You’ve probably never heard of the Taiwanese film Starry Starry Night, a coming of age drama directed by Tom Lin that was released in late 2011. I had certainly never heard of it until a few weeks ago when it popped up in my DVD recommendations over at YESASIA, and everything I read about it just seemed so appealing to my interests that I couldn’t resist picking it up.
The film is an adaptation of a children’s book by Jimmy Liao, a Taiwanese illustrator and picture book author renown for his melancholy depictions of childhood using vivid colors and striking visuals.
The story centers on Mei, a bright, sensitive but lonely 13-year-old girl who is dealing with a lot of issues in her young life. She’s quiet and withdrawn at school, her parents are on the brink of divorce and barely notice her, her mother is growing increasingly distant and drinks too much, and her grandfather, whom she loves more than anyone else in the world, is in very poor health.
Mei is a very imaginative girl who fills her days with art, puzzles, daydreams, and yearns for the days when she used to live with her grandparents at their cottage in the mountains. One day around Christmastime, Mei hears beautiful recorder music outside her bedroom window and sees that its being played by a young boy, who is at the window of a neighboring apartment.
The boy turns out to be Jie, a new student at Mei’s school who is a budding artist also dealing with many issues of his own. His artistic talents and cocky attitude make him an easy target for the other boys at the school who constantly bully him. Mei can’t help but feel drawn toward Jie, and after a series of rocky events in both their lives, the pair begins a tremulous friendship.
As Mei and Jie’s relationship blossoms, they both begin to overcome their loneliness and adversity while trying to cope with the ongoing harassment of their classmates. There is a strong undercurrent of desire between the two leads, who grow closer and closer and eventually run away together on a fantastic adventure. Their summer romance is short-lived, but sets in motion the events that will forever change both of their lives.
Starry Starry Night has been described as a “visual feast” for its beautiful cinematography that blends together rich, imaginative visuals with dramatic lighting and shadow play. The film is punctuated by gorgeous CGI fantasy sequences where Mei’s imagination takes over, as she envisions inanimate objects—her grandfather’s wooden animal carvings, colorful pieces of origami, fantastic shadow beasts—coming to life all around her. This focus on Mei’s imagination as an extension of her character’s hopes and dreams is a beautiful way of looking at the world through a child’s lens.
The mesmerizing score is another element that adds to the dreamlike quality of the film. It’s a mixture of delicate music box melodies, and sweeping, ethereal lullabies that really makes the imagery soar.
There are a few flaws, however, such as the film’s sometimes laboriously slow pacing; but at least the film’s unquestionable beauty makes the journey worthwhile. There are also some directorial choices that pile on too much unnecessary melodrama, and visual metaphors that are too obvious. These are only minor complaints, though.
Starry Starry Night may not wow you with its uncomplicated plot and simple special effects, but if you enjoy tender coming of age stories and deep character development, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.
7 out of 10 stars.