Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sona, mo hitori no watashi (Sona, the other Myself by Yang Yonghi, Japan/Republik Korea: 2010

A friend of mine once translated for me a line from a song by the Bengali singer Musoumi Bhowmik about the city Kolkata:
"This city has a lot of wounds.
Some you can see, others not."
If I were writing a song about this film I probably would begin with similar lines except the fact that this film is not dealing with one concrete city but with a piece of world consisting of two cities and a family.

The idea of the "camera stylo", making films like we write and where the filmmaker tells about him/herself in the first person - there are few films which evoke in me this special term but the films by Yang Yonghi.
Despite the awareness that even the very personal films by Yang Yonghi are "made" the obvious impressing aspect for me is the montage which intensifies seemingly banal every day moments. But the knowledge that even this film is "made" steps always behind the intensity of these every day moments. The improvised video recordings of the family´s travels to Pyongyang are moving for me. They may appear banal but the more often I see this film the more weight they get.

A birthday party, a death anniversary celebration dedicated to the late sister in law, Yangs little niece and images of streets and buildings of the cities Osaka and Pyongyang in different times are condensed to an image of a human life. These pieces of conserved life times are sometimes interrupted by photographs which seem to be "taken out of time" and which make the film images appear even more fragile more mortal. They resemble millions of family albums, the album of my own family included. Yet they seem to me like pure poetry Even though Yang began shooting on video in the 90s, the photographs give hints to the lifetimes of the people you don´t see through the recorded film. Yang who is here (different like in her previous film Dear Pyongyang) not only visible on photographs in different periods of her life but also in the film itself, reminds me in a sentence from the film 2 Rue de la Memoire by the Chilean filmmaker Marilu Mallet whose work is another example of "camera stylo": "I see in you the girl you once were and the woman you became."

The traumatic separation of Yang from her brothers who were sent by their father in their teen ages to Pyongyang is on one hand the result of the historic partition of Korea. But here it is concretized on the echo which it left on this family. This historic partition is continued in the partition of Koreans living in Japan split between followers of North and followers of South Korea. Then finally it is concretized on this family where one part is living in Osaka and the other in Pyongyang. Beside others the film tells also about what the south indian director Kumar Shahani said about the Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak whose films tell in a very different way than Yang about the partition of his own country:
"Ghatak films does n´t deal only with geographic partition but also with the partition which goes through the bodies and souls."
Dear Pyongyang has told about the partition which goes through the souls of the people. Sona, mo hitori no watashi is more telling about the result of this partition on the filmmaker herself.
When she talks about her uncomfortable feelings while attending the propaganda spectacles in stadions or theatres in North Korea than it is not a political statement but an expression of the pain of an individual who suffers under history in a very every day sense.

Once we see Yang at her own birthday party in Pyongyang where the whole family is reunited for a short while.
When she films her father and mother in Osaka she remains invisible.
She is the individual who tries to bring order in her story . In other moments she is a visible protagonist of the story. This Look to the world and being at the same time part of it meets in an uncanny way the feeling I have for the film. The tenderness in her gaze towards her niece Sona (whom we see in different periods from a small baby child to an adolescent) is at the same time a view on her own past which is suggested in the title "the other Myself". Once we see the little Sona walking with Yangs brother through the streets of Pyongyang. From the off she comments that this moment is like a deja vu for her, she sees herself with her brothers walking.

I have to think of the creature of Frankenstein in Mary W. Shelleys novel which watches a family from a hidden and safe place. It is moved by the family´s story and is almost dying for love and compassion but will never dare to leave this hidden place for presenting itself. While I see this films, I sometimes feels like this creature. My experience with this film and the reaction between what I see and what it evokes in me I tried to conserve as long as possible. I was only satisfied when I could talk with someone about this film. I told about this film like about a long travel I made and from that I didn´t really return yet.

There is a scene which tells something about the attitude of the film like as well about the tension between the longing for closeness and the awareness of foreignness. Here might be a meeting point of the cinematic view of Yang Yonghi and mine the spectator´s. The title "the other Myself" suggests already identification and recognition through the view on someone else. Yangs gaze on her niece Sona goes together with her childhood memories. She sees in Sona the child she once was. In this scene the filmmaker accompanies the little Sona to her school. When they arrive at the school yard we see other children who look into the camera. They are shy and curious at the same time. When Sona disappears into the school building she eludes herself from our (and Yangs eyes) and we hear the filmmaker´s commentary. She says that Sona now "returns from the exceptional situation of her (Yangs) visit into her own reality." She can´t follow her with her camera any further. This scene has for me to do with the imerging into the micro cosmos of the family Yang with this strange closeness the film evokes in me and the awareness that this is exactly a temporary privilege.

The day before I saw Sona, Mo hitori no watashi for the third time I tried to get distracted from the strange attraction Yangs film has on me by the film The Thin Red Line, a masterpiece by Terrence Malick. I just wanted to be occupied by something different. But soon after the first 10 minutes from Malicks film I recognized that the impact of this obvious different film on me has to do with the one Yangs film had on me. I look through the gigantic technical apparatus and all the many hints of cultural and art historic aspects often described in essays on Malick - and what remains is a vulnerable and delicate glance which leads me back to Yangs one. My attempt to distract myself from Yangs film failed. Both films react now in my mind which each other and amplify the impact of the each other. I am not even sure if this impact is just my personal affair or if there are independent from each other accidental similarities in the poetry of images and spoken language.
And there is also the "one big soul" of what one person in Malick´s film is reflecting in a monologue "the one of where everybody is part of". This idea which goes through The Thin Red Line recalls in me the Berlin Filmfestival 2006 where significantly two faces were burnt into my mind from one film by Yang and one by Malick. These faces are in my memory almost coalesced with each other. The first one was a youth picture of Yang Yonghi from Dear Pyongyang from the time when she first visited her brothers in Pyongyang. In this photograph we can see that she cried before. The second one is the face of a likely young girl, the actress Q´Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas in Malicks The New World just after she is expelled from her native tribe. The first image is a conservation of a real felt and lived moment the other one is an image created out of imagination. These pictures are standing for me for my feelings for these films.

While seeing Sona, Mo hitori no watashi the third time, the impact on me was even more intense. The death of the eldest brother who suffered since the separation from his parents and sister under maniac depressions and the serious ill father (about whose death in November 2009 Yang informs us) let fail every attempt of mine to keep distance from these images which are not mine. I tried convulsive to keep the leftover of my self control for not beginning to cry aloud.

Does Sona, mo hitori no watashi evokes in me this closeness to a foreign life or is this film the closeness itself? What is this films which burns into my memory. Where ends the film by Yang Yonghi and where begins my memory to deal with own images? Is this film the essence of a human life or maybe only Yangs interpretation of her life, composed of a variety of decisions for every single shot for every single image?
The only thing I know for sure is that I am stunned.

I have to think again in Malick´s The Thin Red Line, because like in Sona, mo hitori no watashi there is in the last image of Malic s film a hint to the paradise that the men alreadyhave lost forever.
It is the birthday party of Yang Yonghi with her family in Pyongyang. There is black out. After she has blown out her birthday candles Sona expresses her wish that she (Yang) may never forget this moment of fading luck. In her off-commentary Yang resumes how rare these reunions of the whole family are. The last scene gives a hint to this moment of happiness, a small paradise which now exist only in memories.
The eldest brother and her father have passed away. After the release of her previous film Dear Pyongyang, Yang is banned from travelling to North Korea. The only thing what is left to her is to detain this moment with a device of the montage. This moment contrasts to the very last image of the film, a recorded photograph of her he how she turns herself to her sick father in his bed while her voice from the off tells us about his death. This image is closeness and distance at the same time. For some seconds I believed to fell how she felt in this very moment. At the same time this image appears to me as universal an image about our loneliness in the moment of mourning. The film which deals always again with farewells and separations prepares itself to its own farewell.

Always when I am looking for words which shall describe the impact a film like Sona, mo hitori no watashi has on me I have to think in the sentence of the "one big soul" from The Thin Red Line which has to do with identification and recognition. And I think of the last lines from The Thin Red Line from a poetic monologue which goes under my skin like the films by Yang Yonghi.

"Oh my soul,
let me be in you now.
Look out through my eyes.
Look out through the things you made.
All things shining."

Rüdiger Tomczak

(Translation from the original German text in shomingeki No. 22, 2010)