Narratives of mourning and healing have become a popular discourse in films about animalhuman relationships set in the contemporary East Asian urban milieu. From the mainstream to the arthouse, from micro films to personal documentaries, images of the dying pet have triggered poignant revelations about human existence. While most of these films focus on the process of how the human protagonists come to the enlightening moment of self-understanding through the grieving experience, the deaths of their animal companions are often the imperative origins of such self-making. Interestingly, the cause of these animals’ loss is either evaded by or mirrored through human illness in these cinematic Bildungsromane. Given such a lacuna in the interpretive context, how do we read these textual animals who are dying in the arms of their fragile human companions? How do the interspecies life-and-death stories illuminate the dialectics of alienation and intimacy of the city dwellers? How does the claustrophilic timespace of the cinematic medium articulate and habituate these affective stories of failures and recovery? How do we produce a critical reflection on the imaginary of vulnerability, the ethics of care, and fabulations of inadequacy and sentimentality in the cosmopolitan East Asian cities where pet-keeping is becoming en vogue and a sign of economic prosperity? Through a comparative study of Quill (dir. Yochi Sai, Japan, 2004), Gu Gu The Cat (dir. Isshin Inudo, Japan, 2008), and This Darling Life (dir. Angie Chen, Hong Kong, 2008), this paper attempts to examine the urban phenomenon that while animals have become vital participants of everyday life, human beings are facing a (de)pressing need to rethink their affective network with these nonhuman urban residents. These stories of failures – the failure of language in articulating the loss of the animal other in the human milieu as well as the failure of knowing oneself until the inconceivable moment of loss and death – signify the therapeutic journey in which the seeking of interpretation beyond language becomes an essential process toward a more limpid subjectivity both within and outside the narrative chronotope. By studying the representation of selected ‘cute’ animal images and their tragic deaths on East Asian screens, this paper aims at exploring the transference of vulnerability and power between the animal beings and their human counterparts.
Recommended CitationLaw, Fiona Y.W., Vulnerability in the City: Reading Healing Narratives in East Asian Animal Films, Animal Studies Journal, 4(1), 2015, 57-76.