I have a problem when it comes to horribly depressing Asian movies about childhood--my problem is that I keep watching them. Last spring, I wrote about a Japanese movie entitled Nobody Knows about a group of children abandoned by their mother. (You can read that post here). It reminded me of another Japanese movie entitled Grave of the Fireflies. Both of these movies were films that left me weeping. I always find myself attracted to these incredibly depressing movies because there is a comfort and beauty in the sadness they bring.
Last weekend I got another dose of this as I watched a Korean movie called Treeless Mountain. It's the story of two young sisters whose mother leaves them in the care of an aunt who is less than kind as she searches for their deadbeat father.
The film focuses on the older of the two girls, who is just old enough to start understanding what is happening to her world. What makes the movie so powerful is the absolute way in which it captures a child's confusing emotions. It's so painful to watch her come to terms with her mother's absence. From her frustration with her younger sibling, her bouts of loneliness mixed with playfulness, to her heartbreaking disappointments; it feels so very real. The film's brilliance lies in its ability to capture childhood in all of its emotional turmoil.
Like most modern drama from Asia, the film moves at a very slow pace and values slice of life scenes rather than big plot pushes. It's one of the things that really attracts me to these movies as it's the way that I personally like to tell stories in my novels. There's something about this way of storytelling that makes you feel closer to the main characters. This closeness is what causes such a strong emotional reaction in the audience.
When people ask how I can watch such depressing movies, my answer is simple. Sometimes I don't want my entertainment to come in pleasing little packages. Sometimes, I prefer to watch a movie that makes me uncomfortable and forces me to actually feel a real emotion, even if those emotions are sadness and empathy as in the case of Treeless Mountain.