Shall we dance, my lovely?

Posted in Uncategorized by Joie on July 10, 2008
Asian cinema seems to have cultivated a particular fondness for a classically extinct type of music, once fashionable in the glided courts of 18th century Vienna.   As a matter of fact, the waltz form has always been a staple in the history of film scores, enforcing elegance even in less ideal genres (Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt).   For instance, Johann Strauss’s free-falling “Blue Danube,” revitalized by Kubrick’s 2001, found an after-life in the succeeding  train-wrecks of homages and parodies, with the exception of Wall-E. But more importantly, frothing with contentious fervor in the late 60s,  many of the popular composers in countries like Japan and Korea began writing extensive pieces gravitating towards a central waltz that permeated like thematic ripples throughout the film duration.  The return to an European sensibility was a deliberate strategy by respected industrious countries in the Far East to not only gain international acclaim but also to encourage subtle cross-examination of the cultural traditions that exist in both continents.  It’s no wonder that valse fever continues to thrive even to this day.

The waltz, as originally defined by the wonderful folks at Wikipedia, is “a piece of music in triple meter, most often 3/4 but sometimes 3/8 or 6/8, generally having a 1.2.3. – 1.2.3. count and a slow tempo.”  Usually associated with the flight of anxious feet gliding across the floor, the waltz as a dance number offers escapist fantasies for those obeying its hypnotic rhythm,  but paranoia is never far behind and its bourgeois origins, an open class secret.  Filmic space has stripped off its material weight, but the sonic structure remains, lighting the path for motivations, both virtuous and deceitful, as men and women enter and exit adjacent rooms only to find each other stuck on the same chessboard.   The waltz ingrains itself easily into memory precisely because it’s the skeleton of the score, pared down from its excesses, its complexities, its distractions.

The hand of God and the “loom of fate” are too cynically applied to the waltz, for at its best, the choreography of destinies appears only as a byproduct of fruitless agency, a just reward in the service of good deeds and fortunate accidents, but at its worst, the waltz reminds us of the cyclical pounding of mistakes repeated, connections missed, and lives already cranked into motion by the black and white notes fluttering softly and dangerously in the air.

Case studies:

Howl’s Moving Castle (Miyazaki, 2004)

Joe Hisaishi – Sky Stroll

While rescuing the naive  Sophie from the blob soldiers of his archnemesis, Howl, the dashing wizard, guides her body into the air, setting off an arduous romance and a whirlwind of tangential subplots, only stumbling towards a ridiculously tacky ending (almost ruined the whole film for me).  Hisaishi’s enchanting signature is unmistakable, only Yoko Kanno is said to be his contemporary rival, a colloboration would be better off.  

[Starts at 1:50]


Face of Another (Teshigahara, 1966)

Toru Takemitsu – Waltz from Tanin No Kao

A waltz in the vaudevillian strain, replete with German vocals, and sung during a surreptitious meeting between surgeon and patient after his face-lift, which later mirrors the faceless masses in the final scene.  The disillusioned soloist dissolves into the cloud of pedestrian traffic, leaving only the erotic traces of a former life abandoned out of sheer impotence, and the Fascist remnants of a nation too eager for change on the outside.


Oldboy (Park, 2003)

Yeong-wook Jo – Cries and Whispers

“Be it a rock or a grain of sand, in water they sink as the same,” an extremely devastating message at the heart of a vengeance-driven grand guignol.  Every action has a reaction, in this case, a retroactive backstory reinforced by guilt and helplessness.    If madness is the only hope for salvation, then the carousel waltz only makes deeper lacerations without the insurance of resolution, and that’s enough reason for us to invest further.


One Response

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  1. Meg said, on July 10, 2008 at 11:33 am

    thank god you put a photo at the start of the post. my ADD being cannot deal with a block of text at the start of a post.

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