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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A somewhat nightmarish dream I had to end the year 2011.

It's the last day of the year. I had a troubling dream this morning, even though my sleep was brief (9am to 1:30pm, yes my sleep patterns are odd).

I dreamed that I was in an Eastern European-looking country that was covered in snow. Or maybe it wasn't a real place at all because everything looked so rustic and dilapidated. I was there for an event that I assumed was film-related.

At the event I met a man who seemed ravaged by an unknown terminal illness. He was tall, gaunt and dignified. It was the dignified air about him that made me suspect that I was at the presence of someone who had attained greatness.

We spoke, he told me about his ideals and dreams, I listened.

He suddenly smiled. "I emailed you once before, remember? Many years ago."

It was the sort of dream where I would sort through my own memories and find an entire backstory for a dream-character. And so I tried to remember our email exchange and somehow I remembered that it was something brief and mundane.

We were in his house, it was dimly-lit, the flickering lightbulbs around us somehow cast shadows over me that reminded me of a German Expressionistic film by Fritz Lang.

The man stopped talking, there was suddenly a look of weariness and sorrow on his face.

"It is unfortunate that I don't have much time left."

He collapses onto the floor, I watched impassively. A woman came next to him, yelling his name. I wondered whether I knew the woman too, or perhaps she was hired to look after him. I was overwhelmed by a wave of dizziness.

As I struggled to open my eyes, I already knew that the man was dead. There were photos floating in my mind, photos on a Facebook page, photos of his funeral. These images that floated in my mind felt like my memory.

I saw mourners, and a coffin black as ebony.

I remembered also, that I had collapsed beside the man after the dizziness that overcame me. I was so tired then.

Again I tried to open my eyes and I saw nothing but bright lights. I was in a white room filled with doctors and nurses. Had I been hospitalized? I sat up from my bed. My mother was there too.

When the others were gone, I told my mother what happened. That I met a man but he had just died.

My mother looked grim. "I must tell you what really happened."

"What?"

"Are you really feeling okay?" She asked. Somehow she looked a little shell shocked.

I nodded.

"You had been in this hospital because you lost your mind. We found you. The doctors had given up on you, the rest of the world thought you couldn't be cured."

"But I thought I lost consciousness because I felt tired. So very tired." I was starting to feel incredulous.

"They thought you were a failure. I tried to believe that things would eventually go well." My mother said.

"A failure?" I almost wanted to sneer if I weren't so devastated. "How long had I been here?"

My mother and everything else was gradually fading away. There was then a loud gushing sound, the sound of a waterfall? But I heard my mother amidst the cacophony of chaotic noises.

"Two years."

My heart skipped a bit. The world was starting to spin around me.

Two years... I've lost my mind for two years? But it felt so much longer. I felt as if I had lost almost an entire lifetime, the prime of my years, I thought I was on the verge of achieving... Something. I couldn't remember anymore. Again, my mind failed me.

And then, I woke up.

I felt relieved, that I was dreaming. My messy little room in Tokyo, my laptop next to my bed, I got up and stumbled out through the door... And found myself blinded by a dazzling white light again.

I brought my hand up, shielding myself from the light, and saw silhouettes of doctors and nurses.

"He's not supposed to know yet! Let him adjust first, didn't I say that?" a doctor yelled.

There were a flurry of activities from the nurses, yet they weren't approaching me.

I felt strangely calm. I think I was smiling serenely. Somehow I knew...

It was a scene from CAPTAIN AMERICA. It was also a scene from INCEPTION.

A dream within a dream.

Is someone going to plant an idea inside my head? I knew a girl who loved INCEPTION...

The alarm clock of my iPhone rang, jolting me awake.

I remained on my bed for a few seconds, I needed that to remember who I was again.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kultuurikatel - The place where Andrei Tarkovsky shot STALKER

If you have read my epic previous post about the 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO screening held on the 22nd of December, I don't blame you if you've thought that my trip in Estonia climaxed during its first day.

I thought the same too as I left the Port of Tallinn on a boat, heading towards the venue of the closing ceremony. That was my last public screening of 2011, ending a very busy year when I had travelled around the film festival circuit almost every month. I would just kick back and relax, recharge my energies. I had a few more days in Tallinn, I expected to spend them in solitude since I was staying around longer than the other invited guests (I was scheduled to fly back to Tokyo on Christmas day). Explore Tallinn, soak in the festive atmosphere, I don't really celebrate Christmas, but the excitement of being half a world away would probably dampen the inevitable melancholy feeling that often plague my soul.

But then, as usual, life is full of little surprises. I then found out that the after-party was to be held in a place called Kultuurikatel. The exact place where Andrei Tarkovsky shot STALKER.

"What? STALKER was shot in Tallinn?" I spluttered in barely contained excitement when this little piece of trivia was conveyed to me.

Some of you who actually knew me as a filmmaker (... and not arrived at this blog looking for Dawn Yang pictures or 10 Things To Do After A Break-Up) might know that I'm a huge Tarkovsky fan. I quote Tarkovsky when I wanted to lament about being an artist in an ill-designed world, about how art would be useless in a perfect world. I ask my cinematographers to give me 'Tarkovskian shots' during film shoots, I shoo the cast and crew away the night before a shoot to watch a Tarkovsky film for inspiration.

I discovered Tarkovsky relatively late, it was only 2 years ago. The first Tarkovsky film I've ever seen was STALKER. And like first love, your first Tarkovsky film is hard to forget, especially when it leads you to the rest of his awesome filmography. This fan video of STALKER might give you a little idea what the film is like.



It was a life-altering experience for me. The poetic visuals, the dream-like languid pacing, the bravura shots, it was transcendent cinema at its finest. The Kultuurikatel is an abandoned power plant dating back from the 19th century and had recently been converted into a place for cultural events. In fact. earlier this year in August, a STALKER festival was held for artists to pay homage to Tarkovsky's film, either through films, visual arts or music.

But being so tired that night after the screening, I opted to skip the after party. I wanted to see the place in its full glory during the day anyway.

And so, the next day, 23rd of December, I went to the Kultuurikatel for my Tarkovsky pilgrimage.

Kulturikatel sign


The imposing structure loomed over me.

Kulturikatel

Kulturikatel 2

Kulturikatel 3


Strangely beautiful because of its decaying, rustic quality.

It was unfortunate that I couldn't really get into the building during the day.

Nearby was a row of houses that seemed abandoned as well.

Row of houses next to Kulturikatel


I continued observing Kultuurikatel, knowing that I had taken enough photos (mediocre ones, unfortunately) to tell people about.

Kulturikatel 4

Where does this lead to???

Kulturikatel means Culture Oven


I couldn't help but suddenly remember an afternoon in May 2009, when I explored numerous ruins ("Haikyo" in Japanese) at Sagamiko, I was intrigued by the ruins of Sun Hill Hotel.

A few months after that, I returned to the Sun Hills Hotel ruins again. This time, it was for recceing. I was preparing to shoot my short, EXHALATION.

I did end up using that location. I shot EXHALATION on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December, 2009.

Shooting a scene in an abandoned building

[Exhalation] Sayuri (Tomoe Shinohara) contemplates as Naoko (Kiki Sugino) is asleep

In a discussion with my main actresses and producer

[Exhalation] Naoko (Kiki Sugino) and Sayuri (Tomoe Shinohara) brooding


I was inspired then, to look for building ruins, mostly because I had seen STALKER (and then THE MIRROR).

As I've mentioned earlier in this post, this year, I had travelled to quite a number of film festivals, mostly because of EXHALATION's festival run (started in Dubai Film Fest 2010 before proceeding to Rotterdam, Jeonju, Shanghai, Hong Kong InDpanda Short and finally, Tokyo).

It's fitting that I managed to end the year visiting the very place which sparked my imagination and formed the core of my work that led to my travels.

It is December 29th, 2011 as I am writing this.

The scenes set within the ruins for EXHALATION was shot in December 29th, 2009.

Do you believe in synchronicity?

Monday, December 26, 2011

60 Seconds of Solitude At Year Zero screening @ Port of Tallinn

I was in Tallinn because of the omnibus film project 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE AT YEAR ZERO, the whole concept was 60 directors, 60 seconds each, so that everything comes together as a 1-hour omnibus film. Invited directors range from cinematic legends to exciting up-and-comers and to the utterly-obscure-but-somewhat-cute (me).

The film was supposed to be screened only once, on the 22nd of December, at the Port of Tallinn, and as the film was being screened, it was being burned as well, so there is no way this can be screened again.

Now, you can skip my colourful commentary and beautiful photos by watching the video now.



Otherwise, let's move on.

On the evening of the 22nd, a bus picked us all up at the hotel.

Taking a bus to Port of Tallinn


Whisking us to the Port of Tallinn.

Directors arriving at Port of Tallinn


I noticed an intimidating crane and thought of Bela Tarr films.

Intimidating crane at Tallinn Port


A stupefyingly beautiful newscaster was covering the event. Alas, I wasn't able to catch a good view of her with my camera. But I have to say though, most women in Estonia are stupefyingly beautiful.

News coverage at Tallinn Port


As you can see from the above photo, there were a few boxes lying around. Inside these boxes were the manifestos.

Manifestos in a box


They had constructed an epic-looking screen for the outdoor screening.

Outdoor screen at the Port of Tallinn


It didn't happen to me back then, but as I look at the photos now, I cannot help but remember the Sony Tropfest Short Film Festivals in Australia, which I used to attend during my Perth days. Those played a role in my filmmaking career. 6 years ago I was an earnest university student who dreamed a filmmaking career and went to those screenings at the festival to learn.

Most of us invited filmmakers climbed onto the Jupiter for a better view of the screening, and also to wave hello to audiences prior to the screening.

I spent most of the time of the screening on Jupiter


The screening started. It was freezing.

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero screening

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero screening 2

60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero screening 3


I was happy to see own film played with music accompaniment, since I made my segment without any sound at all.

After it all ended, and the projector burst into flames, while the sound of excited applause were drowned by fireworks, we left on The Jupiter to the majestic Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour for the closing ceremony.

Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour

Heading to the Lennusadam for the closing ceremony


I was once asked in an interview what I thought about this screening, and how I felt knowing that this experience can never be replicated. My answer was that we will leave this to our memories again. After all, our memories tend to play a big role when it comes to cinema, we associate some films with special moments of our lives, we remember films of our childhood and youth with nostalgia, regardless of the actual artistic quality of these films. (Let's face it, as a child, I thought the two Home Alone films were The Most Important X'mas Films ever). Therefore, perhaps 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE AT YEAR ZERO will be the same for each and every single audience member who were fortunate to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps as this becomes a part of their (and my) memories, we will look back to the screening, to the actual film, through the fog of our memories and feel nothing but nostalgia. It's quite a comforting thought.

Here's the video of the screening again.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Quick Tour in Tallinn Old Town

Merry Christmas.

Having a 7-hour layover in Amsterdam on my way back to Tokyo, so I'll recap my past few days in Tallinn.

On the 21st of December, after a similar layover at Amsterdam, I flew to Tallinn via Estonian Air.

Taking the Estonian Air


It was midnight when I reached there.

I like hotels that display my name on TV screen. There's a warm fuzzy feeling when you return to a hotel room alone, and you feel that at least the room TV cares for you.

Tallink City Hotel welcoming me


It was 1am when I took a walk.

A walk through the streets at night


Walking past a tiny park


Saw the Kino Soprus Cinema, which is known for showing arthouse films and being historical.

Kino Soprus Cinema


I then saw the 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO ad.

(in case you missed my last post, I was in Tallinn because me and a group of directors around the world were earlier invited to participate in an omnibus film project 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO.)

60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO ad at night


THE NEXT MORNING (cool transition, no?)

60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO ad at day


A couple of us directors were taken to a tour at the Tallinn Old Town, which looked medieval. I felt like a character in an Elder Scrolls game.

All-linn – Lower Town 2

All-linn – Lower Town 3

All-linn – Lower Town 4


The Christmas Market had been around since medieval times too. They are good at preserving tradition.

Traditional Christmas Market

Traditional Christmas Market 2

Makeshift stage at the Christmas Market


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral made me think of Tarkovsky's film, ANDREI RUBLEV. Photography not allowed inside though.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral 2


St Mary's Cathedral is also very nice. No photography allowed too.

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary's Cathedral 2


We went to a viewing platform to look at the entire old town.

View of Tallinn old town


Obligatory photo of myself. Naomi Kawase and her family were behind me.

Me (with Naomi Kawase and family in background)


Looking down upon the old town, and an empty park, I thought of more video game references, or something from a fantasy novel that I used to love so much as I was growing up.

Tallinn old town

Nice-looking park in Tallinn


Evening came, we made our way to the outdoor screening of 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO at Port Tallinn.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Off to Tallinn (Estonia) for the 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO screening!

I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME 1


I'll be flying off to Estonia in a couple of hours. (by the time you're reading this, I'm probably already on the plane).

A month ago, I was invited to participate in the 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO omnibus project with a group of directors from all over the world. Most other directors involved in this are world-famous masters like Naomi Kawase, Park Chan Wook, Amir Naderi, Shinji Aoyama, Kim Ji-Woon, Tom Tywker, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Brillante Mendoza and many others (see full list of directors). Being able to participate in this project with filmmakers whose works have inspired me so much is quite an honour, and also rather humbling. (I'm listed as a representative for both Malaysia and Japan, the other filmmaker representing Malaysia is my regular collaborator Woo Ming Jin).

Each director is supposed to make a 1-minute short film, so that when all our contributions are put together, it becomes a (hopefully awesome) one-hour omnibus film.

And there will only be ONE screening for this omnibus film, in Tallin, on the 22nd of December.

A special construction comprising a 20x12 meter cinema screen and a projector will be built for the event which will allow the actual filmstrip to be burnt at the same time as the film is shown. The audience will experience the screening and the performance from approx 20 meters from the screen. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all.

(The most Meta way to deal with this is to film the screening with an iPhone, and then burn my iPhone.)

Here's a teaser video of this project. Ming Jin's name gets to disappear last!



If you were to tell me two months ago that I would be going to Estonia, and spend (most of) my Christmas there, I would have stared at you funny. But I am indeed going there, and hopefully I'll be able to take many photos of the place, and the event. (maybe I try to live-tweet the thing if there's Wi-fi at the outdoor screening venue?) What an adventure!

My segment is called I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME. Which I put together using unused rushes from my latest short, LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER, and my Prada short film, starring Arisa Koike ("LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER") and Moon Lai ("The Tiger Factory"). Yes, it's in split screens. It's been more than two years since I used that for KINGYO, thought to use it again since it served my story.

I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME 2

I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME 3

I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME 4


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Visiting Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (so I can be like Tom Cruise)

I was a little disappointed that I couldn't catch MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL at the opening ceremony of Dubai Film Fest. Being filmed in Dubai, the film had caused such a sensation that all the bigwigs and important people and probably even members of the royal family had reserved their places for its world premiere (and catch a glimpse of Tom Cruise).

Wanting to be like Tom, I decided to visit the Burj Khalifa. It wasn't open to public the first two times I went to Dubai (2008, 2010).

The entrance to its observation deck was in the gargantuan Dubai Mall itself. Where a nice mini Burj greeted all of us.

Miniature Burj Khalifa at the entrance


We were also kindly reminded that MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL was shot there.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was shot in Burj Khalifa


I made my way towards the elevator. Walking past this really cool video installation/ moving pictures sort of thing on the wall.

Cool moving picture on the wall

Cool video installation-type thing

Cool video installation-type thing 2


There was dramatic music playing with introduction videos of the Burj Khalifa.

Very lofty and grand.

FROM THE EARTH TO THE SKY!!

FROM THE EARTH TO THE SKY!


I looked up the sky, through a glass ceiling, and saw the Burj. Which felt even grander because of the grand music playing in the background.

Seeing the majestic Burj Khalifa from below


FROM VISION TO REALITY!!!

FROM VISION TO REALITY!


I felt that exclamation marks should have been added behind these words for more impact.

So, I finally reached the elevator.

Waiting for the elevator


Got into the elevator.

(and took a photo of me in the elevator)

Me, in the elevator


And reached the observation deck on the 124th floor. (note: The observation deck isn't at the top of the building, sadly) The observation deck is called AT THE TOP, by the way.

AT THE TOP Observation Deck


The view from the top was pretty nice. I almost wanted to look at the world with contempt, being so high up in the sky.

View of Dubai from the top

The observation deck is pretty cool-looking

View from the top is pretty nice


Seeing how some people liked sitting by the glass for photos...

Girls posing with the nice scenery


I did the same.

Yay, I'm on top of Dubai


The telescope didn't look like any telescopes I've seen before.

Telescope


In the observation deck, there's a shop selling memorabilia.

Lego Burj Khalifa being sold

Miniature Burj Khalifas sold at the shop


I wondered then, that if the observation deck is the world's highest deck, is this shop the world's highest shop?

As I walked around, something caught my eye. I noticed that I could see the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, cast over the city of Dubai.

I reached out my hand, touching its shadow.

Touching the shadow of Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world
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