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February 16, 2014

New World (Shinsekai Story)


Lim Kah-Wai - 2011
Tidepoint Pictures All Region DVD

An explanation of the title is in order. As I understand it, the part of Osaka where most of this film takes place is known as Shinsekai. This is also a bit ironic as much of the area is run down, and badly aged. On a symbolic level, the title also refers to the main character's discovery of a place and people that she would never have discovered prior to her visit to Japan.

The various cultural and economic tensions that have always seemed to exist between China and Japan are taken to a personal level here. Tying everything together is the now ubiquitous celebration of Christmas, unconnected by any religious significance, and now an international celebration of electric lights, fir trees and consumerism. With this, is the implied promise of the holiday being a special time for all.

new-world 1.png

The young Chinese woman, Coco, goes to visit Osaka to see her friend, Ivy. She also wants to spend time away from her boyfriend, a youngish businessman named Jimmy. The hotel room reserved for Coco is in a run down hotel, with a small room set with the traditional tatami mat. Ivy works at a tiny bar, run by a Chinese woman in debt to Chinese gangsters. Coco's first day in Japan is an immersion in a community populated mostly by well-meaning people brought together due to their respective misfortunes. There is a happy ending, just in time for Christmas Eve.

Lim, who is of both Chinese and Japanese heritage, plays with the notion of otherness. That notion of otherness, especially as it applies to sense of the exotic foreigner, is mirrored when a local Japanese gangster tries to "buy" Ivy, and later, when Coco, in a modern, and presumably expensive, hotel, is eyed by some male Chinese tourists who think she is Japanese. This is a Japan that is dependent on Chinese imports, while the Chinese look to Japan for their fashion queues.

Lim sets things up in the beginning by alternating between the bright lights of Beijing and the general shabbiness of Shinsekai. Coco's story is one of initial disappointment or anger over unmet expectations, transformed by the connections made with a handful of people who remain optimistic even when down on their luck. For the characters here, it's not a wonderful life, nor It's a Wonderful Life, but it is the life they've chosen and they wouldn't have it any other way.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 16, 2014 11:25 AM