Bird People in China is not your typical Takashi Miike (Zebraman, Audition) fare. While it still relies on dark humor, it isn’t the splatter-fest and cringe-worthy violence that usually mark his films. Bird People is full of magic and sweetness as two very different men discover what drives them in life as well as the philosophical risk to a small village in China. OK, there is some minor violence, but it more like a buddy or road trip movie.
Despite its large geographic scope, the cast for the film is surprisingly small. There are only three main characters. It is led by Masahiro Motoki (Departures) and possibly one of the most filmed actors around, Renji Ishibashi. Alongside these two is Mako in a mostly comic role bridging the Japanese and Chinese language barrier.
This is an older film, and it was done on a tight budget. The quality of the stock (or at least the transfer) is a bit low, which is a shame. Some of the vistas and camera work are beautiful and deserve a higher resolution treatment. But, in the end, it isn’t about what you’re seeing as much as the relationships and revelations of the film that matter. Some of the impact may also be lost in translation, but watching it with subtitles (sometimes subtitles of subtitles) seems almost appropriate and perhaps adding a literal sense of being lost for an English speaking audience.
One thing Bird People makes clear is why Miike, despite his typical fare, is such a successful film maker. Even when his subject is unpalatable, he knows that film is about story and characters and that is the core of what he produces.