So this is the scenario that would have been depicted in Kurosawa’s film. And it would have had Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who’s just the best: I’ve never not liked him in every movie I’ve seen him in. It also would have provided Kurosawa with another opportunity to branch out, Cronenberg-like, from the horror genre in which he made his name. Now, I personally hold the horror genre in high esteem, so I don’t think a good horror filmmaker necessarily needs to make other films, but if a talented filmmaker wants to try other things, then I certainly don’t begrudge him or her that inclination. And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that even the best filmmakers can become “pigeon-holed” within the genres they’ve mastered, and so it is always a victory for them to make great films in other genres.
Let’s consider Cronenberg, for instance, who has already gone through the generic territory that Kurosawa is now exploring; twenty-five years ago, with Cronenberg about to release his adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, it would have been hard to imagine that he would eventually make gangster films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises and period pieces like M. Butterfly and A Dangerous Method. Now, Kurosawa has been fortunate in that he established that he could work outside of the horror genre much earlier on in his career than did Cronenberg.(well, once his career had taken off, that is; Kurosawa was directing pink movies in the early ‘80’s; it was only in 1997, with the release of Cure, his first film with leading man Koji Yakusho, that he became one of the respected pioneers in the revival of the Japanese horror film (which would soon be called “J-horror”)). In ’99 he made Charisma, as I’ve already mentioned, which is weird as fuck but which I wouldn’t call “horror,” and 2004’s Bright Future is a realistic piece of bleak chic, and it’s horrifying in that respect, but it’s more like a British kitchen-sink drama (maybe Kes with jellyfish?) than Ju-On. And with 1905, Kurosawa would have had the opportunity to make his first costume drama/period piece/and maybe noir (I don’t know how the double-headed pursuit of these Chinese revolutionaries would have played out).
But now let’s answer the big question: What prevented 1905 from getting made? One word: Senkaku. Or really, maybe two words: Senkaku/Diaoyu. Yes, just as 1905 was preparing for production, the Chinese and Japanese governments renewed their acrimony over the uninhabited South China Sea rocks known as Senkaku in Japanese (and it’s the Japanese who govern them, which they have done since 1894; hell, maybe that could have figured in the movie?) and Daioyu in Chinese. And under these circumstances, it appears that Tony Leung Chiu-wai would have found himself under significant political pressure if he travelled to Japan to make a Japanese movie (portions of the film were also going to be shot in Taiwan, which probably wouldn’t have thrilled the Chinese government, but it’s more of an accepted practice for Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese actors to work in Taiwan and vise-versa). Oh, also, one of the two co-distributors of the film, Prenom H, went bankrupt. But the other distributor was Shochiku, which is the oldest studio in Japan and surely they could have gotten the money together to make this movie happen. No, more than anything else, it looks like it was nationalism—stupid island nationalism—that sank this work of art. Now, let me say that I think all nationalisms are stupid, but there’s something especially idiotic about the various conflicts over these uninhabited East Asian rocks, over not one of which would it be worth shedding even a single drop of blood. In fact, let me resolve the disputes right now: Senkaku remains Japanese, Dokdo remains Korean, the Kurils are returned to Japan from Russia, and the Spratley and Paracels are divided up such that each island goes to which ever country it’s closest too; there solved.
|The utterly desolate Senkaku islands are in the red circle. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia).|