Nanimono, Job Hunting, and the Red Pill

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When I first came to Japan in the Pleistocene I met a girl, a 4th-year university student from Kobe Daigaku in the process of job hunting. She was under so much stress that many times she cried for no apparent reason and always looked dismayed. She used to sleep with her cell-phone next to the pillow because night calls from companies hiring new staff were not unlikely, and not answering in time could mean an automatic disqualification. She often went to endless job “seminars” with thousands of other candidates for 大企業 or big Japanese companies where most graduates were willing to work for. That’s the first screen for a multi-phase selection process which, obviously, ends up with a refusal for most of the candidates, gradually undermining their self-esteem.

Strongly advertised in a Japan with a significant population of college student, 何者(Nanimono, Somebody) deals with that process of job hunting through the lives of two young men and two young women struggling to succeed in the marathon-like activity that is called 就職活動 (Shûshoku Katsudô) and abbreviated as 就活 (ShûKatsu). They are college buddies, and help each other in the searching for information, the hand-writing of résumés, printing of materials, etc. But behind the apparent group harmony, through the Twitter microblogging social web we as audience start to feel some dissonance in the middle of that perfect symphony of friendship.

This movie introduces the theme of the theater inside the cinema, and the Calderonian motif of the world as a big theater or play. In the end all characters play different roles, but they are alone with their own miseries, competing with each other but also within themselves.

Eventually they will find something, a group to belong, the same way my Kobe friend entered Japanese society and became Somebody, at the cost of the loss of their innocence.

Friendship can be a full-time occupation

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‘This man has a gift for friendship’, Scott Fitzgerald tells Thomas Wolf in Genius, a movie about Max Perkins, editor at Scribner’s Publishing House in the 20’s and 30’s. This real character helped many writers, including the mentioned two and Hemingway to get their novels published. Usually the ones who end up filling the lists of History of Literature are only the authors, while those thoughtful and intelligent readers that are editors fall into oblivion. Jude Law plays the character of Thomas Wolf, a man who lives to write, but who also makes his life worth of being told, in terms of experiences. He constantly creates real material for his long and poetic novels. Extremely intelligent, drunken, promiscuous, it was his fate to die at 37 out of a myriad of tumors inside his extremely productive brain.

Genius focuses on the relationship between the two men, writer and editor, like father and son, friends, and the hard work of editing a book that is to be readily consumed by readers. An editor can be the genius who makes a writer successful and his work a Bestseller -that’s the Japanese title for the film-, but also the evil who cripples an original masterpiece, as Nicole Kidman, playing Wolf’s lover, holds it against Max. That fight between spontaneous creativity and the constraining structure of normative language is inside each of us every time we grab a pen, we start pressing keys on our computers or we swipe our finger along the cell-phone’s display.

Kiminonawa: Vidas cruzadas en el anime japonés

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Podcast Cine Japonés Actual

 

Una película de animación japonesa puede tratar temas tan profundos como el tiempo, el destino frente al azar, el olvido. Y si además tiene la calidad de unos dibujos hiperrealistas que muestran los ambientes urbano y rural de la sociedad japonesa, se puede convertir en un fenómeno de masas. 君の名は (Kimi no na wa, Tu nombre) es ya una de las películas más taquilleras de la historia del cine japonés porque tiene para todos: una estructura y unos matices que satisfacen a los adultos; y los más jóvenes se pueden sentir identificados en los personajes de Taki y Mitsuha. De todos ello hablamos en nuestro Podcast sobre Cine Japonés Actual.

P.D.: A modo de experimento hemos grabado un vídeo también del programa, para los que quieran vernos la cara de dormidos un lunes a primera hora de la mañana en nuestro improvisado estudio de grabación.

 

Kimi no na wa and Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar

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Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar wrote in 1956 a short-story called “La noche boca arriba” (The night upside down): a young man in Buenos Aires has a motorcycle accident. When he is taken by ambulance to the hospital, he starts dreaming about the Aztec era and how he is going to be sacrificed to the Gods. In a different sphere of time, a Mesoamerican warrior starts dreaming about a futuristic city and a roaring metal insect that he is riding until he suddenly falls to the ground. Both characters exchange each other’s lives during their sleep.

君の名は (Kiminonawa, Your name?) presents a similar structure in the form of a Japanese animation movie.  High-schooler Taki, from Tokyo, wakes up in the body of Mitsuha, a young girl who lives in the countryside. It’s a dream that repeats itself every day. The same happens with Mitsuha, fed up with the boring life of Itomori and the temple she lives in, delighted to be a boy in hectic Tokyo. In Cortázar’s story the characters are separated by centuries; in Shinkai Makoto’s movie, it’s only three years. But the time lag makes the encounter of the characters impossible. It’s what Doležel calls “exclusive” doppelganger: only one can live at the same time, even though both of them are the same person.

Apparently a movie intended for teenagers, the playing with the time and its relatively-complex narrative structure makes it perfect for any audience. The reflection about identity and the passing of time is a constant motif in Shinkai’s movies, as we saw in 秒速5センチメートル (5 Centimeters per Second) or in 言の葉の庭 (The Garden of Words). The possibility of travelling in time and changing the past connects it with a whole tradition of SF movies. And the ultra-realistic visual depiction of urban and rural life in Japan makes it, too, a good document for people interested in Japanese society.

Less than two months after its release in Japan and already one of most widely viewed movies in Japanese history. This 43-year old director, Shinkai Makoto, has the potential to become the new Miyazaki.

Ikari: Rabia, amor y pérdida

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Tres misteriosas vidas con un elemento en común: la sospecha de ser un asesino. Tres visiones distintas de Japón donde la felicidad siempre pertenece al futuro. Sobre esta lograda película de suspense con grandes actores pertenecientes a distintas generaciones, 怒り (Ikari, Rabia), hablamos en nuestro podcast sobre cine japonés actual Víctor Okamura y Daniel Arrieta:

 

Here is a summary in English of the podcast

Ikari, Rage against the Japanese Machine

 

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A vicious attack has taken place in Tokyo. Husband and wife have been stabbed to death by a young man. The police show an old photograph of the suspect to the media and start an unsuccessful search for him in the whole country. That’s a conventional opening for a suspense movie; but in the case of 怒り (Ikari, Rage), the camera-narrator challenges us to discover who the assassin is, among three different and distant individuals. She peeks on the lives of the 3 runaways that may be the one. They all look like the picture. Indeed, through the information in the brochure about the production of the film, we find out that it was not one but three different photographs, each of them more similar to each actor, a good Photoshop job.

There is a story about a gay couple that just met in the dark room of a sauna downtown Tokyo. It gives a surprisingly realistic depiction of the hidden world –in Japan- of gay relationships and rooftop pool parties. Yuma (Tsumabuki Satoshi) is the successful, outgoing and good-looking guy who hosts and falls for a taciturn Naoto (Gô Ayano). I didn’t recognized the latter from 日本で一番悪い奴ら (Japan’s worst guys) well after the end of the film. He is a chameleonic actor, no doubt about it; and very productive: he appeared in 8 movies in 2016!

The second story has in the cast Watanabe Ken, Miyazaki Aoi and Death Note’s Matsuyama Kenichi. The location is a port in Northern Japan, and shows a problematic young woman just being rescued by her father from a prostitution network. Afterwards, she falls in love with an enigmatic young man with no past.

The third one takes us to a not-so-idyllic Okinawa, where American bases and their sexually-incontinent marines disrupt local harmony. It’s probably the toughest part to see, with images of a rape that will, for sure, disturb the audience.

If there is something in common about these 3 stories, is mistrust, mistrust of the unknown. People around the 3 men think they are the assassin, but for one reason or another, they don’t report them to the police: Yohei (Watanake Ken) wants him as a husband for her unstable daughter; Yuma is in love with Naoto; and in Okinawa, Shingo’s coworkers might be scared of his aggressive behavior.

Only at the end of the film we understand the motives of the initial killing and the identity of its perpetrator: rage against society, rage that is explained already in the title, 怒り, as a philological clue to find the assassin.

This is a well-adapted screenplay from a novel, with tension till the end, a great bunch of no overacting people from different generations, and good-quality and artistic filming that refers to present issues in Japanese society. What else can you ask from a movie?

Polis malos, yakuzas, pistolas y shabu

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Son inolvidables las escenas de un corrupto teniente Harvey Keitel haciendo de las suyas para Abel Ferrara en aquella película de 1992. Esta más reciente 日本で一番悪い奴ら (Nihon de Ichiban Warui Yatsura, Los tipos más malos de Japón), ambientada en una historia real en el Hokkaido de finales del siglo pasado, tampoco se queda corta. Sobre ella charlamos Víctor y yo en nuestro podcast semanal:

Nijû seikatsu: espiando sin motivo

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理由のない尾行, espiar sin motivo. Eso es lo que le propone a Tama su director de tesis, el profesor Shinohara. Pero observar sin formar parte de lo observado será lo más difícil. Aquí está el trailer de 二重生活 (Nijû seikatsu, Doble vida), y aquí nuestro podcast. Que aproveche, pero no intentéis imitar a la protagonista. O sí  😉

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