Dramatic Fashion

I confess: I love to write academic stuff, but sometimes I just want to share something personal with you such as what I enjoy doing in my free time, except for writing this blog of course (spoiler: watching series and dressing up). In the past, I have written about Japanese drama a few times, here and here. I am still watching it although not very consistently (I have those binge-watching moments, especially during exam periods and in the weekends) but I can enjoy an episode now and then. It’s also a good exercise for brushing up my Japanese now that I am studying something completely different.

legal-high

Legal High: so funny

It should be said, however, that I am very picky; I prefer detective and crime drama (the Japanese are Mystery Masters) and slice-of-life drama with a strong sense of humor (I can even tolerate some romance). On the other hand, I am more than fed up with (mostly Korean) dramas that are complete misrepresentations of society, reinforce gender roles like it were the 19th century and feature the same storyline over and over again. Please stop showing me another handsome but arrogant chaebol son, a poor but oh so kind orphaned girl with the latest phone or a so-called “ugly” woman who becomes pretty the moment she takes off her glasses and puts on some make-up. I stopped watching stuff dramas like that, although I am sure that there are still some not so mainstream series out there worth watching.

But this is not what I wanted to write about. So, here we go: I have noticed that, personally, my fashion style corresponds with a specific style in Japanese fashion as recently featured on Japanese television. During my one-year stay in Japan, I often  received the comment that I dress “oshare” (おしゃれ, stylish) as opposed to “kawaii” (可愛い, cute), that other, more typical way of dressing Japanese are famous for. It is true that I like certain elements of Japanese clothes and styling: layering, covering shoulders and cleavage, wearing almost always feminine skirts, flower patterns, putting on accessories, high but comfy heels AND always wearing matching socks, especially in sandals (socks are everything – I have them in around 50 different colors and patterns). Besides, I also adore traditional kimono. It really is a egg-or-chicken question: do I like Japanese fashion because I dress similarly or am I being influenced by it? Yet, some of the things about my appearance are not Japanese at all, such as my make-up, and – let’s be honest – the shape of my body. Below are some outfits I approve of from two dramas I like(d) to watch (there are probably more but I can’t remember. So feel free to recommend a drama with some great fashion in it!).

  1.  Jimi ni Sugoi! Kōetsu Garu Kōno Etsuko 地味にスゴイ! 校閲ガール・河野悦子 (Simpleness is Great! Proofreading Girl Kono Etsuko). I recently finished watching this drama and I really liked it. The ambitious and fashionable Etsuko finally gets in the publishing company of her dreams, albeit in the gloomy proofreading section. I identify with Etsuko’s outgoing personality as well as with her wardrobe: I enjoy wearing scarfs (around the neck and in my hair), midi high-waisted skirts, lots of colors, flowers and socks, and I like to try out a new hairstyle now and then. There is also a vintage feeling about these outfits. As a keen vintage collector (I only buy secondhand clothing) I especially appreciate the 70s Bohemian vibe and the 50s silhouette Etsuko incorporates in her fashion style.

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  2. A few years back, I watched Okitegami Kyoko no Biboroku 掟上今日子の備忘録 (The Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami). I’m not a huge fan of this quirky detective’s silver bob, but I admire the way she effortlessly mixes and matches colors and patterns. Her clothes are not tight-fitted yet timelessly elegant. I especially like the color-blocking. Plus, adding a beret is always a good idea. It also makes me realize I should wear tartan more often. By the way, it’s obvious that glasses make you more stylish (don’t believe Kdrama makeovers, kids). That’s it for today! I will be back soon with a new post (you can expect something academic).

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Ozu Yasujirō in CineConcert

Three years ago, I undertook to convince you to watch Ozu Yasujirō’s movies because of five solid reasons: realism on the screen, the opportunity to hear/read spoken Japanese (dialects), excellent actors, the Japaneseness and the stylised, interactive way of filming. I was again impressed by all of these things characterizing director Ozu’s style after watching the silent movie “Gosses de Tokyo” (original title: 大人の見る絵本 生れてはみたけれど otona no miru ehon – umarete ha mita keredo “A picture book seen by adults – I was born, but …” 1932) at Film Fest Gent last week. This film festival showed a selection of Japanese movies as a tribute to the 150 years of friendship between Japan and Belgium (I wrote something about this here!). The screening was accompanied by beautiful live music, a new score written by Gwenaël Grisi and brought by a quintet.

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I had watched a bunch of Ozu’s movies in the past, but “Gosses de Tokyo” was my first silent Ozu movie. The story revolves around two young brothers in a middle-class family who have to deal with bullies at school and the harsh reality that their father is not “the best”. On the contrary, he works for the father of one of their own schoolmates, over whom they gain “power” once they teach their bullies a lesson. The boys rebel by skipping school, quarreling with their parents and going on a (failed) hunger strike. The coming-of-age perspective was also riddled with humor. This line had the audience bursting into laughter:

  • Dad: Did you enjoy going to school today?
  • Son: Yeah, going was fun and coming back was fun too, it  was only the part in between that was really boring.

Other comical elements were the boys’ behavior, in which we all resemble ourselves as a child, and the younger brother constantly mimicking the older one.

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Title screen of the movie (Sorry for the bad quality)

Because it was a silent movie, language use was limited and depended for a great deal on correctly interpreting the context. In some cases, it really helped having some insight in Japanese culture. For instance, there was a scene in which the boys, who had skipped school, asked the sake delivery boy to write the grade “A” (甲 kō) on a fabricated calligraphy homework. Unfortunately, the delivery boy drew the middle line so that it emerged on top, producing thus an entirely different character, 申 (saru, meaning among many other things, “monkey”). When one of the boys proudly presented this homework to his father, he wisely covered the upper part of his ‘grade’. Apart from such rare occasions, the visual story line spoke for itself and was nicely complemented by the music.

Fun Fact: I later discovered that Ozu reworked “I was born, but…” for his color and sound movie “Good Morning” (お早よう Ohayō), which I believe I have watched many years ago. I guess I should watch it again to be sure…

Thanks to Jana for the invitation!

Tōkaidō

tokaidocover1.800x0visualcreations.beToday I watched the documentary “Tokaido – A Journey” by Belgian film maker Luc Cuyvers. It’s really a must see: not only the road, inns and 53 post stations are beautifully depicted, varying aspects of Japanese culture and society as well are linked to the journey and clearly described. The educational system, industrialization, car dealers, the aging society, pachinko, health services, fish markets, Shintoism, wabi sabi of bonsai, public transport, many known and well-known sides of Japanese life are dealt with.

Luc Cuyvers started his Japanese adventure in an antique shop. There he bought an ukiyoe 浮世絵 (woodblock print) made by the famous 19th century artist Ando Hiroshige. Intrigued by the beauty and curiosity of the art work, he wanted to know what was depicted and written on it. It appeared to be a painting of the eleventh station, Mishima 三島 of the Tōkaidō.

Mishima

Mishima

What is Tōkaidō? Tōkaidō 東海道, or East Sea Road, is one of the five routes leading to Edo (called Tōkyō nowadays). As the name explains, people travelled mainly along the sea-coast. During the Edo period, Japan was united by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he put a new law into operation to control the power of mighty feudal lords (daimyō 大名). With sankin kōtai (参勤交代), all feudal lords were obliged to move periodically between their own domain and Edo, and must leave their wife and heir as virtual hostages in the capital. Doing so, they lost a great deal of money in maintaining both residences, and traveling back and forth each year. Consequently, there were no financial resources left to wage war.

A daimyō and his entourage crossing the bridge of Okazaki.

A daimyō and his entourage crossing the bridge of Okazaki.

Along the route, there were 53 official post stations established between Edo and Kyōto. Here travelers could find food and lodging. At some of these stations however, voyagers were subjected to strict control. The government had to make sure that weapons were kept out of the capital, and women in it.

Along the route, the economy was flourishing. Picture of an inn in Kusatsu.

Along the route, the economy was flourishing. Picture of an inn in Kusatsu.

Tōkaidō appears to be much more than a road. Hiroshige did not only draw the stations and the nature surrounding it, he especially put people in the foreground of his paintings. Sometimes drawn in a funny way, sometimes sad or in pain, but Hiroshige never failed to depict his characters as original and unique as possible.

A man trying to catch his hat in Yokkaichi.

A man trying to catch his hat in Yokkaichi.

Just like Hiroshige, Luc Cuyvers tells the visual story of Tōkaidō, this time with modern devices like a video camera. And just like Hiroshige, he himself never appears in the picture. Sometimes disappointed by how little there remains from the original painted landscape, Cuyvers follows the road that is now replaced by modern routes. On his way he receives the help of many kind Japanese, who offer a ride, give directions or explain local stories.

A view on Mount Fuji at Yui.

A view on Mount Fuji at Yui.

There is one constancy in both stories: roads will disappear, surroundings will change, but the people you encounter on your journey will never fail to surprise you.

a road is no more than a road. What makes it interesting is the people who live and travel along it.

Sakanoshita

Sakanoshita

Facts for Fun

– See all 53 ukiyoe on Wikipedia

– Today, Tōkaidō is the main line of Japan Railways. It takes no more than 2.5 hours to travel from Tōkyō to Kyōto.

Dramatic Economics

Japanese drama shows must get their inspiration from somewhere. Domestic economic scandals, for example.

1. Window dressing 

A strategy used by mutual fund and portfolio managers near the year or quarter end to improve the appearance of the portfolio/fund performance before presenting it to clients or shareholders. To window dress, the fund manager will sell stocks with large losses and purchase high-flying stocks near the end of the quarter. These securities are then reported as part of the fund’s holdings. (Investopedia)

Drama case: Hanzawa Naoki

asianwiki.com

asianwiki.com

Hanzawa works at the Tokyo Chuo Bank as the head of the Loans Devisions, when he is forced by his manager to give an unsecured loan of 500 million yen to Nishi Osaka Steel. Because he is pressured to hand in the loan documents as soon as the following morning, there is no time to check the company’s accountancy carefully. Three months later, Nishi Osaka Steel goes bankrupt, and the  lent money is gone. The company had been hiding their debts with window dressing. The branch manager, who had promised to take responsibility before, puts now all the blame on Hanzawa.

Actual case: Olympus

On 8 November 2011, camera and copier maker Olympus corp. (オリンパス株式会社 Orinpasu Kabushikigaisha)  admitted having resorted to window dressing in the past. During the 1990s, at least $1.4 billion of losses were covered up using various types of window dressing. Surprising is that it took more than 20 years before it was discovered. In fact, it was brought into the light by a foreigner, the Briton Michael Woodford, who was sacked few days after becoming CEO of the company. Woodford had questioned the chairman about more than a billion dollars used as “advisory fees” to acquire some small-scale companies and firms. Advisory fees should be added up between 1% – and 2%  of the total deal. In the purchase of Gyrus, a British medical equipment firm, Olympus paid $687 million as advisory fees to unknown, firms Axes and Axam, situated on the Cayman Islands, what makes up for a third of the acquisition price. Apparently they used the fees to hide the long-standing losses of the past two centuries.

They didn't smile for long. - Telegraph.co.uk

They didn’t smile for long. – Telegraph.co.uk

Olympus’ scandal, though good for “the largest accounting fraud in Japan’s corporate history”, reminds us of the common accounting practice (tobashi 跳ばし) at the end of the bubble economy in 1990. Companies in debt transferred their bad assets or loans to dummy companies, so losses didn’t show up in the bookkeeping.

"Well yeah, we're kinda sorry for two decades of fraud..." The guardian.com

“Well yeah, we’re kinda sorry for two decades of fraud…” – theguardian.com

Interesting as well is the suggestion of newspaper Sankei that Olympus gave the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, some pocket-money, a tidy amount of $1.5 billion. Not much is written about that on the Internet, but I suspect it revolves around sōkaiya 総会屋, what means hiring yakuza to a) disrupt the shareholder meeting or b) prevent disruption of the shareholder meeting. Companies invite the yakuza to their own meetings for option b. For example, if a shareholder questions a certain policy of the company, he is threatened by the yakuza. Or they start making trouble in order to close the meeting and avoid further questions.

2. Insider Trading and Pump and Dump

Insider trading occurs when a trade has been influenced by the privileged possession of corporate information that has not yet been made public. Because the information is not available to other investors, a person using such knowledge is trying to gain an unfair advantage over the rest of the market. (Investopedia)

Pump and dump is a form of stock manipulation that involves artificially inflating the price of an owned stock through false and misleading positive statements, in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price. Once the operators of the scheme “dump” their overvalued shares, the price falls and investors lose their money. Stocks that are the subject of pump and dump schemes are sometimes called “chop stocks”. (Wikipedia)

Drama case: Kurosagi

asianwiki.com

asianwiki.com

The swindler-who-swindles-other-swindlers Kurosaki poses as Yamashita, and tells Shiraishi, the swindler, that he wants to buy out Skybio Industry, a small company with a lot of potential. He asks Shiraishi to sell stocks in their new company. Shiraishi hears that a lot of great companies want to buy Skybio as well, so he sees an opportunity to con Yamashita. He suggests stock manipulation by insider trading. First, when Skybio enters the market, you have to buy as much stock as possible. Next, you spread the news about the purchase. Reputation of both companies will grow, and the stock value will increase. Then, you sell the stock you bought at a high profit range. If you have made a large sum of money, you spread the rumor that  the company is not to be sold. Stock prices will immediately drop, and you can buy shares again at a cheap price.

Actual case: Recruit

The Recruit scandal is connected with insider trading and corruption. It is quite famous because it forced a cabinet to resign. Hiromasa Ezoe, chairman of Recruit, offered stocks of the subsidiary Cosmos to many politicians before the company entered the public market. When it did in 1986, share prices skyrocketed and a lot of money disappeared in the pocket of Diet members. Two years later, about 47 politicians were found guilty of insider trading or receiving special favors, among them prime minister Takeshita Noboru and former PM Nakasone Yasuhiro. Not only did the cabinet resign, it was also the end of the LDP’s continuous reign since 1955, as Hosokawa Morihiro won the elections in 1993.

kawasakiminamirinri.blogspot.com

kawasakiminamirinri.blogspot.com

Facts for Fun

– If you are more fond of Korean drama, I can recommend Midas, a drama about money and how to earn it in a most effective (and most illegal) way.

References 

– Wikipedia and Investopedia
Skinner, Douglas J. “Japan’s ‘Window Dressing’ Hid Olympus Fraud: Douglas J. Skinner.” Bloomberg, n.d. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-01/japan-s-window-dressing-hid-olympus-fraud-commentary-by-douglas-skinner.html.
– “Camera-maker Olympus admits to window-dressing books.” Domain-b, n.d. http://www.domain-b.com/management/m_a/20111108_olympus_corp.html.
Facts and details
– Inagaki, Kana, and Phred Dvorak. “Olympus Admits to Hiding Losses.” Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2011, sec. Business. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204190704577024680506345936.html.
Miyazaki Manabu

Five Reasons Why Ozu Yasujirō’s Movies Are Worth Watching Nowadays

ozuYasujiro_OzuOzu Yasujirō (1903 – 1963) directed 54 movies, whereof 35 silent ones, 13 in black-and-white and 6 in color. I have to admit that this far I haven’t seen one of the first category yet; there are many silent movies lost, if that may count as an excuse. The movies I watched are from “The Ozu collection”: Tokyo Story (Tōkyō Monogatari 東京物語), also called his masterpiece, Late Spring (Banshun 晩春), Good Morning (Ohayō おはよう), Early Summer (Bakushū 麦秋) and The End of Summer (Kohayagawake no Aki 小早川家の秋).

Recently, more movies have been added to this collection, his silent student comedies for example. It took quite some time before Ozu became known in the Western world, but as Wikipedia tells me, “he is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential directors”. How deeply he has influenced other film makers I’m not sure. But in my opinion there are at least five reasons why you should give Ozu a try:

ozuyasujiro20130910_2001271. The realism Ozu’s later work –  situated in Japan’s cinematic golden age: from 1930 to 1960 – is often classified as “domestic drama”. It sketches a portrait of a family going through marriage, divorce or death, and depicts the Japanese concept of mono no aware 物の哀れ, the “pathos of things”. At the climax of such a moment, one of the movie characters says “the weather is nice, isn’t it?” (Ii tenki desu ne? いい天気ですね。) Ozu’s films expose a concept Realism eagerly likes to use: “a slice of life” or “tranche de vie” in French. These films are about the life of middle-class families. There’s no particular plot in the story, nor is there any extraordinary event going on. To say it with Ian Buruma’s words:

Plot was never the main point for Ozu. He once said: “Pictures with obvious plots bore me now.” He was interested in character. As in the best soaps, you get to know the people through their little quirks and daily habits, their manners of speech, their routines. This takes time – in TV soap operas sometimes years. Ozu never hurries through a film. They feel like daily life, because they simulate the rhythm of life as it is lived by most people. And most people, after all, don’t live in action movies.

One could easily complain about the slow tempo, or the banality that characterize these films. But I think that this is what makes it worth watching: you discover the daily life of a Japanese family in the fifties. You hear daily expressions, you see what keeps these people busy all day. His films are as simple as they are intellectual. There are hints of humor, as in real life. Next to that, women are often placed central. My teacher at university even called it “pro-women cinema”, and I read more than once “subtle feminism” on the Internet.

ozuyasujiro-Higanbana

2. The language For students of the Japanese language, Ozu’s movies can be a real challenge. No clean, standard Japanese, but daily speech, often muttered while sipping tea or pronounced almost incomprehensibly. Sometimes a dialect is featured, like Kansai-ben 関西弁 in “The End of Summer”. Because this kind of speech is most likely what you will hear once you arrive in Japan, some hearing exercise beforehand can be useful. You can also observe the differences in formal, outside situations, and informal scenes shot at the home of these families. And, as I mentioned before, you can learn a lot by paying attention to daily expressions and so on. I also have to praise the translator of “The Ozu Collection” in Dutch for his pleasant creativity. He succeeded in translating four successive “sou desu ka“‘s そうですか in four completely different ways, for instance.

3. The acting We know Ozu liked to collaborate with the actors Hara Setsuko, Ryū Chishū and Sugimura Haruko. His favorite actor Ryū appeared in no less than 52 (!) of his films. Rumor has it that there was some kind of relationship going on between the married actor and the unmarried director. Hara is called “the symbol of the golden era of Japanese cinema of the 1950s”. She also never married; again I found endless speculations about that on the Internet. Leaving the personal remarks out of consideration, I couldn’t find much about how their acting is experienced. When I first saw a Ozu movie, I believed it not very natural. Then I thought, perhaps, that’s exactly how it was at that time, and I grew used to it. I mean, Japanese people tend to keep a poker face in any situation whatsoever. And they cry real tears, so the acting should be okay I guess? (Hereby it is clear that I have no discerning eye for this kind of things.) Anyway, these actors are symbols that cannot be missed if one wants to explore Japan’s golden cinema period.

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Ryū Chishū, Hara Setsuko

4. The Japaneseness Of all Japan’s great directors, Ozu has been called “the most Japanese one”. He is so “typically Japanese” that his movies were only reluctantly introduced in the West: foreigners wouldn’t understand. Ozu was seen as hopelessly conservative by the following generation of directors. Not that he only shot historical drama, on the contrary, he portrayed a Japan penetrated by Western modernity. Often the clash between these two makes up for a social topic in the movie, like in “Tokyo Story”. And there exactly is where the genius is hidden: we do not see the exotic Japan full of samurai and geisha Westerners want to see; we see the Japanese life of everyday. Two women walking side by side, one in kimono and wearing geta, the other one in a colorful summer dress wearing Western shoes. A group of business men in suits sitting shoeless on tatami in the tea house while waving their fans. An old man in hakama making a phone call at the pub around the corner. Can it be more Japanese than this?

5. The filming technique No hovering, no close-ups, no over-the-shoulder shots or panning – Ozu perfected the stylised, minimalistic still shot. During dialogues, he places the camera between the speakers, which draws the public into the conversation as well. In the beginning it feels weird, because the characters talk straight into the camera, as if there’s no one else but you. Ozu also invented the “tatami shot”, in which a camera is filming the characters at very low height, about 70 centimeters off the ground. Between different scenes, he films random things or landscapes. I personally prefer this kind of techniques over other ones. It is simple, minimalistic and relaxing. One can focus on speech, acting, scene decoration and so on. And it suits the tempo of the movie of course.

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yes, she’s talking to you.

I have given five reasons to like Ozu’s work – or at least to try watching it. I’m sure there are  reasons to dislike him as well. He may be considered a bit old-fashioned nowadays. But there is not and there will not be a second Ozu again… Have you watched one of his movies? How do you think about it? Let me know!

Facts for Fun

8 Things You Might not Know About Ozu

References

Wikipedia
– “Yasujiro Ozu.” The Criterion Collection, n.d. http://www.criterion.com/explore/22-yasujiro-ozu.
– “Yasujiro Ozu: An Artist of the Unhurried World.” The Guardian, January 9, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jan/09/yasujiro-ozu-ian-buruma.
– Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. London; Princeton, N.J.: BFI Pub. ; Princeton University Press, 1988.
– credits pictures: Wikimedia commons, Nishikataeiga and own work.

Apple

Once in a while one should write a silly post. This one is about apples and how my absurd brain connects them with Japan. Enjoy this tasty stream of consciousness.

Soyokaze-ringo no utaThe first song we heard in Japanese Culture class was ringo no uta (リンゴの唄 “song of the apple”). This song was the first hit after World War II in Japan. Featuring the song in the movie Soyokaze, composer and producer Tadashi Manjōme tried to change the dark feelings of war legacy into a happy and cheerful mentality. The first attempt to release ringo no uta failed because of censorship by the military government. The music was too soft and didn’t contribute to the fighting spirit of the people.

Fuji apples are most popular.

Fuji apples are most popular.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I obediently follow this rule and have an apple for breakfast every day. A Japanese girl told me how she was astonished by the fact that those Europeans eat A WHOLE apple each. It seemed she received one as dessert during the flight to Belgium and was quite puzzled what to do with that enormous thing. In Japan, they share it with the family. Fruit is indeed expensive. For one apple you count down ¥130 (=€1 or $1.35), while in Belgium you pay €2.42 for one kilo, that is €0.48 (= $0.63) per each. Japanese apples are carefully wrapped and sold by the piece. We buy them per kilo.

apple-japan

Steve Jobs would have liked that wallpaper.

I’m not the only one who loves apples, Steve Jobs apparently loved them too. I read this very interesting article How Apple is more Japanese than Japan. The author draws resemblances between company structure, design (although those are not the main focus of the article), Japan’s wrapping culture (I will write a lot about that later) and the personality of Steve Jobs himself. If we may believe Nobuyuki Hayashi’s article, Steve Jobs was born American by accident instead of Japanese.

And here I am, writing blogs on my MacBook with ringo no uta playing while eating an apple. You can expect some serious talk next time.

Tissue Movies

If you’re feeling down, watch a movie. It really helps, especially when the movie itself is incredibly sad. You will think yourself the happiest person in the world after watching. The following Japanese movies have moved an Ice Queen like me to tears.

THE LIFE OF OHARU (saikaku ichidai onna 西鶴一代女) * Mizoguchi Kenji * 1952

This black-and-white film is based on the novel “The Life of an Amorous Woman” (kōshokuichidai onna 好色一代女) by Saikaku Ihara. The title in Japanese a combination of the author and the three kanji of the title’s book. In English, the movie’s called after the main character, Oharu. This girl isn’t very lucky. And that’s an understatement: her life is really miserable. The trouble starts when she is caught on having an affair with a lower ranked page. The young man is beheaded and Oharu’s family is sent away (if you were wondering: the movie is set in the Edo-period 1603-1868, and that’s the way it happened then). From that time on, things only get worse. She tries very hard, but somehow she always fails in living a happy life. Director Mizoguchi is known for his feminist engagement. He wanted to expose the hard circumstances for women, being more an object for men than a real autonomous person.

The_Life_Of_Oharu.0-15-06.921

This movie reminds me of  Ozu Yasujirō’s work. I have no intention of stereotyping Japanese cinema, but that’s my image of a good, old, Japanese film: black-and-white, low tempo, few talking and powerful shots. Less is more, and there can be so much more said in one slowly moving picture than in a lively dialogue. If you’re not very keen of this kind of movies, or perhaps you prefer colors, I can recommend the following ones.

DODESUKADEN (どですかでん) * Kurosawa Akira * 1970

dodesukadenKurosawa himself said “I must shoot this one in color, otherwise it would be too sad for words.” He was right. The story is based on the novel “The Town without Seasons” (kisetsu no nai machi 季節のない町) by Yamamoto Shūgorō. “Dodesukaden” is the onomatopoeia of a train. The departure station of this train is located in a rubbish dump, transformed into some kind of slum, where people try to survive in extremely harsh conditions. The conductor of the train is a mentally disabled boy. The truth is, the train doesn’t exist but in his imagination. The scene where he actually prepares the fictional vehicle for a ride isn’t amusing at all, it is bitter and wry. And so is the rest of the movie. All “residents” have their own miserable story, from the intellectual, dreamy tramp to the sexually abused girl. I recall two powerful scenes. The first one is the dead of the bum boy. Now the tramp is left alone with his impossible dreams, his last grip on reality has died with the child. The second one is the moment when a fine lady visits the shabby hut of a man who is silent during the whole movie. The man ignores her pleas, behaving more and more like a madman. He obstinately bears with him the burden of her adultery. You will think twice after watching this. How perverse can life be for human beings? All social issues make their appearance.

“Dodesukaden” is completely different from Kurosawa’s other filming. The contrast with pictures like “Seven Samurai” is huge. I was quite surprised; this could only be directed by someone who himself had to contend with mental struggle, even depression. The movie was a commercial failure. A year after the release, Kurosawa attempted suicide, but survived. It was not until 1975 that he directed another film. If you’re too weak harted for hardcore stuff like “Dodesukaden”, here’s a final suggestion.

SKY OF LOVE (koizora 恋空) * Imai Natsuki * 2007

“Koizora” was born on a cellphone. Mika posted her autobiographical story on a cell koizoraphone site, where it grew immensely popular, resulting in a manga, film and drama adaption. I watched the drama, but you can go for the film too, which is shorter (and cost less tissues). At the beginning I had promised not to shed a tear. With great efforts I succeeded in the first 5 episodes, but in the final one I couldn’t hold it anymore. Mika is the Oharu of today. I’m rather suspicious about the real-life aspect, how can someone’s life contain so much bad luck?

“Koizora” is the love story of high-schoolers Mika and Hiro. At first, Hiro is more like a bad boy, but he turns out to be very gentle and for ever dedicated to Mika. They experience a rather difficult relationship: bullying, pregnancy, disease, you name it. I cannot spoil the ending, you should watch for yourself. I challenge you.

Facts for Fun

– Japan has produced movies since 1897. That was almost immediately after introducing the Lumière Brothers’ Cinematograph in Tokyo.

– My favourite Belgian director is Jaco Van Dormael. Most of his films are in French, but the one I can watch again and again, “Mr. Nobody”, is English spoken.  Besides, the cast is fantastic: Jared Leto, Diane Kruger…

– The animation movies of Miyazaki Hayao has become very popular in the West. And quite deserved, they are terrific. “Howl’s Moving Castle” has won my heart five years ago.

References

– watch the trailer of Dodesukaden (no subs)

– watch Koizora (movie, English subs)

– watch Koizora (drama, English subs)

– credits for pictures: Dodesukaden and Koizora