Tonari no Yamada-kun 隣の山田群

(4 out of 5, good sociological document, sometimes funny, sometimes profound)

This movie from 1999 shows a stereotypical Japanese family containing the grave but good-hearted father and salary-man, the abnegated and family-buffer okaasan, the free and powerful grandma and two childish-for-their-age children. At the beginning, two or three funny shots reminded me of the well-known American Simpsons but this is quite different, more focused on the family itself and the relation they have with each other than about the society. Their roles in the house are so well established that they can afford to use ambiguity in their reciprocal communication, through implicit non-verbal messages, so Japanese. I must concede that the depiction of the Japanese family is well achieved and, even though the cartoons have a surprisingly naïve and simple design, the message is quite profound, especially because at the end of each chapter, a haiku by Matsuo Bashō related to the story is enunciated. The reality is that I am not sure if the model of the Japanese family and their morals showed in the movie is valid any more. In many cases it is: still young women are willing to get married so that they can stop working and dedicate themselves to children, house and family. But other ones, after a short break decide that they want to have a life outside their homes too, and look for a change. There are divorces, too… At the end of the movie, Yamada-san, the father, gives a speech when toasting at a wedding: his point is that in a marriage, when something wrong has been done, it must be forgiven if there was no malice; when there are problems, they must be addressed stoically and with calm. This summer vacation in Spain, my father said something similar when a conversation about separations and divorces broke up: he said that the reason why most young couples now were getting divorced was because they didn’t wait until things got cooler after a problem; they just split without thinking it over. “If they just wait a few days or a few weeks until the situation can be fixed, they would not separate”, he added. I don’t think it’s such a simple matter, many other factors are important, and neither women nor men are so abnegated now as they used to be: people are becoming more individualistic. That’s not bad or good, it’s just different. And we all change with time, as everything does. In Japan, though, there is still a strong pressure from the society against divorce, and in many cases couples just live together but don’t talk to each other. Just after Yamada-san’s speech, Nonoko-chan’s teacher, casually a young woman claims that her motto is 適当 (tekitou), something like: do always the right thing. The problem is what is right and what is not right. In a society like the Japanese, the rightness is quite clear: you just need to follow the rules according your role in the society, without thinking philosophically about their rightness, but times are changing, especially in this globalization times, and people are wondering if…

HAPPENING

Siempre que veo en alguna película a Mark Whalberg, le recuerdo en aquella producción de Hollywood en la que hacía de joven actor porno en los años 70 descubriendo las fiestas en las mansiones de los magnates de California. En ésta el papel que le ha tocado es mucho más equilibrado, el de un simple profesor de ciencias en un instituto en Filadelfia. Pero la trama hace honor al estilo del director de “El Sexto Sentido”, Night Shyamalan: en los parques de las ciudades del nordeste de Estados Unidos unas toxinas que se transportan por el aire incitan a la gente a cometer suicidio y hay una huida masiva de la población hacia poblaciones menores. Me gusta cómo la información va siendo desvelada poco a poco pero al fin y al cabo nunca termina de aclararse del todo. La historia personal de la crisis de su matrimonio no encaja demasiado y el momento-clímax de la película es poco verosímil pero la sobria actuación de mi actor fetiche lo compensa todo. Los suicidios son mostrados a lo Takeshi Kitano, a través del resultado de la violencia más que de la violencia misma; aunque hay muertes épicas –como la de la cortadora de césped o la colectiva de los obreros que saltan del tejado del edificio. A los japoneses esta película les aterrará por sus escenas sangrientas pero también les recordará una realidad de este país: el altísimo índice de suicidios, como si también aquí unas toxinas asesinas hubieran sido liberadas al aire de forma indiscriminada.

EXPO 2008 ZARAGOZA

This year the World Exhibition takes place in Zaragoza, a small city in Northeast Spain. The exhibition’s theme is Water in Earth, and most countries show their own politics related to the saving or the getting of drinking water’s reserves.

Since I was in Barcelona, I decided to stop by for one day and check it out. Apart from a few original but useless buildings, most of the exhibitors were mere souvenir shops or etnhic restaurants and the staff most times was either non-native or non-talkative. Any of the yearly FITUR in Madrid is more fun.

One of the few interesting things was an only-women salsa band, which played Cuban rythms. After the concert in the huge but empty Latin American pavillion, they explained to me that they were on a tour around Europe from Santiago de Cuba.

Cabo Verde and Vietnam also had good venues. And the queue to enter Japan‘s exhibitor was so long -in distance and time, maybe 2 hours- that either they give kimonos as a present or Spaniards are really in love with this country.

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