To the writer of the "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films " article

It is 3:30 am in the morning. I was trying to write on this journal an entry about a new project of mine called YASMIN-SAN, which is either a documentary or a film essay. I thought I had to write about it because I was about to start recording my own voiceovers for the film. I'm generally camera-shy and self-conscious (I don't appear in my own films), the idea of recording MY OWN VOICE for a film project left me a little uncomfortable. But YASMIN-SAN is going to be screened in public two weeks from now, so I don't have much of a choice!

9 years ago, I attempted a film essay called FLEETING IMAGES. It happened a few weeks after I moved to Tokyo. Adjusting to a new life in a new country, I clung on to my lifelong love: cinema and literature. I brought many DVDs with me to watch, one of them happened to be Chris Marker's SANS SOLEIL. After I watched it in one lovely Spring afternoon, I realized my life was changed, my senses realigned, and it opened up to me the infinite possibilities of cinema. So I made FLEETING IMAGES, I had a lot of beautiful and bittersweet memories of this project. For the award I won, the unexpected appreciation it received, for the people I met, for the person I met after its very first public screening.


I tried Googling FLEETING IMAGES as I was writing that post (trying to find its Youtube embed code, which I added above this paragraph), and stumbled upon a Japanese article in the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia website, which I believed was written last June as part of the Southeast Asia Program & Symposium.

In the article "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films", the author wrote about his (her?) first encounter with FLEETING IMAGES, which was essentially his introduction to Malaysian cinema.

After reading it, I decided to put my initial post aside and write this instead. I wanted to thank the writer, but I couldn't find a place to leave my comments. I wasn't too sure whom the author was either, but after reading it I felt nothing but gratitude.

I will put the entire article here (which is translated in English), along with its original Japanese text.

Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films
2016/06/07
#1

It has already been seven years since I first met the guy. To put it more accurately, maybe I should say, when I first met the guy’s short film—.

A woman’s monologue was accompanied by various clips that began in Japan, on to Malaysia, India, and so on. If these unrelated clips that filled the screen happened to be still pictures instead of videos, maybe it would have reminded me of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Emotions that words can’t explain, bustling intentions that can’t be replaced with languages, aspirations that continue pleading to be expressed… These things came fluttering down from the screen, and I found myself trying to capture each and every one of them with both of my hands. But before I knew it, they slipped past me and continued to flow toward their next travel destination, as if there’s a meaning to continue flowing for eternity and to never reach the destination for all eternity.

The guy’s film called Fleeting Images was exactly like that.The creator was a Malaysian man named Edmund Yeo. My first impression was, “So this is the guy…”

Edmund’s film Fleeting Images should be called “Short-lived Images”. The images that flowed and disappeared every second and every instant with the flow of time, was similar to that instantaneous flicker of our lives: elusive, haphazard, and the destination unknown. A letter filled with an ephemeral emotion is handed to us without telling us who it’s addressed to, and the voice that reads the letter becomes a distant echo, resists the flow of time, and continues to resonate in our ears.

Who is it addressed to? Without knowing, the woman’s monologue becomes grains of words, crystalizes through the flowing time, and awakens a piece of our memory as it turns and runs away.
While a couple of letters turn into the echo of a monologue and disappear between time and space, we quietly wait for the next page to be turned…You can say that seeing his films is like reading through a book. It’s a repetition of experiences. What’s important is not to give a fixed meaning to it. Rather than that, we must embrace the endless sway of transience as it is. It’s to continue this behavior in order to keep reliving the time.So this is the guy who depicted all that…

The guy in front of me didn’t look like a movie youth or like a literary youth at all. An innocent smile filled his dark-colored face and “friendly” and “lovable” were the adjectives that fit him perfectly.

Until then, I hadn’t had the opportunity to come face to face with a Malaysian person, so he was my first Malaysian friend. From his Chinese name, I kind of predicted he’d be a Chinese Malaysian, but his looks greatly defied my shallow speculation and I found myself sitting up straight. It was out of respect for the creator. This film’s unexpected surprise of beginning in Malaysia and going through Japan, will continue to touch my heart.

This is what triggered me to begin thinking about Malaysian films—.In Japan, Yasmin Ahmad is a prominent figure, but how many of us know the background, the present, and the future of Malaysian films……? Edmund mentioned this in an interview once— “The country of Malaysia consists of multiple ethnic groups and cultures. We all have our distinct ways of living. So in my case, since I’m Malaysian Chinese, the characters of my films speak Mandarin, but I think the flow of time and methods of visual expressions we use in our filmmaking as well as the emotions that exist are totally different from what you see in Taiwanese films, Hong Kong films, and Chinese films. (“OUTSIDE IN TOKYO” )

The multiethnic country, Malaysia. Although it mainly consists of Chinese people, just like the distinct development of its cuisine, films have also taken shape by absorbing a variety of sensibilities and tastes. That’s why I don’t feel that Edmund’s films are different from ours.

From Japan to Malaysia, and on to India, the fleeting fragments of images continue on as if they’re passing through a corridor, coupled with the monologue that tickles our ears as they pass by, taking us back to a nostalgic time and place that we possibly knew in the past. It’s the present but no longer the present. It was once a time in the past, but not anymore. It’s like a mixture of a faint memory and a premonition…… Each element is huddled together but then untangled once again…….

From Japan to Malaysia and on to India, transcending space and time, memories are linked together and images shimmer as they connect with one another. It’s something that’s created by passing through Malaysia, a topos where various times and cultures wander back and forth. That is the very reason why a certain richness is fostered and people who are no different from all of us begin living lives that are no different from ours… inside the film of Edmund Yeo.


#2
Now let’s talk about Malaysian films… Well, I’m not actually well-versed and knowledgeable about Malaysian films. I only have a general knowledge. But my encounter with Edmund Yeo no doubt changed that a little bit.Yasmin Ahmad, a leading figure in the Malaysian film industry, passed away (summer of 2009) right after my encounter with Edmund, and special screenings to commemorate her took place in various locations. Let me introduce an Asahi Shimbun article from back then.

“Malaysia’s female film director Yasmin Ahmad, who has led the new trend of Southeast Asian films, passed away last month on the 25th from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 51. Her films that captured the realities of a multiethnic nation with humor and satire were screened in various film festivals in Japan and gained popularity. Her passing came just before the kickoff of her new film which included shooting in Japan. After graduating from a university in England, she became a TV commercial director for a Malaysian advertisement company. Her commercials with messages toward cross-cultural understanding and supporting the vulnerable, received high acclaim. She made her film debut with the feature film Rabun in 2003. The autobiographical film series featuring a young girl Orked, received international attention. Ahmad committed herself to supporting young directors in Malaysia and Singapore. She called herself “The storyteller”. She valued entertainment and creating content that was easy-to-understand for all. On the other hand, she cut through Malaysia’s intercultural conflicts and discrimination structure where ethnic groups such as Malay, Chinese, and Indian coexisted, and the screenings of her films often got axed. Her second film Sepet (2004) about the first romance between a Malaysian girl and a Chinese boy, received the Best Asian Film Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF). In a blog post prior to her passing, she mentioned that receiving recognition at TIFF etc. motivated her to keep pursuing her activities. Her maternal grandmother is Japanese. She mentioned that Otoko-wa-tsurai-yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) was her favorite film. Her newest film Wasurenagusa was going to be based on her grandmother in which she explores her roots. The filming was scheduled to take place in October in locations such as Ishikawa Prefecture.” (Asahi Shimbun September 9th 2009. ‘The greatest director of Malaysia’s film industry, Yasmin Ahmad, passes away.’
http://www.asahi.com/showbiz/movie/TKY200908070263.html)

The death of Ahmad, who led the new wave of Malaysia, triggered people to reaffirm the frameworks of Malaysian films. I say this because I feel that new talents and gems in the filming industry are cutting their developmental stages short and moving into action.

Film festivals such as the Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo FILMEX have been introducing such Malaysian films both consecutively and at one-time screenings. As a result, young Malaysian talents such as Pete Teo (multi-talented music producer, film producer, and actor), James Lee (prominent figure in the Malaysian independent film industry), Lisa Surihani (leading actress in today’s Malaysian film industry), gradually became known (though it may be just among some).

Then in 2013 and 2015, special screenings such as “Cine Malaysia 2013 – Festival of Malaysian Film, Tokyo” and “Malaysian Film Week” took place to introduce the attractiveness of Malaysian films. There’s no doubt that this is an era in which new trends of Malaysian films exist and that there’s a ripple that hints something is about to emerge from there.

Now let’s return to talking about Edmund Yeo.Since encountering his film Fleeting Images, I’ve intentionally began pursuing his films. It’s because he belonged to Kohei Ando’s seminar at Waseda University and was using that as a backbone to create films one after another.

Kingyo (2009, submitted to the Venice Film Festival), Inhalation, Exhalation (both in 2010), Last Fragments of Winter (2012)… Each and every one of Edmund’s films adopts a slightly different style and topic. His inspirations include directors such as Tarkovsky, Edward Yang, Hirokazu Koreeda, but above that, Mr. Kohei Ando told me that Edmund loves Yasunari Kawabata. As if to prove that, Kingyo breaks free from locations and time, and fosters various cultures and multiple styles which are the backbone of Edmund’s films and includes new attractive elements of Malaysian films which would not have been created within the contained realm of Japan. No other location or time could have created that certain something that directly reaches out to us.
It’s not something that can be born and talked about using a single proper noun like Japan or Malaysia. It’s something that can only be born through the framework of Asia as well as the places and time where random cultures clash and react to one another while creating a buzz.

Edmund Yeo’s films not only help us focus our attention there but also continues to flow at the very center of all that.

#Postscript
Edmund Yeo’s first feature film River of Exploding Durians (2014) is a film in which he personally pursues the origin. A must-see.

エドモンド楊とマレーシア映画
2016/06/07
#1
そいつと初めて会ったのは、もう7年前になる。より正確には、そいつのショートフィルムと初めて会ったのはと、言い換えたほうがよいか──。女性のモノローグが流れる背景で映像もまた流れ、日本を起点にしながらマレーシア、インド……と、まるで脈絡などなかったようにしてスクリーンを流れてゆく映像は、もしそれが動画でなく静止画だったなら、クリス・マルケルの『ラ・ジュテ』を想起させたかもしれない。
言葉によって説明しようのない想い、言語によって置き換えることのできない思惟のざわめき、表現されることを訴えつづける希求……そうしたものが、スクリーンからはらはらとこぼれでて、ぼくは思わず、それらすべてを両手で受けとめようとする。
けれど、それらはいつの間にかぼくのあいだをすり抜けて、次の旅先を目指して流れつづけてゆく。まるで、永遠に流れつづけること、永遠に到達しないことに意味があるかのように……。そいつの『イメージのはかなさ』(Fleeting Images)は、まるでそんな作品だった。作者は、マレーシア人で、エドモンド楊という。その第一印象は、こいつがそうなのか──と。

エドモンドの映画『イメージのはかなさ』は、むしろ「つかの間のイメージ」と呼んだほうがよいだろう。1秒ごと、一瞬ごと、時間の流れのまにまに流れ去ってゆくイメージは、ぼくたちが生きている一瞬のまたたきにも似て、とらえどころがなく、行き当たりばったりで、到着点すら知らない。ひとつの手紙にこめられたその刹那な思いは、宛名も知らないままにぼくたちの目の前に差し出され、その手紙を読む声だけが、遠い木霊となりながら、時間の流れにあらがってぼくたちの耳に響きつづける。
誰に宛てられたものなのか、それすら知らせられないまま、女性のモノローグはまるで言葉のつぶのようになって流れゆく時間のなかで結晶化し、ぼくたちの記憶の断片を呼び覚ましながら、フイっと逃げ去ってゆく。
いくつかの手紙がモノローグの響きだけになって時間と空間のあわいに消え去ってゆくあいだ、ぼくたちはじっと静かに、次の頁が繰られるのを待っているのだろう……。

そう、彼の映画を見ることは、まるで一冊の書物を聴くのにも似て、繰り返される経験のようなのだ。大事なのは、そこになにかの意味を固定させることではない。そうではなくて、留められることのない儚さなの揺らぎを、そのまま受けとめつづけること。その行為を繰り返しつづけることによって、その時間を生き直しつづけること……。そんなことを、この男が描いたのか──。

目の前にいる彼は、まるで映画青年ぽくも、からきし文学青年ぽくもなく、浅黒い顔にくったくのない笑顔を浮かべて人なつこく、憎めないやつという言葉がそのまま人のかたちをとったかのようだった。それまで、マレーシアの人ときちんと対峙したことなどなかったぼくにとっては初めてのマレーシア人の友人であり、漠然とその中国系の名前から中華系マレーシアンを予想していた浅はかな思惑から大きく外れる彼のたたずまいに、ぼく自身はむしろ、居ずまいを正す。作者への敬意とともに。そして、マレーシアから日本を経て生まれたこのショートフィルムの不意打ちが、ぼくの心を打ちつづけることになるのだ。それからだった、マレーシア映画というものを考えるようになったのは──。

日本では、ヤスミン・アハマドの名前が突出して知られてはいるが、マレーシア映画の背景にあるものと、その現在、そしてこれからについて、どれほどのことが知られているものか……。エドモンドはあるインタヴューでこんなことを語っている──「マレーシアという国は、複数の民族と文化から成り立っている国です。私たちは皆、それぞれに異なる生活様式を持っているのです。ですから、私の場合は、マレーシア系中国人ですので、映画の登場人物たちは皆、北京語で話していますけれども、私たちの映画における時間の流れや視覚的な表現方法、そして、そこに息づいている感情といったものは、台湾映画や香港映画、中国映画で見られるものとは相当異なっているのではないかと思います」(「OUTSIDE IN TOKYO」 )

多民族国家、マレーシア。中国系を中心にして構成されてはいても、その料理が独自の発展を遂げてきたように、映画もまた、さまざまな感性とテイストをのみ込みながらかたちづくられてきた。だからこそ、彼、エドモンドの映画がぼくたち自身と異なっているとは思わない。日本からマレーシアを経てインドへ、回廊を抜けるようにして連なってゆくつかの間の映像=イメージの欠片たちは、耳をくすぐりながら過ぎてゆくモノローグとあいまって、かつて知っていたかもしれない懐かしい時間と空間へと、ぼくたちを連れ戻す。それは、いまであってももはやいまではない時間、かつてであってももはやかつてではない空間、かすかな記憶と予感のようなものが混じり合ったもの……とでも。そう、さまざまな物ごとが寄り集まりながらももういちど解きほぐされていったなにか……。

日本からマレーシアを抜けてインドへ、空間と時間を超えて記憶はつらなり、印象は揺らめきながら通じ合う。マレーシアという、さまざまな時間と文化が行き来するトポスを経ることによって醸し出されたなにか。それゆえにこそ、ある豊かさが醸成され、ぼくたちと変わりない人物たちが、ぼくたちと変わりない人生を生き始めるのだ。彼、エドモンド楊の映画のなかで──。

#2
さて、ここでマレーシア映画について……などと書けるほどに、ぼく自身、マレーシアの映画事情に通暁しているわけではない。ごく一般的な知識をもち合せているにすぎない。のだが、エドモンド楊との出会いが、それを少し変えてくれたことは確かだった。マレーシア映画界を代表するヤスミン・アハマドが、エドモンドと知り合って、そのしばらくのちに亡くなり(2009年の夏のこと)、その後、彼女を追悼する特集上映があちこちで組まれた。当時の朝日新聞の追悼記事を紹介しておこう。

「東南アジア映画の新潮流をリードしてきたマレーシアの女性監督ヤスミン・アハマドが先月25日に51歳で脳出血で死亡した。多民族国家の現実をユーモアと風刺を交えて描いた作品は、日本でも様々な映画祭で上映され人気を集めた。日本ロケもある新作にとりかかる矢先の急逝だった。英国の大学を卒業後、マレーシアの広告会社のCMディレクターに。異文化理解や弱者支援などのメッセージCMで高い評価を得た。03年の初長編『ラブン』で、映画界に進出。少女オーキッドを主人公とする自伝的連作で国際的な注目を浴び、マレーシアやシンガポールの若手監督のサポートにも尽力した。自称『語り部』。誰にでもわかる娯楽性を大切にした。一方で、マレー系、中国系、インド系が共存するマレーシアの文化間対立や差別構造にも鋭く切り込み、本国では上映中止の危機にもたびたび直面した。マレー系の少女と華人の少年の初恋を描いた第2作『細い目』(04年)で東京国際映画祭(TIFF)の最優秀アジア映画賞を受賞。亡くなる前の自身のブログでは、TIFFなどでの評価が活動を続ける支えになったと述懐していた。母方の祖母は日本人。最も好きな映画に『男はつらいよ』を挙げた。次回作『ワスレナグサ』は祖母をモデルに自らのルーツを探る内容で、10月には石川県などで撮影を予定していた」(朝日新聞2009年8月9日「マレーシア映画界の名匠、ヤスミン・アハマド監督逝く」)

マレーシア・ニューウェイヴを牽引してきたとされる彼女の死は、だが、マレーシア映画という枠組みを再確認させることになったのではないだろうか。ヤスミン・アハマドという存在の不在を埋めるべく、新たな才能、新たな逸才が揺籃期を早々に切り上げ、次々と胎動し始めたように思えるからだ。

東京国際映画祭や東京フィルメックス、あるいはそのほかの映画祭でも継続的単発的にそうした新たなマレーシア映画は紹介されてゆき、ピート・テオ(音楽プロデューサーで映画プロデューサーで俳優でもある多彩な人物)、ジェイムズ・リー(マレーシア・インディペンデント映画の大立者)、リサ・スリハニ(マレーシア映画界の〈いま〉を代表する女優)ら、若きマレーシアンな才能たちについて、次第に知られるようになっていった(ごく一部でかもしれないが……)。

やがて、2013年、2015年と、マレーシア映画の魅力を伝える特集上映「シネ・マーレシア2013★マレーシア映画の現在」および「マレーシア映画ウィーク」も開催され、マレーシア映画の新しい動きが確実に存在しているということ、そしてそこから、なにかが生まれでようとしているさざめきが確実に聴き取れる時代となってきた。さて、話をエドモンド楊に戻そう。

初めて彼の作品『イメージのはかなさ』に接してから、ぼくは意識してエドモンド作品を追いかけるようになった。所属していた早稲田大学の安藤紘平ゼミをバックボーンとして、エドモンドは次々を作品を送り出していたからだ。
『Kingyo(金魚)』(2009年、ヴェネツィア映画祭に出品)、『避けられない事』『避けられる事』(ともに2010年)、『冬の断片』(2012年)……。そのいずれもが、少しずつスタイルも異なり、主題も異なってゆくエドモンド映画。彼は、タルコフスキーやエドワード・ヤン、是枝裕和といった監督の名を、影響を受けた人物として挙げているが、それ以上に好きなのは川端康成だと、安藤紘平さんからうかがった。それを証すかのような、『Kingyo』の場所と時間を超えた味わいのなかに、日本という殻からは生まれてこない、さまざまな文化と複数の様式に支えられたエドモンド映画の、さらにはマレーシアの新たな映画の魅力が醸成され、ほかのどの場所と時間からも生まれてはこないだろうなにかを、真っすぐに訴えているのを感じとる。それは、日本でもなく、マレーシアでもなく、ただひとつの固有名詞によって語られ、そこから生まれ落ちるものではない。アジアという枠組、雑多な文化がざわめきをあげながらぶつかり合い、反応し合う場と時間からしか、産声をあげることなどできないものだ。エドモンド楊の映画は、そこへと目を開かせてくれると同時に、そのまん中でいまもつねに流れづづけている──。

#追記
エドモンド楊の処女長編『破裂するドリアンの河の記憶』(2014年)は、彼自身がその源流を追いかけた作品でもある。必見。

He described how my film has touched his heart, I too wanted to say that my heart is touched by this article. In case the article will ever be removed from the Short Shorts website, I will still have it in this journal. So I can hold on to it longer.

I also wanted to tell the author that him being reminded by Chris Marker's La Jetée isn't that surprising, after all, I was blatantly paying homage to his other film, SANS SOLEIL.

And now, as I am about to begin recording my voiceover for YASMIN-SAN, I would also want to tell him that, coincidentally, not only am I doing another work influenced by Chris Marker, I am also covering the late great filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad. However, when making YASMIN-SAN, the Chris Marker work in my mind was A.K., his 1985 film essay/ documentary which chronicled the making of Akira Kurosawa's RAN. A "making-of" documentary which veered into subjects like Kurosawa's personal childhood, World War 2, the spontaneous nature of filmmaking, the bond between cast and crew, and many others. I hope when I am done with YASMIN-SAN, I can add another piece of memory for someone like the author of the above article.