Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Japanese Film Festival 2010

Just as I was about to get up from my chair and rummage through my drawers for the program booklet to take a photo of for the opening image of this post, I stumbled across the poster for this year's Japanese Film Festival through Google Images. Sure makes life a lot easier, eh? Then again, Google can't do anything for this massive headache that's popping my brain cells one by one. Yet another delay to another late post, bah.

OK, I'm ready. Left the computer and took two 'all-purpose' pills, and went to sleep. Not. Went upstairs, watched a rerun of good old Governor Schwarzenegger in the 'The 6th Day' on TV, retired to my room for another movie, 'Naked Weapon' (赤裸特工) on my PSP (despite the title, it's not porn), and tested the game Dead or Alive: Paradise, which did nothing but hang, which left me with nothing to do to relieve my irritation but a few rounds on Gundam vs. Gundam Next Plus whacking humanoid robots. Fantastic recipe for recovery, no? But enough procrastination:

The first movie I watched was 1,000,000 Yen Girl, otherwise known in Japanese as '百万円と苦虫女', or 'One Million Yen and the Sour-faced Girl'- which sounds a lot better in Japanese, I guess. This 2008 film stars Aoi Yu (蒼井優) as a 21 year old girl who's just moved out from her family home to live with a friend.
Initially charmed by the thought of becoming more independent and being less of a burden towards her parents, things start to go wrong for her when she finds out that she won't be staying with just her friend, but her friend's darling boyfriend as well.

She decides to just let it slide, but as she's in her new apartment unpacking her stuff, the boyfriend walks in and tells her that it's just gonna be him and her- he'd just broken up with the friend. No problem for our girl- she chooses to stick with it. She doesn't go up to her friend and tell her to fix the mess she's put her into, nope. Quite fatalistic, no? I'd hate to see her snap...

...and snap she does, when she goes about her new life nonchalantly, and the guy, mired in his own misery, cruelly tosses out an abandoned kitten she'd just rescued into the rain, where it died from the cold. She didn't file a police report for animal cruelty. Instead, she gathered all his stuff, and like the spurned paramour, tossed everything out.

Quite predictably, she gets in trouble- the police come for her, saying that along with all the things she'd thrown out, there was a bag containing one million yen. She gets thrown into jail for some time, and comes out bereft of purpose. Her parents treat her awkwardly, trying their best to cheer her up and make her feel like one of the family again, her genius little brother is, to put it mildly, a selfish asshole, and her 'friends' start to show their true colours.

Fed up with everything, she decides to leave home once she earns one million yen- just enough money for her to start a new life elsewhere. She leaves town, but not before discovering that Einstein has problems of his own, and is really a nice kid. In her next town, she continues working, saving up another million yen to move on again, but all the time is drawn into relationships with other people, something she's trying to avoid.

"Is she on a journey of discovery, or is she just running away from reality? Or has she unwittingly come across an excellent way to travel the world? Will she ever stop moving from place to place? For the answers to these questions, and more, go watch this movie now!" -alright, now shut up, Mr. Publicity. But yeah, it's a solid movie, with good character development, beautiful scenery, believable characters, and an ending that would probably leave half the audience disappointed, while leaving the other half thinking, 'ah well, that's life'.

I watched the first movie by myself, and the second, 'The Summit: A Chronicle of Stones' (劔岳 点の記/Tsurugidake: Ten no Ki), with my family. This one is about a group of surveyors- I'm sure you would have seen them at some point, those strange people who stand on street corners aligning a camera-like object on a tripod to some invisible point, pretty much ignoring everything that goes on around them- who are ordered to scale Japan's last unconquered summit, Tsurugidake mountain before the Japanese Alpine Club (or something like that), a group of 'gentleman' hobbyist climbers, do so, to protect the Army's 'pride'.
Quite a lot of attention is given to the environment- and rightly so, as the mountain itself, and its surroundings, are breathtaking. It can get a little boring due to the lack of dialog- seriously, what's there to chat about when you have to pay attention to your every step- but just focus on the beautiful scenery, and it really doesn't matter that much anymore.

The human aspect isn't totally ignored, of course. There's the developing 'bromance' between the lead surveyor and his local guide; tension with the Army, the guide's conflict with his son, and of course the 'race' to reach the summit. It's a long movie too, about three hours, I think. I wouldn't say it's a must watch title, but you could check it out if you don't plan on visiting Japan anytime soon and would like a look at a side of it most tourists aren't likely to catch a glimpse of. On the other hand, if sitting through long films like Titanic and James Cameron's Avatar is your idea of self-torture, you might want to give Tsurugidake a pass- or watch the movie on 2x speed.

Finally, we have '5 Centimeters per Second: a chain of short stories about their distance' (quite a mouthful, eh?)- most people just call it '5cm/s'- is Shinkai Makoto's third major film, coming after 'Voices of a Distant Star' and 'The Place Promised in Our Early Days' (my review here). Although 5cm/s calls itself a 'chain of short stories'- three in total- all three are interrelated works concerning the relationship between a boy and a girl. I didn't really catch this film at the Festival, but since I'd already seen it- what the heck.

The first episode is entitled Oukashou, or in English, Cherry Blossom, which I think is vaguely wrong, but since I don't really feel like checking it up, I'll just stick with that translation. Anyway, we are introduced to Tono Takaki, the main character of 5cm/s, and (through her letters to him) Shinohara Akari, his 'love interest'.

The two have transferred to different schools, and as Takaki is set to move to Kagoshima, which is presumably quite far from where they are at present- I'm not entirely sure where that is- they decide to meet up before he leaves, which isn't a simple matter, it seems, for he has to take a train (or was it more than one?) to her place.

There's some trouble with inclement weather though, and as a result he ends up hours late, and loses a letter from Akari. She doesn't mind, though, and the two hole up in an abandoned house (if memory serves me correctly) and chat till they fall asleep, but not before sharing their first kiss.

I'm probably alone in wondering how these kids could have developed such strong feelings for each other, or how their parents could have let them wander so far from home for so long- a long-distance train journey for Takaki, and Akari waiting alone at the train station for hours, and the two spending the night out together? I'm pretty sure most parents would freak out. Then again, this is Japan, after all- one of the safest countries (statistically) on the planet, and (based on what I've seen so far in movies and anime, at least) children, even young ones in kindergarten, are allowed to go to school alone. As for how they could have gotten to that level... they've just graduated from elementary school, so that would make them... um. Fourteen? That's alright, I guess, heh. Boy, they sure look like little kids to me:p

The second episode, Cosmonaut, features a new girl, Sumida Kanae- pictured in the image above, albeit just her back profile. Kanae is Takaki's classmate in senior high school, and is mad about him to the point that she waits long hours for him to finish his club activities just to be able to go home together. That being said, she just doesn't have the courage to tell him how she really feels.

Takaki, on the other hand, is completely oblivious to Kanae's clumsy advances- some might say to the point of beingdonkan, or thickheaded. Kanae notices that he's always typing emails to someone, or staring off into the distance 'as if he is searching for something far, far away' (wiki). It turns out that he's been sending these emails not to Akari, but to himself, although Kanae never finds out the truth about this. Sometime later, Takaki transfers again.

Once again, I was slightly thrown off by the fact that they drive scooters to school. Some research helped shed some light on this, and it no longer felt so strange- they're probably seventeen or eighteen at this point. Some have pitied Kanae for not being able to net Takaki, but I think she's actually lucky that she didn't, as she might have ended up worse off- re episode three. And 'as if he's searching... far away'? Isn't that just the 'thousand-yard stare'? Trust me, girl, you're better off without him. By the way, here's my number...

And at long last, the titular episode, 5 Centimeters Per Second. It's actually quite short, and you'll even be seeing the title credits float past (again, if memory serves me right). Anyhow, Takaki is now out working in Tokyo, and Akari is shown getting ready to be married- but to whom? That's a question that continues to bite at you throughout this episode, until the truth is revealed- seeing Takaki, you might have guessed the truth, but most likely wouldn't want to believe it. 

Ah well. Enough spoilers. Instead, there's a nice little review over at animenewsnetwork that encapsulates everything I want to say about 5cm/s- so either you watch the movie, or you read that review- para 3. Can't say I ruined the ending now, can you?

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