Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
While some U.S. filmmakers have turned to television to reclaim their creative freedom, Tsai Ming-Liang, the slow cinema Taiwanese auteur behind Stray Dogs and Goodbye, Dragon Inn, has turned to the internet. Specifically, Youku (which literally means “excellent cool”), mainland China’s largest video hosting service. Mostly home to the usual banalities one finds on the web, Youku has also sponsored short films by directors like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Tsai. No No Sleep is the latest to find its home on the site, despite being quite the opposite of a schizophrenic viral video.
Tsai once again returns to his “Walker” character, a silent, very-slow-moving monk, played by his muse Lee Kang-Sheng, who also appeared in Journey To The West. In this latest episode, he’s made his way to Tokyo. But instead of disrupting the bustling streets seen in the opening shot, Tsai films his Walker on an empty walkway at night. If part of the magic of Journey was seeing how normal people react to a meditative presence, Tsai instead finds pleasure in the quiet space of a busy metropolis. Our attention moves to the office lights flickering in the distance and the sounds of cars and subways, but ultimately the magnetic Walker commands the screen in his near-stillness.
More than the previous Walker shorts, however, No No Sleep embraces something akin to a narrative as it introduces another character at an otherwise abandoned Japanese massage parlor. The man slips into a hot bath alongside the Walker, and the two sit in complete silence. Tsai has long featured gay characters in his work, but No No Sleep creates something rather tricky with a single astonishing shot. While the naked men lay in stillness, their hands rest just above their respective members. The motion of the bathwater simmering suggests that these men just might be up to something else.
No No Sleep ends with two shots of each man in a small sleeping container. The Japanese man appears restless, while Walker sleeps in peace. Are they dreaming of each other? Could this be a missed connection? In the absolute stillness of the shots, Tsai encourages contemplation—a quality common to his work, and one more filmmakers could stand to adopt.
Availability: No No Sleep is available through YouTube’s Youku Channel.