At The NYFF: The Kitchen And "Orphans Of The Storm"
by Augusta Palmer
“Kitchen,” a film adaptation of the Banana Yoshimoto novel directed by Yim Ho, tells the story of a young
woman’s grief and a young man’s attempts at understanding that grief. The film, which starts out promisingly with
a flat electric blue screen becoming water only when rain hits it, ultimately fails on both of the two levels its
director wanted to attain: the emotional and the intellectual. Aggie (Yasuko Tomita), the film’s female protagonist,
seems less grief-stricken than merely vacant. And although the temperature in Alice Tully helped this viewer fully
experience the heroine’s proclivity for sleeping in the refrigerator, such images never really worked on the
metaphorical level they were intended to (i.e. grief = deep freeze).
Yim Ho, a veteran Hong Kong director best known in this country for “The Day The Sun Turned Cold” (a
chilling story about an adult man who decides to prosecute his mother for murdering his father twenty years
earlier), and Ms. Tomita, “Kitchen’s” lead actress, met and got to know one another’s work at two successive
Tokyo Film Festivals. When asked why he chose a Japanese actress to play a Chinese woman, the director explained
that the casting decisions for the film were based primarily on the actors faces and their ability to tell a
story. One can’t help wondering if the fact that Ms. Tomita is a star in Japan may also have been helpful in
attaining Japanese funding (the film is a Hong Kong/Japan co-production).
Yim Ho continued his discussion of casting to reveal that the most difficult role to cast was that of the
transsexual Emma. He considered both men and women for the role, finally settling on Mr. Law Kar Ying
primarily because he thought casting a man would be “more true to the novel”. However, this reviewer felt
that Mr. Law’s visible stubble prevented him from portraying the incredibly beautiful woman described in
the book. Other changes which occurred in the shift from page to screen were a change in location from Japan
to China and the shift from a female to a male narrator. Yim Ho dismissed the female characters point of view
after a failed first draft because it was too introverted and “not visual enough” as well as too philosophical
and “not like you and me.”
Finally, Yim Ho discussed his choice of a “more European look” instead of the visual style derived from
Chinese painting he has used in the past. He deemed this change in style more appropriate to the contemporary
cinematic poetry he was trying to create in adapting Ms. Yoshimoto’s novel. Unfortunately, what appeared on
the screen appear to be a flashy, derivative instead of a poetic expression of intellectual or emotional states.
Orphans At Avery Fisher
As a special retrospective event, the NYFF presented a newly restored print of D.W. Griffith’s “Orphans
Of The Storm” (1921) complete with orchestral accompaniment by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, under the
energetic baton of Gillian Anderson, on Monday night in Avery Fisher Hall. Described in the program notes
as an immortal classic, ORPHANS actually managed to live up to that much too frequently used sobriquet and
to be highly entertaining into the bargain.
As Gillian Anderson, the conductor (or is it conductress?) not the “X-Files” bombshell, noted
“Early film, and notice I do not call it silent film, as an art form consisted of a mechanically reproduced
photographic image with live, usually orchestral, accompaniment. The restoration of a film cannot be
considered complete until both sound and image have been put back into place.”
Despite Anderson’s pronouncement, such events are rare and, in this case, well worth waiting for.
The Museum of Modern Arts restoration included brilliant red, gold, and blue tinting and a fine image
quality while the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s accompaniment added to the films own suspenseful melodrama.
What director could fail to appreciate a film which includes star-crossed lovers, the French Revolution
restaged with a cast of thousands plus the ever-virginal Gish sisters, aristocratic ladies with coiffures
to rival Marge Simpson, and the inevitable but still enjoyable death-defying chase scene.