Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Film review: Ian Thomas Ash's "-1287"

I knew it was going to be a sad film. It was about this woman with a terminal cancer, and from the film title "-1287" and trailer, we can infer that it's about her death, and probably that the number -1287 is some number of days having to do with her death. The entire audience in the small theater where I watched it knew it too, and we all expected to shed some deserved tears in the end.

The ending was pretty much what I think we all predicted—but what we weren't prepared for was to experience the death of someone close: someone who is so much alive with  sense of humor pouring out, and genuine laughter from her belly. After the showing of the film, one of the audience members (while sobbing) said, "I'm so sad and can't find words because I feel like someone I knew has just died." That may sound a bit too dramatic if you haven't seen this film, but I shared this sentiment, and so did the rest of the audience, I'm sure. I couldn't stop crying. It wasn't so much about her death itself that made me cry— instead what moved me was how she lived and the tender and honest conversations she had with the filmmaker (Ian Thomas Ash.) And how she wanted to be loved—"truly truly truly" loved by someone, and how she wanted that even until the very last days of her life. 

We know death happens to all of us one day. What we don't know is when that one day is going to be and how to come to terms with it. And we really don't think about it so much because we somehow effortlessly forget the fact that we all die one day or maybe because it's just simply scary to even imagine. When the movie star Ken Takakura (he's often noted as "Japan's Clint Eastwood") passed away last month, I came across many tweets saying something like, "I never thought he would actually die one day!" As silly as those tweets may sound, that's probably how we think of our own death too: we just can't imagine we all die one day! 

In "-1287", through the lens of Ian, we get to know Kazuko, a lovely woman in her 60s, who loves cooking and reading books in English. It begins with a shot in her kitchen where she's cooking for him. Then he starts asking her questions. The film consists only of dialogues between Ian and Kazuko: dialogues of two complete strangers to me. But to my surprise, I was quickly drawn to their world and the tender moments the filmmaker shared with Kazuko. The tender moments of the two of them were so intimate and perhaps so personal that I sometimes felt shy or even wrong about watching it. It's not because of what they talk about; Ian asks Kazuko fairly general questions: who she is, about her family and her hobbies—and then he moves on to ask her about her illness, and about big questions: life and love.

What made me feel a bit shy watching was I think the tone of his voice. He's shooting the film so we don't usually see him on the screen. We saw him occasionally when she held the camera, but we mostly just heard his sweet, calm, warm, modest, and sometimes very interrogative tone of voice. And how happy & shy she looked, responding to his voice, which revealed a unique intimacy they embraced together. Their conversations (carried out mostly in Japanese, sometimes in English) were incredibly real and honest; not even a tiny bit was phony. I don't even know how I know that, because I don't know her in person but I was somehow able to sense that she was true to herself, and to Ian, the filmmaker. Maybe it was more about him. She wanted him to hear her story. Her true story—the true her, that she'd probably never shown to anybody before. 

After the film, Ian was invited on stage so we could ask him questions and/or share our thoughts with him. One woman in the back said, "I'm turning 70 so I'm Kazuko's age, and I envy her that she had a friend like you. I have a husband but we never really talk. I wish I had someone to tell honest stories to each other, like you and Kazuko did." She continued, "Maybe it's my generation thing, or maybe it's a Japanese thing. We don't really talk!"

I looked at Mike who was sitting next to me and I thought, no, it's not a generation thing or a Japanese thing. We're a bit younger and married internationally, and we do talk but we don't tell honest stories to each other, the way Ian and Kazuko did, either. Then I thought, do I tell honest stories to anyone really? To my parents? To my brother? To my best friends back home? 

We never know what the future holds; we don't even know about tomorrow. But there is one thing that we know for sure: we all die one day, sooner or later. That much we know. I think about this fact a lot lately thanks to this film—but give it a week or two, I can assure you I won't be thinking about it a lot anymore. But I just don't want to forget the conversations between Kazuko and Ian and how she lived and shared her honest stories with him, and with us.