Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
I went into this with some trepidation, having not cared much for A Brighter Summer Day, finding it to be a needlessly elongated series of very well-composed shots that struggled to tell a story meant to be both sprawling and intimate. And for about an hour, I was feeling very similarly about this. Again, there was no denying Yang's talent for framing a shot, but it took me a long while to get invested in the story of this family, with the film constantly cutting between a variety of characters while never pointedly introducing them. I kept thing about Ozu, which seems an obvious influence on Yang but had much tighter narratives to go along with his intimate but impersonal style.
What finally brought me in was Issei Ogata's first appearence. Part of it may have been that the characters were suddenly speaking a language I understand (literally), but I think it's more than that. There is an instant chemistry between him and Wu Nien-Jen that suddenly brought the film was it sorely lacked for me until then: focus, a sense of purpose. And from there the structure of the film made more sense to me: without the wide cast of characters, this would be yet another tale of middle age crisis, but Yang is going for much more here, a universality that is hard to achieve... and I don't know that he fully succeds in that either, but he comes much closer for me than, say, PTA in Magnolia, a film that came to mind repeatedly as I watched this.
Yang doesn't go wild at any point here, and the result is a melancholy exploration of perception and time, which are ideas generally too lofty to be captured on film, but Yang manages it - at least in part - through ultimately simple human stories. I was worried that Yang's style was getting in the way of my connecting with the characters, but it seems to me that the shots get progressively closer to them as the film goes on, though that may just be me being more engaged... I'd have to rewatch this at some point.