December 18, 2005 | Category: Uncategorized

Asian Editing

I like Asian cinema. Both Japan and Korea have a list of classic films which are more shocking, amusing, insightful, innovative and fun than the vast majority of tripe that gets released in UK cinemas. That’s not to say that the West never produces imaginative or clever films, or that all Asian cinema is better; just simply that the cream of the crop released in this country from Asia (usually through the excellent Tartan Video) is above traditional cinema.

That said, something troubles me when I watch a lot of these films; particularly those of Japanese origin. They tend to have a message and do something quite different, which is a good thing, but there tend to be long scenes that drag over minutae or are hugely superflous to the key concerns. While it seems fairly obvious that directors in that region have a reign less restricted, it is not always a good thing: they suffer from a lack of tight editorial process, something Hollywood tends to be rather good with.

American studios know how long their audiences will sit and watch a film for: depending on genre, actors, and the more specific plot details. These and other factors are then used to calculate an exact run time. The thing you have to understand is that this time, unless the director holds a lot of sway, is not negotiable. Ever seen the Director’s Cut of Donnie Darko or listened to the original commentary? Both make it clear that cinematic cut of the film was much shorter than was intended and that studios won’t give even an extra minute if it can be shown that the extra time will cut into screening times later in the day. Studios can project the costs of such a delay and factor it into their release plan.

With Asian films, it may simply be something lost in translation: the original audiences may expect a little more backstory unrelated to the film, longer panoramics, slower cuts or any number of extending touches that don’t directly affect the story. These simply do not interest a Western audience; any screenwriting course will teach you to remove as much as possible, just as any good prose course will do the same.

The question I’ve come to, then, is whether or not Western distributors, such as Tartan, should edit the films they receive to cater for their audience? Obviously this would be difficult, with a careless or uncaring hand able to remove the spirit of the film with relative ease. My suspicion is that “no” is the best answer, but I can’t help but think I’d enjoy films like “Gozu” more if they were twenty minutes shorter, and I know there was at least that amount of film that could have been removed without changing the core story.