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…

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