“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”― Ingmar Bergman
Being stuck in my room for two months now my days has begun to melt into puddle of beigy dullness. I have spent most of my days just trying to reach the next day’s daylight. Writing for work and leisure is extremely hard when your brain refuses to light the little sparks of joy you are trying to feed it. When everything else fails I go back to the thing that always picks me up, gives me a hug and makes me a warm chocolate drink: cinema.
As to how much I love films, its elements, and its production process warrants another essay. For now, I want to talk about the six beautiful films that I have watched last week. They are all Korean and Japanese films, so if you are not into foreign movies then maybe this is the time for you to open your hearts to them. As Director Bong Joon Ho said in his Oscar speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.
So, shall we begin?
The unexplainable comfort of sad romantic movies
Movie #1: Josée (2020)
Josée is a South Korean romantic drama film based on a Japanese short story Josee, the Tiger and the Fish written by Seiko Tanabe. The story begins with Yong Seok finding a woman sprawled by a side road, having fallen from her electric wheelchair which had a broken wheel. The woman introduces herself as Josée. An unlikely relationship blossoms between the two, as Yong Seok continues to visit Josée despite her protestations. He finds out Josée is a voracious reader, and has fabricated a whole made-up fantasy world of her own to escape the realities of her hopeless situation.
I am sucker for melancholic films. I do not know why but I find comfort in knowing that sometimes good things have to end. This film has succeeded in reminding me of that. The flow of the story is far from perfect and the ending felt rushed and some things are unresolved. However, the visual storytelling is impeccable. It made me miss Seoul even though I have never been there. The mood and the entirety of the film can be capsulized using one of its poetic lines:
“In the autumn the leaves are dying, silently and prettily dying.”
Watching a delightful musical as the world falls apart
Movie #2: Dance With Me (2019)
Musical meets road trip in this lighthearted comedy with an outstanding performance by Ayaka Miyoshi. Shizuka works at a big Tokyo trading company and harbors a secret crush on her dashing boss. One weekend she takes her niece to visit a carnival hypnotist to inspire her for an upcoming school musical. But it is Shizuka who falls under the spell and she is soon breaking uncontrollably into song and dance whenever she hears music. With an important meeting coming up, Shizuka is desperate to break the curse, so she embarks on a cross-country hunt for the shifty hypnotist, dancing the whole way.
I love musicals and I feel bad for people who hate them for being too “corny and unrealistic”. Don’t you want some music and joy in your life? As a perpetually sad person, I definitely do. I watched this film after reading a lot of heavy tragic news from my home country and other parts of the world. Watching this film is like eating a cotton candy when you’re in a carnival–it is soft, sweet and melts into your mouth perfectly. The musical numbers are vibrant and fun and the theme which is about letting go and following your heart never gets old. What I like about it the most is it made me smile, a lot, and that is already a win for me.
Another Ghibli film that consecutively broke and rebuilt me
Movie #3: When Marnie Was There (2014)
This studio Ghibli film is based on Joan G. Robinson’s same-named novel. It transposes the setting from Norfolk, England in the original novel to Hokkaido, Japan. The film follows Anna Sasaki, a young girl is sent to the country for health reasons. Anna comes across a nearby abandoned mansion, where she meets Marnie, a mysterious girl who asks her to promise to keep her secrets from everyone.
I have not seen any Ghibli film that I did not like and this is not exception. I am not going to deny that at first I thought this movie was queer coded but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. This movie is blessed with abundant narrative and visual beauty and it is magical as any other Ghibli film. It has captured the anguish that comes with being young and not understanding yourself and gives an ending that feels redemptive and hopeful. This film reminded me that in the end I will always find my way back to myself no matter how many times I get lost.
A better Jazz movie than Whiplash (according to Letterboxd)
Movie #4: Swing Girls (2004)
This film is directed by the same person who made ‘Dance With Me’ and that is how I found out about it. Swing Girls is tale of delinquent and lazy schoolgirls who accidentally fell in love with jazz. In their efforts to cut remedial summer math class, they end up poisoning and replacing the schools brass band.
This movie is chaotic, hilarious and comforting. I absolutely loved it. The premise and narrative are formulaic but you will love it more because of it. Everything is so delightfully predictable that you need not waste time trying to unravel it. Instead, you just sit back and enjoy the presentation.
P.S. You do not need to know about Jazz to enjoy this film. Just watch it and revel in its heart and hilarity!
Influencer meets shy poet and the charms of young love
Movie #5: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2020)
A meeting and romance starts between two people with communication issues. Cherry always wears headphones and puts the feelings he cannot utter into his hobby, Japanese haiku poems. Smile always wears a mask to conceal her large front teeth, for which she has dental braces. As a popular video star, she streams a video about seeking “cuteness.”
If you are a jaded adult like me watching anime films that centres on the innocence of young love is always a good antidote to the cynicism slowly enveloping your heart. With vibrant candy colours, fluffy music, and a cute couple, this movie will surely make you smile. Also, you will get a lot of good haikus which I really need because I am bad at writing good ones myself. Overall, this movie is cute.
A film that held me
Movie #6: House of Hummingbird (2018)
This film is a coming-of-age story about a lonely and awkward teenager struggling to figure out who they are and who they hope to become in a time of upheaval both in their personal life and in the outside world.
Based on that description alone, you might come up with a number of movies that fit this parameter. This one, however is one of the good ones. This movie for me is a character study that is captured through poetic cinematography. It also one of the few coming of age films that perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation of growing up. It is slow but not dragging, poignant but hopeful. There are so many wonderful things to write about this film and one of those is the remarkable performance of the main young lead. The last lines spoke to me, as if it’s holding my hand and stopping me from jumping off the bridge.
“What’s the right way to live? Some days I feel like I know, but I really don’t know for sure. I just know that when bad things happen, good things happen too. And that we always meet someone and share something with them. The world is fascinating and beautiful.”
Films, just like any other art form, will not save the world. However, it can save you from yourself while you figure out how to not fall apart with the world.