Director: Lim Kah-Wai
Starring: Shi Ka, Tomonaga Koumei, Takeru Ogawa
When wealthy but naïve Coco (Shi Ya) is left all on her lonesome for the Christmas season, she decides to go to Osaka for the holiday alone. Booking a trip and a place to stay via an old high school friend, she comes to ‘New World,’ an admittedly small and Spartan guest house that is newly renovated. Not expecting the spartan living arrangements, she storms out of manager Masanobu’s (Ogawa Takeru) modest guest house into the city luggage in tow. What she discovers in this town is a Japan far different from the world she knows via magazines and entertainment, and a unique look at the real and modern relationships of Chinese and Japanese people.
With an international cast, language plays a huge role in the film. Characters juggle multiple languages and the barriers it presents serve to separate or join ideas and people. Shi Ya’s pretty Coco is a bit spoiled but generally a good person and her role is without a doubt, that of the viewer. She delivers a soft but understated performance that really had me drawn to her character and her experiences. Her progression as a character is superbly told and not exaggerated but naturally portrayed. Ogawa’s Masanobu is a good natured guy, but finds himself over his head on multiple occasions. His aloof nature makes him easy to root for even though he is not really the focus of the film. The standout performance here is Tomonaga Koumei as Koumei, a child actor who speaks Japanese and Chinese throughout the film and injects innocence into the film in a role that is hugely sympathetic and natural. The rest of the supporting cast is good as well, though some perhaps serve more as dressing than others.
Shot with a distinct style, director Lim Kah Wai clearly shows influences of Imamura and Hou Hsiao Hsien. Mostly static shots with simple tracking movements provide an intimacy to the picture and its scenes and the long cuts performed by actors are generally great and challenging and never spoon fed. Overall, the direction is solid and the Lim gets good stuff from his actors. There is limited music in the film, with the few instances of it being done during transitional scenes. These bits however are pretty solid and the choice to keep the film using mostly natural sounds is a good one. These short moments featuring music are a bit of a palate cleanser, so to speak, and allows for a bit of reflection on the previous moments. Using music similar to Shunji Iwai’s softer work, composer Albert Yu has some good pieces that serve the scenes well as opposed to directing them.
Illustrating the perceptions and truths of China and Japan in today’s world is not an easy task. The director’s method of juxtaposition of the burgeoning Beijing bourgeoisie and the woefully undeveloped area of Shinsekai, Osaka really brings to the fore some of the real views and lifestyles of immigrants and the local population. In a time when international news talks about history books, islands, and reparations, this down to earth look at the common man and how integral they are to the lives we know but never really truly understand, is an eye-opening and absorbing expose’ told with the craft of film.
In the end, The New World is a unique and genuinely intriguing film. The New World is a film that isn’t for most watchers of dramatic Asian cinema. If you are a viewer of independent and challenging cinema however, this film is right up there with some of the best. Coupled with good performances and a well-crafted realistic world, The New World is one of the most illuminating and engaging films I’ve seen all year.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Café Lumiere, The World, and Fallen Angels
Very special thanks to Tetsuki Ijichi of Tidepoint Pictures for providing us with a viewing copy!