Junk Food and Yamamoto

Aaron Gerow gerow
Mon Aug 31 03:56:43 EDT 1998

After again much delay, I just posted my review of _Junk Food_ and an 
interview article with its director, Yamamoto Masashi, on the review site 
on Kinema Club.

Here they are in text format, but also check out the originals.

Junk Food

Japanese title: Janku fudo
Production Company: Junk Food Connection (Omiya Visual Image Production,
Stance Company, Transformer)
Release: 18 April 1998
Length: 82 min.
Format: 35 mm
Color: Color

   o Director: Yamamoto Masashi
   o Executive Producers: Omiya Koichi, Sakaguchi Kazunao, Ishige Eizuke
   o Producer: Isomi Toshiro
   o Screenplay: Yamamoto Masashi
   o Photography: Ito Hiroshi
   o Music: DJ KRUSH, Machida Ko
   o Editor: Kakesu Shuichi

   o Miyuki: Iijima Miyuki
   o Yokoyama: Furuta Arata
   o Hide: Yoshiyuki
   o Ryo: Onimaru
   o Myan: MIA
   o Cawl: Ali Ahmed
   o Old woman: Yamamoto Shizuko
   o Miyuki's boss: Yamaguchi Akifumi
   o Mariana: Esther Moreno
   o Sato: Tsuda Kanji
   o Sarym: Choudry Ikram Ul Haq
   o Hide's friend: Kuwabara Nobutaka


                         Digesting the Junk of Tokyo

Street fashion is still in. Teens walk through Shibuya in Tokyo with baggy
pants, knit caps, cornrows and so on, assuming the same style as the home
boys in the 'hood. It's cool to look the outlaw, to present oneself as an
outsider within Japanese society.

A film like Iwai Shunji's Swallowtail Butterfly has celebrated this 
of alienness. But even if Iwai's decision to have his Japanese cast speak
foreign languages may have presented the image of a multicultural Japan, 
the end, the "otherness" the actors assume appears to be more of a pose 
a reality. It is just as superficial as the Compton clothing rich Tokyo 
buy in the boutiques in Harajuku.

Yamamoto Masashi, who started depicting Japan's outsiders long before 
does it differently. When he needed someone to play a youth gang leader, 
searched out the legendary Onimaru--the king of the streets of Omiya,
Saitama Prefecture--and cast him and in his gang, along with a motley pack
of real tattoo artists, musicians, street kids, and resident foreigners, 
the new film Junk Food. The result is a bitingly real, unpretentious look 
Japan's other side.

Yet Yamamoto is not naive enough to think his cinema can expose the truth 
the urban jungle. Instead of giving us a serious lecture about reality, he
presents a variety of stories, both tragic and absurd, in a myriad of 
that acknowledge the artifice of the present while revealing its hidden

The first extended story, in fact, depicts less the streets than the
corporate office: the Tokyo Bay world of glass, chrome, and its facades.
Miyuki (Iijima Miyuki), a junkie OL, wakes up in a run down basement
apartment next to a man whom she promptly kills after getting her fix.
Making herself up as if nothing had happened, she heads to the office only
to spend most of her day trying to get her next dose.

Shot in a more professional style with professional actors, this section 
appropriately the film's most artificial. It presents a schizophrenic 
split between a clean facade and perverse inside, encapsulated by Miyuki
who, after all she has gone through, can still return home at night and 
the wife to her blissfully ignorant husband.

After this daytime tale, Junk Food moves on to its centerpiece--the 
of the night. There is Hide (Yoshiyuki), in town to pick up the ashes of a
dead friend, and have a fling a prostitute named Myan (MIA); Cawl (Ali
Ahmed), a Pakistani who stole money to marry his Japanese girlfriend, but
then kills her and a fellow Pakistani after his plans go awry; Ryo
(Onimaru), a gang leader forced to look for the girl of an unpleasant
acquaintance; and more.

Now using a rougher, more documentary form, Yamamoto skillfully weaves 
threads together until Cawl and Ryo join Hide and Myan to help pour the
ashes of Hide's friend into Yokohama Bay. It is a touching moment--a
temporary point of stasis in an urban world perpetually in motion.

The fact that the friend died on the Yamanote Line, circling round and 
before anyone noticed, is symbolic of both Yamamoto's whirling movie and a
world that ignores the "junk" it creates.

The circle is the defining figure for Junk Food, in part because the two
above "acts" are framed by short, video-shot scenes of a blind old woman
(played by Yamamoto's own mother) performing her unchanging morning 
As one day comes to an end, another just starts the whole process over

The old woman is, in one way, the mundane that contrasts with the
extraordinary events of the other stories. But she is sightless, a 
figure whom society usually locks away. If she embodies how the alien can
become the everyday, Yamamoto's brilliant decision to turn the film back 
itself--to have the stories encircle each other instead of moving linearly
parallel--helps him to underscore how all that is "alien" to Japan is as
much part of the normal as the facade that tries to substitute
superficiality for substance.

Junk food, despite the bad rap it gets from the "good" forces of healthy
society, is still food. And often tastes a lot better.

Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
onogerow at angel.ne.jp

Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 16 April 1998, p. 9

Copyright 1998: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow

                      For Yamamoto, Life Is by the Reel

Yamamoto Masashi, the director of Junk Food and such internationally
acclaimed films as Carnival in the Night ("Yami no kanibary," 1982) and
Robinson's Garden ("Robinson no niwa," 1987), is still a student at the 
of 42. And it is not just because he is currently studying in New York 
a Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artists. For him, the
movies themselves are a learning experience.

"I don't have a set idea before starting a film," he confessed, "because 
inevitably changes during filming." Yamamoto elaborated that, during the
making of What's Up Connection ("Tenamonya konekushon," 1990), that was 
partially in Hong Kong, he indeed found that in the process of making a
film, of encountering different people, his point of view has changed.

In this sense, he terms filmmaking a process of "studying the emotions."
Shooting a movie for him is not a case of realizing a preconceived theme 
celluloid, but rather of "learning the content of the film for the first
time by shooting it," he explained.

Yamamoto does shoot mostly from a script, changing it only a little when 
situation demands it. "What is most important is the preparation before
that," he said. Due to his frequent casting of amateurs and people playing
themselves, Yamamoto puts much effort into preproduction, into getting to
know these people and their way of seeing things before starting to film. 
said the script thus undergoes many rewrites before he brings it on to the

It is these two factors--use of amateurs and preproduction research--that
contribute most to the sense of reality that permeates Yamamoto's movies. 
has no pretense of giving us the Truth, however. "Films are lies," he
stressed, "But my images are lies that contain a lot of reality." Truth 
in the details, he argued, and it is those details--the skin tone, the 
gestures, the use of words--that only real people acting themselves can

Much of the impact of Yamamoto's work, of course, lies in its choice of
subject matter. While the majority of Japanese film, he feels, is about 
middle class--"salary men going ballroom dancing," he quipped, in a biting
reference to Shall We Dance? ("Shall we dansu?," 1995)--"I want to stand 
the side of those who have been marginalized by society, in part because I
feel I'm one of them."

Atlanta Boogie ("Atoranta bugi," 1996), for instance, centered around a 
track meet between the "normal" and "good" citizens of Yokohama and those
they want to expel from the neighborhood: the illegal foreign workers, the
deadbeats, the juvenile delinquents, the elderly, etc. Because this was a
comedy, the latter, of course, win in the end.

Yamamoto confesses that while he likes to do comedy, "I also want to spit 
bit of venom." Atlanta was financed by a large entertainment corporation
which frowned on his desire to present the seedier aspects of the Yokohama
cityscape. The low-budget Junk Food, funded by three friends of the
director, is then, in his words, "a sketch of what I couldn't do in a 
like Atlanta." It was his opportunity to return to his roots and the same
milieu he presented in Carnival in the Night.

The part in Junk Food featuring the junkie OL in "normal society" was
Yamamoto's chance to point his poison camera at the Tokyo Bay world of
trendy dramas. The third and longest section, showing the denizens of the
night, allowed him to depict the gritty human reality the corporate world 
chrome and glass tries to hide.

Though a student of the world, Yamamoto refuses to preach. "I don't have a
philosophy," he said. During his stay in New York, he would like to build 
plans to do an "Asian movie" there. "It's not going to be about somebody
struggling or working to succeed in America, but rather about somebody who
doesn't struggle at all."

Yamamoto's view of the world is more casual than serious, something that 
reflected in his approach to filmmaking. A director who graduated from 8mm
to 35mm production, he still longs for the day he can just casually pick 
a camera and go out shooting with a few acquaintances.

The realm of big feature production is different, something he bitterly
learned when trying to make the film Kumagusu about the eccentric Japanese
biologist Minakata Kumagusu. Filming started in 1990 but was soon halted
midway due to lack of funds. Feeling he has to finish the project, 
is still trying to collect the necessary money.

A truly independent filmmaker, Yamamoto has spent his time in the United
States booking theaters to show Junk Food and wandering through Harlem and
the East Village looking for stories to film. He also contemplates one day
making a movie in Pakistan.

Queried about the danger of filming another culture from a prejudiced 
of view, Yamamoto retorted, "I'm not that stupid." He thoroughly 
his subject because "I can't film until the image comes to me." That is 
true spirit of a student of film--or, one could say, of a student through

By Aaron Gerow
onogerow at angel.ne.jp

Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 16 April 1998, p. 9.

Copyright 1998: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow

Aaron Gerow
Yokohama National University
KineJapan list owner
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