20th Century Nostalgia

Mark Schilling schill
Fri Apr 13 10:32:13 EDT 2001

Lawrence Marceau asks if there was any critical reaction to "20th Century
Nostalgia." Here's my own, again from "Contemporary Japanese Cinema":

Mark Schilling

20 Seiki Nostalgia (20th Century Nostalgia) (8/12/97)

Produced by; screenplay by Masato Hara and Goro Nakajima, directed by
Masato Hara. With: Ryoko Hirosue, Tsuotumu Marushima, Running time:

The musical is a genre that only certain nationalities seem to get. The
Americans were its originators and became its masters while the Indians
made it the centerpiece of their popular cinema (though watching ecstatic
lovers romping through meadows and singing in front of waterfalls in a
Bollywood musical, I feel as though I am trapped in a two-hour soft drink
commercial). Japanese films have certainly found a place for musical
performances over the years, one fondly remembered example being the
crooning of Yuzo Kayama in the 1960s *Wakadaisho** (Young Captain)
series, but the musical is not, to put it simply, a Japanese forte.
     Even today, when Japan has the highest per-square-meter ratio of pop
singers on earth and a film's J-Pop tema songu (theme song) often has a
significant impact on its box office, it's rare indeed to see anyone in a
Japanese movie bursting into song on anywhere but on a stage, in a
karaoke club or other "proper" settings.
     Thus my surprise at seeing the teenage heroine of Masato Hara's *20
Seiki Nostalgia** (20th Century Nostalgia), played by newcomer Ryoko
Hirosue, dance artlessly and trill ingenuously against trendy post-modern
backdrops in Tokyo Bay. But the effect, I'm afraid, was closer to Bollywood
than the Hollywood that produced *Singin' In the Rain.**
     Acclaimed by director Hara as the next Setsuko Hara, Ms. Hirosue has a
fresh-scrubbed charm that has made a her popular commercial talent (NTT
Dokomo pocket pager) and TV drama actress ("Long Vacation"), but
watching her skip about as Hara put his camera through its MTV paces,
jump cutting and blurring his shots to add pizzazz, I couldn't help thinking
that, rather than the star of *Tokyo Monogatari,** a closer comparison
would have been the idol singers that flash by every Saturday night on
Sony's J-Pop countdown TV show (not surprisingly, the film's distributor,
Daiei, has released a soundtrack CD).
      The film, however, is more than the sum of its frothy musical
interludes. A prominent figure in Japan's independent film scene for nearly
three decades, Hara has created, in his long-delayed feature debut, a paean
to young love that is at once irredeemably twee and intriguingly acute. More
than most Japanese films about modern adolescence it is aware that, while
the transition from childhood innocence to adult sexuality is as bumpy as
ever, teens raised in this media-saturated society can experience it at one
remove, as though it were a video whose images they can endlessly
     Ms. Hirosue plays Anzu, a high school girl who, as the movie begins, is
in the dumps because her boyfriend, Tetsu (Tsutomu Marushima), has left
with his family to Australia. Together they had spent their summer vacation
making a video movie, but now that he is gone, she can't bring herself to
edit it. Then, with the encouragement of her best friend and a sympathetic
woman teacher, she begins to slap tapes into the editing machine, watch
and remember.
      Anzu and Tetsu -- a fey-looking kid in a white floppy hat -- meet
of course, on a bridge in Tokyo Bay. Holding a camcorder, Tetsu proclaims
that he has been *bodyjacked** by an alien named Chunse who has come
from space to study the earth's destruction. Though taken aback at first,
Anzu soon joins Tetsu in his game. Touching fingers with her new friend,
she allows herself to be invaded by another alien, Pouse, who has split off
from Chunse (as in the story of Adam's rib?).
      Together these two aliens, whose names are taken from a story by
Kenji Miyazawa titled *Futago no Hoshi** (The Twins' Star), begin to
explore their new world, camcorders in hand. They also start to film -- and
discover -- each other.
     Hara, who wrote the script in collaboration with Goro Nakajima, no
doubt intends this exploration to evoke sighs of -- what else? -- nostalgia
the innocence and purity of youth. This nostalgia is common enough among
older Japanese directors (younger directors, on the other hand, are more
likely to portray teens as feral criminals than spotless angels), but Hara
shows how the guises and gadgets that allow these two adolescents to be
together without embarrassing each other end by keeping them apart. His
cloying little romance contains a shrewd commentary on the current state of
human relationships among Japanese youth.
     Though an agile fantasist, Chunse/Tetsu is a strange, lonely kid whose
only means of connecting with the world is his camcorder. When
Pouse/Anzu begins to hint that aliens can also fall in love, he rejects her
offer of human contact. He wants her to stay safe inside his viewfinder, an
image he can play with rather than a young woman who is becoming aware
of her own sexuality. He is also an alien (alienated?) in another sense;
knowing that his family is about to depart for Australia, he is floating
between worlds, as it were, unwilling to commit to either.
      It's too bad that Hara felt compelled to cover this perceptive
coming-of-age story in a pink candy glaze of middle-aged wish fulfillment.
This summer's action movies, with their thunderous Dolby soundtracks, may
well give you a headache. *20 Seiki Nostalgia,** with Ms. Hirosue mugging
against the futuristic relics of bubble-era Tokyo, is more likely to give
you a


----- Original Message -----
From: "Lawrence Marceau" <lmarceau at UDel.Edu>
To: <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu>
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2001 9:07 PM
Subject: 20th Century Nostalgia

>     Was there any critical reception to "20th Century Nostalgia," starring
> Hirosue Ryoko (mentioned below in passing by Aaron)?  TV Japan, which
> provides mainly NHK broadcasting for a monthly fee in the US, broadcast
> film last year as an installment in their monthly "Cinema Theater."  My
> personal impression was that it was little more than a means for
> Hirosue to her fans, but perhaps the critics appreciated the extensive use
> of amateur video to provide layering in the film.
>     Please correct me if I'm missing something...
>     Lawrence Marceau
> > Subject: Hirosue meets Besson
> > Date: Wed, 11 Apr 01 16:16:04 +0900
> > From: Aaron Gerow <gerow at ynu.ac.jp>
> > To: "KineJapan" <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu>
> >
> > Papers have reported that the popular Japanese idol, Hirosue Ryoko, is
> > co-starring with Jean Leno in Luc Besson's new film tentatively entitled
> > Wasabi. The Waseda student and star of many commercials and movies like
> > 20th Century Nostalgia and Poppoya will thus make her international film
> > debut, apparently speaking French for the entire film.  Filming has
> > already started in Paris.
> >
> > Aaron Gerow

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