A serious man, from the Coen Brothers, finally made it to Japan, 京都シネマのおかげで, thanks to Kyoto Cinema, one of Kansai’s independent cinema circuit’s movie theatre. While seeing the movie I wondered what kind of reception would be having in this country.
The film shows life in a small Jewish community in rural Minnesota in the late 60’s. Larry is a forty-something devoted husband and father awaiting for his university tenure position to become a fact, when everything in his life starts to collapse: his wife asks him the divorce so that she can marry (through the Jewish rite) their best friend; he has to move from the house to a nearby motel along with his gifted but socially retarded elder brother who eventually gets arrested for gambling and sodomy; his spoilt children actually despise him and just use him as a means to get a more comfortable life; a student tries to bribe him and subsequently threatens to sue him; anonymous letters start flooding into the tenure committee strongly criticizing him and his moral principles; the community rabbi ignores him; his attorney bill exceeds his budget; and so on.
Male middle-age crisis is said to be a disturbing event but for this poor man seems to be the end of his life. The theme the Japanese audience will be more receptive and sensitive to, I guess, is the marital issue. Strong woman –equivalent to the new 肉食女性 (“carnivore woman”) type in present Japanese society- who demands divorce and kicks the husband out of the house but at the same time asks for pension and mortgage payments.
Relationships in the long term are always difficult and marriage is like a marathon with good moments and also moments of crisis but here in Japan the stories I hear in my surroundings are quite discouraging, whether is an intercultural marriage or one between two Japanese spouses.
Case A: Young couple, both Japanese professionals in their 30’s, married after 2 or 3 years but without knowing each other quite well. Indeed, his family gets to know her only at the engagement party. He introduces her as “こちら、結婚する人です” (This is the woman who is going to get married). They buy a nice house in Osaka using a bank loan and move after the wedding along with the bride’s father, a sixty-something retired widower. Soon after the beginning of cohabitation the couple start living separate lives, he with his computer and game-boy, she at her chores and going out to cafes. The spark that provokes the final quarrel has to be with the finances. The wife expected that after marriage she would have full control of the home economy along with her husband’s salary, which he should religiously hand her every month so that she can decide how much to give him back for his everyday expenses. He refuses to give her his salary and they stop talking to each other. The father-in-law enters the dispute and states that he can’t stand to witness such miserable treatment to his daughter. The divorce is the only way-out. Since there are no kids and both are young and have jobs, separation is fast and easy.
Case B: A senior Japanese colleague of mine tells me the story of the Japanese woman he was married to for quite a few years. Since his salary was higher than hers, they both kept a common bank account where he had all his salary sent to and from which all the home expenses were paid. After almost one year he noticed that, even though they didn’t have many expenses and he hardly withdrew money from that account, it was always close to zero. He finally checked all the movements and found out that his wife had been switching every month considerable amounts of money from that bank account to another one on her name. She got scolded and lost access to the bank account although they would remain married a few more years until later quarrels were to take place.
Case C: An American young womanizer married to a Japanese woman has two kids with her but after his repeated infidelities he is thrown out of the house with all his stuff (indeed he finds one night when coming back home from a binge that the lock has been changed and there are two suitcases outside the door with his things). Afterwards he is forbidden to see his children and told by the woman to forget about them and fly back to America. He decides to stay, hires a lawyer and after 2 years he gets a weekly visit to his 7 and 5 year olds. Eventually he marries again and repeats the ritual of infidelities with consequences still to be seen. Presently he is seeking to have another baby with the new wife.
Case D: A couple by an American young guy and a Japanese young woman is formed in Hawaii while both of them are studying at the university. They get married, move to Japan and everything is happiness until a baby is born. He claims that she has changed completely since then, not paying attention to him anymore if only to scold him for small things and neglecting home despite being a homemaker. He dreams of a new job a hundred of miles away so that he can escape the intra-marital bullying during the week. Recently, they started talking seriously about divorce.
Case E: A hard-working and still attractive Japanese mother of 4 kids at 36 has to deal with a violent and jealous Japanese husband who sporadically assaults her in front of the children. Those times she arrives at the gym where she works as an aquagym trainer with bruises but nobody takes action. She finally follows friends and co-workers’ advice and divorce the guy. Now she works overtime in different places and with the economical help of her parents she can live without the husband. With 4 kids from a previous marriage it’s materially impossible for her to find a new husband if even a partner.
Case F: A Western guy, after a relatively long engagement marries a professional Japanese woman he has met at the university. Just a few weeks after marriage she abruptly comes home one day and states: I quit my job. Against the husband’s will, she becomes a 主婦 (housewife) at 27 and the husband reluctantly ends up being the only earner in the household. After 11 years of marriage, including a few episodes of reverse domestic violence (from the woman towards the man) and no kids, they finally get divorced. Now they are good friends.
Case G: An ex-NOVA Japanese student complains to her Spanish teacher about his good-for-nothing Japanese husband. They have a very small house and her husband salary is very low. Besides, he has the terrible habit of reading and often buys books. She is a home-maker and claims she should have married a man with a higher salary.
Case H: A young and nice Japanese couple is dating for two years. He finally proposes to her and when she is introduced to his family, she is rejected by the mother. They break up and she never gets to know why she was not worthy of the woman’s only son.
Case I: A young university Japanese professor from Kyoto, after obtaining a tenured position, proposes his girlfriend, who lives in Tokyo. Her parents refuse to let her go because she is the youngest and they want her to remain single and take care of them in the future. She rebels, breaks with her parents and marries the guy. They don’t celebrate any wedding ceremony because of the family argument.
Case J: In some Japanese families, when a divorce takes place and there are baby children, sometimes the husband is prevented to see them anymore –as in C, the womanizer’s case- and if the woman manages to marry again, they are raised in the supposition that the woman’s new husband is their biological father. If the children are over 3 years old at the time of the divorce, they might be told that the father has died in an accident. Everything is “for the good of the children”. In a few cases, the divorced woman, due to the stigmatization of divorce, leaves the kid with the grandmother and acts as if she is single with no children, as in Kitano Takeshi’s movie Kikujiro’s Summer, and forms a new family. Well, it could be worse, in some parts of China, baby girls used to be abandoned in train stations due to the one-child policy and the desire to have a baby boy.
Case K: Young couple formed by an American young woman and a Japanese young man, both English teachers, meet at Peace Boat while working as staff there. They start dating and eventually get married. Presently, they live happily in Kyoto sharing interests and friends.
Moral of the stories? You tell me.