daily dose of japanese pop and subculture

My reaction to Miike’s take on the Japanese film industry

Interestingness - February 23, 2012 - Jeffrey

As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The idea that there are two diverging classes of people, upper and lower, is an old one. It’s an idea that also applies to business and products. It’s an idea that can clearly be applied to Japanese cinema.

Recently, the excellent website Wildgrounds published a piece containing segments of an interview with Takashi Miike on the state of the Japanese film industry and “discouraging” would be the word I’d use to describe it. Then again, maybe Miike is wrong.

The gist of Miike’s take on the Japanese film industry is that production committees are committed to “safe bets,” resulting in an uninspiring cinema. The way he sees it, it’s only going to get worse. I agree with that idea when applied to larger films – the big getting bigger and safer. However, I also think that a combination of forces such as the slumping economy, the national debt, and a more disenfranchised populace will work around the committee system that larger Japanese systems are beholden to. In fact, the Japanese new new wave was born under similar circumstances after the bubble economy of the 80′s burst.

Throughout the 90′s into the 00′s, Japan was the center of the filmic universe. On top of the creative and intersting horrors that defined Japanese live-action cinema to the rest of the world for the better part of a decade, directors such as Takashi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Koreeda, and Takeshi Kitano really hit their stride. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Kitano’s, A Scene at the Sea.

It’s a fact that when societies have faced severe circumstances, they find new and inspiring ways to express themselves. And I for one, am looking forward to the next wave of young Japanese filmmakers who’ll inspire me.

Read the full interview with Miike at Twitchfilm.com.

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[Trailer Watch] FLY! Heibon na Kiseki is a cute comedy about aliens we never usually hear about: the losers

Interestingness - February 21, 2012 - Jin

Fly Heibon na Kiseki

If you’re looking for a cute little comedy to watch, check out FLY! Heibon na Kiseki coming out in theaters in Japan in March.

Fly Heibon na Kiseki still

Fly is an adorable-looking rom-com about Mitsuo, an introverted factory worker who’s never had a real relationship with a girl. He carries a picture of Nanami, a girl in the office who he secretly has a crush on.

One day, Mitsuo discovers a spaceship and the green-skinned, white-haired alien inside. Shikata the alien, like Mitsuo, is a “loser” who similarly bares a crush on a girl he never has a chance with. Hilarity ensues as the two understand and find solace in each other.

Expect the typical plot twists and turns such as Shikata’s capture by the government and, of course, Mitsuo and Nanami’s deepening relationship.

The beauty and the beast cast is comprised of the pretty Aibu Saki, the oafish comedian Koyabu Kazutoyo, and thinly-haired Nukumizu Yoichi. The supporting cast is also pretty strong with notables including Nishida Toshiyuki who seems to be in every Japanese movie and Osugi Ren.

FLY! Heibon na Kiseki feels like a solid bet if you’re looking for a heartwarming, feel-good rom-com to get you through this cold March.

Check it out if you can when it hits theaters in Japan on March 10th. Don’t expect this film to make it abroad. Look for a t*rrent towards the end of the year when the DVD is released.

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My appreciation of Japanese films or “Being proud of anime, sex, and horror”

Articles - February 17, 2012 - Jin

Financial Times Julian Williams article on Japanese film

Financial Times recently published an article by Julian Williams about the film series “Whose Film Is It Anyway,” which is being held by the Japan Foundation throughout the UK till March 28th. The article does a rare, fantastic job of discussing issues about Japanese film and how they’re represented abroad. I’d like to feature some particularly noteworthy points and even respond to some of them here.

“There are three main strands of Japanese film shown in the west: animation, sex and horror. None of these owes much to traditional Japanese film, but what are niche titles in their own country are often taken as examples of national cinema when they move abroad.”

When I was in college in the U.S., I was an officer in my school’s Japan Club, as I’m sure many of you Japanophiles also were. The club members were always debating the issue of how to show the “real Japan” to Americans — not the fighting schoolgirls, the tentacle porn, and sushi. *shudder*

Japanese Americans felt shame and even anger that Sushi Typhoon was a representation of Japan abroad. Americans who had visited Japan before would try to assert their “Japanophile cred” by stating their love of traditional culture, not anime.

The issue of only a select portion of Japanese films and, more generally, culture making it abroad is a prevalent one.

“‘I think what film distributors select for release in Britain is mostly based on how we like to view Japan, rather than any reality about the country itself,’ says Jasper Sharp, author of The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, and contributor to Whose Film Is It Anyway?, the Japan Foundation’s touring programme of recent Japanese film.”

Sharp makes a good point. To further elaborate on his point: deciding what film makes it abroad is largely a business decision.

robo geisha still

If you try to sell Japanese films in the West, you’re confronted with the reality that Nobody Knows, a “traditional” Japanese film, made only $1.6M in box office sales. “Traditional” Japanese films are expensive to obtain rights for (oftentimes due to unrealistic expectations from Japanese rightsholders) and have unpredictable returns. A film like Robo Geisha is significantly cheaper and there’s plenty of data showing the expected returns.

Of course, there are always people who make decisions out of reasons other than business. Japan Flix certainly tries to do so, whenever possible. We aren’t a huge corporation with investors and shareholders breathing down our neck. We are a bunch of guys who are selling movies because we love doing so. We can afford to sell a movie that may not do so well financially, just because we really want to share it to audiences outside of Japan. But that’s probably why we’re such a small outfit still.

But with that “justification” out of the way, I must say this:

While it’s true that otaku subculture, which is predominantly (but not solely) the target of this hate, is only a portion of Japanese culture, it’s a very important part of Japanese identity. Not only should it not be a subject of shame, but Japanophiles should embrace and be proud of it.

Japan is often accused of being a country of mimics. I strongly disagree. Japan is one of the most unique and creative countries in the world. What other country has created art like manga and anime that’s so strange, fascinating, and capable of instilling so much cult adulation and disgust? Not just manga and anime. Japan’s pop music, green technologies, public transportation system, haiku, sushi & tempura, gothic lolita fashion, geishas & ninjas & samurai, and video games all make Japan special.

So, instead of labeling one strand of Japanese film traditional and the others unrepresentative, lets be proud that any Japanese film is appreciated abroad! It doesn’t matter what kind of film — from splatter porn to Departures — it always makes me happy to have someone tell me how much they love Japanese film.

“Of course, we can’t, and shouldn’t, separate a film from its country of origin. But film is a human medium and its roots (pathos, empathy, joy, anger, fear) are universal elements.”

departures still

I thought it would be nice to end on this point: Good Japanese films are good not only because of their different settings, different customs, different styles of expression, but also because they tell the stories of characters and plots you can sympathize with.

Let us know your thoughts about Japanese film, Japanese culture, and how Japan is represented abroad in the comments below. We’re also looking forward to reading your replies on twitter, facebook, and Google+.

A big thanks to Julian Williams at the Financial Times for a fantastic read.


The Japan Society is full of love this spring

Interestingness - February 15, 2012 - Jeffrey


If you’re in New York or will be in March, the Japan Society is celebrating Valentine’s Day a little later than usual with their spring program Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The program runs from March 2nd through the 18th and contains a variety of love stories from both Japan and Korea. The line-up features over 20 films including the U.S. premiere of Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film, Kotoko, and the world premiere of Koji Wakamatsu’s, Petrel Hotel Blue. Judging by the chosen stills on the program’s home page, this looks to be a very scintillating and sultry series. We can’t wait.

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