For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing extensively on our trip to Europe. And I needed a break before I finally wrap up. Japan’s next on my to-write-list and I can’t wait to get started. And that’s why this brief interlude.
I’m not sure when did my love for Japan begin. As a kid, I admired scenic pictures of Japanese gardens on calendars which my father brought home. Later, I got a taste of Japanese movies and was extremely ‘fortunate’ to travel to Japan. They say, the best way to learn about a culture is to travel, meet locals, and if you can’t – watch the ‘right’ movies. Here are my all time favourites – not because they are great – but because they made an impression.
Akira Kurosawa’s award winning period film is, probably, his most acclaimed film – after ‘Seven Samurai’. Shot in 1950, Rashomon tells a tale of a murder and subsequent trial as narrated by an eyewitness, the woodcutter, to a priest. But the plot is not as simple as it looks. A plot within a plot, a story of skewed perspective, and more importantly the battle of human selfishness vs righteousness; Rashomon needs careful attention to the story and subtitles. The black & white print and slow pace might be some of the challenges you might face. But, it’s totally worth it, considering how the film’s director, Akira Kurosawa, weaves his story brilliantly through the maze of situations and principle characters (the murdered samurai, his wife, and the bandit). Rashomon was the first Japanese film that I saw and is also one of my all time favourite foreign films. Although, it may take more than one viewing, to truly understand its complexity and underlying meaning.
Director: Akira Kurosawa ; Writer (Screenplay): Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto ; Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori ; Running Length: 88 min
The beauty of ‘Departures‘ lies in its simplicity – both in story and direction. A young cellist dreams of playing in an orchestra are crushed when his orchestra is disbanded. Jobless, dejected and with his cello in tow, he heads to his native town. An obscure ad in the local newspaper leads him to the job of an encoffiner. From here onwards, he starts his journey of self discovery and true chosen path in life. What appeals in ‘Departures’, is the treatment of the young cellist’s predicament – of ‘doing what you want to do’ as opposed ‘to what others want you to’. The director, Yojiro Takita, touches upon the topic of respect for a job, no matter how big or small it maybe. But what truly stands out is that there maybe something that you’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t, and that’s when the larger picture is revealed. The irony being the larger picture might actually be something small but significant. These concepts have an universal appeal and are cross-cultural. Probably, that’s what worked for me. Besides the fact that I left academia and eventually pursued a career in writing.
Kikujiro‘s biggest draw is its simplistic storyline and restrained performances – brilliantly played by its lead actors, director, Takeshi Kitano and Yusuke Sekiguchi. It’s also a poignant story about an unlikely friendship. The film’s lead protagonists are not your archetypal characters. Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano), a gambler, is entrusted with the task of helping the young Sekiguchi find his birth mother. Anyone who’s been on a trip realises, what it entails, to make it to your destination. You can either forge a strong relationship with your companion or simply part ways. Thankfully, for us, the director chooses the former route. Kikujiro is bitter-sweet at times, but does not compromise on being real. Watch-it for the fine performances and spot-on direction.
Director: Takeshi Kitano ; Writer: Takeshi Kitano ; Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi ; Running Length: 120 min
4. Still Walking
A family reunion should entail laughter, fond memories, and love – among other things. Well, here’s what I like about director Hirokazu Koreeda‘s treatment of the subject. He does just the opposite. Still Walking begins with two siblings visiting their parents, on the death anniversary of their brother. The patriarchal father, timid mother, boisterous sister, and reticent brother form the principle characters of this dysfunctional family. While the film might not have the edginess or eccentricity, often portrayed by many western films dealing with a similar storyline, the director manages to make a point in his trademark style. And effectively captures the hidden emotions beneath the surfaces of his main characters. Hirokazu Koreeda is one of the finest Japanese directors and one of my favourites too.
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda ; Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda ; Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa ; Running Lenght: 115 min