Friday, October 18, 2013

Cape No. 7 (Wei Te-Sheng, 2008) & Orphan of Asia

Cape No. 7 海角七號  (Wei Te-Sheng, 2008), one of the highest grossing films of all-time in Taiwan, contains a narrative thread which has remained prevalent with me, namely the film's representation of nostalgia for Japanese occupation -- and more specifically, the film's representation of a romantic relationship between a couple from both Taiwan and Japan that was cut short due to the socio-political situation in the region in 1945 (trailer below).

The film's nostalgia has been written about in both film reviews and academic essays (see "Memories of the future: Remaking Taiwanese-ness in Cape No. 7" by Chialan Sharon Wang). And it remains the case that those scenes continue to evoke further inquiry.

This is certainly the case for me after again reading and teaching Wu Zhuoliu's 吳濁流 1946 novel Orphan of Asia 亞細亞的孤兒 (Leo Ching's great review of the text here -- and I'd say that the English translation by Ioannis Mentzas reads wonderfully) in a postcolonial literature course.

It's quite astounding how placing these two texts side by side can lead to new ideas and access points into discussions of memory, colonialism, and nationalism. For example -- evoking comparisons with Cape No. 7 -- the protagonist of the novel, Hu Taiming, who is from Taiwan, finds himself during Japanese occupation very much enraptured by a Japanese schoolteacher named Hisako, yet their relationship never comes to fruition because as Hisako states, "you and I are different" (50).

Furthermore, toward the end of Wu's novel, we witness a state during the turmoil of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a populace under increased Japanization, and an economy strained to the point that malnourishment is prevalent. In such an environment, Hu Taiming finds himself depressed, anxious, paranoid, and both psychologically and physically ill. Within a comparative analysis, one notices that the moment in which Hu Taiming might be most grateful for the departure of the Japanese is the moment in which, in Cape No. 7, the departure of the Japanese is arguably conveyed with a sense of sorrow and loss.

Most importantly, any comparison between the texts becomes exceedingly complex -- after all, Hu Taiming in the novel forges a solid friendship with a Japanese colleague named Sato, and is sad to see his friend return to Japan -- so one returns to the historical-material context depicted, the time periods in which the two texts were produced, their linguistic characteristics, the nature of both individual and collective memory, and the formal qualities inherent to both literature and film -- and all of this seems necessary to re-ground oneself in order to initiate a new comparative question that again leads to an almost infinite set of variables worth consideration.

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