rubber. Here we lay palm-to-palm, embalmed.
TJ COLLANTO interviews MERVINE AQUINO for BAGUIO ADDRESS NO. 10 TJ Collanto is a Chicagoland based filmmaker currently living in the Philippines. Baguio Address No. 10 is an experimental film revolving primarily around the filmmaker’s family’s experiences of constantly having to move from one house to another. -This interview contains abridged selections from a two hour long conversation in Quezon City, Oct. 2, 2019. Check our website for full interview!
We also moved houses while I was making the film. Me and my friend went to Baguio for four days, shooting around and going back to some of our old houses. During that time, my mom said, we were asked by the landlord to move out soon, because they were going to renovate the whole building. They were going to put a commercial building in front of the old house.
TJ: So you had no idea at that point ?
We had to find something that was already rentable. We moved to the house almost across the street. What you saw in the film where we’re really moving houses, that’s recent. It was just a month before I finished the film. I was supposed to graduate in 2017 and I was supposed to finish my thesis then. The first semester I was supposed to finish it, my grandfather died. And then in the second semester almost towards the end, another relative died. And since I extended years, I had a hard time renewing my dormitory [at UP Diliman]. So what happened was, I moved places for the first time. For me it was like, ok I’m not paying for this. I really went out and worked for production designers. That’s how the film got moved again, until last year when it finally got completed. And then it was right in time that we were moving houses. That was life for me recently and how it lead to the film.
MERVINE: Yeah, that was a project for an anthropology class. I’m from Baguio. While I was here in college, my family had already moved three times. It was really displacing for me.
TJ: It really feels as if the film itself is looking for its own identity and its own place and it looked like while you were making it, you were also searching for where you were at.
TJ: What was the process like making Baguio Address No. 10? MERVINE: It was very vague actually when I first pitched it. What I was thinking was, tsaka (let’s go), let’s build a set, like a white room or something and try to fill it up. But at the time, I didn’t want to spend too much money for a short film, so what did I have? Well I had this experience. I remembered a few years back, like 2016 or 2015, I recorded this voice clip of my mother. This was years before the film came to be.
MERVINE: What happened was there was a time I was reorganizing my process and the whole film from that first very expensive version. I said, what material do I have? I still remember, we still had Hi-8 tapes so what I asked my mother was, “Ma, puwede mo bang hanapin itong mga Hi-8 tapes para gagamitin ko sa thesis” (Mom, can you look for the Hi-8 tapes to use for my thesis). And then she said “Yes, I’ll find it, but it’s somewhere within these boxes”. Because we never unpacked. Before we moved to our house now, we never unpacked everything because the space was so small. I was going to gather all of these [tapes], digitize them and put them together. But my mom couldn’t find the tapes because we kept moving, except a single cassette, that was misplaced with audio cassettes. That was the only one recovered. TJ: Do you think your film is nostalgic? Mervine: I think it can be both. Because you try to evoke the memories, you try to emulate them. But only to a point where you just have to snap out of it and make new memories. It really is supposed to be nostalgic, or memory making. But I wanted to also snap out of it just so that I could dream forward. For me, it’s this promise to my family, to my mother. It’s a video document that shows after a few years, let’s see how far we’ve come. Nobody did that for our family, but since I studied this, maybe I can serve it this way. It’s kind of a document of a promise... of a future house or that this future is still together...Sometimes, we try to translate our personal experiences too far from us, but this is what I have: I’m me and this is my mother and this is supposed to serve the purpose that she is supposed to see it. Because regardless of everything, she has to see this, she has to hold on to this. TJ: So it seems like it’s very important that your family is a big part of your
filmmaking process. MERVINE: It’s real but it’s also stereotypical that a Filipino is very family-centric. But it runs in the culture. While of course there are films that depict family, it’s still not the whole process. The whole process of making something. When you look at the history of Philippine cinema, the first studios, or the first film groups, they’re families, even until now. The Del Rosarios and everyone. These big production houses, they’re still a family. Even before the film troupes or zarzuela troupes, when they were transitioning into films, they were still family. Sampaguita Pictures was also started by a family. Of course, they were more business minded. But they still involved everyone in their families. So even though you are a small process, why not? Sometimes it’s a danger for me as a filmmaker, or in general in the industry, if you’re so separated from the realities, at least from your own family. But my family was really a part of it. I was happy with the involvement of everyone. … It’s really humbling because when you go out of your circles, nobody is a filmmaker you know. It’s a famous thing, like showbiz, but apart from that nobody understands. Some people don’t really share it with their families. I wanted to do that. Plus, we don’t really have that much money as small filmmakers, but we have this abundance of… TJ: Kapwa! MERVINE: Kapwa, yeah! It’s important because these make you think of the stories that people value. If you are really a family person then your process will also reflect family. So, I guess until that film, I was really just trying to tie it together and I really wanted to come home. I’ve been here [in Manila] since 2013, only going home for holidays and weekends. So in a way, I just wanted to make an excuse to go home.
mond Island, it was very interesting for me to play with all those ideas. And one of my characters doesn’t think of the future in 20 years because he has an intuition that the future of Cambodia in 20 years will not provide him anything drastically different, so he needs to project himself further ahead, 99 years. JOHNNY YOEUN interviews DAVY CHOU for CAMBODIA 2099 Johnny Yoeun, local Chicago activist, has been organizing within communities of color for 15 years and specifically within the Khmer community for 6 years. Cambodia 2099 is about two friends who hang out daily at a place named Diamond Island, in Cambodia. They hang out there every day and they tell each other their dreams. One has a dream of going to the future and the other one has a nightmare dealing with past events of Cambodia. -Check our website for full interview!
an unfinished future because there’s construction everywhere with advertisement for that future. So I was wondering, what does this place provide to people for them to be attracted so much every day going there. I guess that this idea of the future of Cambodia, even though it was a very capitalistic Chinese modern future, was still something that was kind of a dream for them, a projection into something else that was not them.
JOHNNY YOEUN: You talk about these two guys that had dreams and then it directs them into a certain path. How did you come up with this concept?
JOHNNY: Listeners are given a glimpse of the current political climate through a radio reporting and there’s questions surrounding the irregularity of events that occurred during the 2013 electoral campaign. Sotha and his dream are used to envision what 2099 would look like in Cambodia. How have you seen people inside and outside of Cambodia drive this conversation of what they envision Cambodia to look like in 2099?
DAVY CHOU: It’s hard for me to originate all the ideas of the film because I shot everything I could feel, see, or hear at the time. When I hung out at [Diamond Island], I used to see two guys talking to each other facing the river. In the river, there’s nothing much, nothing extremely beautiful, but I can see they will keep on talking as if the view was giving them some purpose or meaning. So there was this curiosity and some kind of small mystery that brought me to imagine the story of the two guys. I actually had to push to see where people were after 5/6:00 PM, after their school or work. It’s really a window of the future, but it’s
DAVY: I was shooting in August 2013, and one month before was the election. It seemed very quiet and there was wariness coming from the past events of elections in Cambodia that haven’t always been very quiet; on the contrary, they have been very tense moments. It was also a feeling of uncertainty, which I think I wanted to touch in the film because all these people talk about their dreams, their future, their desires, but everything is kind of glued into some kind of uncertainty, which is basically what the future is, right? But in that country, in that specific time of the election, in that specific place of unfinished Dia-
JOHNNY: Throughout the film, there’s this westernized idea that seems to represent a journey to the promised land. This idea is depicted by what natural beauty looks like according to Western standards, where the makeup tutorial was used to model after Angelina Jolie. And then Kovich was deciding to move to the United States to be with his mother. What is the general perspective of Western ideas today in Cambodia? DAVY: Because of the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge, many families have been split and it’s pretty common that families have some kind of relatives who moved to France before or after the Khmer Rouge Regime or moved to America. Many people have this feeling of, “I will dream to live in America.” Sometimes it’s an illusion, there’s no chance that they will go there, but they’re still hoping for that. It was basically inspired by a cousin of mine who I met in Battambang back in 2009. He has been waiting for three years for his passport and visa paper because his mom remarried someone in America, and his only dream was to move to America and the only thing he would do is learn one-hour a day English at the church. I also just met the actress on Facebook and then I had dinner with her, and I didn’t know her. So to write her character, I was just blindly asking, “So what do you do in life, what do you like?” And she said, “I like makeup tutorials.” So it was playful and the mixing of different stories, the story of the actress and the story of my cousin. America is still very powerful, but you can also see a lot of dreams of
people going to Korea because of the strength of K-pop and their pop culture. But more realistically, there is a lot of influence from the Chinese now, not that people really dream to go to China, but young people try to learn Chinese because the Chinese are investing a lot in Cambodia businesses. So you know now if you learn Chinese, it’ll help you make a living. JOHNNY: In the film, there’s a presence of wartime trauma that lingers and its effects have a lasting impact on everyone that’s still living in the country. Kovich was recounting his dream to Sotha that was invoked by the 1997 clashes. I think for a lot of us, even though the genocide was 40 years ago, that energy still lingers, right? It’s a very dark energy. So how does that affect people’s dreams, motivations or resilience? DAVY: I would say first the nightmare or even the link with the 1970s events was fully inspired by a dream that my girlfriend had. And again this was right before the election so I think for sure there was a link. For me, it was interesting material because we were making a film about the future at the time of the election, which is basically about deciding for your future. Cambodia is a country in which you always feel a very contradictory tension about the ghost of the past and the way that people, especially young people, try not to deal with it or try not to think of it. Because, of course, as young people, they don’t want to be haunted or stuck by the past and they just want to project the future. But there is this context that you cannot forget. There is this context that is here even though its invisibility is very present. It was interesting for me to play with the ghost of the past, not only the usual presence of the ghosts of the Khmer Rouge, but to show a more complex reality that so many things from the past has an influence on today.
CTQ: I want them to watch it with an open heart in a way because it’s hard to judge it as a film. It’s kind of like a documentary as well because the story is kind of real. I kind of want the audience to watch it as they’re watching a home video like you’re watching something very personal in my family’s collection in the way. GY: Okay. Yeah, that’s a good perspective to have. Another way of phrasing the question, is there something you hope that people will take away from the film? Or do you hope that people will come in with no anticipation and just receive it? Is there a type of response that you want? GRACE YU interviews CHAN TEIK QUAN for WEEPING BIRDS Grace Yu is the current Copy Editor/ Staff Writer at Northeastern Illinois University Independent. Weeping Birds tells the story of an old couple who take old age and death as a joke. -Check our website for full interview! GRACE YU: So I have a few questions for you about your film. So first, what was your process or journey to making the short film Weeping Birds? CHAN TEIK QUAN: It’s not really a challenge for me, because when I was making this film, it was actually inspired by a conversation my aunt and my uncle had and also my parents, they were talking about what’s going to happen after this. So they were talking about preparing for each other’s funeral, because we as Chinese people, we don’t want to burden our children in a way—you have this mentality. So they were talking about paying for their own funeral and preparing for all that prior to their death.
I found it very interesting because the way they talked about it was very chill. It’s kind of a scary topic, but my family, they took it as something part of life. So that really inspired me to write a story. So It wasn’t really a challenge. And also, I always had my uncle, my aunt, my parents with me to really understand the whole topic about passing away. And also initially, the characters weren’t supposed to be like that. I remember my mom telling me, it’s going to be a challenge for my parents—because I wanted to cast them. They told me it’s going to be a challenge because they’re not professional actors so it’s hard for them to act. So what happened was, I changed the characters to fit into their personality and attitude. Certainly, they don’t really have to act, they just have to be themselves in the film. So what you see in the film, it’s just my parents being themselves. GY: Okay, so you cast your actual parents in your film? What would you tell your audience? Is there anything like you would want them to know beforehand? Or is there anything you would want them to know after seeing the film?
CTQ: The core message of the film is to appreciate time and also the people around us. It’s not just people, actually. Everything around us is impermanent, things will always change. So I want people to realize that. That is most important, to realize that things will change. GY: Can you tell me a little bit about pre-production, production, and the actual making of the short film? CTQ: This is actually my Final Year project. So when I decided to cast my parents, my lecturer was like, “No, this is your final project, you need to take it seriously. You’re supposed to cast actual actors.” He was concerned about my parents not being able to do it. And we tried, we tried to look for actors. And none of them actually fit the role. So I’m just going to cast my parents, I don’t want anyone else to play these roles. I remember when I pitched this story to the people in my university, I told them that this film is going to be something that I have when my parents are gone. My mom actually past away late last year, so it’s actually very fortunate for me to have made this film. So that now when I look at it, I still have a piece of
my mom. It’s something that can still remind me of my mom’s existence in a way. GY: So it’s a very personal project and you want to make things in a very specific way because it’s so personal and significant to you. When did you wrap on the film, and how long was the was your shoot? CTQ: The shoot was only five to six days, but the whole process—starting from the pre-production to the post-production—took us eight months. And the production part, I feel like that is the best thing that had happened to me because we had so much fun. Because everyone on set, they’re all my good friends and my parents are on set. So they met my friends and then my friends met my parents. We were just having so much fun. We stayed in a homestay. We were all just chilling and we went and shoot. GY: Sounds like a really fun and special thing to work on with people who are really close to you and having everyone around you in on this thing that you’re trying to make. I want to ask if you have any other thoughts you want to share? CTQ: I just have something to say to young filmmakers and artists; it’s kind of a special thing that we can create. I feel like we should take this talent to immortalize people. There are portraits being painted back then, and then there are really iconic pictures being taken. And all the subjects are actually immortalized. I feel like it’s actually quite important that we use this ability to immortalize people who we love. Yeah, because this film is a way for me to immortalize my parents because it’s going to be there forever even though my parents are not.
that was really what started the idea. Having this Penanggalan, who absolutely finally embraced her body, what she had to go through to get there. And so now she helps other women to kind of get to where she is. EMILY: What is it about horror that attracts you to that genre? EMILY LIU interviews AMANDA NELL EU for VINEGAR BATHS Emily Liu is an audio producer at CNN. She’s from Singapore. Vinegar Baths is about a woman who does what she wants. She’s hungry, and she eats like her life depends on it. She rocks to trashy pasar malam techno music. She admires her body – which bears the scars of motherhood – in the mirror, really feeling it. Check our website for full interview! -EMILY LIU: I really liked vinegar bath. I think what struck me was that Chin’s really feeling herself and having so much fun being horrible. I think it’s so rare that we allow women that space. Could you talk a little bit about the original story? AMANDA NELL EU: I grew up in the UK and when we moved back to Malaysia, I looked at these folk stories that I grew up with when I was a kid. And they were stories that I was really terrified of. It was very strange, because when I returned back to it as a grown woman, I realized that I was one of those. Growing up in the UK, because I spent my teenage years there, I was pretty much British to Asian people. And then in England, I was very much Asian. I was like - what the hell am I? And so when I moved back to Malaysia, it was so weird, like no one believes that I was from there. They all called me banana and all that bullshit. There were language barriers, and
there were even personality barriers. And then I started to relate to these monsters. These female women. I dissected all these stories and realized that these are the women that I feel close to, these are really strong women who just don’t give a fuck. But honestly I was just like, no, these women are so badass. So I want to tell their stories. And retell it in a way that I feel really closely about. There’s one that’s actually a quite terrifying creature. In the daytime she’s a normal woman, and then at night, she flies out of the body and she’s like a disembodied head. She leaves the body behind and flies out, and she hunts for food at night. And she eats baby fetuses or pregnant woman’s belly, or blood from pregnant women raising children or babies. There’s loads of different stories about how you become one. Every culture has their own thing about it. When I thought about it, it was a very clear image of a woman who was separated from her body. And then it brought me back to the care of yourself, and the fear of your own physical body. And I think women go through that a lot. Whether it’s hating your physical self. Or the extreme sense of not having the rights to your own body, and policies that don’t give you those rights in a lot of societies and a lot of cultures. It was a clear image from a woman who wanted to separate herself from it. We wanted to explore this idea of the love of your own body, and also the hatred of it. So I deal with themes of abortion or pregnancy in Vinegar Baths. And so
AMANDA: When I was a teenager I just loved being terrified. I love the adrenaline of it. I love not sleeping for days, and having the lights on. I don’t know why it’s like this weird thing that I like. But I also love the imagination of horror. This idea of how horror can be used to tell a lot of important things about what’s happening. Because what’s happening in real life is so fucking scary. It is terrifying. The horror genre could mask it in a way where it’s almost like this very hilarious joke. That’s how I approach it. This is how fucking awful it is that women do not have the right to their own fucking bodies. So in my really dark sense of humor. Make it so violent, that it’s almost insane. And I think that’s what I like. What horror is like. They are metaphors of what really happens in the world. At least the horror that I like is. EMILY: What was it like moving back to Malaysia? Why did you move back? AMANDA: I kind of didn’t feel like I belonged too much. In the UK I have so much love for the people, I have so many family and friends that are family there. But I didn’t know what to do in terms of my film, like what I wanted to say. And so I was a bit lost. And then I was like, oh I will go back to Asia and check it out. But I didn’t want to go back to Malaysia, because I’m so scared of it, like returning and being such an outsider. When I went back, I was supposed to go back for a few months. But then I met the people that I met. You know, the creative people, like musicians, writers and artists. And I was like, holy crap, you guys are doing something really important
that I was not aware about. You know, I was so distant from it in London. I knew about it, but I didn’t know that there were people actively fighting for things they wanted to say. I think it’s really important to stay and tell stories from growing up. EMILY: What is it about eating that is so central to Chin’s way of being herself? AMANDA: I’m kind of obsessed with eating. But I don’t feel like eating is such a strange thing. Like again there’s so many layers to it. Of course, as women, there’s comments about what you eat dadada. But then there’s so much comfort in it, and so much hatred in it, but then at the end of the day, it is sustenance. And in this genre format as well. The monster always has to eat. You never see a genre film, where the monster’s like “nah I’m full, it’s fine”. You know what I mean. So there is this thing that’s very exciting, when you have a character that is a monster that is hungry. Monsters are always hungry for whatever it is, it is a constant thing. So of course, I start introducing her not as a monster, but she’s always the king and she finds so much joy. And that is just me being part of the genre. EMILY: I noticed that she doesn’t have an origin story. She does it and really enjoys it. I was wondering if there’s a story behind that that you intentionally left out, or you just wanted her to be that way. AMANDA: In terms of the origin story, it is something that’s never bothered me. You know, I just really wanted to talk about the steam of body and the fear of it. And the abuse and violence of the body. And that’s really my intention of it. There’s no sense of an origin story. There’s no sense of why. It doesn’t matter to me because I’m telling you my own emotions in 15 minutes.
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REFLEXION | TUONG PHAN
by Nam Thi
LE BAL DU SUICIDÉ | CUỘC KHIÊU VŨ CỦA KẺ TỰ SÁT by Nam Thi Quand tu me dis que tu es tombé amoureux de lui je me sens heureux pour toi mais c’est un bonheur mortel la ville se couvre de blanche je pleure un cours d’eau pendant le soir déçu mes larmes sont noires comme ton cours de cheveux je ne peux pas ouvrir les yeux parce que mon cœur est perdu mon âme fait partir du néant je suis vide comme si une grande espace splendide le soleil est rouge comme tes lèvres et le soleil brûle mon visage ne me quitte pas, s’il tu plaît pourrais-tu rester juste une minute? danser avec moi au dessous éclipse de soleil danser avec moi au dessous éclipse de lune la dernière fois avant revient la lumière j’oublierai tout jusqu’à ton nom jusqu’à ta silhouette jusqu’à notre vie
THE FALLIBILITY OF LOVE By Choo Suet Fun on After the Storm (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2016) The family as a social institution and the fundamental unit of society plays a significant role in shaping us as individuals, as well as influencing our values and beliefs. But as acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm demonstrates, familial bonds are constantly subject to the test of everyday pressures and the tensions that arise from the disparity between expectation and reality in the giving and taking of love. Japan’s changing family structure from the extended to the nuclear, diminishing familial support, and increasingly hectic lifestyles – particularly those of working adults – have gradually distanced family members from each other.
After the Storm makes for an endearingly wistful addition to Kore-eda’s repertoire, of which the intricacies and complications of familial relationships remain a recurring theme, bringing into focus portraits of family life that we tend to take for granted. It is a poignant, nuanced exploration of the limits and complexities of love, as well as the forces that either hold a family together or pull them apart. Veteran actress Kirin Kiki imbues her maternal character Yoshiko with subtle wit and resilience, most notable for the contemplative line: “I’ve never loved anyone deeper than the sea.” Society has long established the expectation of a mother’s love as selfless or even transcendent, but could love, even that of kinship, ever be truly unconditional? How does one measure the depth and breadth of love when its affective, intangible nature resists quantification? Is it possible for love to be reciprocated in equal measure? Love is perennially in demand, yet invariably limited in supply. It is also susceptible to wear and tear by the passage of time and life’s trials and tribulations. The film examines the value of the family institution and the manifestations of love within it as the structure of a family changes or disintegrates. The protagonist Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) struggles to come to terms with the decline of his erstwhile reputation as a fledgling, award-winning writer. He languishes in a complacent existence, barely making ends meet with his side job as a private detective, while his precarious relationship with his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) is further strained when he constantly fails to settle child support payments on time. Ryota’s lackadaisical attitude – compounded by his gambling habits – intensifies Kyoko’s reluctance to allow him regular visits to their son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). Extending from his occupational sleuthing pursuits, Ryota develops a preoccupation with trailing Kyoko’s whereabouts, and is disappointed to discover that she has moved on with a new partner. Anxious of being potentially estranged from Shingo, Ryota attempts to hold on to their father-son relationship, albeit with limited success in conveying his affection for Shingo. Incidentally, a rainstorm disrupts Kyoko and Shingo’s plans of returning home after a customary visit to Ryota. Sensing an opportunity, Ryota manages to convince mother and son to stay the night at his residence. Time spent together during the late-night rainstorm offers possibilities for reconciliation and perhaps
making amends, but instead, clearer than ever, Ryota is confronted with the grievances that drove them apart in the first place. The dull, continuous lashing of the rain outside seems to fade into the background, amplifying the awkwardness and resentment between Ryota and Kyoko. Ryota is eventually made to realise that attempting to atone for the past is an exercise in futility, and that his character flaws are partly responsible for the irreparable rift between Kyoko and himself. As disillusionment sets in, Ryota is faced with the impossibility of recovering the past – sometimes letting go might be a better way out. He decides to make the most of the present, and takes the opportunity to bond with his son by sneaking out to his childhood hideout in the playground to spend the rainy night together. Ryota exudes an air of detachment and projects a hesitant ambivalence in his affection for his family, despite his best efforts in mending frayed ties. The characters impart an effortlessly relatable quality – the affable yet sometimes quirky grandmother, the reserved yet loving father, the protective yet vulnerable mother, the inquisitive yet reticent son – each navigating life’s contradictions harboring equally contradicting inner dilemmas. An understated “character” in the film is the danchi, the public housing complex in which Ryota and Yoshiko reside. The modest concrete structure stands silently in the background: a reassuring, abiding presence amid the unsettling shifts in the relationship dynamics between the members of Ryota’s family. It is also emblematic of director Kore-eda’s fond memories of growing up in a danchi complex; he revealed in an interview that the danchi he chose to be featured in the film is located in Asahigaoka, Kiyose City in west Tokyo, where he moved to during his elementary school years. Built in the 50s to the 70s, danchi complexes housed an expanding Japanese population in the post-war modernising years. Once perceived as the ideal abode for their ostensibly progressive, modern architecture and well-organised configuration, danchi complexes are currently facing an inevitable decline as contemporary Japanese society turns away from boxed-up units in favour of newer types of housing. As a growing number of danchi estates are being earmarked for redevelopment or demolition, the prominence of the danchi in the film offers glimpses of an imminently fading landscape of contemporary Japan. Besides appearing in the film’s backdrop as a nod to the familiar residential fixture now well past its prime, the predicament of the danchi somehow parallels the characters’ attitude to life: the family appears content in their mediocrity, settling for the mellow, comfortable reliability of their mundane lives. As the storm subsides towards the end of the film, the grey skies clear, but a dreary, cold atmosphere lingers – and life goes on.
GIRL IN THE MIRROR: PURSUER OF MY DREAMS by Danielle Kaye Catalonia I woke up with a jolt; Fingers felt numb, Back sore from sleeping in one position, The clock read 3 AM, The devil’s hour, other’s had dubbed it. Sitting upright, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Wasn’t it just a moment ago That the sandman had done his trick? Groggy with sleep deprivation, The mirror caught my attention. In it, my body faced the mirror directly, Chest rising and falling in even breaths, Eyes closed and lashes kissing my cheeks, Mouth slightly open, Even a slight drool on my face; In it, I was still trapped in my slumber. Heart racing and in hesitant steps, I moved closer and peered at the room in the mirror Everything was the same as mine. Papers seemingly covering the entire floor, Clothes piled neatly on the chair next to the bed, Laptop on the edge of the bed- close to falling- screen bright and glowing, Pictures of friends taped on one end of the wall, More papers that I needed to memorized taped on the other. There wasn’t much difference, I thought. But it was then that the mural caught my attention. While mine lay unfinished, completely forgotten, Hers was painted bright and alive with vibrant colours. The papers taped on the other wall weren’t notes needed to be memorized, They were drafts of drawings to put on canvas. The papers on my floor were of exams I have failed, Hers were of bills left unpaid, And failed sketches that she couldn’t to life. I realized who she was in that The life that I could’ve chosen but didn’t,
The what if that constantly haunted me even when my eyes were open. And in the mirror, I watched as she moved, Her eyes fluttered and she was suddenly staring back at me too. She rose, slowly, almost eerily so, And began to take hesitant steps like mine had been moments ago, We stood face to face, both a splitting image of each other She raced her hand to the mirror as did I, I saw the tears before they fell, And her lips mouthed the words that clenched my heart, “I’m not happy,” she mouthed, her eyes flickering to the room behind me. The woman in the mirror: pursuer of my dreams; The woman she was facing: pursuer of her what if.
I woke up with a jolt; fingers numbed, back sore And on my mirror, my own handwriting In reverse. “I’m not happy.”
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