DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema
Director - Zhang Lu - 2021

"Dirty gem"
Chinese and Japanese sensibilities blend seamlessly, in this quiet and lyrical drama set in Yoko Ono's birth place - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN

Two very different Chinese brothers travel to the titular Japanese city, an idyllic place latticed with rivers and canals. Yaganawa is dubbed “the Venice of Japan”, the major difference being that the streets are very calm and sparsely populated. There are no hordes of tourist, but instead abundant room for meditation, reflection, reminiscing and romance.

The quiet, introspective and bespectacled younger brother Li Dong has cancer, stage 4. This is a film about departing without leaving anything behind: material goods, unfinished business and rancour. Dong’s charming and outspoken brother Li Chun has taken him on a trip supposedly as a farewell gift, despite promising his sibling that they will return every year. The two men, probably in their forties, couldn’t be more different: there is barely a physical resemblance, and even their accents are different (despite growing up together). Chun challenges a waitress: which of the two is the most beautiful man? Who has been with more women? The woman refuses to respond, but the writing is on the wall.

Dong and Chung encounter a Chinese woman called Liu Chuan on their journey. Her name is Japanese for Yanagawa. In addition to sharing her name with the foreign city, the woman also shares a romantic history with both brothers. Years earlier, she “vanished off the face of the Earth”, only to be found in such sad circumstances. It is never clear whether the encounter was planned or entirely by chance. All three characters are kind, phlegmatic and resigned to their fates. They’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it.

Chuan sings in English, Chinese and Japanese. She exudes beauty, charms and talent. Gradually, memories from the past resurface. We learn the very peculiar reason why Dong does not have a Pekinese accent. Viewers drift back and forth in time, piercing together randoms fragments of the lives of the three adults. Being in a foreign country, in a blissful and picturesque location, provides the narrative with a dream-like feel. A conversation during a bicycle ride is captured entirely through its reflection on the canal. It’s as if the director and DOP wanted to allow the characters to dissociate themselves from the hardship of everyday life and immerse themselves in this valedictory experience.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon are mentioned several times in the film, with an Ono fan playing the guitar where the famous singer presumably lived. The famous couple’s message of peace and love – while not directly mentioned – is pervasive. Chinese and Japanese engage pacifically, even enthusiastically. There is no bitterness between the two siblings, despite the common dalliance and the impending death. Simple gestures, everyday poetry seep into this heart-warming drama. The visual lyricism of Japan is successfully combined with Chinese empathy and appreciation.

Yanagawa has just premiered in Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival:



"Dirty gem"

By Victor Fraga - 17-11-2021

By Victor Fraga - 17-11-2021

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based writer with more than 15 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a dirty Latin immigran...

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