The Last Emperor

I capped my 1987 movie marathon (of 30 movies) with a film that holds a special place in my heart. I didn’t watch this film when it originally came out, but rather during the summer of 1993.

At the time, I had finished my first two years of university, specializing in Mathematics, and I was feeling lost. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but just knew that it didn’t involve Mathematics (or at least, not to have a career based on that). I took the decision that summer that I would leave my program, and instead enroll in a Liberal Arts program. I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, and so for that first year decided that I would take a big variety of classes, and see what stuck. Around that time, I watched this movie, and was intrigued and fell in love with the world that was presented (even if part of that world was rather harsh). So when it came time to pick classes, they included some language classes (German and Spanish), philosophy classes, and one class on the history of communist China. I never liked history classes in high school — for me, it was just about memorizing dates and names, and I hate anything that involves rote memorization — so I had never had an interest in taking any at a university level, but the topic interested me. That class — given by professor Chungchi Wen — not only led me to discover that a history program was right up my alley (you’d get to sit and hear all these great stories, and the exams where composed of 1 question, to which you would answer in the form of an essay, which is where I developed my love of writing), but it would also mark the first step of my Asian journey. The following year I declared a major in History (and a minor in Mathematics, due to all of the credits I had accumulated), and after that program was finished I moved to Montreal and enrolled in an East-Asian Studies program, which led to an opportunity the following year to go study Chinese at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, which is where I met my wife (who was studying at the same university), who happened to be Japanese, which led me to move to Tokyo, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Sure, all of this is not just because of this movie, but I still can’t help but point to it and see it as a sort of trigger for everything that came after. As for the movie itself, how is it now? I still quite enjoyed watching it, and it’s still a beautiful film to watch, but having everyone speak in English comes off as incredibly unnatural to me (back then, it didn’t take long before I discovered the cinema of Zhang Yimou, with a body of films that further inspired me), and there’s some iffy acting as well. But yes, it’s still a very special movie for me, and I’m thankful for the life choices that came out of it.

Author: Jean Snow

Production Coordinator at Ubisoft Montréal. Before that, half a life spent in Tokyo.