Japón : a film by Carlos Reygadas

For many reasons, Japón is not an easy film to watch. It’s bleak, pensive, and slow moving. The main character is a hobbled painter from Mexico City who ventures into the desolate countryside in order to commit suicide. He quickly encounters a young boy and his father out hunting, which brings us to another reason that this is a difficult film to watch. Animals are shot, strangled, butchered, and left for dead. And if they’re horses, they are watched copulating by a group of young boys. The film is very brutal, animal, and deeply human in this way. People con, people take, people despair, people get drunk, and people do all sorts of things that don’t make you feel very good about life. Take the film’s angelic presence, an old widow in the mountains who houses the painter in her barn. Extraordinarily religious, she gives and gives. In particular, she goes to a particularly extraordinary length to stop the painter from killing himself. But all that giving causes her to be used and exploited for the desires of man, both mundane and perhaps beyond the pale. How are we, the voyeurs of it all, supposed to feel about that?

However, one thing that always brings me pleasure is listening to the Mexican dialect. In particular, I really enjoy their great use of the diminutive (diminutivo). In this film, for instance, Ascen (the old woman) lives in a casita, where she takes care of her animalitos and even worships her Diosito. I also found out about pulque, a milky fermented drink very popular in Mexico and often served at pulquerías, by seeing Japón. And I feel really stupid for not having heard of it before. Made from the maguey plant, it’s rich in nutrients and has a long history, both culturally and mythically. In one story, an opossum dug into a maguey plant and found the rich fermented liquid inside. He went on to become the first drunk. I guess I should start leaving a bowl of pulque out for the opossum family that lives in our backyard.

Aztec pulque jar in the shape of a monkey.


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