Review: Films Set In Japan – Babel (2006)

This tale of three stories on three different continents intertwining with one another features Mexico, Morocco and Japan which is of course the reason it’s included in this feature. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu makes full use of these differing backdrops to bring the picture alive with a heavy preference for hand-held camera work.

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The director certainly likes the muted screen approach too and lets the pictures do the talking with just a soundtrack. This happens a few times and just goes to show how powerful gestures, reactions and pure emotion are. Sometimes words just aren’t necessary and the stories can be left to unfold before you.

The Tokyo storyline may seem the more disconnected of the three stories but is naturally my main interest here. However, the real drama comes from the Moroccan scenes which are the heart of the movie. The film starts off there in a remote village with a rifle being purchased from a Moroccan guy for 500 Dirhams and a goat. It is later revealed that a Japanese hunter gave the rifle to the guy who sold it. With new owners the rifle is supposed to be used by the two young sons to protect their goats but whilst they are practising it emerges that the youngest boy is a natural with the gun and ends up shooting at a tourist bus in the far distance.

This, in turn, sets off a chain of events as back in the USA the Mexican nanny of Richard’s  (Brad Pitt) kids is unable to find a babysitter and ends up taking them them to her sons wedding in Mexico but on the return to San Diego at border control things go terribly wrong. Back in North Africa, the crisis is interpreted as terrorist activity and the family concerned are torn apart and some overblown Hollywood-style scenes ensue which seem a bit out place.

Cate Blanchett as Susan may be the leading lady in this film but she doesn’t really get much of an opportunity to excel as she plays the wounded victim. Instead, its Rinko Kikuchi who shines throughout this 143 minute movie and deservedly so. She went through a year-long audition process before finally gaining the role of Chieko, the confused schoolgirl who is deaf and mute and acting out in reaction to her mother’s suicide. She craves human contact but feels even more shut off from the world, and she sulks and rejects her father’s attention.

Her disability distances her from other people and she struggles with teenage life. In her opening scene she is sent off for complaining about a line call in a volleyball match and her teammates blame her for the defeat. On top of that she is desperate to lose her virginity and throughout the movie tries some very forward ways of getting both boys and men to take an interest in her. Frustrated and desperate to be loved, she indulges in typical teenage activities like drinking in parks and partying.

Nowhere is the aforementioned muted screen more effective than in the nightclub scene which we see from Chieko’s perspective which is of course completely silent but such simplicity is very powerful and compelling. The filmmakers emphasised Chieko’s deafness and isolation via shallow focus cinematographic techniques used to emphasize one part of the image (in focus) over another (out of focus).

This film really isn’t for everyone and appears to be quite divisive. There is a lot to keep track of in ‘Babel‘ but eventually, as should happen in movies, it begins to unravel and the layers are unpeeled to reveal a story of frustrating inability to communicate in the modern world as well as the sorrow and collectiveness of natural affection for ones family. The three segments were each given enough time to breathe and present the fluency of that particular storyline rather than constantly flicking back and forth between the continents. Sure there are many questions that remain unanswered but I think that’s no bad thing.

Tokyo Fox Rating 8/10

Click here to read ‘Tokyo Filming Locations #4 – Babel (2006)’ 

About tokyofox

A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan
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