Posted: 10/24/2004


The Bird People in China


by Alexander Rojas

This DVD is available for purchase at

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What most audiences who have come to know the work of director Takashi Miike, expect to see cinema of the most violent, bizarre and macabre stories and visuals. However, many of his lesser known movies exemplify Miike’s sensibilities and wide ranging cinematic styles. All you have to do is watch Miike’s horror-comedy-apocalyptic musical, The Happiness of the Katakuris, to get a good sense of how you just can’t tie this guy down to one genre. As with the second Dead or Alive film and the second film in his Triad Society trilogy, Rainy Dog, Miike has harnessed a mix between the chaos lust of his fast paced and ultra-violent yakuza themed films with a slower, melancholic styling. This is best reflected in the quasi-road trip movie, The Bird People in China.

Wada is a young Japanese businessman who is assigned to visit the Yun Nan Province of China by his company in order to exploit a small village’s vein of jade. He is unexpectedly joined by a veteran member of the yakuza gang, Ujiia in order to keep track of the company that owes the yakuza gang a large sum of money from a previous loan. They are guided by Shen, an odd, but peace loving older man that takes them to the isolated village through China’s landscape. Part of the adventure is just getting to this remote village that at times seems as if it might not actually exist, but once they do arrive on the strangest of rafts I have ever seen, the village becomes a place of mysticism and meditation for the travelers. The line between child like fantasies and adult responsibilities become distorted and what comes into question is the human desire for total freedom. In this film, the ability of flight, is the very essence of what freedom means to these villagers and eventually Wada and Ujiia.

The Bird People in China is ultimately a showcase of Miike’s adaptable and flexible film directing talent. He proves that an environmentally aware film with magical elements is just as worthy of an experience as any shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up yakuza epic.

Alexander Rojas reviews films for Film Monthly.

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