Jul 7

WIT Life #107: Japan Cuts continued

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

At the Japan Cuts film festival last night, I was able to attend both movies which were screened.  The first was The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker and the one that followed was Hanging Garden.  As a special treat, the director of the latter, Toshiaki Toyoda (who also directed Blood of Rebirth which was screened twice at the festival last week) was on hand to offer an introduction to his film and a Q&A session after.  The director of the former, Yoshihiro Nakamura, also did Golden Slumber so it was interesting to be able to compare the two.

Director Nakamura clearly places great importance on music in his movies, to the point where is almost a secondary character.  This is true in Golden Slumber which focuses on the title’s Beatles song, and in Foreign Duck it is Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind.  In both cases, the songs and their lyrics are pivotal to the plot and the character’s actions.  For example, in the case of Foreign Duck the meaning of the second half of the title is not revealed until the end of the movie with the final interaction between the two main characters.  One is Japanese and one is Bhutanese, and the first half of the title refers to ahiru and kamo (respectively native Japanese and foreign ducks), images which they and others use to distinguish themselves.  Nakamura offers interesting commentary on foreigners and their existence in Japan, nicely highlighted in an earlier scene of an Indian woman struggling to board a bus.

While the pacing of Foreign Duck is much slower than Golden Slumber, it is by no means slow.  It similarly employs the flashback technique so viewers can revisit a certain scene with more information, allowing them to reanalyze its meaning.  In both movies Nakamura seems to be urging us to not take things at face value and look beyond appearances, and his filmmaking is stellar enough to keep us spellbound.  I want to check out his film Fish Story, apparently the sleeper hit of last year’s festival.

Hanging Garden is a family portrait similar to Tokyo Sonata and Still Walking,  and actually was the predecessor to these movies, having been made in 2005.  It depicts the Kyobashi clan, united on the surface in their family policy of “concealing nothing from each other,” but with each member actually hiding deep secrets beneath.  Throughout the movie, it becomes painful watching them try to keep up this veneer, and it is cathartic when everything finally comes messily spilling out at a family birthday party.

Director Toyoda uses a rotating camera to convey the feeling of not being firm on the ground, and for the most part this is successful though I was getting dizzy after a while.  In the Q&A after the screening, he revealed that the casting of Kyoko Koizumi in the central role of the deeply disturbed housewife came about as the result of a coincidence.  On the day that he received the movie rights for the novel it was based on, they were out drinking together and he suggested that she take the part.  Up until that point she had been an idol star, never cast in a role as normal as a housewife.  However, it suited her perfectly and she went on to appear in another reincarnation of it when she starred in Tokyo Sonata three years later.

Stay tuned for reviews of the next double header I catch tomorrow night!

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