Isomura's new film and a Sōmai queries

Aaron Gerow gerow
Sat Mar 1 21:29:21 EST 2003

>finally, what's the 
>most appropriate romanization of SS's name: S??ai, Somai, Soomai or Soumai?

"Appropriate" is a hard request to fill. Romanization is an arbitrary set 
of rules which depends on circumstances and needs. Since I've worked at 
libraries in the US, I use the modified Hepburn romanization system used 
by the Library of Congress (and in fact most institutions in many 
countries). That means Soomai and Soumai are verboten. Using a rather 
universal standard, I believe, is a courtesy to readers because it 
prevents people from mistakingly thinking Somai and Soumai are different 
people, and it helps people use databases, which, if they follow the LOC 
system, will not have Soumai etc. listed. There is debate over whether to 
use Somai with a macron (or circumflex if you can't produce a macron) or 
without. Even some academic book macron publishers don't use the macron 
because they feel most readers don't need it, and so they stick to 
modified Hepburn without romanization. In general, I feel both options 
are valid.

There's the problem of the internet, however, where especially in e-mail 
you can's easily use macrons if you want to. Thus one sees a lot of 
Soumai kinds of romanizations in even academic Japanese studies lists 
(Soomai is definitely wrong even there). This I grudgingly accept for 
e-mail situations, although for the same reason as with the above 
publishers, I think using modified Hepburn without the macron (Somai) is 
still the best option unless you want to make sure to clarify the 
original Japanese for people who know Japanese. But no one, I strongly 
believe, should use Soumai in any publication that can use macrons or 
circumflexes. It just breeds confusion.

Sorry if this descended into a personal rant (as an editor, this has 
become a personal peeve for me), but to ease the burden, I will append my 
review of Isomura's new film. It did appear in the DY, but my DY reviews 
only appear on the site for 4 or 5 days before disappearing. THe 
KineJapan site is hopefully out of date, but I'm waiting until some 
problems have been fixed there.

Aaron Gerow


'Fune' a local gem

Aaron Gerow Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Fune o Oritara Kanojo no Shima

(Her Island, My Island)

Three stars out of five

Dir: Itsumichi Isomura

Cast: Yoshino Kimura, Ren Osugi, Naoko Otani, Jun Murakami, Shoei

Government, it seems, has finally remembered that the movies exist. After 
spending decades treating film as a commercial entertainment unworthy of 
serious attention, government institutions are at last realizing that 
something must be done to help the declining domestic industry and its 
art. Movies are culture and every once in a while, culture needs support.

The Cultural Affairs Agency, for instance, has formed a committee to look 
into methods for reviving cinema in Japan. Last month, the committee 
issued an interim report with a fairly comprehensive list of proposals. 
Local governments have also been creating film commissions to foster 
movie production in their communities, in part by smoothing out all the 
regulations and laws that only symbolize how uncooperative government has 
been toward film art.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara dreams of car chase scenes being filmed in 
Ginza, but other local governments have even gone one step further to 
fund movies on their own. A famous early case was Kohei Oguri's Nemuru 
Otoko (1996), funded by the Gunma prefecture government, and other 
communities have recently jumped on the band wagon. Shikaoicho, Hokkaido, 
for instance, has financed Masaru Konuma's Onna wa Basu-tei de Fuku o 
Kigaeta (Mizue), which will be released next month.

Ahead of that, Fune o Oritara Kanojo no Shima has hit Tokyo theaters. The 
creation of the Ehime Film Production Committee, a cooperative venture 
between the prefectural government and local businesses, it was directed 
by Itsumichi Isomura, whose 1998 Ganbatte Ikimasshoi was also filmed in 
the prefecture.

The impetus behind such films is usually a desire to see local culture 
preserved in film and publicized on a national scale. The former is a 
worthy endeavor, but the latter reminds us of the danger of locally 
produced movies turning into advertisements for tourism. Fune o Oritara 
has its share of postcard pictures of the Seto Inland Sea and glowing 
sketches of kindly locals. But Isomura's delicate if not melancholic 
touch avoids the tourist pitfall, less glorifying than arguing a need to 
break from your hometown memories.

The twentysomething Kuriko (Yoshino Kimura) returns to the island where 
she grew up to visit her parents. Her father, Shuzo (Ren Osugi), is a 
retired school-teacher, who has remodeled the old school house he loved 
into a small inn. Kuriko's main goal in returning home is to inform her 
family of her decision to marry, but once she sees her stern and taciturn 
father, she just can't seem to broach the subject.

There's something Ozuesque in this tale of a father and daughter before 
an impending marriage, yet Kuriko's behavior soon makes us think this is 
as much a problem of her own past as her relationship with her father. As 
she procrastinates on the island, encountering old friends like Kenta 
(Shoei), memories of her first love for a boy from another island, 
Takashi, begin to spring forth. It is soon clear that her problem with 
declaring, and thus ultimately confirming, her engagement stems from 
unresolved feelings less for her father than for Takashi, and ultimately 
the island and her childhood.

With a bell in hand, just like the one she gave to Takashi when 
confessing her love back then, she sets out with Kenta to find that boy. 
The film makes clear that for her to get on with her own life, she 
apparently must accept the loss of these others and the island, to in 
effect part with her memories of the past. Isomura confirms this by even 
questioning in various episodes the veracity of those memories 
themselves. If Isomura thus refuses to praise hometown nostalgia, he 
doesn't go to the extreme of rejecting Ehime's present. If Kuriko is a 
kind and happy woman, her boyfriend (Jun Murakami) says, it is in fact 
because she grew up on this island.

And this is perhaps the point. Just as Kuriko must leave her island to 
spread the gentleness of the Seto Inland Sea in Tokyo, so must Fune o 
Oritara. The fear again with government-sponsored films is that they will 
become more official propaganda than film art. Fune o Oritara Kanojo no 
Shima can at times be cloyingly pastoral, dramatically obvious, and too 
concerned with local color for its own good, but Isomura saves this film 
by complicating hometown emotions and thus its image as a tourist movie. 
That, at least, is the minimum of cinema I for one am glad the government 
is finally recognizing.

The movie, in Japanese, is currently playing.

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