Friday, October 7, 2011

A Scene at the Sea

A Scene at the Sea
1992, Japan
dir. Kitano Takeshi


A deaf guy who lives near the ocean finds a surf board and teaches himself to surf, while his deaf girlfriend sits on the beach and watches him. That's it, that's pretty much all that happens, until the last scene which indulges ridiculously in sudden tragedy.

Art-house darling director Kitano is obsessed with still, silent compositions where nothing much happens, and with elliptical cuts that leave out the key moments of the action. He does this in all his films, but this one is by far the most egregious example. But what bothered me the most was the portrayal of deaf characters. Kitano is not interested in dialog, as can be seen by the improvised, inconsequential dialog of the few characters who talk, and also the way he favors shooting from very far away. You get the feeling he really wanted to shoot a completely silent film. Ok, that might have been interesting as an artistic experiment. But using deaf characters as a shorthand for a world of silence is dishonest. The characters come across as completely one-dimensional and boring: they don't communicate at all, even with each other, and never show any facial expression. The film uses the deaf characters symbolically, rather than showing their lives realistically. The story itself is understated to the point of irrelevance. There are interminable scenes of guys surfing, all shot from the shore in the most unimaginative way, and lots and lots of scenes of people walking. Other, better Japanese directors know how to create pathos with these long takes, but here there's literally nothing going on. And the ending--huh? It's hard to feel anything when all the characters are kept at such a distance.

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