Makoto Shinkai first rose to prominence in 2002 with the release of Voices Of A Distant. That short anime was entirely animated, and voiced, by he and his wife. It tells the story of two high school best friends, one boy, one girl. Due to a war with an invading alien race, the girl goes to space as a mech warrior. The only means of communication available to them are emails sent from their cell phones. As she travels further into space, the messages will take longer and longer to reach one or the other. It is as heart-wrenching as it sounds and is one of the greatest anime of all time.
What does a 16-year-old Japanese animated movie have to do with a new live-action Chinese film set just as the one-child policy is being lifted? To make sense of this statement – star, co-writer, and director of the Chinese short drama Love, Song: My Brother, Qingge Gao deserves to be talked about in the same breath, and held as in high esteem, as Shinkai.
“…a purpose which could ruin his lifelong friendship with Jiujiu…”
Dabao Song (Yunjie Ren) and Jiujiu Song (Qingge Gao) are not related. Their fathers are best friends who happen to have the same last name. The two have grown up together, swearing always to be ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ to each other. Dabao is a few years older, and as he enters his teenage years, he begins to feel differently toward Jiujiu. Then as he sets his sights on higher education, he leaves China for the United States Of America. Jiujiu is beside herself.
One seemingly not so special night, Jiujiu’s father arrives home late from work. The reason? Dabao is back and will be staying with the family for a short while. Jiujiu is unaware of this plan until Dabao walks into the dining room. The duo instantly falls back into their usual routine and share their fondest memories of growing up with each other. Dabao, though, has hidden motives for his stay; a purpose which could ruin his lifelong friendship with Jiujiu. Does she discover what is actually going on? Can Dabao and Jiujiu stay friends?
Gao has directed two other short films before the 18-minute Love, Song: My Brother, neither of which I am familiar with. However, the movie hypnotizes from its first second, as Dabao’s voice is heard reciting a letter he left for Jiujiu. The note lays out his reasoning for flying to the U.S. without saying goodbye to her. The camera pans to a woman sitting on the rocky edge near the ocean. It is such a striking visual image to open the film on, and that same subtle brilliance stays the entire runtime.
“…a beautiful confluence of technical skills, brilliant writing, and perfect acting…”
Bo Li’s cinematography, of course, plays a huge role in Love, Song: My Brother being as successful as it winds up. Jiujiu discovers the truth in her parents’ kitchen and feels like she just got hit by a bus. She walks back to the dining room table, and the camera flips from her point of view to a third person steadicam focused on Jiujiu. She stumbles, everything looks fuzzy, and she can barely register her mom asking if she’s okay. It is a beautiful confluence of technical skills, brilliant writing, and perfect acting to craft a scene that hits with so much power in such a brief period of time.
Yunjie Ren, as the fun but wise Dabao is excellent. His playfulness never comes across as mean, and it is clear he cares for everyone in this second Song family. When he shows Jiujiu the wish, he wrote down and buried in a time capsule (with her) the tenderness of the moment never becomes too saccharine. Gao is charming and delightful as well, imbuing Jiujiu with a passion that is relatable to the audience. Her annoyance at herself for never quite finding the right words to tell Dabao what she wants from him come from a genuine place and makes the bittersweet ending hit that much harder.
Love, Song: My Brother’s ending is sure to leave a tear in more than a few eyes. The acting, directing, and writing are all pitch perfect, and in service to a touching story which goes big on the emotional beats.
Love, Song: My Brother (2018) Directed by Qingge Gao. Written by Qingge Gao, Val Taylor. Starring Qingge Gao, Yunjie Ren, Yang Chen, Ruohan Wen, Haorui Zhang.
10 Gummi Bears (out of 10)