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Guizi lai le / Devils on the Doorstep

Guizi lai le / Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Devil? That looks like a very sissy stance to me

Director: Jiang Wen
Writers: Jiang Wen
Date: 2000

Genre: War / Drama
Description: War is tragedy, Japanese occupation in China, prisoners of war, ravages of war, satire, black comedy, inhumanity, doing what other people tell you

Cast: Jiang Wen, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ding Yuan, Jiang Hongbo, etc.

Crew of note: Gu Changwei, who also worked on Farewell My Concubine and Red Sorghum, is the cinematographer

Runtime: 162 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: Jiang Wen was banned from filmmaking for 7 years by the Chinese Government because this movie wasn’t patriotic enough

Dasan is asked by a mysterious man to keep two prisoners of war, a translator and a Japanese solder, played by Jiang Yihong and Kagawa Teruyuki respectively, in their town until he returns for them. The poor town, under the supervision of a Japanese base close by, is thrown into confusion regarding what to do with the prisoners: should they keep them in secret, or should they tell the Japanese?

It is not difficult to find a review for this film, especially since it kicked ass at Cannes. In fact, it’ll probably serve you better to look for a professional review instead of reading my uninspired attempts at convincing you to watch this. Actually, I’d known about this film for a while before I finally decided to watch it. The phrases “anti-war”, “harrowing depiction”, and “black and white” just didn’t seem to pique my interest. I was expecting bullets, dying comrades, and tons of depression.

To my surprise, the movie turned out to be very light, warm, and amusing most of the time, despite its premise. It is difficult to think of Dasan as anything but a comedic character as you watch, and the phrases mentioned above will rarely appear appropriate. But this truly is a movie that condemns war, that shows how people behave during war. The nationalities aren’t important. The setting (which could be anywhere as the town is isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world) is not important. You simply have to see what happens.

The filmmaking and acting is topnotch. The pictures are pretty. Personally, I don’t remember the music, but that doesn’t take anything away. And I should stop here, with an intentionally vague couple of paragraphs. You should watch this film without reading any spoilers, and know as little about it as possible. It will make for a better experience.

Okay, I concede that the movie is definitely anti-Japanese, maybe excessively so despite how it tries to accurately depict the war. However, can it really be said that this film is pro-Chinese? In fact, pro anything? Unlike many war films (I won’t point in any direction), there is no hero here, and it is simply about the tragedy that is war. This is an anti-war film.

things to take note of
How hilarious Dasan is
The message, I guess
The villagers’ interactions

best moment
Whenever they’re trying to keep everything a secret, specifically the part with a chicken

why you should watch this
It will make you laugh, even when you shouldn’t
Jiang Wen
This is a great anti-war film

rating: 9.35

Plot: B+
Cast: A
Cinematography: B+
Music: C
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Other anti-war movies?
Biruma no tategoto / The Burmese Harp by Ichikawa Kon
Nobi / Fires on the Plain by Ichikawa Kon
Okay, those aren’t really similar to Guizi lai le except that they’re also two of the best anti-war films ever

Yurika / Eureka

Yurika / Eureka (2000)

Possibly: Ray-ban models after their limo breaks down

Director: Aoyama Shinji
Writers: Aoyama Shinji
Date: 2000

Genre: Drama
Description: Moving on, life after a tragedy, busjacking, murder, whodunnit, road movie, quiet characters, learning to live, rediscovering life

Cast: Yakusho Koji, Miyazaki Aoi, Miyazaki Masaru, Saito Yoichiro, Mitsuishi Ken, Ono Machiko, etc.

Crew of note: Jim O’Rourke and Aoyama, along with Yamada Isao and Albert Ayler, scored the movie

Runtime: 217 mins. (yes, 3 hours and 40 minutes)
Color: Sepia-toned BW. Or does that count as color?
Trivia: Helpless (1996) by Aoyama is somewhat of an unconnected prequel, and Sad Vacation (2007) ties both together

Kozue and Naoki, two kids off to school one day, get on Makoto’s bus and take a seat in the back. Wrong place at the wrong time I suppose, as a crazed busjacking madman holds all the passengers hostage with a gun. A shoot out ensues, and only Makoto, Kozue and Naoki survive. Faced with the pressure of raising two traumatized children, their mother decides to leave their home, leaving them with no parents. Makoto, filled with inexplicable emotions that resemble guilt and disenchantment, visits the children only to discover that they are alone. He decides to stay, and they try to rediscover life after their shared tragedy.

3:40. It may seem like a daunting number, or an over-indulgent one. But truly, this is a movie that deserves to be even longer. Deep, quiet, somber.. all these words can describe this film. But the entire movie moves with so little words that it seems unfair to pin it with them. The two children barely speak, yet everything they do and everything that happens to them, is a voice of so much more meaning. The characters are some of the most human you will ever meet on screen: sincere, honest, fragile, conflicted… never over-wrought or contrived. They are never perfect; in fact they are often quite frustrating, but it is impossible not to feel a genuine concern for them. I can’t even say enough about Miyazaki Aoi, who is stunning in this film.

The sepia-toned black and white with slow, barely moving shots (mostly stills and slow panning shots) are similar to the pace and characters. Beautiful and meaningful, of course. Music is sparse yet effective. If you know who Jim O’Rourke is, and if you’ve watched other Aoyama movies, you know the music will be a treat.

This is truly about life, the courage to live on, and the process of rediscovering yourself and your life after tragedy. The minor episodes that make up the rest of their lives should be seen and not anticipated by reading a review. I have not yet seen another movie with such a theme that rivals this, and it truly deserves its running time. Many consider this to be a depressing film, but it more frequently made me smile watching their endless days unfold. I’ve babbled so far; if only silence could be adequately conveyed with words.

If you have 3:40 worth of free time, with absolutely no distractions, WATCH THIS MOVIE. Best with a good pair of headphones in a quiet room.

things to take note of
How the color affects the over-all appearance of the film
The two kids’ faces
Miyazaki Aoi

best moment
Is it wrong if I say I love Miyazaki Aoi?

why you should watch this
One of the most beautifully colored films evar
Miyazaki Aoi’s silent performance
It doesn’t feel like 3:40
Humanistic. Maybe even inspiring?

rating: 9

Plot: B+
Cast: A
Cinematography: A
Music: B
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Gaichu / Harmful Insects by Shiota Akihiko (also with Miyazaki Aoi)
Riri Shushu no subete / All About Lily Chou-Chou by Iwai Shunji
9 Souls by Toyoda Toshiaki because they ride in a bus?



November 2020