A few days ago, I paid a visit to my uncle’s gravesite, for he had died ten years prior on May 7. The day after I visited his grave, I decided to watch Yi Yi once more, especially with one specific scene in mind, the ending in which the young Yang-Yang speaks to his grandmother one last time at her funeral, a scene which upon my first viewing has been rooted within my head for it touched me so deeply and brought me back to my six-year-old self. I remember the moment in which before the burial of my uncle, I read a short poem summarizing all the happiness that he had brought for me, and just as I watch the stage of childhood in Yi Yi, I find myself at a closeness that I can’t describe on the spot, suddenly I realize that what I’m finding here are some of the closest connections I’ve made with the films I watch, moving me all the more – this truly is a film I adore to my heart.
The goal of Yi Yi is rather simple, for what we are observing on the screen is the cycle of life, but we focus particularly on one family in Taiwan, especially NJ (the father), Yang-Yang (the youngest son), and Ting-Ting (the elder daughter). Each character represents a different stage of a human’s life, adding more detail to the film’s own perspective on life, especially within a point of life where we are still making an attempt to understand the world around us, for we come across new experiences and we can’t fathom how overwhelmed we are, especially when unprepared. To take a quote out that reflects the philosophy that is presented, “Every day in life is a first time. Every morning is new. We never live the same day twice.” A simple day it may have been, but in a way it still leaves us what truly is a great impact on our life.
It’s not particularly easy to recommend Yi Yi right away to any moviegoer knowing that it moves at a rather slow pace together with the near three hour length, but I feel as if there’s a sort of magic that is created from right there. The film moves slowly, much like life itself, almost like a Yasujiro Ozu film would. Yi Yi is about as close to a modern day Yasujiro Ozu film as one can get, especially with its own observations of life together with the absolute natural feeling that can be felt as it keeps moving on. For every frame is rich with the details that form life, and the many wonders never stop from there. Yang’s aim for naturalism in order to create an experience that mirrors that of actual life left behind that is painted on the screen in here, and more wonder forms there.
For Yang’s observation of familial moments, he chooses to take the events in between a wedding and a funeral, gracefully putting together the experiences that define a single family and leaving his viewers to contemplate about the beauty that can be found within another’s celebrations when we think, maybe it might very much be like our very own. Many odd circumstances come within the way, but life is always full of the most unexpected of surprises. Some of which are moments that we shall cherish, others which we would rather forget. When I watched Yi Yi for my first time, I came to an acknowledgement of the overwhelming nature of what gifts and curses life is set to present, at some points, a specific happiness came, and at others, an intense sadness.
Yet the one character whom I felt the most connection with the whole time was the little Yang-Yang. His curious nature reminded me so much of my own childhood, where I was still set to discover a meaning to what life had been obscuring from me, which I were to find out when I grew older. Like the pictures which Yang-Yang takes, a specific quote fits, “So I can only know half the truth, right?” We see only what’s ahead of us but never a back view, one that could have been a possible reflection upon a point of life which we chose to bury away. And upon his discovery towards the ending, a specific monologue which he recited at the funeral which concludes the film, right there is where I saw myself once again, at six year old, reciting in front of my uncle, thanking him for what he has overwhelmed me with, ranging from happiness to sadness.
Life has never been so perfectly reflected on cinema in this manner before. Much like watching Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, a distinctive universality can be felt because of how Yi Yi presents what life is sure to overwhelm us with. It was none other than one of the most moving experiences of my whole life so far, a beautiful, contemplative piece of work that deserves to be remembered as days go by. Every moment so beautifully framed in the gorgeous cinematography, feeling so natural thanks to how Edward Yang handles it, I didn’t want this to end, I really didn’t. And knowing that this is Edward Yang’s swan song, that makes the thought of the final scene move me even more than I’d have imagined. But to end, I guess I can say a thank you to my late uncle, for I miss him very deeply.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Edward Yang
Screenplay by Edward Yang
Produced by Shinya Kawai
Starring Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Issey Ogata, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Cheng
Release Year: 2000
Running Time: 173 minutes