Thoughts On: Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo - Out Of The Underworld

01/12/2018

Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo - Out Of The Underworld

Thoughts On: Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo (2015)

A villager from rural Nigeria journey to Lagos to retrieve the taxi he is to inherit from his recently deceased, estranged father.


Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo certainly sounds like it is a Nollywood version Scorsese's New Hollywood classic, and it very many senses it is--but not to a negative effect. Scorsese's Taxi Driver generates a dark incarnation of the basic hero myth - which goes as follows; our hero falls from a place up above into an other world in which there rests an underworld, a world of shadows; it is from the underworld that the hero must retrieve gold of some sort which sees them complete a step towards individuation and take with them wholeness back up to the above from which they fell. The dark incarnation of this narrative centralises the underworld. In Taxi Driver, we then see not Travis fall from a place above. This is possibly implied with him being a hero or solider of war; it is likely, however, that we must infer that Travis' realm of the above is situated deeper in his past: in innocence. Travis, arguably, is introduced to us as already on the fringes of the other world in New York, trying to find romance. His familiarity with the collective shadow - with war - seems to poison his romance; war may have stripped Travis of what you might call conservatism, hence the failed first date. Repelled by the princess of the other world, Travis wanders deeper into shadow to find an entity more familiar with shadow than himself: the young prostitute. This, alongside his taxi, is his gold - neglected as a symbol as it is - and we see him struggle to free it from the clutches of demons. Travis escapes the underworld in doing this, but not necessarily the other world - and so fails to reach the above - though it is inferred that he is slightly more whole. The resolute darkness of this hero narrative, indeed, resides in the final implication that the shadows still calls to Travis; that all is not settled.

Oko Ashewo follows a rather similar narrative structure. Adigun is a rural villager called to Lagos (the other world) by the death of his father and the promise of gold (a taxi). Furthermore, there is also a promise of some kind of apotheosis, of Adigun being able to transcend his father - to assume his father's former position and overcome his muddy past. Alas, it is in attempting this that Adigun is pulled deep into Lagos, into its underworld. Here, he discovers a diamond in the rough; a prostitute. It then becomes his task to dodge the slings of various shadows and pull from the underworld his gold and diamond. This journey forces him to confront his own shadow and to integrate into himself an understanding of his father's past into his present and still try to transcend him.

Whilst structurally satisfactory, Oko Ashewo does not do anything particularly complicated or noteworthy with this narrative template. This is then only as subtextually deep as our basic narrative structure - which is to say that it does not say more than other versions of the story. Oko Ashewo's downfalls then lie in its inability to generate photogénie of a profound nature as well as affecting lyrosophy. It does, however, elevate itself out of the realm of inanity rather competently with a sometimes affecting management of melodrama and formal realism.

The colour pallet of this film is lost in blue hues, which effectively reduces Lagos to a web of encroaching, grave back streets. Long shots so often preserve a sense of realism. Such enhances performances, stretches out cinematic time so that all feels a few degrees more intimate, more leering. The meeting of these two realist/expressionist elements give Oko Ashewo a serious, yet placid tone; gritty, tangible, but slight warm, inviting even. We are then lead voluntarily--intrigued--through the gates of hell. Giving rhythm to this movement are performances that mediate between typhlo- and melodrama - indeed, it can be sometimes hard to recognise typhlodrama in Nollywood cinema due to its seemingly inherent and conventionalised use of melos. Alas, it is here where descriptions of this film as a dark comedy seem slightly sensical, but, I would nonetheless not be able to associate this with such a genre. The only implications of comedy come with the end, but I believe these to be off-shots of the film's falling apart. That is to say that Oko Ashewo starts out strong, tonally, aesthetically and dramatically. However, as conflict rises and the action melodrama intensifies, the sound design and montage fail to cultivate a space, time and sonic landscape in harmony with one another. Such gives scenes of tension an awkwardness that feels ever so slightly morodramatic (ironic and comedic even). Alas, as said, this seems not intentional, nor welcome. Oko Ashewo then fails ever so slightly in its final act - in its depiction of the retrieval of gold and escape from the underworld. Such damages Oko Ashewo's subtextual drive, giving the ending no clarity, nor an affecting conundrum.

In total, Taxi Driver Oko Ashewo is a somewhat immersive film most enjoyable for its first and second act; most respectable for its performances captured in long shots. Its execution of narrative and use of sound in particular see it fall apart ever so slightly, but I would certainly recommend anyone see this as, certainly not pejoratively, something of a Nigerian version of Scorsese's Taxi Driver.





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