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THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA

Japan, 1998 (MIFF 1999, Regional Features)

Director: Takashi Miike

Contrasling images of flight—primeval, mystical, hi-tech—set the tone for a remarkable journey backwards in time to the most distant part of China. Yunnan is frozen in time, a place so culturally isolated that the old­est person there has never even heard of Chairman Mao. Untouched by modernity it is a place where magic and myth are as natural as the spectacular beauty of its set­ting. In this place people believe that their ancestors could fly and that they too possess the ability.

As the film opens, three unlikely travellers are head­ed for Yunnan. Mr Wada, a young Japanese company man whose reality is encompassed by his laptop, has been dis­patched by his boss to track down a cache of fabulous jade from the region. Mr Ujiie, a short-tempered Yakuza (Japanese gangster), is there to make sure the mob get their cut of the gemstone treasure trove. The slightly more altruistic Mr Shen, their unflappable interpreter and guide,wants to strike it rich and bring electricity to his village.

Travelling in a succession of increasingly primitive vehicles (an ancient train, a decrepit van and finally a raff towed by a half dozen giant turtles!!) they reach their destinalion and discover that the jade stash is even larg­er and more valuable than they could have dreamed. To their surprise, however, they discover something more precious: a fascinating mystery embodied in a blue-eyed Chinese girl who teaches the village children about flying and sings a hypnotic melody over and over. A disarmingly sweet cross-cultural comedy with a lyrical-fan­tasist undercurrent—utterly entrancing!

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