Oh god, it's another child protagonist! I should steer clear of these movies next round. They're either awkward perverts or witless knobs. This time it's a witless knob.
I was disengaging from this one pretty quickly. Unlike all of Zhang Yimou's dramas I've seen up till now, this one was absent a character I felt compelled to root for. And it's an ugly looking film too, by this director's standards. I didn't dig into it very deeply... I didn't see much I wanted to explore. A shrill cabaret singer who's on the arm of an aging gangster. Some lady and her daughter on a podunk island. And an annoying kid who's caught in the middle of it all, wide-eyed, and seemingly without a will of his own. I think they just mounted him on a tripod and pointed him at the other actors.
Do you recall the scene in Amadeus when the Emperor makes a surprise appearance at the rehearsal for Mozarts upcoming opera? A hush falls over the entire theater. It's a completely unprecedented occurrence! As chance would have it, his arrival just happens to coincide with a part of the opera which contains ballet. Except there is no music accompanying the dancers on stage. What he witnesses is a bunch of performers leaping up and down and spinning all around... in silence.
Of course what he comes to understand is that it's his own regulations which forbid ballet being performed in operas. Thus the ochestra sits idle, while the dancers dance.
Now I think you have to give the emperor credit in this scene... he doesn't camouflage his confusion, which is so often the way with supreme rulers. He is quite humble. Willing to accept what he sees as a potentially new form of something old. It isn't, of course, it's just the consequence of censorship, but he didn't know that. Eventually, after he comes to understand the reason for this strange performance, and finding it not at all to his liking (in it's current form), he requests to see the scene with the music back in
"But sire!", protests the perpetually perturbed prude over his left shoulder.
"Oblige me", demands the emperor.
And all is set right.
What I think is interesting to consider is how history might have changed had the emperor happened to enjoy what he had seen. A new trend may have been sparked! Mozart and Sallieri may both have found themselves suddenly out of favour, as everyone, looking to show off their emperor-like taste in art, flocked to the silent ballet
! Don Giovanni? More like Gone Giovanni.
So it is with a touch of empathy that I admit, when I first sat down with Sleeping Man
it had me looking around a bit. I turned to Bondo and Edgar's reviews hoping they could answer my question.
No... it's not modern you silly man. It's 90's Japanese drama!
I'm being a bit hyperbolic when I say that of course, but it does seem that the tendency of Japanese filmmakers of that era (and perhaps other eras I don't know about) was to favour static cameras and little to no scoring. If there's a one word to describe the effect this creates, for me it would be bleak
. What a cold and lonely place Japan so often looks in these films.
And it's not just in the way the camera stays put that creates this feeling, it's how far away they put
it. It is quite typical for an entire scene of dialogue (like the one above) to occur while the camera is far, far away, and the characters are specs in the frame. I cannot see their eyes, or the expressions on their faces. What's happening over there?
This style of filmmaking, and how often it comes up in such a small sample of movies, makes me wonder if it was appealing, in a larger way, to the Japanese experience during that decade. Or was is just another trend sweeping through an art form which has seen many such trends come and go. Where did it originate I wonder.
It is not a style that resonates much with me. It could be said it does everything in the opposite way to what I enjoy. It keeps you at a distance... I like to be engaged and involved. It keeps music out of most scenes... I like the atmosphere a score can create. It is content to be still, I find stillness to that extent distracting.
That said, it is, as far as I can recall, one of the more enjoyable experiences with Japanese bleakism I've had in this bracket. Enjoyable in this context means I finished it in one sitting. It means I didn't become so bored by the end I hated the film for wasting my time. It means I was genuinely impressed with a small handful of shots. That's what I mean when I say enjoyable here, just to be clear.
But at the end of the day I wish I could have been like the Emperor and simply said, "oblige me".
Sleeping Man wins! Boo.