Thanks To All + Explanation

Michael McCaskey mccaskem
Sat Jun 23 13:59:36 EDT 2007

Thank you very much Bill Tyler also--I just pasted your information in a separate file. (I put material from others in separate files so I'll remember to give proper credit if I use the information in handouts or a course web site).

The reason I was looking for information is that I need to give a presentation, as part of a program for Georgetown's incoming Freshman Class the end of August. The previous two years I dealt with recent American remakes of Japanese films. This time I'm going to try to compare Western impressions of Japan and vice versa using four films (my spiel blurb follows):

1) Lost in Translation (2003)?a successful award-winning film about Americans trying to adapt to life in Tokyo, directed and with a script by Sofia Coppola. This film is partly based on experiences Coppola herself had, while residing in Japan a decade earlier. Coppola regards the film as having three main characters ? the Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray characters, and the people of Tokyo. Outside their Americanized hotel, and even at times inside it as well, the American characters find themselves totally engaged with Tokyoites, and Murray?s character is at a particular disadvantage due to the language factor. While this film retains some traditional attitudes, it offers many new perspectives on expatriate life in Tokyo.

2) Fear and Trembling (2003)?a French film about a Belgian woman starting a job in a Japanese corporation in Tokyo, starring Sylvie Testud, plus an all-Japanese cast. The film is based on a book by Am?lie Nothomb, a Belgian novelist who grew up in Japan and worked in such a corporation. Nothomb?s book won the French Academy Prize, and the film won the Cesar Award for best picture. Testud, who is multilingual and has recorded readings of Japanese Buddhist texts in France, portrays a character well acquainted with Japanese language and culture, who has to overcome unexpected cultural misunderstandings with her female supervisor and other coworkers. Virtually all the cast members except Testud are established Japanese film actors.

3) Enlightenment Guaranteed (2000, re-release 2003, 2007)?a German film about two inept middle-aged men who decide to live in a Zen monastery in Japan. The director and screenplay writer was Doris D?rrie, a German novelist and American-trained film director with a deep interest in Asian religions. This film recently attracted new attention due to D?rrie?s growing reputation, and the later success of Lost in Translation. Like Coppola?s characters, the two Germans start out in a foreign-style Tokyo hotel, but quickly lose all their money. After an attempt to live as panhandlers, they become waiters in a German-style Tokyo beer hall. Finally arriving at the remote unheated monastery in mid-winter, they must carry out unexpected full days of physical labor, as part of their meditation course. Used to being losers in their own culture, they unexpectedly discover a new path to success. Filmed in an actual monastery with a full cast of Zen monks, who were impressed by D?rrie?s sinc
erity and enthusiasm, and by her actors? hard work.

4) The Excellent Company (2006)?a Japanese film set in Southern California, about a real-life tragicomic hero, simply trying to make his company's Ramen Cup of Noodles No. 1 in L.A. Directed by the award-winning Hosono Tatsuoki, noted for his crime films, and based on a story by Takasugi Ryo, known in Japan for his ?business-focused novels? (keizai shosetsu). The Japanese characters are conventional company management employees in California and Tokyo, while the American characters are ramen plant workers, materials suppliers, or people connected with rival US companies. Nakai Ki?ichi, a leading film star, plays the California plant manager, and Samantha Healy, an Australian film and TV actress, plays the role of his Japanese-speaking American interpreter. Conventional cultural patterns create challenges for both of them, which can only be resolved in very unconventional ways.

I'm not completely satisfied with Moyuru toki/The Excellent Company, for this purpose, because it is framed in a pretty confrontational way. So I was looking for something more subtle, and you've all helped me a lot.

I figured Lost in Translation just had to be there because of its prominence.

I found that the French film seems not to be well-known in Japan--I did find several different online blogs and journals by young women in Japan who rented a copy by chance, liked it, and thought it was a pretty good representation of some things they had to deal with in the workplace themselves.

I?ve liked the Dorrie film since I first saw it several years ago, via European DVD--but there was no logical way of fitting it in a course?but in this comparison framework it works, I think. It's on US DVD, has just been re-released in Germany on DVD in 2007, and was recently shown at a major Buddhist Conference in SE Asia (Dorrie has recently finished a documentary film: Wie man sein Leben kocht/How to Cook Your Life (2007), about an activist San Francisco Buddhist Guru, Edward Espe Brown, who writes best-selling vegetarian cookbooks).

Some other good German films with a Japan focus are Tokyo-Ga (1985) and Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989), both by Wim Wenders, but they're too old and specialized for my purposes.

Sylvie Testud, who is from an Italian immigrant family in France, has also acted in German films, playing regular German roles, most notably in Jenseits der Stille/Beyond Silence (1996), directed and written by Caroline Link. Testud is a co-star in what is hopefully a great new French movie about Edith Piaf, titled La M?me/The Brat (2007)--I have an order in for the 2-disk DVD edition from France, to come out soon. There are several more French movies based on Am?lie Nothomb's novels, but Nothomb is perhaps better known in Japan as a writer than is the Fear & Trembling film.

I wanted to find a Japanese film set in the US that worked better in comparison with these other three than Moyuru toki, and you all have helped me a lot.

Please feel free to criticize my plan if you wish, point out errors, and make suggestions, which I will appreciate very much.

Thanks Again To Everyone,

Michael McCaskey
Georgetown Univ.

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