A few years ago some friends and I had a real Takashi Miike phase. It started in 2000 when we saw Audition at the Seattle Film Fest and I was riveted by the gruesome, macabre, chilling, stylish attitude that the Japanese Miike put out in that film.
Many more Miike films followed over the next couple of years but I kind of grew tired of the overt violence of his films after I saw Ichi the Killer in 2003. How many times can you see depraved yakuza drown women in a pool of vomit and shit or some of the other crazed moments he’s filmed? Well, I saw The Bird People In China a few nights ago and was completely swept away by its magical story very unlike anything else I’ve seen from Miike.
Filmed in 1998, I knew I was going to like this right off the bat as a narrator talks about 10,000 sleeps with no dreams of flying like a bird. Then seconds later the same young guy is riding on a train while sticking his arm out of the window recording the sound of the wheel tracks. This is my kind of guy, talking about sleep and recording the sound of a train. A romantic, like myself.
The narrator is a young business guy sent to China to look into the possibility of a find of rare jade. He journeys into rural China—which is strikingly green, lush and very beautiful. Things take a drastic turn when a yakuza also interested in the jade shows up glaring and swearing at everyone.
The most surprising thing about The Bird People In China early on is the comedy. Miike always has had a warped, twisted level of comedy in some of his films (The Happiness of the Katakuris being the most upfront comedy wise) but the comedy is full of all kinds of bits of business that I was not suspecting at all. It was a welcome surprise to see in a Miike film for me.
The film changes again halfway in and it becomes a slow, ruminative, quiet film of contemplation—another surprise from Miike—with lots of magical elements tossed into the story. I was completely captivated and watching this made me wish he’d branch out more and do less crime films that he seems to prefer directing. Maybe the money is in him filming people killing each other?
The Bird People In China is a beautifully made little film from one of Japan’s more interesting directors. The film shows Miike has a heart to go along with all his savagery and anger he’s expressed over the years. I’m so happy to see that heart even if it's just a one time thing.