Archive for March 18th, 2012

Treeless Mountain (2008)

In the city of Hunghae, a mother abandons her two little girls in the care of their hostile aunt whilst she takes off in search of her estranged husband. 6 year old Jin and her little sister Bin are left to their own devices by their aunt who has a bit of a drinking problem and can’t even make food for them on some days. Their mother promised that if her parting gift of a red piggy bank is made full she’ll return back for them so the girls try their best to do that by catching grasshoppers and cooking them in order to sell to customers. When the piggy bank is full, the girls full of hope and happiness wait in front of the bus stop thinking that their mother will be there to see them on the next bus but that never happens. A letter arrives for their aunt by the girls’ mother. Knowing the girls are a burden on their aunt, her mother orders the two girls to go and live with their grandparents on a farm in the countryside. Although their grandfather is cold and unwelcoming, their grandmother helps them to adjust to their new rural way of life.

Treeless Mountain is a wonderful tale of resilience and survival by two children. The two girls are absolutely brilliant in their roles and you really feel for their plight. The emotions they portray through their faces is amazing. You start rooting for them and hope that their mother will come back. It’s heartbreaking to see the 2 girls full of hope once their piggy bank is full waiting patiently as each bus comes and goes without their mother. This movie is crafted so well and the pacing is slow. The director uses a lot of close-up shots of the girls to show the story from their view. The movie feels like a documentary the way it’s been filmed. It has relatively little dialogue. The meaning is artfully implied by watching the girls as they react to the people and happenings around them. The story is sad, painful but also cheerful and optimistic. It will certainly tug at your heart-strings.

This is a brilliant moving Korean movie which is highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Fires On The Plain (1959)

It is near the end of World War II and on the Phillipine island of Leyte, a group of starving and demoralised Japanese soldiers abandoned by their superiors are in retreat from the advancing American army. A young private in the Imperial Army called Tamura is in the final stages of tubercolosis. Ordered to go back to the hospital by the remnants of his unit, Tamura is given a grenade and told to kill himself if necessary. Turned away by the medics at the hospital, he joins up with other soldiers who wander the land looking desperately for any kind of food that’s available. Tamura is disturbed when he hears them say that they resorted to cannibalism in New Guinea. But will he do that if the situation arises?

This is a bleak and very depressing anti-war movie which shows the dehumanisation that can happen to men when their needs become desperate and they turn to eating other people. We’ve become used over the years to seeing gung-ho war movies which sees troops overcoming odds to triumph in some battle or another but this movies is completely the opposite and gives us a portrait of pathetic looking troops who are undersupplied, bedraggled and starving so much that they have no other alternative but to eat human meat. Director Kon Ichikawa shows us some truly horrific scenes such as a pile of bodies of Japanese soldiers outside a church being eaten by birds, a mad soldier eating his own shit and offering his arm to be eaten to Tamura and then near the climax we get to see a soldier with his face covered in blood feasting on a person that he just shot. Those gruesome images and more will be ingrained on your memory long after the end credits have finished. The movie is beautifully shot in striking black and white with excellent performances from the cast especially by Eiji Funakoshi as Tamura. The director is telling us in this movie that war is hellish when you’re on the losing side. He doesn’t try to make a hero out of the main character Tamura at all – he’s just a doomed soldier that’s trying to stay alive in a foreign land and hanging on to whatever humanity he’s got left in him.

Fires On The Plain is brutal, uncompromising and intense as any war movie you may have seen. There are some fleeting moments of black humour such as when a soldier finds a better pair of shoes on a corpse and takes them, the next soldier that comes along does the same and this goes on until Tamura sees that the ones on the ground are no better than his own (they have a gaping big hole in the sole) so he takes his shoes off and carries on barefoot. This movie won’t be for everyone. It is utterly depressing and fairly graphic for it’s time which caused a bit of a stir but it’s a fantastic movie if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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