LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 03/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike anything else directed by Takashi Miike, The Bird People in China is a film that stays with the viewer long after ending. Though the ever-present yakuza does make an appearance here--in the form of a lone bill collector who follows the protagonist, Wada, to a remote village--that element (yakuza violence) is not at all the primary focus of the film.
Wada, a Japanese salaryman, is sent by his company (to whom the yakuza made a loan, and now they want their money back), a gem brokerage firm, to a totally isolated part of China in which jade is said to be the finest available. At the onset, Ujiie, the yakuza bill collector, shows Wada just how tough he can be. Through the arduous journey up to the remote village, Wada struggles to keep up and Ujiie curses, shouts, threatens, and mutters in his sleep.
Though Wada does find his jade, he (and Ujiie) find much more as well. The simplicity of the mountain people they encounter is, even to Ujiie--or more aptly, especially to Ujiie--something completely irresistible. So much so that when it's time to leave, the yakuza freaks out and...well, no spoilers here.
If you know beforehand that a few of the bits and pieces that make up the mystery of this village are an old Scottish song, an uprighted plane, and six huge ocean-going turtles, that still won't prepare you for the amazing emotional experience this is. The very last scene is truly breathtaking, and before that, one scene in particular, in which a young village girl sings in the middle of the night, is sublimely beautiful.
It's great that Miike is much more than a purveyor of grotesque, bizarre violence (e.g., Gozu, Izo, Ichi the Killer, Audition). The Bird People in China should be counted as one of the top ten Japanese films of the last ten years, hands down.
A bizarre and wonderful film -- a surprise for both fans of
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 07/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As others have mentioned, this is not your typical Miike film. Most notably, and in spite of the presence of a disgruntled Yakuza, there is very little violence and almost no blood. But then, none of his films are typical. Even his most straightforwardly genre-driven films include elements of reality in its remarkable strangeness, moments in which the camera records little things that appear inconsequential yet lend the whole an aura of authenticity. What makes this film in particular wonderful is both its leisurely pace and its unpredictability, it's attention to details that are not so much about plot as rhythm, atmosphere, mood and feeling. For example, that the characters are drawn through a river by harnessed turtles. That the mysterious young woman they meet in their destination sings an Irish song. The occasional stumble as they walk on gorgeous mountain passes. The film captures so well the ambiguous draw of wild nature, of the simple life that can at the same time feel beautiful and mysterious as well as boring, primitive and backwards. This is a film unlike any other I have seen, and yet it is never so strange as to alienate its audience. Miike hardly (maybe once or twice) ever calls attention to himself as a director but puts the focus on the characters, the landscape, the moon, the settings. The best cinematic comparison I can come up with is to imagine Aguirre, the Wrath of God filmed in live action by Hayao Miyazaki. It is a very fine film."
Another Masterpiece from the Indefatigable Miike
Steev Proteus | nowhere in particular | 03/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Takashi Miike is the living definition of the word "indefatigable". In a career that began in the early 1990s, he has directed a staggering number of films in a mind-boggling array of different genres, from horror to family films, even a musical (!); but Miike is probably best known for his Yakuza (Japanese gangster) films. The likes of FUDOH, ICHI, and DEAD OR ALIVE, with their over-the-top violence and surreal (often disgusting) setpieces, are Miike's chief claim to fame. In one respect that's a pity, because every once in a while, Miike will produce a wild card, and BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA is a film that fits into that latter category. The man character is a young Japanese executive named Mr. Wada (Masahiro Motoki), who is sent by his boss to a remote region in the wilds of China to survey a supposedly rich jade mine. He is joined on his trip by a Yakuza named Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), who plans on taking the jade as payment for some outstanding debts on the part of Wada's boss. After they are taken as far as the train will go, Wada and Ujiie are met by their guide, the absent-minded Mr. Shen (scene-stealer Mako), who takes them through the rugged, unsettled terrain of rural China, first on foot, and then on a raft pulled by several huge sea turtles. When the three men finally reach their destination, a village left untouched by the ravages of industrialization, Wada and Ujiie have a few epiphanies that will prove to make leaving rather difficult. It sounds like a simple story, and it is, but there's something about this film that makes it great, but that I find hard to articulate. No doubt the startlingly beautiful cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto has alot to do with the film's hypnotic quality. And then there's the genuinely touching story of two men who discover a whole other side to themselves that they were never previously aware existed. And finally, the film's deft blend of genres is seamless: it shifts gears from a screwball/buddy comedy to a jungle-bound adventure to an existential rumination on identity and civilization, finally ending on a dream-like note of perfect serenity. There is one scene of Yakuza violence that seems inserted to remind us that we're watching a Miike film, but it's fleeting and, compared to some of what can be found elsewhere in his films, it's utterly tame and inoffensive. There's also an ecological message packed into the mix. So, final verdict: for fans of Miike who wonder what else the man is capable of, I highly recommend BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA, surely the gentlest and most poignant of all the man's movies (at least that I've seen). For the truly open-minded afficionado, there is much to be enjoyed here."
T.I.C.: This is China
Glenn A. Buttkus | Sumner, WA USA | 03/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"T.I.C.: THIS IS CHINA
Cult director Takashi Miike has made a warm departure from his more traditional and visceral yakuza crime epics, and presented us with a journey into the wilds of China, and into the interior of the human heart. What begins as a pedestrian last minute assignment to for a young Japanese businessman (Masashiro Motoki as Wada), rapidly becomes a tempestuous tale worthy of a Joseph Conrad rendering. He is shadowed by a yakuza henchman (Renji Ishibashi as Ujiie), there to insure the financial success of the venture in order to recoup a corporate mob loan.
There is a remote Chinese village that sports a jade mine. These men are sent to investigate its validity and secure the jade's distribution. The trip to the village is long, arduous and humorous, loaded with the edgy comic violence and absurdity that Miike excels in. Their guide is Shen (Mako in one of his last performances). He wears his hair long, pulled back in a ponytail. It is fun to see him with hair, since most of his roles required him to wear his hair very short. Shen is a Japanese adventurer that had lived for a time in the village.
As the travelers transition from rickety VW van to a two-cylinder mountain taxi, to just hiking on foot, dragging their modern luggage up steep trails, we are treated with some of the most striking scenery and visual imagery ever recorded on film. Swollen spring rivers, terribly muddy roads filled with ruts, and oppressive downpours are all part of the adventure. At one point they must travel by raft on a mighty river. The bamboo raft is towed by five large turtles. The underwater imagery of those towing turtles sticks with you. There is a feel of Werner Herzog on the rivers, and in the mountains, of a wildness and untouched majesty.
At the village they are greeted like family with a sweet simplicity and joy. They happen on to a swarm of children one morning, all wearing paper wings and hopping along while singing. A young girl teaches the children mythical techniques of "flying". The crags and towering peaks beckon as the wind serenades them. Ujiie is fascinated by the children, and by the prospect of actually soaring in the thin air. Wada is fascinated by the young girl, talking of her grandfather who discovered ancient texts in the village outlining the tradition of flying; how to construct the wings, and how to exercise the body, and prepare their spirits. It seems the grandfather was Irish, and he "fell from the sky" one day, and spent the rest of his life in the village. The young girl sings phonetically an Irish ballad. Wada is obsessed with solving the mystery of her past and of the village.
The stunning mist-enshrouded wind-swept mountains bring to mind Frank Capra's FAR HORIZONS (1937) and Shangra-La. As weeks turn into months, this time in the village permanently change these men, gently putting them in touch with their spiritual core, their essence -and as viewers, we too are touched by the pristine natural rhythm of the place. We find ourselves yearning to go there to, or find a similar place to divest ourselves of the urban blight we wear habitually like mackinaws in summer. "
Atypical film from an atypical director
Victor Schwartzman | Winnipeg, Canada | 11/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I had seen several Miike films prior to spotting "The Bird People in China" in a video store. I had started out with "Imprint", a graphic, horrific tv drama he made for the Showtime Masters of Horror series. That film was so impressively shot, so determined to push the edges of what we consider entertainment..well, heck, I just had to see more. The next Miike film I saw was "Audition", which can best be described as Alfred Hitchock on steroids. It is a brilliant film about sexism, loneliness and self deception. Then I saw "Iichi The Killer", which was an extremely dark comedy (for the most part, and that film had a lot of parts, most of them cut off from bodies) that was more in your face than your own face. Then, just today in fact, I watched The Bird People. For those who would be concerned that the film goes medieval on your brain--well, yes it does, but not by using violence. This is not a horror film, not a gangster film. In the end it is a remarkable modern fable with a haunting end. To summarize the plot would spoil the surprises the film contains. It is fair to say that it begins with two mismatched men--an anal office worker and a yakuza thug--travelling together to check out a supposedly fabulous discovery of jade in a remote area in China. Actually, it is a voyage of self discovery. The film contains a lot of humour, but not as dark as Miike is usually interested in. There is actual straight-on slapstick, and a charming gentleness. Yes, towards the end things seem to be getting into more normal Miike territory, but just hang in there. If you watch it and think about it and let it sink in, this film will give you wings. When you see it, you will understand what I mean."