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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Happy 80th birthday, Andrei Tarkovsky

I was quite surprised when Radoslav Sharapanov left a comment on my recent Andrei Tarkovsky Facebook post that today is actually Tarkovsky's birthday.

Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky died in 1986 at the relatively young age of 54, when I was only 2. He would have been 80 years old this year. Same age as my grandmother.

On the day of his birthday, the weather in Tokyo had been wonderful, the storm from yesterday was entirely forgotten. The skies were clear, the sun was warm, and near my place, the cherry blossoms had started blooming.

A calm #spring afternoon after the #storm in #Tokyo. #cherry #blossoms are out bathing in #sunlight.

Some of you might know that I'm a huge Tarkovsky fan, and that many of my own works were very influenced by him.

I knew about him for quite a while, but I've only watched my first Tarkovsky film back in 2009. At that time I had just finished Kingyo and was feeling some post-creativity depression. During a delicious all-you-can-eat Italian meal with Niklas (who would end up shooting my subsequent experimental short THE WHITE FLOWER), a brainstorming session led to a Tarkovsky discussion, when he mentioned to me about the greatness of STALKER. I was intrigued, our discussion would lead us to an exploration trip at the ruins in Sagamiko a few weeks later. One thing led to another, the ruins in Sagamiko would end up being used as a setting for my short film, EXHALATION many months later.

But that night after the discussion, I was intrigued by Andrei Tarkovsky. I had a Facebook chat with Lesly (who shot my LOVE SUICIDES and later, the Prada short film, NOW) and asked whether he had seen any Tarkovsky films too. Lesly immediately told me that Tarkovsky was one of his favourite directors too.

With so many people lauding the greatness of Tarkovsky, I had no choice but to check out his films.

STALKER was my very first. I cannot forget its dream scene.

This is a fan-made video of STALKER, the first half of it is the dream scene I mentioned.

(By the way, you can actually watch the entire STALKER, yes, the whole film, on Youtube)

I immediately followed that with MIRROR. Images from the unseen narrator's childhood haunted me for days.

Cinematic poetry at its finest. They were the sort of things I aspired to do with my own films. How awe-inspiring it was, and comforting too, to know that a master like him had done what I tried to do so many decades ago.

(The entire MIRROR is on Youtube as well)

I decided to trace his early career, to understand the evolution, or the maturation, of a pure artist.

So I saw his two short films THE KILLERS and THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN. I cannot remember THE KILLERS at all, but THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN, I remembered it most for... also, another dream sequence, which happened at the end of the short film, showing a little boy's desire to be with his friend.

I guess that would serve as a precursor for the ending of his masterful debut feature, IVAN'S CHILDHOOD. IVAN'S CHILDHOOD shocked me with its greatness and maturity as well. It seemed light years ahead of his shorts. Tarkovsky's lyrical images were already full display.

Witness the famous kissing scene from IVAN'S CHILDHOOD.

Discounting his documentary VOYAGE IN TIME, Tarkovsky had made only 7 features in his lifetime. Having seen three of his films in mere days, completing his entire oeuvre would have been easy.

But I decided against it, I didn't want it to end so soon. Therefore, 2009 ended with me having only seen three of those films. I revisited them a lot, over and over again, before a shoot, after a shoot, whenever I was writing a script.

"Give me a Tarkovskian shot!" became a common line that I would say during a film shoot.

2010. I watched SOLARIS in its entirety. I liked it a little less than the other films that I have seen, despite its brilliance. I didn't know why. Yet the opening and ending images have seared themselves in my retinas... but then, which Tarkovsky film didn't?

Last year, after shooting LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER, I decided to pop in my NOSTALGHIA DVD.

After seeing it, which, predictably, gave me goosebumps, I called THE TIGER FACTORY director Woo Ming Jin, who was my producer.

"The things I did with LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER, of characters moving in and out of dreams and reality, between past and present... Tarkovsky had already done it in NOSTALGHIA decades earlier." I said, shocked, awed, a mixture of both.

"Maybe Tarkovsky traveled in time to the future to rip off from you, eh?" Ming Jin replied dryly.

Many months later, towards the end of 2011, I watched ANDREI RUBLEV. A film so rich in scope, so grand in scape, so novelistic, so visually arresting, I merely shook my head when it ended. There really wasn't anything I could say. It was undeniably a masterpiece of highest order. A towering achievement in cinema.

Yes, Tarkovsky, to me, was THAT damn good. I quote what Radoslav said of ANDREI RUBLEV.

"Effortlessly epic with the focus and power of a poem."


So, finally, I left his last film SACRIFICE for the last. It took me many months before I finally got to watch it.

In fact, I finished it last week, which prompted me to post the Facebook link in the first place. It's not my favourite Tarkovsky film, but those long takes, those moments of undeniable brilliance.

And then the last line... "'In the beginning was the Word.' Why is that, Papa?”"

Completing his oeuvre made me feel a little sad. Maybe because I had nothing to look forward to.

And like I did on Facebook, I could finally rank Tarkovsky's films based on preferences.


- Stalker (it's my first, the first is always the most memorable and precious. I was so excited when I visited the place where he shot Stalker in Estonia last year)
- Andrei Rublev


- The Mirror (the childhood sequences, the ending)
- Ivan's Childhood (the dream sequence)


- Solaris
- Nostalghia
- Sacrifice

That's how I would rank his films. Although I think THE MIRROR might belong to the first group too. It's a tough decision to make.

Anyway, I guess it's understandable due to my recent lack of updates how quiet this site had became in recent months. But it'll be great to hear from some other Tarkovsky fans, or non-fans here.

Happy 80th birthday, Andrei Tarkovsky.

"The director’s task is to recreate life, its movement, its contradictions, its dynamic and conflicts. It is his duty to reveal every iota of the truth he has seen, even if not everyone finds that truth acceptable. Of course an artist can lose his way, but even his mistakes are interesting provided they are sincere. For they represent the reality of his inner life, of the peregrinations and struggle into which the external world has thrown him."
― Andrei Tarkovsky

"It is a mistake to talk about the artist looking for his subject. In fact, the subject grows within him like a fruit and begins to demand expression. It is like childbirth. The poet has nothing to be proud of. He is not master of the situation, but a servant. Creative work is his only possible form of existence, and his every work is like a deed he has no power to annul. For him to be aware that the sequence of such deeds is due and ripe, that it lies in the very nature of things, he has to have faith in the idea; for only faith interlocks the system of images for which read system of life."
― Andrei Tarkovsky