World Cinema: Why I Love It!
Although I only have a limited catalogue, I can honestly say that foreign cinema continues to compel and fascinate me with every new release. It’s not that I have any vendetta against mainstream markets, but I often know what I’m going to get and never end up disappointed. That’s because my expectations are rarely high. World cinema is a bit like a talented magician with an armoury of tricks up its sleeve. Some of those are duds and can even feel like a waste of time. Many of them, however, can be hidden gems and leave you enthusiastic for something else just as unpredictable.
Another niche about world cinema lies with its diversity. There are some good English films out there, but it is uncommon to find something truly original. Having only watched Johnny English Reborn last week, I was left with a bitter taste in the mouth at how dull, uninteresting and unfunny it had been, with the only redeeming quality being a stubborn moving chair. Some may argue that the first one offered zero entertainment as well – the indisputable point, however, is that the American market is increasingly becoming saturated with endless sequels and uninspired remakes.
World cinema allows for a respite away from the dominance of commercialisation. After years of Hugh Grant rom-coms and tedious Adam Sandler ‘comedies’, my faith in film-watching in general had been beginning to waver. French romances, such as Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages) and Amelie, offer much more satisfying performances that breathe new life into a genre which before felt run-down and tired. Alleged English wit is replaced with genuine feeling and multi-dimensional characters that change the landscape of romantic cinema.
Sadly, I cannot quote reams and reams of films because I too have been brought up with largely English influences, although my journey into the unknown is bound to be expansive. After a heavy interest in Japanese anime and some incredible experiences with foreign film, there is much more to do than to simply put up with an oversubscribed American market. No doubt, I will continue to watch English films and find some enjoyment within its padding, but it is unlikely that I will ever look upon the industry as admirably as I do for world cinema. Its unapologetic need to plough further into controversial territory and the human condition is what allows it to be a dynamic and changing market.
First World Cinema Experience
My initial induction into world cinema really began with Japanese anime. Throughout my younger years, I had been addicted to the show Dragonball Z, like so many other teenagers. Another new addition to my life was a slowly deteriorating PC that was dated even then, with its eye-watering pink screen and chunky controls. This was not enough to hamper my curiosity, however, and within days I was reading about the origins of DBZ, which, of course, led to my discovery of other animation outside of dubbed television.
From there, I became an avid fan of popular shows such as One Piece, Gungrave and Death Note. I began with the series but soon followed films about One Piece, which went by the same name and left me reeling for more subtitles. Very quickly, I saw the difference between the English version of DBZ and the Japanese versions of other animation; the latter being much more graphic and mature. This may surprise some of you, but although One Piece is known for its whacky designs and eccentric characters, there are some deeper themes imbedded into the main narrative that really challenged my naïve view that all animation was ‘cartoony.’
The Hollywood Alternative To World Cinema
While Hollywood is known for its caricatured characters and fluffy endings, the film industry is layered with diversity and offers a bucket of creative talent. That isn’t to say that all films produced within the UK/USA borders are all homogeneous and lacking in originality, but it does anchor it towards a certain stigma with growing commercial interests. Considered by some to be more obscure and less mainstream, the foreign market allows for some real artistic pampering into products which places the interests of the film above financial gain.
I would like to avoid claiming that I watch world cinema for moral reasons, as I have quite happily laundered to films such as Pirates Of The Caribbean and even enjoyed myself. Nevertheless, with some exceptions, I have never left feeling particularly enlightened or educated, which eventually led to feelings of dissatisfaction. Light entertainment is all well and good, but the predictability of another linear storyline makes you want to jump ship and search for a more promising alternative.
What world cinema offers is a more realistic insight into other cultures without hiding behind facades.
What world cinema offers is a more realistic insight into other cultures without hiding behind facades. More often than not, I find films outside of the mainstream target relevant issues and controversially step beyond the boundaries, to allow for a more open-minded approach. They are also imaginative, subjective and lacking many of the clichés which dominate Hollywood cinema and its counterparts.
Some Japanese horror, for instance, is laughable and more of an insult to the genre. Others, however, offer real potential and are genuinely frightening, which is something that umpteenth sequels of Scream and Halloween failure at miserably. Many consider the original Ring film to be one of the greatest horrors and truly offers an unnerving experience. When produced in America, although still an entertaining watch, compromised the essence of the Japanese version and really didn’t introduce anything new to the genre. The same can also be said for the film The Grudge, although even Japan oversaturated the market with too many sequels.
In short, though, the American market countlessly milks a product and makes them more commercial than a creative source. Foreign markets are not necessarily the antithesis to this, but they do offer a broad range of outlets which changes the nature of filming, allowing for more refreshing and flexible representations.
What’s Missing For World Cinema?
More representation is needed to broaden awareness and allow for English audiences to adapt. I suppose the most frustrating dilemma for a genuine fan is that there are not enough moderates for both sides. There are many ignorant filmgoers that either blatantly refuse to watch subtitled films, or simply haven’t the time to commit to something outside of the norm. There are also extremists that are so devoted to world cinema they can’t acknowledge the perspectives of the mainstream and, in doing so, isolate them as potential crossover fans.
I can speak from both sides, as I maintain an interest in English cinema without sacrificing my developing love for industries outside of its influence. Fortunately, so can many others, and across the internet the distinctions between the two schools of thought are becoming less antagonistic and more compromising. My intention as a reviewer isn’t to bad-mouth English films but paint a bigger picture and try and stimulate an interest in other types of filming. Too often people stick with the familiar and don’t bother with branching out because they either can’t be bothered or are caught in a predictable loop of watching the same genre over and over again.
Interestingly, I will be writing a feature on the impact of foreign cinema and whether its growing audiences has stimulated a need for much wider representation. My answer is obvious; a resounding YES. Unearthing the complexities behind its heterogeneous appeal and its controversial break into American industries will be more difficult to analyse and may have no absolutes. All I can say is that with the introduction of the internet and more accessibility to other cultural resources, the world is becoming less ignorant to other outlets – and for that, I am thankful.
Favourite World Cinema Genre
As you’ve probably guessed, my favourite genre lies with animation and all of its eccentricity to boot. By all means, I have watched some dreadful adaptations, and will say that some of the worst bits of film I’ve seen have been produced within this format. Nevertheless, when animation does succeed, it does it with great emphasis – and I find more originality here than any other aspect of film. This applies to television as well as movies – the amount of innovation within the genre is unprecedented. It continues to excite me even now to think what will next be shown at Japanese conventions – the majority of its audiences are genuinely attached to something which is both entertaining and deeply creative.
At the risk of looking like an anime junkie, though, comedy has always held a special spot in my heart. There is something about laughter that is universal and translates into any language, which is what makes it so appealing. Japanese humour, especially, can be very quick, surreal and darkly comic which I find to be a very endearing quality. Fortunately, us Brits have never been too bad at comedy, but it is equally refreshing to find other cultural influences and discovering ‘in-jokes’ which eventually begin to make sense. Upon doing so, there’s no turning back from the genre.
Favourite World Cinema Director
Having watched a large cluster of films, I can’t say that I’ve followed one particular director. I will say, though, that the director Kinji Fukasaku has had an incredible influence on Japanese film with Battle Royale, Virus and New Battles With Violence And Humanity. He symbolises the need to reflect culture without sacrificing the little details and is never afraid to be controversial. Another notable mention is One Piece creator Kinosuke Uda, who, in my mind, has really revolutionised the landscape of Japanese anime.
Top-5 World Cinema Films
This film is perhaps my all-time favourite. It is certainly one of the greats, with its philanthropic narrative and moving performance by actress Audrey Tautou. Her own sense of isolation and disconnection with the world is what allows for the transitional framework of the plot to really succeed. Its eccentricity and wholly unusual subtext means that any flaws are few and far between.
Battle Royale (Japan, 2001)
Regarded by many as being extremely controversial, Battle Royale is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. The acting isn’t superb but the artistic talent is beyond a doubt. Partly what is so interesting about the film is its ability to shock, entertain and amuse all at the same time, while leaving uncomfortable questions about society in its wake. It is not perfect, but its imperfections somehow make the film more charming – and I cannot recommend this enough as an introduction into Japanese cinema.
What makes this film so compelling is the amount of metaphorical and subliminal messaging within its narrative. It captures the difficulties of youth and the process of getting older brilliantly, and cross-references well with the real world and the ‘other’ world. As a fan of fantasy anyway, I naturally found the premise interesting, and many of its actors do the film justice, rendering this as not only one of my favourite but as distinct from any other film.
Death Note (Japan, 2006)
Based on the anime series, it is unsurprising this comes under one of my favourites. Such a complex plot allows for a strong base and the constant intellectual battle between its main characters keeps the suspense throughout. By having the main character as a serial killer, it really questions the morality of its audience, as you are forced to relate with Kira, to the extent of even sympathising with his goals. After all, he only kills those that deserve it, right? Whatever your views, this film is controversial enough to divide opinion, which is what makes it so successful.
South Korean and a complete badass piece of filmmaking. It is both visually stunning and surreal in its production. Every shot is colourful and artistic in its handling while the music matches the scenes perfectly. While its plot is not necessarily original, it is portrayed with rigorous emotion and succeeds in capturing the complexity of the human soul and the instinctive need to survive.
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