#ArtIsEverywhere: Dealing With Jobu Tupaki
By Dhiraj Singh
Some movies you watch because they’re much awaited. Others, because they’ve just won an Oscar. I must admit it was the latter that led me to EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (EEAAO henceforth), almost half a year after its release. Had it not won, I would’ve not known about this gem. It is a cinematic exploration of life—ordinary and unremarkable—that has moments when the sky cracks and the earth opens up to reveal many parallel universes of could-have-been possibilities.
The vibe I got from it is the same vibe I get at railway stations, traffic jams and yes, the Kumbh Mela. It’s an oldish vibe. Immersive. Disturbing. And yet offering a deep connection to other people, other lives. And that too at the speed of thought. The mind tends to fly highest when the body is feeling trapped. Or stuck in a boring, repetitive job that offers no mental stimulation. And that is where things start to spin and turn into infinity mirrors of endless possibilities. And we start to look for meaning and adventure in the could-have-been-ness of things. The parallel multiverses that our minds create to show us bits of our lives in reflection.
EEAAO is a film that captures the spinning chaos of this multitudinous reflection of the mind at the very speed that the mind engages and disengages with possibilities that could have been. And then it comes back to address the task at hand. It is a difficult ask to show this on film—because there is the risk of losing the plot and becoming a scrambled egg that is neither this nor that.
|Different avatars of Jobu Tupaki|
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) has a laundromat business that has her looking at dozens of spinning circles of dirty laundry but in her head she could have been a novelist, a chef, an actress and a part of a lesbian couple with wobbly hot dog fingers—an awesome metaphor for not being able to hold on to anything. In the laundromat universe Evelyn has been called by the IRS to answer on her tax evasion that presents her an immediate threat of every bit of her business being taken by the state. The state is represented by Diedre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), a tax auditor who draws a thick circle on a receipt to indicate how things aren’t right with Evelyn’s taxes.
If the tax trigger is not enough for Evelyn to flip over, there is her visiting father Gong Gong (James Hong) who’s been her judge and jury her entire life, smirking over her choices of career, husband and business. Then there is her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who’s also in town with her girlfriend for the annual Chinese New Year party that Evelyn throws for her friends and clients. What Evelyn doesn’t know till a few minutes into the film is that her “silly” husband Waymond (Qe Huy Quan) is also about to serve her with a divorce notice.
With this planetary alignment of disasters waiting for her, it’s no surprise that Evelyn goes spinning into the multiverse where other Evelyns are trying their hardest to win against Jobu Tupaki, who is a joyless version of Joy that has immense powers of knowing everything, everywhere but doesn’t know what to do with her powers, which I think is a witty allusion to Gen Z.
At its heart EEAAO is a movie that makes a case for empathizing with your children, respecting their choices and not living in the escapist future where everything would be peachy because there is no future but an endless now that is being constructed by the choices that you make at each step of the way. Therefore the key to finding joy is to realize that the only thing that matters is the relationships right in front of you and not the could-have-been possibilities of the multiverse.
As a story-telling device EEAAO is pathbreaking and truly deserving of the Oscar attention it has got. My favourite part was Stephanie Hsu as Jobu Tupaki who really nailed it with her cosplay, switching between goth Jobu, Elvis Jobu, K-pop Jobu, Picasso Jobu and of course Jobu with the black bagel headdress.
Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, author, artist and TV personality whose latest novel ‘MASTER O’ is a sci-fi political thriller. He is currently Director, School of Media & Communication & The Idea Lab, MIT-World Peace University