The Bird People In China (1998, Takashi Miike)

Almost seven years passed between when I rented this and when I finally watched it (not counting the time I fell asleep a few years back)

Banker-type Wada (Masahiro Motoki, starred in Tsukamoto’s Gemini and the recent Departures) is sent to a rural town in China called yun nan to look at a vein of jade for his employer. An uber-tattooed gangster (Renji Ishibashi of Gozu, Graveyard of Honor, Dead or Alive) tags along since Wada’s boss owes him money. Things get weird, but in a casual, slow, satisfying manner – not all The Great Yokai War weird.

There’s style a-plenty (narrated back story shown in fast motion), some poor late-90’s digital effects, mystic business about the origins of Japanese culture, and trained swimming turtle chauffeurs. The gangster freaks out at the end, not because he’s sick of the place and wants to go home but because he’s afraid the mineral exploitation will corrupt this perfect place, so he shoots the homing turtles. Our hero spends his time talking with the girl who teaches ancient traditions of human flight (as translated by her grandfather, a british pilot who crashed in the area to local children. It’s all quite lovely.

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