April 9, 2011

The Zombie Metaphor

Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, starring Matt Damon, had its Japanese theatrical release on February 19, 2011. When the earthquake hit three weeks later, the film was immediately pulled from theaters owing to its opening scene, which depicts the devastating 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia.

I heard from a friend that JAL actually played the film on a domestic flight! As if taking a plane isn't nerve-inducing enough. Turbulence is quite similar to what your body experiences in a strong earthquake.

It's interesting how entertainment becomes unwittingly taboo like that after a major disaster. After 9/11, a brief shot of the World Trade Center was taken out of the opening credits of Sex and the City so viewers wouldn't be constantly reminded of what they had lost. But on a personal level, it doesn't necessarily take a huge event to make a movie suddenly off-limits to you. For example, if you were going through a divorce, you would avoid Kramer vs. Kramer, The War of the Roses, and Blue Valentine like the plague.

A marriage implodes in Blue Valentine.

(Actually, you would avoid Blue Valentine if you have ever experienced or been witness to any of the following: a divorce, a fight between loved ones, or a devastating breakup. Despite the ferocity of Michelle Williams' performance and her amazing rapport with Ryan Gosling, the film is just too damn bleak for 99% of any potential audience to sit through.)

For me, the 2004 British zombie film Shaun of the Dead has become uncomfortable viewing after the earthquake. It's not the scenes of mayhem and people running while zombies advance that freak me out. It's actually two fairly restrained sequences.

 A normal morning in Shaun of the Dead.

But by the next day, zombies have set in.

One is near the beginning of the film, when protagonist and loser Shaun (Simon Pegg), in an unmotivated daze, walks to the local shop, buys something to drink, and takes the bus to work. The second, set one day later, has Shaun follow the same motions but shows that unbeknownst to him, the neighborhood people have slowly turned into zombies.

 A visit to the local shop.

The next day, something not right.

The feeling that your everyday life has been tainted by something you can't quite place is perfectly encapsulated in those two sequences, and for that reason, they hit too close to home for me. Even now, I will be living my life according to my regular routine and come across something incongruous that gives me a jolt. Walking past a brand-new apartment building whose front gate has turned into a mangled mess. Boarding the train on a cloudy day to see that all the lights have been turned off, and passengers are sitting silently in weak light. These are minor examples, but in a country that prides itself on orderliness and routine, these small differences can be initially startling.

Shaun of the Dead
When friends ask me, "How's life in Tokyo?", I tell them it feels like a zombie movie sometimes. But what I should really tell them is, watch Shaun of the Dead, particularly the beginning. If they get it, great. If they don't, it's still a decent way to spend 90 minutes.


Diana Moreva said...

Oh god. If you found Blue Valentine bleak you either have no taste or need to watch it again. And again. And again. That movie is anything but bleak. It is not about fighting, but the intricacies of emotion and relationships. It is one of the greatest dramas ever.

Sachiko Shiota said...

It is about a relationship that had shaky foundations to begin with, and the film ends with its demise. Bleak is an appropriate word, and I don't disagree that it is an amazing film.