What I did on my summer vac....

joseph murphy urj7 at nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu
Mon Jul 22 11:40:47 EDT 2002

Well, I'm just in Japan for a short visit, but a few comments and
observations on some interesting events announced here.

Two weeks ago I attended the Shinozaki Makoto Screenings at Rikkyo
University.  The two films screened were "Wasurerarenu Hitobito"
(Unforgettable People, 2001) and "Okaeri" (Welcome Home, 1995), followed
by a discussion between Prof. Fujii Jinshi and the director.  I had seen
"Okaeri" in Zurich 3 or 4 years ago, and it continues to wear well.  The
story involves a couple where the wife begins to have schizophrenic or
paranoid delusions, and keeps leaving the house for long periods of
time, and when she comes back the husband goes, "Okaeri."  The "sick
wife" motif is a little too common in Japanese narrative (I've noticed
"hysterical" is a keyword on Japanese t-shirts in Tokyo this season),
but the film is made with great care, leisurely paced, with a lot of
play with closeups, focus/out of focus, and there is enough ambiguity in
the end to give pause as to who is tending to whom.  There is an
enormous amount of space given to think about the reasons for the
woman's delusions, no answer emerges.  It's also interesting to see
Terashima Susumu (?), famous as a tough guy from Kitano Takeshi's films
in a role of some emotional depth.  "Unforgettable People", Shinozaki's
first film in 6 years seems a vastly more conventional and commercial
film.  One thing I remember from the discussion afterwards was Shinozaki
talking about film class with Hasumi Shigehiko.  He talked about Hasumi
coming to class and saying he was unable to sleep that night because of
seeing Reservoir Dogs and dismissing the class to go out immediately and
see it.

I also saw the remake of Ozu's Tokyo Monogatari on Fuji television that
Aaron mentioned, unexpectedly.  It was updated to contemporary Tokyo,
with the bewildered mother and father from Hiroshima surrounded by a
swirl of cell-phones and surf culture, and definite TV movie production
values.  But the story of the children, the doctor, the hair stylist,
and Kenzo in Osaka trying to make it in publishing still really hits
home.  I watched it with a Japanese group, and 2/3 of the way you begin
to see that behavior where people discover an extraordinary interest in
their fingernails to avoid watching the screen and revealing that they
are about to cry.  It's true they pulled out some melodramatic stops Ozu
would never have allowed, but I don't see anything wrong with
acknowledging that side of the film.

I have also noticed the "ultraman scandal" Aaron has written about all
over the mass media.  Beyond that, while Crayon Shinchan and Chibi
Maruko, mainstays three years ago, have a much lower profile now,
Ultraman continues to occupy substantial portions of any book or video
store.  I recall the KineJapan contributor who found mention of the
arrest of the Ultraman Henshin-yaku unutterably stupid and beyond
intelligent discussion, but I can't help but feel that Ultraman is
pretty fundamental in understanding the whole henshin/seigi no mikata
(transformer/ally of righteousness) sensibilty that drives gaming
culture and more sophisticated anime.

I also made it to the "Design and Culture" Research Circle at Todai
chaired by Yoshimi Shunya, who has a very useful precis of cultural
studies out now in a series on contemporary intellectual issues by
Iwanami Shoten.  Aaron Gerow presented on aesthetics of distance and
alienation in contemporary film.  The inimitable Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto
gave a history of how film studies established itself as a discipline in
the United States, coupled with some modest proposals of the form, "you
need to do X, Y, and Z for film studies in Japan to secure similar
institutional status," leaving open of course the question of whether
that's a good idea.  It's a very sharp group and the discussion was
J. Murphy

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