HUANG Ya-li’s Le Moulin: The Fantastical History of Le Moulin Poetry Society

by LIN Jia-wun, HUANG Chia-chi / 2016-08-13

During the tumult in Taiwan as it transitioned from the Japanese colonial period to the start of the Republican era, was anything lost as languages and cultures changed? How much brilliant cultural history has been lost to time? How much has yet to completely disappear into darkness?

Le Moulin Poetry Society was Taiwan’s first surrealist poetry collective, its members working in Japanese. The existence of the society illustrates how Taiwan could hold its own on the global art stage even through the upheavals of the mid-20th century. They come from this South seas Formosa, wish to produce a literature well-deserving of its name and earn for it a place in the history of Japanese literature as much as the Provençal poet Fredéric Mistral produces glorious poetry in his native Provençal that went beyond his contemporaries in Paris.

Le Moulin evokes the history of Le Moulin Poetry Society, bringing these surrealist pioneers to light, ensuring their story is preserved forever, and setting their image among the stars in the unending night of unknown history. Through this poetic imagery of the film, the viewer is also pulled into the surrealist dreamscape of the 1930s and 1940s for revisiting a period of prosperity of Taiwan history to shine a light on an untold story in which briefly, however brightly.

Q: How did you end up working on a film about Le Moulin Poetry Society, a group from the 1930s?

I previously helped out on a video about Surrealism, and during the research, I first encountered the works of Taiwanese writer Shuji Hayashi, which were a real shock to me. We always imagine 1930s Taiwan as being very conservative, but really we don’t know anything about it. And so I began documenting and collecting information, and in the second half of 2012 I started contacting the writers’ relatives for conducting interviews, and talking with scholars. I had been trying to see the whole picture from fragmentary materials and limited knowledge.

After the Japanese surrendered Taiwan to the Republic of China at the end of World War II, it wasn’t until the 1980s or 1990s that scholar YANG Zi-qiao reintroduced Le Moulin Poetry Society to the Taiwanese literary community. Perhaps Taiwan wasn’t quite ready for the explosive thoughts that Surrealism demanded, and so scholars at the time, relocated Le Moulinin more locally Taiwanese perspective. To me, though, the poets of Le Moulin Poetry Society go beyond the constraints of the local and the time and have a lot in common with artists today. They share a kind of timelessness that comes with a concern for moving literature forward.

They were avant-garde and modern, as well as embracing a spirit of passion and creation, and these are things well worth building on. Many things are lost to time—perhaps there's no-one left to ask about them, or there’s just no information to be found. If I hadn’t been able to talk to their relatives about it, how could I have even made this film? That generation is passing away, and so recording it is imperative. If anyone has an interest in Japanese-era Taiwan, we all think that’s great, and they should get to it quickly before it’s too late. You need to respect all that which still exists, explore your creative materials, choose your method, and decide what you want to say.

Q: Did you deliberately choose not to show the heads of the people in the film? What is the connection between the surrealist literature and aesthetics that the film addresses and the strange imagery, still life close-ups, and strangely moving objects that appear in the film?

Not shooting people’s heads is a compositional preference of mine, and on top of that I feel like the face is a powerful element that can dominate the on-screen mood. If there’s a critical point in the narrative, surely there’s something else we can use to express it. On the other hand, in past histories we don’t see the full picture of Le Moulin Poetry Society, nor has history taken a full, objective look at them. And so I used these compositional methods to evoke the society’s ideas while also inspiring the audience to think about what the film is trying to say.

The poems and aesthetic elements, most of those were there to transition between and connect statements, and it’s all up to the audience to interpret them. A kind of dialectal language also arises between the sound and image, but what feeling it is trying to portray is up to everyone to try and figure out. Actually, the film deliberately makes use of the works of Japanese writers, in addition to those Le Moulin, obviously. Surrealist materials in Taiwan are scarce, and the ideas of Japanese writers showed me other things. I’ve always felt that colonial history is not just something the colonized country needs to face, but also that authorities and audiences in the colonizing country should know.

The people of Japan also suffered tragic casualties during World War II, and I think that one important thing about Le Moulin Poetry Society is that they had many Japanese friends. If you had friends suffering in wartime, their lives under threat, wouldn’t it have some impact on you? So my hope is that through these materials, audiences will see the connection between the people of Taiwan and Japan, and particularly between the artists of the two countries.

Q: This film doesn’t just explore art; the latter half looks into Taiwan’s post-WWII history. How did you strike a balance between the art of Le Moulin Poetry Society and historical elements?

For many things, it's all down to events. To some extent this film could be considered a kind of realistic thing—after all, this was based upon a historical fact. In the first half of the film, you have all this space to explore a variety of literary creations and developments, but when times change, you lose your freedom and have to directly confront historical reality. This approach is also a response to the course of history.
And so in the second half, I focused on how the war and politics affected these poets, including the incarceration of YANG Ch’ih-ch’ang and CHANG Liang-tien after the February 28 Incident. This is a history that must be accounted for, and I have a duty to use my words to provide a full description, and so this half differs substantially from the first. It is a kind of historical barrier that I can’t cross and handle, even if I wanted to tackle it with an avant-garde approach. That’s why I would rather take a more descriptive approach with the second half instead.

For more information about Le Moulin, please click here.


(Translated by Geof ABERHART)