Monday, April 15, 2013

Chronicle of My Mother and Zero Dark Thirty

I saw a double feature at the 4 Star in late February.  At least, I thought it was a double feature.  The movie listing wasn't clear and no one cleared the theater between screenings.  In fact, the turnaround time between the end of Chronicle of My Mother and Zero Dark Thirty was one of the quickest I can  recall.

Chronicle of My Mother starring Kôji Yakusho; directed by Masato Harada; Japanese with subtitles; (2011)  - Official Website
Zero Dark Thirty starring Jessica Chastain; directed by Kathryn Bigelow; (2012) - Official Website

Zero Dark Thirty was the fifth (and to date final) film I saw which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars.  The other nominated films I saw were Argo, Django Unchained, Lincoln & Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Of those five films, Zero Dark Thirty was my favorite.

Zero Dark Thirty tells the near decade long search for Osama bin Laden.  The main character is a CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain).  After surviving an assassination attempt and the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing as well as having her close friend be killed at the Camp Chapman attack, Maya  becomes obsessed with finding bin Laden.  The highlight of the film is the storming of bin Laden compound Abbottabad by SEAL Team 6 which resulted in bin Laden death.  This operation is told in near real-time  and devoid of the pyrotechnics associated with modern action films.  Even though I knew how it would end, it was still very taut and lasted for 20 minutes or so.  I may be wrong as time seemed to stand still as I was watching the SEALs clear the house room by room.  The fact that Bigelow could maintain my interest when I knew the outcome says a lot about her skills as director.

Another aspect of the film which has received considerable media attention is the torture scenes.  Waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" are depicted on screen with what I imagine is quite a bit of reality.  That they yield valuable and actionable intelligence is criticized by some as validating the use of these techniques.  I am of a different opinion because I see so many films.  Zero Dark Thirty is a movie and a fictionalized account of real events.  The use of torture in those scenes added to the dramatic effect of the film and as such I wholly support Bigelow incorporating them in the film.  That has nothing to do with real life.  As much as some would have the public believe that films drive real world actions, I am skeptical.  It certainly doesn't drive me actions.  I've seen countless murders and fights at the movies and I've never killed anyone and haven't been in a fight since I was 10 years old.  To paraphrase René Magritte's famous painting, this is not torture.


Chronicle of My Mother had the just the hint of an Ozu film.  The camera wasn't static but the film explored the dynamics between three generations of a family with a relatively minimal amount of sentimentality.

The film is based on Yasushi Inoue's autobiographical novel of the same name.  Set over 15 years between the late 1950s and early 1970s, Chronicle of My Mother follows the Igami family.  The patriarch is Kosaku (Kôji Yakusho).  Yakusho is familiar to me from such films as Hara-Kiri, 13 Assassins and Shall We Dance?  Kosaku is dealing with two troublesome women in his life.  He has a strained relationship with his mother (Kiki Kirin) who abandoned him or more accurately put him in the care of her father's mistress at the end or end stages of WWII.  This is still a sore spot for Kosaku whether he cares to admit it or not.  Kosaku is also at loggerheads with his headstrong daughter  Kotoko (Miyazaki Aoi).  Kosaku is an author and the publication of his books seems to be a cottage industry.  He enlists his four daughters to assemble the books and ship them although Kotoko frequently refuses.  Kotoko really resents her father self-centeredness although she has less inhibition about expressing her resentment towards her parent than Kosaku.

As the grandmother slides into dementia, she lives with her son and granddaughters.  Kotoko observes the strained relationship between mother and son as she grows into a young woman.  As the softens towards his aging mother, the daughter hardens towards her implacable father.  Kosaku has a protégé who shows interest in Kotoko to the objection of her father.

The plot meanders without announcing its final destination except the grandmother's death is inevitable.  The plot essentially takes the audience along this family's journey.  Several of the members (one of Kosaku's sisters is memorable) can try one's patience but there is a decency about them and genuine love between them as well as a Japanese sense of practicality.

Without being able to identify exactly what it is about the film which I found appealing (strong acting, period costumes, lush visuals, etc.), the totality of the film made the viewing experience worthwhile.

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