Archive for December, 2008

Up the Yangtze

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

I have been waiting to see the film Up the Yangtze (2007) since January when I heard about it at the Sundance Film Festival. My family went to China in 2003 and on a brief tour of the Yangtze we had seen markers for where the water would rise to and everything it would be covering up in the spirit of progress and the Three Gorges Dam.  I was excited to see a movie which would discuss more behind the issue of the Yangtze River and the Dam. Unfortunately though, I missed my second opportunity to see the movie in May at the Seattle International Film Festival.  I simply refused to miss it yet again when it screened at the Red Vic this week, so come Tuesday night I found myself walking up Haight Street for an eye-opening and sobering movie.

Yung Chang, the director of Up the Yangtze, was inspired to make the movie after going to China with his father, who had a version of old-China in his mind, and who saw a very different China in the cities as well as along the already quickly transforming Yangtze.  Almost everyone in the film that Chang asks about the Dam and the flooding, especially those that have been or will be most affected by it, say that the project is for China and so also for them; “As one struggling merchant forced to move from his riverside home explains before breaking down in tears, the Chinese people are expected to ‘sacrifice the little family for the big family’” (Holden).  This particular scene, when the merchant started crying was especially affecting because the merchant was trying to keep his composure and giving the standard, propaganda answers to questions about the Three Gorges Dam until suddenly he simply broke and could barely speak he was sobbing so hard.  Chang shows the audience a very different story than diplomats and tour guides about “the incalculable human impact of the giant Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze, China’s longest river. When completed, the 600-foot-high dam will be the largest hydroelectric project in the world. As we watch the steadily rising water swallow more and more of the landscape, the film conveys an ominous sense of a society changing too fast in its stampede into an unknown future” (Holden).  Speaking of tour guides, in another scene, there is a guide who shows a bunch of American tourists, houses that will be given to some of the relocated people.  One woman mentions that there are some who are probably not being relocated to anything quite as nice, which the tour guide laughs awkwardly at and then, struggling to find appropriate words responds, “We are all happy.”

The most powerful aspect of the movie is the family that Chang followed, that still lived on the banks of the Yangtze, until the water finally flooded their home.  Both parents cannot read or write and although their sixteen-year-old daughter Yu Shui wants to go to a university, they clearly do not have the money and she leaves to work on a “farewell cruise” along the Yangtze.  These cruises are for American and European tourists to say good-bye to old China, but it is hard to find much presence of old China now.  The tourists also do not think about the impact the river they are traveling on may be having on the very people serving their food and washing their dishes.  Yu Shui’s family especially was a prime example of how families were being so negatively affected by the flooding; they lived off of vegetables that they farmed and fish from the river so where their food came from was not as much of a concern but after their house was swallowed, they were forced to find a new way to provide for four mouths. Chang obviously followed this specific family for a reason and they show very clearly how the affects of globalization are speeding up China’s “progress” at an alarming rate and “a family, a peasant family who are living in abject poverty, who didn’t receive compensation, who are not relocated… [is] very, very revealing…that the social damage, the ecological damage far outweighed the benefits of what one may say can be incurred through a megadam project” (Chang).  Although there is not much that can be done now about the alarming transformation of the Yangtze, being aware of this distressing example of the toll modernization is having on our world is very important.


Chang, Yung. Interview. Democracy Now! 24 Apr. 2008. <;.

Holden, Stephen. “A Visit to Old China Before It Drowns.” Rev. of Up the Yangtze, by Yung Chang. New York Times 25 Apr. 2008. <>.


– Caroline 


“White Light, Black Rain” (2007) Film Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on December 1, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

Boy carrying baby after hiroshima attack.

Taken from the film 'White Light, Black Rain'

White Light, Black Rain (2007)

It appears that yet again, an independent film that I’ve never heard of has struck me straight down to the heart. Through to my bones, all the way down and even enveloping my emotions, I was sucked into this film. It was heart wrenching, but yet hopeful at the same time. It is hopeful in that this won’t ever happen again; should not happen ever again. The destruction that occurred in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima has gone untold until now. I never learned about this in grade school. I never knew the magnitude in this all but too famous bomb. Its effects are far reaching, and are still being felt today by the many survivors.

The surface of this film is largely the pure, raw emotion that is delivered by these survivors and their testimonies. The use of their own art was very effective at giving us the horrible imagery that they have witnessed. Then add onto that the archival footage and you get an-all-too-clear picture at what occurred on those days. It wasn’t even in one specific section of the movie, it kept happening throughout; almost like it was reminding you over and over at what this bomb did. When I learned about this whole fiasco in school, it was taught that the bomb just vaporized people instantly. But this movie reflected clearly that the majority of people suffered in the most inhumane way possible. So many stories stand out to me; the man who killed two people by giving them water; a boy who woke up to a skew of dead bodies all around him; a girl who had to turn away from a women with a headless baby in her arms. It sounded like an obscene horror film. I will not shy away and say that this movie didn’t make me emotional. I can’t say that I cried, but I certainly felt like it. Although the movie was quite sensationalist, I really thought that it was crucial for the film.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Another part of the film that went a bit deeper was the whole argument of whether or not the bomb should have been dropped. The director Okazaki in an interview with The Japan Times said, “(I’m tired of the political debate surrounding the dropping of the atomic bombs.) It was just this one day with no connection to the rest of the war. And the Americans tell it another way, a very defensive way, and they cite their statistics about why it was necessary. But this discussion doesn’t get anywhere; neither side meets the other in any way (The Japan Times). He left this whole argument out, and just told the story. It’s quite interesting because I found myself agreeing with the Japan side of the argument naturally, even though there really was no ‘debate.’ I especially remember thinking cynical thoughts when an American man said (roughly), “I’ve never had a bad dream about this particular event; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever had a nightmare.” First off, that’s completely untrue. Every single person has bad dreams and the fact that he doesn’t feel any emotional connection to it is atrocious. I especially was offended when one of them was smiling as he was discussing his experience as if it was a cheery subject. I’m glad that I walked away from the film feeling this animosity towards the Americans who were involved with the atomic bombs. The film was obviously completely neutral, but the fact that they showed the show about the pilot and Hiroshima victim making amends. Although touching, I didn’t see that same emotion from the other Americans involved with the bomb.

There were a couple of interesting techniques used through the film that I felt were used extremely well. One that stands out immensely was the memorial performance being put on by some artists. Along with a painter who was painting a portrayal of what the bomb looked like, there was a trumpeter playing. It was described in a quote,”sad waning of trumpets [that] enlighten the souls that have passed on and memorializes what they stood for” (IMDB). Another theme that kept coming up was what Japan urban areas looked and felt like. It was a great start to the documentary to show how most young people don’t really know about the two bombs. The shots of the survivors standing in the middle of crowded areas were outstanding to me. It almost portrayed the dichotomy of their lives versus the average lives of the people their today. An amazing thing that I didn’t know until I witnessed this film was how the survivors got treated horribly. Almost like a plague victim, they were shunned away and avoided. Not only did they have to live with their grotesque scars, but they had to live with the shame of not being a part of society ever again. As mentioned before, I very much enjoyed how the use of the survivor’s art was used. It truly represented what it was like in its own way, rather than an artist’s interpretation.

I’m glad that I got to see this movie because of how powerful an impact it has made on me. The whole Japan side of the story has been lost in terms of formal education, and this movie makes up for it. If I wanted to teach anyone about this event, this is the movie that I would have them watch. Not only does it explain everything in a factual neutral way, but the over lying message is: Don’t let this happen again! These survivors have gone through so much pain and turmoil already, let them be the last ones of our time.


Fazio, Giovanni . “Last words on hell from the skies.” The Japan Times. 02 Aug 2007. The Japan Times Ltd. 12 Nov 2008 <;.

Jamrite, “Powerful and heart wrenching documentary,.” Internet Movie Database. 08 Aug 2007., Inc.. 12 Nov 2008 <;.