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.

Y Azumi Haruko desapareció

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Una ciudad se llena de carteles en busca de una chica desaparecida. Nos esperamos lo peor, pues en アズミ・ハルコ行方不明 (Azumi Haruko Yukue Fumei) hay las suficientes dosis de violencia, sexo y ambigüedad para un final dramático. Los tiempos se entremezclan y los personajes se superponen en esta cinta pop con colegialas que dan palizas a hombres; ojísanes que repiten tópicos machistas de una sociedad decadente; y personajes en busca de algo que dé sentido a sus vidas.

Aquí va el podcast de la semana:

 

y el vídeo del programa.

Here is a review in English of the film

MISSING 28-year-old Azumi Haruko

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A 28-year-old young woman is smoking a cigarette next to a car. The camera follows the direction of the smoke that spreads and disappears in the sky; and by the time the image comes back to the car, Azumi Haruko is gone. I like those beginnings in extrema res, whose details and reasons become puzzle pieces for the audience. アズミ・ハルコ 行方不明 (Azumi Haruko Yukue Fumei, Haruko Azumi is Missing) is one of those films with a chaotic structure of characters and time as in a time-traveler machine, a collage of graffiti conceptual art that tells the story of a few young women fed up with a small-town narrow-minded society that doesn’t let them pursue happiness.

We have the group of high-school girls that raid the night in search of lonely guys to beat them up, as in a clockworkorange-like orgy of counter-violence; the two women, respectively in their late 20’s and 30’s, having to work next to two 昭和 Shôwa-era-thinking middle-age misogynists who insist that women should get married by 30, before they get rotten; a 20-year old girl used and despised by her boyfriend; and a happily-divorced young mother who has tasted the sour dream of a conventional family.

The commodification of art is another of the themes that young director Matsui Daigo introduces in the film: an entrepreneur sees in the missing young woman an opportunity for making money trying to revive a forgotten amusement park in a forgotten town with no future, a town where most young people seem to be フリーター (Furita). Of course, the result is failure, and it seems that the only exit for those women in town is to run away from it. The sooner, the better; the faster, the safer.

How should we take Azumi Haruko Yukue Fumei? As a self-contained fable with no referential or mimetic reading? As a metaphor for mainstream Japanese society in line with Koreeda’s Kuuki Ningyou?

In any case, originally based in the homonymous novel by Yamauchi Mariko, it’s a visual pleasure to watch. And 蒼井優 (Aoi Yû) is great in her role.

 

Oboreru Naifu: Ellas los prefieren malos

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La ciudad frente al campo; la infancia frente a la vida adulta; lo espiritual frente a lo mundano; el arte frente al sexo; los sueños frente a la realidad: de todo esto y algo más trata 溺れるナイフ (Oboreru Naifu, Cuchillos que se ahogan), una película sobre adolescentes para adultos:

 

Aquí está el vídeo del podcast.

And here is a review  of the film in English.

 

Oboreru Naifu: from a manga for girls to a complex and ambiguous film

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As far as sex is concerned, Japanese morals differ from the Judaeo-Christian-based culture of “the West” in many aspects, but, above all, in the permissive way they deal with the matter. A few years ago, I wrote a review about a Japanese movie called Nude, in which a countryside young woman from Saitama gradually enters the world of Porn Videos (euphemistically known as Adult Videos or AV) as an actress. She is hypocritically rejected by former friends and family but eventually she overcomes those feelings of guilt and shame because she considers herself as an actress and, therefore, enjoys her profession.

In the case of 溺れるナイフ (Oboreru Naifu, Drowning knife), adapted from a 少女漫画 (Manga for young girls) of the same title, the director presents us Natsume’s story: a fifteen-year-old middle school girl whose sexy photographs in men’s magazines make of her a young national idol. What takes her to popularity and fame also means the impossibility of having a “normal” life in the Wakayama village she moves afterwards to with her parents. Besides, she suffers an attempted rape by one of her grown-up fans, causing her a trauma and destroying the relationship with his also teenage boyfriend. It is obvious the director’s open reflection about the sexualization of minors in an adult’s world with the silent complicity of the parents, and ultimately of the whole society.

However, this movie is not just about Natsume’s precocious career as a model and its ambiguous consequences, because it also depicts a confrontation of lifestyles and values: the urban, modern and fashionable Tokyo, which is represented by the capricious girl; and the more traditional, old-fashioned Japan of the 田舎 (Inaka, Countryside), with its slow pace and its animistic summer festivals, represented by こうちゃん, her boyfriend, who suffers the consequences of Natsume’s arriving in town as an element that disturbs in the village the spiritual balance among men and nature.

On a different level, this is also a story about coming-of-age, about crossing the blurry borders between childhood and adulthood, at times violently. We see girls who start using make-up for their 高校デビュー (Koukou Debyu, High School Debut, aka KKD) and look like different people; male teenagers like こうちゃん who join fights to prove their manhood in a self-destructive way. And above all, Natsume, whose dream of success becomes real, but at the price of the loss of her innocence.

Kono Sekai no Katasumi: la mano que crea también destruye

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Aquí está el podcast de esta semana sobre la película この世界の片隅 (Kono Sekai no Katasumi, En un rincón de este mundo):

 

Aparentemente una película de animación para niños con una estética de animación “antigua”, trata el controvertido tema de la bomba de Hiroshima desde el punto de vista de una inocente joven que intenta sobreponerse al sufrimiento personal y familiar con su creatividad y sus habilidades artísticas. La animación debe servir para animar; la mano que crea también destruye. Si queréis ver el vídeo del podcast…

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