Directed by Eng Yee Peng
Running time: 50 minutes
In a nutshell
This is filmmaker Eng Yee Peng’s personal story of growing up and moving away from the village of Lim Chu Kang, as told through interviews with family members, former neighbours and a former Member of Parliament, and narrated by Yee Peng herself.
Sometimes, you can’t ever go home again
Okay, ignore the sometimes choppy video and sound editing that’s a little off, the narrator’s sometimes over-melodramatic voice-overs, the inexplicable animation sequence about the narrator’s dog, the moments that go for the cheap laughs — because dammit, Diminishing Memories is a heartfelt, moving, rousing film. Because other than those elements, the interviews, which make up the bulk of this documentary, are all very powerful and honest testimonies by people who were forced to leave their homes and friends in 1986, amidst young Singapore’s relentless march towards industrialisation and urbanisation.
There is a palpable sense of frustration, anger, loss and helplessness when these interviewees talk about having to give up their homes and way of life, of having lost some of their innocence when confronted with the need for progress. This is summed up perfectly later in the film when the narrator, who moved to an HDB flat with two siblings some eight months before the rest of the family, interviews her mother about the sense of having lost something that she had not been aware was missing in the first place, because she had been so young when she moved. It was only after her return from an education overseas that she felt the loss so keenly.
Yee Peng also uses many old photographs, some from the National Archives but mostly her family’s and from other personal collections, that tell more of the story than her narration and our history books ever could. Faded and dated these photos may be, but they are also deeply personal — yet now sadly relegated to being artefacts of an abruptly lost age.
There are some very nice little touches in the film that inspired more than a bit of nostalgia, especially the scene with mimosas. I remember squatting in my primary school field for hours and touching the leaves of these plants, watching as they closed up — how many children afford the time for that now? When was the last time anyone even saw the formerly ubiquitous mimosa?
The film starts and ends with the narrator visiting the site of her old home, now reclaimed by nature, overgrown with trees and undergrowth. It’s been twenty years, but everything remains where they were left — the sad outlines of houses that once stood, and the human detritus that would be alien to any modern society. What price progress, indeed.