Posted December 30, 2011on:
This is an excellent movie. I had to break it in half and watch it for two nights. Incidentally I broke it on its natural border of first half and second half. The first half shows so much miseries about loneliness and facing the end of life with no one to turn to, for even a tiny speck of warmth. I almost decided to skip the second half, since I am very sure that I cannot survive watching another hour of such miseries. Luckily I read the introduction on the dvd sleeve and realized the second half is probably going to be about more positive things so I continued.
There are still quite some heartbreaking materials in the second half, for example, the son, the entire movie, is so distant to what is going on around him — despite the fact his father poured his heart and soul onto him, he is so alien, so inept at feeling, to the point of stupidity. The end brought some solace, some light in the son’s emotional dessert but it is not enough — an entire breed of man, who couldn’t feel, couldn’t emote, couldn’t live. Luckily they, themselves, do not know it.
The English version called ‘To Live’. It would be a very interesting topic to compare the Japanese version of 活着 and the Chinese version of 活着。You see they are in completely different scope: Chinese ‘To Live‘ is about how to survive, how to thrive despite all hardships thrown at you. The Japanese ‘To Live’ has a way more general framework — it is philosophical and worldly in the sense that everyone, no matter color, class and wealth, has to face the question what is the meaning of your life, one way or the other. In a sense, the latter question is much more hurting, much more thought provoking, much more life changing than the previous question of how to survive. Maybe that is the reason why China does not have any prominent philosophers in the past thousand years — the Chinese people are too obsessed with survival, and getting ahead, they hardly have time to think — just as the two movies tell you. The Japanese, despite the bare, plain, simple life you see from the movie in the 50s, right after the war, actually think about life and death and try to answer THE question.
When you think of it, it is illuminating why the two movies can be so different.