Surprisingly so, The Bird People in China is one of the most underrated films directed by Takashi Miike. I’ve been trying to figure out why for a long time now, because for me this is one of the most compelling, sensuous, mystical adventure tales in history of filmmaking. What’s more, it’s also a deeply poetic and visually-stunning art-house production, which focuses on the most covert aspects of the human psyche, thoroughly evaluating the dream-like realm of our minds.
A Tokyo-based salary-man Wada (Masahiro Motoki) is sent to a most remote place hidden somewhere in China (where no information goes in or goes out) on a mysterious and possibly dangerous mission, in order to follow a precious Jade Jewell trail. Along with him comes a fierce Yakuza enforcer Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi). When the two men arrive in a strange village, they discover more than they actually bargained for. Together the two characters embark on an adventure of the most inscrutable kind, showing how the unexplored and frightening unknown can change the way we perceive the world and everything around us. Moreover, The Bird People in China is about exploring one’s own self, and how the far-reaching changes that people go through when they’re suddenly placed in front of some strange and unparalleled new sensations frequently result in some mightily unexpected alterations of the every-day lives. After some time, the narrative starts to focus on a mightily thought-provoking, fantastical tale about men, who were once able to fly on their colossal wings. This ingeniously placed subplot gives the film a much needed sense of surrealism, merging what’s real and what’s beyond human imagination.
With a contemplative storyline, mesmerizing and fascinating imagery, stylish art direction, audacious and sinister sense of humor, and a most haunting song you’ll ever hear, The Bird People in China comes both as a very strong position in Takashi Miike’s directorial career and as a perfectly satisfying and detailed exploration of human emotions.