“C’est beau la vie, si long temps, la longe vie”, Anne says when looking at the photo album of her childhood and youth. By that moment, her illness is already a gradual inescapable reality; she has lost mobility in the right side of her body and tried, with not much decision, to kill herself. But Georges, the other hero in this film, the one who caresses and takes care of her, even fighting himself against his own debilitating age, scolds her and asks her what she would do in case she were in his situation. The painful drama of illness and deterioration in old age is aggravated when we are aware of the intellectual level of the couple, she a former piano teacher, maybe a soloist herself, he a well-educated and lettered intelligent man. Georges, with his nightmares and his visions in the form of flashbacks though the listening of the music, plus the obvious deterioration of the old woman, show in the film the passing of time, with which the old couple has lost total contact. He feels secure in his routines with her and her ups and downs, until he has to confront reality and decides to act in consequence.

Haneke’s mastery at expressing feelings with long sequence-scenes, conversations and noises out of the range of the camera, and above all, silences –as in his previous and applauded Caché-, creates an emotional universe which belongs to the couple, locked in the old but luxurious apartment in Paris and only disrupted by the sporadic visits of the daughter –gorgeous as always Isabelle Huppert as the distant and emotionally weak daughter-, other friends of the family and the inevitable nurses, one of them rude and abusive.

This movie is a reflection about aging, illness and about how difficult is to accept one’s or the beloved ones’ physical decline. It is also a complaint about the role of the elderly in a society which neglects them, and a proposal to launch a debate about euthanasia as a way of a dignified death.

Junichiro’s uncertainties of a lesbian love



Adapting Tanizaki Junichiro’s Manji to film is not an easy task, especially for its structure and literary nature. It has been, however, masterly achieved. Basically, the setting is a monologue by a widow, Sonoko, relating the past events to an aged writer, an almost-implied author representing own Tanizaki’s alter ego. Thus, everything starts from the end and we presence a reconstruction of the facts as seen from Sonoko’s eyes.

Of course, many of the words in the book become scenes with real characters in the film, and some others are just skipped through ellipsis, but still, widow and writer’s presence is implicitly omnipresent in the telling of the story.

I suppose that at the time of the book’s publication (first serialized in Kizo newspaper from 1928 and 1930) or even at the premiere of this first-of-four movie version in 1964 by Yasuzo Masumura, the most salient theme was to be the transgressive lesbian love between two main characters. The public’s reception of the work in both moments must have been very different since the Japanese society and morals had changed so much in those more than 30 years, partly because of the American influence after WWII, the same way Japan changed to a great degree from 1964 to 2006, when the last version to date was shot.

Indeed, more than just a homosexual story, both book and film represent the destructive dependence created around the figure of Mitsuko, the young women elevated to goddess by everyone in contact with her, and the infatuation of upper-class people with dull lives, who lose control of their feelings and actions at the hands of Mitsuko’s machinations. But not everything is so obvious: narrator Sonoko, the impulsive young housewife –not that young in the film-, looks sincere and seems to be a reliable teller, although her version of the facts must be taken carefully. The almost-mute narrator, an attentive, impartial and silent writer-counselor in the film, shows Sonoko’s words literally without judging their veracity, and presents physical evidence provided by her in the form of letters, contracts, etc., for the implicit reader-viewer to form his/her possible reconstruction of the facts based on the written-visual objective data. In that sense, Sonoko’s narration keeps the intrigue of the story, at the same time that makes guilt fly from avid-for-tragedy and dramatic Mitsuko to debious Watanuki to her intelligent but fainthearted husband Kotaro to herself.

All characters undergo a transformation of their personalities as if influencing each other and lose their innocence toward a fatal denouement. Jealousy, as related to low self-esteem and the fear of being deceived, constitutes the driving force of novel and film. The four main characters, including Kannon-like Mitsuko (Ayako Wakao is no doubt the best and most attractive actress of her generation), suffer that mixture of blind love, lust and envy to pathological levels, which paradoxically provides them with stamina for their personal fighting.

Although an apparently universal story, Tanizaki adds the Japanese peculiar theatrical nature to the narration with constant allusions to suicide, either individual or collective, as a form of sublime love; the lovers’ frequent weeping and the sexual game with the おねえちゃん oneechan older sister have also this Japanese signature.




Or, at least, that’s the message that director Shion Sono seems to be sending to the audience in his previous to last film 恋の罪 Guilty of romance, recently at Japanese movie theaters and which was presented in Cannes last May. This time, too, we get the usual share of sex and violence, which his filmography overflows with, apart from some more notes of the bizarre, including Clockwork-Orange aesthetics, balloons of pink ink exploding against naked bodies performing sex, an insane, ceremonious and coarse おばあちゃん grandma, and school-girl mannequins hiding a dismembered human body.

But the really interesting thing about this movie is the depiction of an extreme master-slave relationship in the form of a marriage: former idol Megumi Kagurazaka turned Shion Sono’s iconic actress performs the housewife’s everyday perfect routine of preparing tea with pathological precision, placing the husband’s slippers at the entrance at the millimeter, waiting mutely and frozen next to him for his next order while he is reading, candidly soliciting from him permission to execute oral sex when he pleases so, and so on; everything with the fear of making one day a mistake and suffering a psychological punishment by the egocentric and authoritarian writer that Izumi has for a husband. All this might seem completely unreal but I couldn’t avoid thinking about a young co-worker of mine, who quit her job at 26 to become the 主婦 shufu homemaker of a man she hardly knew in Tokyo, and whose main duty became to prepare 3 different お弁当 box lunches for her strict husband’s day and to make sure that everything at home suited his short-tempered personal taste. That’s why I felt a strange feeling of déjà vu when seeing those scenes.

Going back to the movie, in a surprising but unavoidable turning point of the story, it comes what wouldn’t have an easy justification by any feminist theory but which seems to be a revealing lesson for housewife Izumi: the rediscovery of her own body as a sexual magnet for men, not as a symbol of masculine depravity and female degradation but, on the contrary, as one of psychological liberation from her oppressive marriage. It’s especially memorable her scene in front of the mirror practicing naked the offer of sausage free samples to imaginary clients for her part-time job at the supermarket: いらっしゃいませ。試食いかがですか?美味しいですよ!

The next step into prostitution for Izumi will come from the hand of a female university professor, Makoto, with a multiple-personality disorder due to a too predictable childhood trauma which seems a too literal reading from out-of-fashion Freud. She introduces Izumi to the flourishing world of デリヘル delivery health in the Shibuya district of the 1990’s and lectures her with a particular motto: “恋がなければセックスをしたらお金を取れ If you have sex without love, ask for money”.

The triple theme of the film -marriage, sex and infidelity- is rounded, as in a Natsuo Kirino’s novel, by a third character, Kazuko, a police-woman who brings suspense to the film in the form of a third-person limited narrator. Schizophrenically tough at work and affectionate at home, she keeps a secret third life herself, too.

The world of Japanese housewives is an endless source of ideas for this director but it also prompts social debates in Japanese society about the convenience of this institution, close to extinction due to the economic situation –fewer and fewer families can economically afford to have a no-money-making spouse-. Housewives portray the most traditional Japan –some would call it backward- and they can give rise to harmony and happiness in a family or to a repression magazine about to explode. Shion Sono shows us that second possibility.

Recently, I had dinner in Osaka with a young couple soon to be husband and wife. They told me about the 結納 yuino or engagement ceremony that had taken place the previous month at the bride’s home. Apart from a diamond engagement ring costing as much as 750.000 yen, the groom had to give her future wife 1 million yen as a symbol of the pass of the woman from one family to the other, as if a purchase would be taking place. Astonished as I was, they claimed the celebration to be a custom still popular in Japan, and carried out in at least one third of nowadays’ weddings. Her sister would later tell me how much she wished the couple happiness forever and ever, although she also contemplated the possibility that the bride would end up bored of a monotonous life indoors. At one point, alone with the groom for a few minutes, half-jokingly and with a considerable lack of tact from my part, I told him that after the diamond, the 結納金 betrothal money and the apartment he had just started paying, getting divorced would be out of the question. Trying not to show his evident discomfort, he answered dryly: “僕は離婚しない I won’t get divorced”. Good for him. I just hope his young and lovely wife doesn’t become one of Shion Sono’s characters.

浮気と嫉妬の修羅場 “Shuraba”, Pandemonium of jealousy and betrayal


I understand that many times a title must be translated with some freedom to get a proper appreciation of a meaning when it refers to a distant culture. But sometimes they take their liberties to an extreme, as in this case: ふゆの獣 (Winter beasts), when translated into English, surprisingly becomes Love addiction! Actually, the latter title shows the theme more accurately, although it loses the metaphoric flavor of the original one.

In a format close to a documentary and with touches of expressionism through movements of the camera and games with the images, we are shown different interrelated stories among 4 young characters, always in pairs like all possible permutations in a maths problem. They pass through fragile moments in their relationships and experience a bunch of universal feelings like love, fear, passion, dependency (addiction), vulnerability, spite, hatred…

Every sadist needs a masochist and Yukako plays that role: she is attractive and intelligent but her emotional attachment to Shigehisa makes her distort reality, as a child who thinks that negating the facts will prevent them from occurring. Shigehisa, on the other side, attractive for his strong character and contemptuous attitude, negates in front of others and justifies his actions through his own egotism. Younger colleagues Noboru and Saeko can’t avoid admiring their senior and falling for him, although for Noboru –a stereotypical character in this film’s Freudian closed world- that will be more difficult to accept.

The movie’s timeline is wisely made, starting from a critical moment at an accidental and moving encounter in the subway with interrupting flashbacks that clarify events. And the long final sequence, the proper “shuraba” with the 4 characters in a claustrophobic 6-tatami-wide room leads the plot to a final and unexpected climax.

Infidelity and the emotions that it entails happen in all cultures, many times in similar ways, although the means to deal with them are different. There is the violent reaction of the male-dominated world; the legal action and the consequent divorce; and the friendly discussion –Tanizaki Junichiro style– to look for ways to solve a deeper problem. Men and women’s views as for cheating are different, the same way their approach to sex –whether marital or not- is not the same. Although cheating is not just about sex. It’s also about novelty, curiosity and play. Collateral feelings and states of mind like low self-esteem, negation and desire for revenge also come together in the pack and affect both the cheater and the cheated one.

This unpretentious movie by director and scriptwriter Nobuteru Uchida masterly shows a compendium of all those feelings and reactions, and constitutes a simple encyclopedia of the cheating and its psychological implications in the present young Japanese society.

Hankyu Densha: an universe of struggling women on a Kansai railway



Hankyu Densha, based on the homonymous novel by Hiro Arikawa, is a story about solitude, about deceived characters themselves who can’t find a way out of their problems but struggle to get rid of them. Paradoxically, an old and crowded Japanese train marching from Takarazuka to Nishinomiya Kitaguchi station is the setting for the intertwining solitary lives of a thirty-something bride-to-be, just abandoned by her boyfriend; of a school girl who suffers from isolation and incessant bullying by her classmates; of an obaachan (granma) who lives on remembrances from immemorial times; of a college student, victim of her boyfriend’s choleric fits of rage and jealousy; of a pusillanimous housewife trapped in a world of hypocrisy and sense of obligation; of two “otaku” Kwansei Gakuin students completely out of the fashionable and intolerant trend of the Japanese youth’s clothes and sheepish behavior; and of a high-school girl who sees her longed-for dream vanishing and feels guilty.

They all have things in common: they feel lonely, deluded and betrayed. Maybe the most stunning character is the one played by the once-awarded and many times nominated to best actress by the Japanese Academy Miki Nakatani, whose boyfriend justifies his leaving her for another woman –her 後輩! (her more junior colleague)- because she is strong enough to take care of herself but the new (and pregnant) one really needs him; although revenge is best served cold and she forgives them on the condition that she is invited to the wedding.

But this is also a story of solidarity, about people who see themselves in another person’s sufferings. It’s what we call empathy, that concept so well explained by modern neuroscientists through the construct of “mirror neurons”.
Those who are not capable of experiencing empathy are either stupid, or autistic or pathologically selfish and egomaniac.

The characters, one after the other, advice and interfere positively in one another’s lives. And through this process, each of them becomes aware of their own issues.

The message is clear at the end of the movie: as Shoko claims, “世界でいい部分もある”, in the world there are also good things. Let’s go and take them, no worries about impossible dreams and social conventions.

Till death do us part



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.

Tsumetai nettaigyo, Out and Shion Sono’s passion for dismemberment



I recently saw Shion Sono’s last film, Tsumetai nettaigyo, translated into English like Cold Fish –they forgot the “tropical”-, and provoked me an immeasurable uneasiness. Every time this Japanese cult-movie director releases a new title, it seems that he has reached the top of his career in terms of blood, violence and mental instability, but then it comes the next one, as is this case, and you feel emotionally overwhelmed in the armchair of the small movie theater filled with middle age men plus the young woman that you regret having invited. It’s been shown at film festivals like Toronto, Venetia and Sitges, with considerable success: some people left disgusted in the middle of the showing, and some others reacted with a standing and resounding ovation at the end. There is also some comedy in this 18+ rated movie, though, indispensable ingredient to psychologically deal with many of the hard scenes that it contains.
Here is the plot: an apparently normal but actually dysfunctional family starts hanging out with a successful businessman who happens to be a thug and eventually takes the whole family to an extreme situation. The character of the husband, a henpecked pater familias can tell from the very beginning what’s going on and what’s going to happen but his fainthearted personality prevents him from rejecting Murata San, one of the most evil rogues and psychopaths of the recent Japanese cinema. Gradually, the ugly, pushy and disgusting but funny and trickster Murata –sublime the Japanese actor Den Den in the role- takes his wife and daughter from him and the spectator can feel the husband’s anxiety in a crescendo of tension that eventually ends up as an orgy of violence, sex and blood. He suffers himself a radical transformation – a Tetsuo but without the cyborg stuff- in his character and becomes what he had been most afraid of. Based on a real story that took place in Saitama a few years ago, in Japan cases of killings with dismemberment seem quite common exceptions, as we can also see in Out, based on the novel with the same name by Natsuo Kirino based on a related true incident, although in this case it’s housewives the ones who do the butcher’s job.

Madera de actor

Debo reconocer que soy un actor nefasto, y en más de una ocasión ha quedado debidamente probado -véase “Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente” en 1988 y “El retablo de las maravillas” en 2004- pero como el gusanillo del teatro es algo que no se pierde fácilmente, aquí va una muestra de las tonterías que se pueden hacer probando la web camera de Skype.

Many times I wonder which “me” is the real one, if the one who is by himself at home studying or reading, the one teaching or adopting the teacher’s role, the one dancing salsa and meeting women, the one passing a short-time depression or a shorter-time high, the brave Spaniard or the realistic coward, the one escaping commitment or the one willing to establish himself. Maybe all of them.



Dr. Manhattan

Irredeemable fan of The Matrix, its characters, its many references to the SF film industry and Morfeo’s deep philosophical thoughts and biblical lines, when I saw the prospective Watchmen available in the movies, I felt somehow attracted to the idea of  many different characters –superheroes with a defined personality each of them- incrusted on a parallel possible history of the US after the Vietnam War.

Here is what I think of them:

Dan –my namesake- is an example of morality and emotional naiveté, the political correctness: your girlfriend’s father, any father. Adrian –who reminds me of  David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence- represents ambition, beauty and intelligence: 怖いよ-. Laurie is a sexy young woman not especially bright and blind of love and emotion –feminists must feel anger because of this comic-made-movie’s character-. Rorschach’s lunacy is the result of a difficult growing in a tormented sensitive soul. The Comedian is a carpe-diem player, sarcastic and brutal, but lucid. And last but not least, my favourite: Dr. Manhattan, who represents common sense in a planetary way of thinking. He is not human anymore but retains some links to humanity; he reasons leaving emotions aside –especially when he is in Mars- but still practices sex to Laurie; he sees the future and the past, can multiply himself –who never dreamed of that sometime?- and accepts human life and death as a minuscule part of the Universe; つまり、he helps us to put things in perspective.

An interesting two-and-a-half-hour movie, with a lot of action but also a good deal of thinking.

機会があったら go and see it.


Now, me, back to my lesson plans.

Los niños y los marcianitos

Será que me estoy volviendo viejo porque me viene a la cabeza el : ¡cómo cambian los tiempos, oye! ¿es que los niños ya no juegan? Pues sí, pero de otra manera. Ayer iba en el metro y se metieron 10 chavales en mi vagón e inmediatamente desenfundaron sus gameboys y comenzaron a jugar unos contra otros gracias al bluetooth o como se llame. Aunque no sólo son niños: a veces se ven salary man, que si no tienen la cabeza ya lo  suficientemente robotizada a causa de sus monótonos trabajos y sus cerebros lobotomizados por las horas extras inanes de su también inane existencia, en el trayecto del tren si no duermen juegan a los marcianitos o leen manga para adultos -esto por lo menos se acerca a la literatura.

Esto no es serio, oye. En mis tiempos del descerebramiento mecanizado de NOVA, algunos de los profesores más jóvenes de los equipos inglés y francés, en los descansos entre telemáticas y tediosas clases, también se dedicaban a jugar así dentro de la empresa. Yo no daba crédito a lo que veía. Normal que nos acabaran tratando a todos como niños o delincuentes en potencia.

El problema de tanta maquinita, al igual que la hiperexposición a un mundo de imágenes sin apenas palabras es que nos ayuda a no pensar, resulta cómodo pero nos bestializa.

Perdón por el mensaje hipercrítico de hoy, pero es verdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad…..

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