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He looms above her, she circles twice without stopping
Kiarostami in Japan, what bliss and promise! I'm always interested when foreign filmmakers film in Japan, how that worldview illuminates them. Chris Marker captured the most evocative coming and going of things in Sans Soleil, on the flipside for me is Wenders who completely misses Zen in his film about Ozu, mistaking emptiness for modern lack. Coppola's is merely passable for my taste.
But Kiarostami is not merely drawn to images, his whole world conveys a Persian Zen of sortshis Wind was the most clear, all about finding meaning in things and their cyclical drift being what they are. Certified Copy added more story, but the fact remained of his being the most essentially Buddhist filmmaker in the West since Antonioni, drawing up the same realizations about self and time.
So what does he find here, what illumination?
There are three main implications woven together, all derived from a Buddhist view; the transience of things, with people coming and going at the bar before the girl, the taxi drive with Tokyo nightlife fleeing past, circling around the grandmother but driving on without stopping to say hi; illusory self, we are not sure at first who the girl or the old man are, no fixed roles but two people in each other's company, the resemblance to the girls in the painting and photograph, the old man posing as the grandfather later in the car and her flyer that comes up; ignorance from desire in the fiancé with his phonecalls and later showing up on the door.
More. Kiarostami captures the essence of Buddhism, not interpreting themes but unearthing the visual flow from ordinary life. He films the air of anticipation, the cautious exchange. True to Japan, he films the drama with no needless suffering, with that faint melancholy they know over there as mono no aware, which comes from a notion of time where things are not inevitable as we understand in the West when we talk about fate, nor could they be anything else than what's before the eyes, since to desire vacation when you have to be at work only adds to the unsatisfactoriness.
What will be will be, says the old man who poses as the grandfather to both protect the girl and conceal his misdeed. We have this wonderful ambiguity all through the thing. There is no problem of evil see in Buddhism and Kiarostami's cinema alike. No moral blame in that the girl does what she does to go through college and ignores her grandma, or that the old man desired the company of someone like her that night or even that he lies about being the grandfather; life kind of pulled that way.
But when what will be is finally at hand and the old man looks confused and foolish as he faces a beating, what's the good of all the philosophizing then? But that's when Kiarostami abandons the thing, probably thinking he has evoked enough and we should mull over the rest.
I consider this a real miss, a poor ending. We don't need any answer here, nor any triumph of contemplation over uncertainty. It's just that ending it at that point in the story, with the karmic noise but not the echo back into life, we forget all about the girl and the waiting grandmother, the sweet fragile self who is not the dolled-up face in the flyer, it's all cleaved away from the film.
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