Sunday, September 09, 2007

West vs East

Whenever I see a movie that has been remade from a foreign movie, I like to check out the foreign version to compare how the story is different. Premonition is one of the recent movies I've seen that came from a Japanese movie: Yogen or The Newspaper of Death. The only thing the two movies have in common is knowing about a death before it happens.

In the American version, a woman is told her husband was killed in a car accident the day before and she remembers seeing him off to work that morning, except she is out of time, living her life out of sequence. Throughout the movie she jumps back and forth in time, living different endings and different events as she searches for a way to change the outcome.

In the Japanese movie, Hiroshi Mikami picks up a newspaper from the floor of a phone booth and reads about his daughter's death in a car accident before the paper disappears. His daughter dies moments later and he cannot convince anyone that he read about her death before it happened. Five years later, he and his wife are separated and his now ex-wife has dedicated her life to finding out about the newspaper that keeps appearing to predict future events. Her husband, unable to deal with his daughter's death, begins to have premonitions of other deaths and finds himself unable to stop them before they happen. The wife finds her ex-husband and together they search for answers only to discover Hiroshi's only future is not bright. He will either go mad or, if he changes the future, will disappear slowly and painfully, taking on the burden of the deaths that were meant to be.

The basic premise is changed between the two movies, but that's just on the surface. Beneath that is a fundamental difference in ideology and perceptions. In the American version, there is an underlying sense of hope and the belief that the future is not set in stone, that the Fates do not rule us, we rule our own fate. The Japanese version offers little in the way of hope unless a high price is paid, one life for another, in order to keep the Fates balanced. The I is sacrificed for another and Fate cannot be countered without madness or painful death. Fate rules.

Another difference lies in the treatment of extraordinary happenings. In the Western mind, magic is nothing more than science misunderstood and everything boils down to science. In the sophisticated and westernized East, magic and science can be mixed, but there is a deeply rooted sense of magic that underlies everything. It is as if magic is a part of their genetic makeup while westerners tend to hold magic at a distance, separating it from reality and seeking to quantify it in saner terms, in terms of science.

In every foreign movie I've seen, Fate is the final arbiter and magic is inextricably bound to the way they see and experience the world. In the Western world, science underpins everything and the only magic we accept without question is Hope, the hope that we create our own future, that we can win against Fate and predestination if we believe hard enough and fight hard enough.

That is all. Disperse.

No comments: