Silences, shattered dreams, and a dysfunctional inter-racial family

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‘You should have married someone like you’, they shot at each other.

James brings to the marriage and their progeny the experience of a misfit in a homogeneous society. Marilyn projects onto their daughter her own failing career as a doctor because of two unexpected –if not unwanted- pregnancies. The result is a dysfunctional family whose parents’ frustrations constitute a heavy burden for their offspring.

Narrative temporal jumps stimulate the reading. An omniscient narrator using free indirect speech and strokes of stream of consciousness explain each character’s emotional turmoil leading us readers towards an ambiguous ending.

We also talked about the interracial issue of Chinese-Americans in the 60’s and 70’s in the US, and some of our members shared their own experiences.

If you want to know more about the novel and our ideas, here is the podcast:

 

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El tercer asesinato: un nuevo género para Koreeda

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Esta semana presentamos la última película de Koreeda, 三度目の殺人, Sandome no Satsujin, El tercer asesinato, aunque la traducción literal sería algo así como Asesino por tercera vez. Víctor y yo charlamos sobre el giro de Koreeda hacia un género poco frecuentado por él, el thriller, aunque con sus notas características de análisis y crítica social.

Podéis ver el vídeo del programa o escuchar el podcast:

 

And here is an article in English about the movie.

The Third Murder, 三度目の殺人

 

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30 years passed for Misumi San since his first double homicide, which cost him a long period of his life in jail. Now destiny wants that the lawyer who is to defend his present case –also a homicide– happens to be the son of the judge who handed down the former sentence. With this film, director Koreeda enters a new genre, thriller, suspense with murder, court-related movies, that is alien to his work, usually free of violence but always full of moral dilemmas. However, some of his identity signs can still be seen in the ambiguous treatment of the main character: a very grave and psychologically unbalanced suspect –very well in his role Kôji Yakusho, whose performance as an unfaithful husband in Lost Paradise (失楽園, Shitsurakuen), from 1997, left in me a bitter unforgettable feeling back in the day–.

Family issues are not forgotten either in this story, with a more than likely incestuous relationship that might have prompted the murder, and a contradictory and obscure attitude in the victim’s wife. Everything is under doubt for the viewer, who along with the lawyer’s character played by Masaharu Fukuyama –I liked him much more in Scoop (2016) and in the also Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる, Soshite Chichi ni Naru, 2013)–, follows the court’s dynamics until its logical conclusion.

The two men start from a cold and professional relationship, although determined by the family coincidence of the laywer’s father. More and more encounters and visits to jail happen, and Koreeda’s camera registers the approaching of both souls with reflections on the thick glass that divides the men, with the lawyer’s desperation and obsession for entering the accused man’s head in order to understand his motives and to save him from a likely death sentence. At the same time, Misumi’s interest in misleading Shigemori’s investigation will constitute a final twist in the story. And the third assassination is still to be committed in the fashion of sacrifice, which the Japanese judicial system cannot assume.

If in After the Storm (海よりまだ深く、Umi yori mada fukaku, 2016) Koreeda played with broken and abandoned umbrellas at the end of the film as a metaphor of the irreversible wreck of the character’s life, this time we see Misumi leaving the court towards the gallows letting imaginary birds freely fly from his hands, under the constant gaze of Suzu Hirose (Sakie), the young and talented actress omnipresent in Japanese cinema nowadays.

Invisible Man, Invisible Desires

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What would you do if you happened to be The Invisible Man? By the time we dealt with that suggesting question, we had already discussed Griffin’s inherent evilness plus a nurtured reaction to a provincial society. For many of us the language used for the writing of this 120-year-old fragmentary novel, including an orthographic representation of dialects and sociolects from the British countryside, was an additional challenge; but at the same time, it gave color and helped depicting a few stereotyped minor characters.

The novel is about physical invisibility and its possibilities, which include establishing “the Reign of the Terror, the Reign of the Invisible Man the First”, my favorite line by a deranged betrayed character anxious for a bloody revenge. He wants to start his epic New World with the killing of his former friend and now antagonist, Doctor Kemp. However, some of us freely interpreted the story as a metaphor for social invisibility, a contradictory phenomenon in the era of social media voyeurism and unicorns.

There might be moments when you dream of being invisible and others when you sigh for attention. That is maybe why Griffin is desperate to find a way to reverse the effects of his experiment, and be able to control the harshness of having to walk naked and barefoot in the cold English winter. And he speculates with the idea of moving to Algiers and its all-the-year-around hot weather, while we are still exploring the always-evil options for a transparent soul in a material world.

Let us not continue with more written comments, visible spoilers of our conversation, for it can be listened to here:

 

 

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Confessions of a book club at Mishima’s Cafe

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A very mature youth novel of self-discovering and awakening of a non-normative sexuality; introspection in the fashion of Rousseau’s Confessions plus literary and artistic delicacy: that was the story chosen for our periodic book club meeting this month, Confessions of a Mask (仮面の告白), by Yukio Mishima. Putting aside the biographical coincidences between Mishima and Kochan, we discussed the complex metaphorical work in the novel, the narrator’s fake sincerity disguised of literary romantic leitmotifs, the omnipresent intertextuality of Greek myths,  Western and Japanese literatures, and the never-answered question about love and sexual desire with Kochan and Sonoko in their house with half-opened doors: “So then, what kind of desire was it that made me want to meet her so? Might it not be only self-deception again, this passion that so obviously was not sexual desire? In the first place, can there be such a thing as love that has no basis whatsoever in sexual desire?”.

Here is the podcast:

 

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The Voyeur’s Motel in Osaka

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The Voyeur’s Motel: A non-fictional novel about the work of a self-made sex researcher?  The chronicle of a deranged egomaniac’s lucubrations? Gay Talese presents us this peculiar character, Gerald Foos, who spent more than two decades peeping into his various guests’ sexual lives. Last Sunday we discussed about the veracity of the stories  throughout the book; about the moral implications of Foos’ behavior and our complicity as voyeur-readers; about Talese’s role as Foos’ diary’s editor; and about many more things included in this podcast:

 

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Of Ishiguro, Chivalric Romance and Oblivion

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Osaka Book Club’s choice for this month was The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Here is a podcast with part of our discussion about a book that seems to belong to an old Age of knights, ogres, dragons and pixies, but that deals with the present idea of forgetting-confronting the past to move on with your life.

 

Museum: el asesinato hecho arte, rana

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¿Puede el asesinato ser estéticamente bello? ¿Dónde queda el límite de lo artístico? Sobre esto y otras extravagancias hablamos en nuestro podcast videoblog semanal (tras un merecido descanso vacacional), en el que destripamos ミュージアム (Museum), película japonesa sobre un obsesivo asesino en serie al estilo de Seven:

 

Y hé aquí el vídeo del programa: https://youtu.be/98yeGJGmMvg

 

Kaizoku to Yobareta Otoko: petróleo, nacionalismo y karoushi

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Kunioka Tetsuzô se arremanga para trabajar junto a sus empleados sacando petróleo contaminado de un pozo sucio. Kunioka Tetsuzô se enfrenta a sus rivales empresarios con una agresividad alimentada por su deseo de triunfar. Kunioka Tetsuzô llora la muerte de su “amigo” Yoshio. Kunioka Tetsuzô se enfada mucho cuando le abandona su cocinera (y esposa). Kunioka Tetsuzô desafía el bloqueo inglés y envía su petrolero a Irán. Kunioka Tetsuzô contempla el cielo mientras banderines de Japón ondean al viento. Es el nuevo hombre japonés: atemporal, sacrificado, muy machote.

Sobre esto y algunas cosas más os hablamos en nuestro podcast de esta semana:

 

Aquí está el vídeo del podcast.

And here is a review in English of the film.

 

Work and Die for your Company, Sacrifice Yourself for your Motherland

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海賊と呼ばれた男(Kaizoku to Yobareta Otoko), tells the story of a Japanese self-made man, Kunioka Tetsuzô, who was called “the pirate”. Along with the history of Japan in the 20th century, here comes this entrepreneur of the crude oil, from his beginnings as a modest local distributor to his days as an oil magnate after World War II.  Short-tempered and workaholic, he also shows a nicer side: his devotion to his workers. But that doesn’t come for free: he requires from them a likewise allegiance to the company and its leader: himself. A metaphor for the well-known —now in his last days—relationship between Japanese big companies (大企業, Dai Kigyou) and their employees, Tetsuzô, or 店主(Tenshu ,small-shop boss), as he likes to be addressed by his acolytes, sometimes puts their health and lives at risk through insalubrious tasks or through really dangerous endeavors, as when he sends a tanker with a considerable crew to England-blocked Iran, and his ill-dutiful captain doesn’t mind to charge towards a British warship.

Nowadays, we still see how many Japanese companies (public and private) force their employees to work overtime (残業, Zangyou) beyond the law in a tradition that made possible the Japanese economic miracle of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Being the legal cap 45 hours of monthly overwork, special provisions signed by half of the employees elevates that figure to 80. And there have been cases of going further than 100 hours of monthly overwork, most times unpaid. Of course, consequences for health are extremely serious, and the high number of excess of work-related deaths (過労死, Karoushi) has recently made the Japanese government introduce more controls and heavy fines for those “Black companies”.

Going back to the movie, this film, based on the homonymous novel by Hyakuta Naoki, creates a subtle and not-so-subtle connection between 国岡鉄三Kunioka (attention to the last name, whose first kanji 国 means country) Tetsuzou, and Japan as a sovereign nation. He represents the deliverer of energy resources for the country to develop; he supports the military —and the country efforts— in times of WW2; in spite of the economic disaster, he doesn’t fire any employee after the war; when in the 50’s a British rival –the Mayor– closes to his company all Pacific Ocean accesses to crude oil, he defies the British blockade to Iran going there to purchase the so-needed black gold, succeeding in his venture. This last episode makes the most nationalistic audience dream with a different end to WW2 because one of the factors that made Japan enter that war bombing Pearl Harbor was the American oil blockade. The images of Japanese citizens holding flags of Japan when going to see the tanker sail for Iran are not accidental. If we were to find a slogan for the message of the film, it could be something like: work and die for your company, because in doing that you are sacrificing yourself for your country. Of course, it’s never mentioned or alluded the fact that Kunioka Tetsuzô is just a business man mainly focused on the maximum benefits for his private company.

Another interesting thing in this movie is the absolute absence of female characters. There is only ゆきちゃん (Yuki chan), who marries Tetsuzô through omiai but leaves him when she realizes that she cannot bear children for him. Her sacrifice fits perfectly the film’s mood and allows this story of machos to go ahead without unnecessary sentimentalisms not strictly based on the company and the country.

This movie has become a blockbuster in Japan for different reasons: it’s been made by successful director Yamazaki Takashi, specialized in nostalgic depictions of Japanese life such as the Always 3-丁目 saga; it includes quite a bunch of good actors, starring Okada Junichi, who plays Kunioka Tetsuzou’s character from his 20’s to his 90’s; the production and special effects achieve a great deal of powerful images, like the initial bombing of Tokyo with incendiary bombs or the charter of the tanker; and last but not least, it touches the emotional string of love for one’s motherland through hardships and personal sacrifices.

I just wish it had depicted more properly Tetsuzô’s ambition, gotten rid of the nationalistic propaganda and been itself a bit shorter. But I guess it will end up becoming a TV series, for a further use of its indoctrination in smaller but more continuous doses.

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