Bird People Of China (1997)
BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA is yet another movie from Japanese god Takashi Miike, but most people that are familiar with Miike probably wouldn't realise it if they watched the movie not knowing who directed it. It's the slowest, gentlest Miike movie I've seen - the least offensive Miike movie yet, shall we say
A businessman is sent by his company to Yun Nan Province, China, in search of a rumoured large vein of Jade the company can exploit. To his surprise and distress he is joined by a loud Yakuza, whose gang are concerned that his company aren't paying their debts. Their company for the journey is a slightly wacked out old hippy, who knows where the jade is located. The province they are in is remote and rural, almost untouched by technology, and their journey is many days by boat and foot through absolutely stunning scenery of mountains and rivers.
Along the way, the businessman and the yakuza form unlikely bonds - with each other, with their guide, with the locals and especially with the beauty of unspoilt nature.
The structure is basically road movie, but Takashi Miike keeps it fresh, and the locations they travel through make it always interesting and beautiful to behold. There's a sense of deep mystery and endless history in those mountains always shrouded in mists. One of the few places left on the planet where man has managed to live alongside the rest of the natural world without destroying it. There's a sense that anything at all could be hidden in those mists, over those hills... which turns out to be more or less the case.
The men discover more than they expected on their journey, not least about themselves.
There's none of Miike's over the top side in Bird People Of China, though there are some comic absurdities that are definitely his style. The locations in which the movie are filmed demand a more peaceful approach to filming, which Miike has no difficulty in adopting it seems.
I still haven't seen a bad Takashi Miike movie, though BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA makes a bit less of an impression than some of his other works. It doesn't showcase his dazzling creativity as well as something like DEAD OR ALIVE, but it does show his absolutely solid skills as a director.
This is perhaps the Miike movie that people who "don't like Miike" will like, should they wish to be exposed to another side of the man. It's less likely to make any Miike devotees than most of his other, more outrageous, work though. Actually, it feels more like a Korean movie than a typical Miike or even typical Japanese movie, in as much as broad generalisations about countries' movies make sense.
Not necessarily a must-see movie, but undoubtedly worth seeing.