Film

Film

by

For those who think they’ve got Takashi Miike pegged as a slapdash, taboo-targeting pulp pope, consider this monstrously neglected 1998 beauty, an ersatz rethinking of Lost Horizon that is as carefully crafted as it is ruminative and melancholic. And the camera never careens through a bullet hole. Based upon a novel by Makoto Shiina, the film begins as a post-industrial, fish-out-of-water satire, as a young, earnest salaryman (Masashiro Motoki) embarks on a business trip into the Chinese highlands to investigate a newly discovered vein of jade. He’s quickly flanked by a seething yakuza bully (Renji Ishibashi) on an identical mission, and the two have their civilized sense of privilege systematically stripped away as the journey progresses deeper into the wilderness. Unsurprisingly, the film’s genre inclinations begin to twist, but toward a topical humanism thick with sympathy, as the men struggle between their capitalistic instincts and the mountains’ idyllic serenity. It’s a rich stew, salted furthermore with the discovery of a British blood lineage among the mountain people, and their propensity to wear bamboo wings—boldly symbolic of naive hope or of natural states modern man cannot reach, depending on Miike’s mood. Vitally for the story’s sake but also for the moments of sky-high visual lyricism, The Bird People in China is the most gorgeous film Miike has ever shot, and one of the most breathtakingly lovely on-location movies ever disseminated from East Asia.

Most Popular