Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Making of Mukhsin, Part 3: The flavour of green tea over rice.

It is said that in wartime Japan, some folks were so impoverished, they only had steamed rice to eat, and green tea to drink.

To give the rice some flavour, they would pour the tea over it.

Just a few years after the war, these people found themselves in the thick of full industrialisation, replete with all manners of culinary richness.

Strangely enough, somehow, some people often found themselves longing for the flavour of green tea over rice. It may have been bland compared to the cuisine of the new age, but there was something in the aftertaste, something simple yet profound, that once partaken, could never be forgotten.

In cinema, the films of Yasujiro Ozu (1903 - 1963) could be described as possessing of this unique quality.

Ozu's stories often revolved around everyday people with everyday problems, but the poignancy with which he delivered them can still make the audience of today see their own life through new eyes.

"Everyday life, rendered tellingly, provides more than enough drama to engage us deeply." - Ozu

He even named one of his films, "The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice". It was the story of a man married to a woman who constantly craved for social excitement, but he himself preferred the simple joys of a quiet life.

Later, the legendary Akira Kurosawa rebelled against Ozu's cinematic sensibilities, with many films that portrayed extraordinary people with extraordinary experiences, in a move which he openly described as "being sick of the flavour of green tea over rice".

I, however, am of the opinion that the two were simply purveyors of different types of sentiments. Who in their right mind would demand the angst of a Kurosawa Shakespearean tragedy from an Ozu family drama? You would have as much chance of obtaining bouillabaise at a satay stall.

In fact, I daresay that Ozu, despite his genius, would have probably messed up "The Seven Samurais", just as Kurosawa would have made a pig's ear of "Tokyo Story".

When an artist paints his canvas, he has in mind a personal feeling, a favourite flavour, which he wishes the viewer to sample. It is almost as if he is saying, "This is how I see things, because this is who I am. Have you ever had similar feelings?"

In a traditional Malay family, when a guest arrives, he is served tea that is pre-mixed with sugar and milk, in the way that the host prefers to take it. This is neither insensitive nor presumptuous. On the contrary, the host is wearing his heart on his sleeve and saying, "This is our life, please have a taste of it. We humbly hope it will meet your approval."

And so it is that while I may never be a great filmmaker, I'm pretty clear with the feelings I wanted to share with you through my own film.

"This is Mukhsin. Welcome to a part of my life, and a piece of my heart. I humbly hope it meets your approval."

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Making of Mukhsin, Part 2: The memories that shaped the structure of the story.

I'm not one to speak elaborately about the so-called "formal structure" of films. As Pablo Picasso once said, "If you love a woman, you don't start measuring her limbs."

That said, every film DOES have a structure. A viewer just has to decide if the story, on the whole, moved him or not.

When I stumbled upon that poem I quoted in Part 1, I thought, "Yes! This poet got it right."

So many writers and filmmakers have spoken about the overwhelming power of their first love, but I never really believed them.

For me, my first encounter with romantic notions was just as Ms Szymborska described it. You don't lose sleep over it, the memories don't consume you, but for some reason, that person stays with you until the end.

As the poet so eloquently put it, "It introduces me to death."

And so it was with Mukhsin. That boy who ran barefoot across our neighbourhood all those years ago. Today, his silhouette treads gingerly across the hidden spaces of my heart. But not often.

I remember the landscape of that time much more vividly than the expressions on Mukhsin's face, or even the shape of his hands which were so often held out to me to help me climb the trees.

I remember that he could scale the entire length of a coconut tree in less than a minute; something I could never do, despite Mukhsin's gentle coaxing.

How tall that tree seemed back then, how wide the fields, and yet how small they all appeared when I finally returned to them as an adult.

I remember the neighbours. There was much talk about my mother, the young British graduate who married a music teacher. "What kind of mother would encourage her children to play in the rain?" "Her husband is a musician, and we all know what musicians are like!"

I remember that the house Mukhsin stayed in was almost decrepit, but I had never stepped inside. I don't even recall who his guardians were or how they looked like.

I often ask myself how it would feel if we were to meet again. Very likely just as how the poem described it. "Our only meeting after years: two chairs chatting at a chilly table."

I wouldn't know what to say to him.

So there it is. A faint but persistent memory. Nothing to shout about, but indelible just the same.

And that is why the cinematic canvas of "Mukhsin", the film, is filled with broad strokes and ellipses. Formal structuralists might find the gaps disturbing, and the climax too subdued, but so be it. The memories are mine, and I wasn't interested in spicing up what was essentially a distant recollection of a girl who hurt a boy.

After the award ceremony in Berlin, the director of Generations held a dinner party at his house. One by one, the members of the international jury told me what they liked about our film. It was the small things, they said, which ultimately formed a strange and magical gestalt.

"Yes," I thought, "the flavour of green tea over rice."

The Making of Mukhsin, Part 1: The poem that influenced the flavour of the film.

babies in tokyo
"They say
the first love's most important.
That's very romantic,
but not my experience.

Something was and wasn't there between us,
something went on and went away.

My hands never tremble
when I stumble on silly keepsakes
and a sheaf of letters tied with string
— not even ribbon.

Our only meeting after years:
two chairs chatting
at a chilly table.

Other loves
still breathe deep inside me.
This one's too short of breath even to sigh.

Yet just exactly as it is,
it does what the others still can't manage:
not even seen in dreams,
it introduces me to death."

- Wislawa Szymborska

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Actors wanted!

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
In the Name of God, the Most Loving, Most Compassionate.

The President of Mercy Malaysia, Dr Jemilah, one of my all-time national heroes, is involved in a training program surrounding the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation.

They need actors and actresses to perform their presentation. They will not pay you, of course, as this is a social cause and an important one at that, but if you're serious about acting, the experience will be priceless, and the exposure may lead to greater things, inshaallah.

You must apply soon, before March 22nd. Please call Mac at the number below:

017 648 0543


Monday, March 12, 2007

A short review by Firecracker, London.

knighting yana
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
"Finally, there was a welcome inclusion in the festival for the latest work by Malaysian Yasmin Ahmad.

Her debut Sepet (which premiered in the UK at the Firecracker Showcase 2005) caused a bit of a ruckus in Malaysia a few years ago with its story of an inter-racial teen romance. A sweet and charming film, it nevertheless cut to the heart of the racial divide in Malaysia and became one of the most talked-about movies of recent years.

Having developed her style with Gubra, Yasmin now delivers her best yet with the affecting Mukhsin, the tale of a relationship between a twelve year old boy and a ten year old girl. Delivered with an assured tone and style, and a welcome sense of humour, Mukhsin manages to be a simultaneously charming and unsentimental tale of first love, and deserves to be regarded as a low-key highlight of this year’s Berlin Film Festival."

- Nick North

To read the full article, go to firecracker-media.com and click on FEATURES.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Mukhsin" on Majalah 3.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Two quick glimpses of Berlin.

At 1:30pm this afternoon, tv8 will be showing "The Making of Mukhsin". And tonight at 9pm, Majallah 3 will be showing a feature on our film at the Berlinale.

Enjoy, my lovelies!