A Japanese obsession

A Japanese obsession

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My fascination with Japan probably started right after the first time I watched Lost In Translation (don’t know it yet? IT’S ONLY MY FAVORITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME. Click here for my review and here for a playlist). Which is kind of ironic if you think about the backlash this film received from the actual Japanese people. Although the director (Sofia Coppolla) said it was supposed to be a “valentine to Tokyo”, that was not how some Japanese perceived it. The film made fun of Japanese stereotypes, they said, and all in all was not a fair representation of how Tokyo really is as a city. You can read a bit more about it here. Nevertheless I must say I myself DID perceive it as an ode to that city, which maybe makes me a bit culturally ignorant, but also helped me create a small obsession with Japan and made me fall in love with it. I really want to go there some day!

It may have started with Lost in Translation, but it certainly did not end there. Here are some of my current japanese obsessions.

Cinema

Pictured: the films Lost in Translation, Departures, Tokyo Sonata.

Already I talk way too much about Lost in Translation, so I will skip telling you about that one. The other two films have already been featured on my blog over the years as well, but those reviews are no longer online.
     Tokyo Sonata is a story about a family from Tokyo. The father loses his job, the little boy sneaks out to enjoy his passion (playing the piano), his big brother decides to change his life drastically and all the while the mother is desperately trying to prevent her family from unraveling. At first glance it sounds like a somewhat boring film. But nothing proves to be less true, trust me! What makes this film special is not so much the story, but rather the characters and how they deal with these changes. You can feel how the characters are suffocated by their own Japanese culture, where status and respect are everything. Above all the film is beautifully shot, has a great soundtrack and is great if you want to see a bit more of Tokyo besides the skyscrapers. I also feel you can learn a great deal about their culture by watching this film.
     Departures (or おくりびと, according to google translate – correct me if I’m wrong) is a lot different from Tokyo Sonata in the sense that it is a bit on the comedic side. Which sounds probably very strange when I tell you what this film is all about. When Daigo Kobayashi gets fired from playing in an orchestra, he decides to stop playing the cello and to return, together with his wife, to his native village. His mother left them a house, which makes if already a lot easier for them to survive. He still needs a job though, so he goes out searching for one. He responds to an ad that says “guiding the journey”. But that’s obviously a typo! At least, that is what they tell him when he arrives at the company. It should be: “Guiding the final journey”. When Daigo finds out that he ended up at a funeral home instead of a travel agency, his first reaction is to rush out the door. After all, he has never seen a dead man and how he should deal with such a job? But the boss, an eccentric Japanese softy, lures him in with a few bills and he decides to stay anyway. A film with lots of laughs because of the dark humor and also a small tear. And that beautiful cello… wow! This film actually won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars.
     Now, some of you will maybe find it a bit weird I have not spoken about the horror genre when it’s such a big part of Japanese cinema. I’ll be honest with you and tell you I really don’t like horror-movies. I used too, but not so much anymore. I’m a bit of a wuzz! ;)

Books

Pictured: the books Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami & Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Norwegian Wood was the first book I read that was written by a Japanese author. Which turned out to be a great place to start, because Haruki Murakami is one of the most well known writers of Japan and for a good reason: he has written a lot of best-sellers. Norwegian Wood is the only book in which he ventures into realism. It is a coming of age story about a boy called Toru and his life as a student in Tokyo. A real must read if you ask me! The rest of his books (like Kafka on the Shore, Bird Wind Up Chronicle) can be called fantasy. Not fantasy in a Lord of The Rings kind of way, but fantasy in a surrealistic sense. He has a way of writing that manages to captivate you and lure you in to his world.
     Memoirs of a geisha is a book Anne recommended to me (I borrowed her copy, which almost falls apart because she has read it so many times) and I was pleasantly surprised. A great and fascinating story, well written and (with the risk of sounding like a book marketeer): truly captivating. I couldn’t stop reading. It tells the story of a girl who grows up to be a geisha in the Gion district and although it isn’t a true story, it sure feels like it. I knew near to nothing about geisha’s before reading this, but I felt this book to be a perfect way to start my education on the subject. There has been some controversy around this novel, so I think it would be a good thing to read this book with the clear notion of it being fiction in the back of your mind.
     Other book recommendations: Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84, both by Haruki Murakami. 1Q84 I still have to read myself, but I heard great things about it. Also, Never Let Me Go is written by a Japanese author called Kazuo Ishiguro and therefore I think I can mention it here as well.

What I would visit/do in Japan

Pictured: the skyline of Tokyo.

Things I would do or places I would visit in Japan: ♥ Visit Kyoto and walk around the temples ♥ I loathe karaoke with a passion, but for Tokyo I would make an exception! I want to visit one of those little cubicles you can rent and sing a long till deep in the night (can you tell I watched Lost in Translation way too many times?) ♥ Obviously I would want to see a bit of the beautiful nature this country has ♥ I would be on the look out for good Japanese music. I know absolutely nothing about that yet. Maybe some of you can recommend me something? ♥ Observe the locals. How they act, what they wear, what they eat… ♥ Take crazy pictures in those giant photo booths and visit an arcade ♥ Eat sushi (OF COURSE) and other delicious Japanese food in a small restaurant instead of the big chains we have over here ♥ Try to learn the language! It looks really difficult though… ♥ Ride the subway while listening to a part of this soundtrack ♥ Just walk around Tokyo for hours and hours with a camera in my hand ♥ Buy a travel guidebook on Japan before I go ;-)

I hope you enjoyed this post and maybe discovered some new obsessions yourself. It seems to me that a visit to Japan will be a real culture shock and I think that is part of the reason why I’m so attracted to it. If you are from Japan or have visited it, you may think this is all a bit superficial and stereotypical or culturally ignorant of me: I hear you. Seriously, I would find it funny as well if someone would write a post about the Netherlands and all he/she did was talk about windmills and wooden shoes, because that would be a very untrue representation of it. Nevertheless I can’t wait to find out if my idea of Japan in any way resembles the real thing. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy the good things that come from it and dream myself away. Maybe I’ll see you there? ;)

さようなら! (bye!) (according to google translate)

Cinema: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Cinema: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Imagine, you just got out of a long intense relationship and a doctor gives you the possibility to let you forget your ex-lover’s entire existence. No longer crying for hours while playing sad break up music in the background, no more sleepless nights, no more obsessive checking of their facebook page, it won’t hurt when they’ll hook up with someone new and you will finally be able to eat again. In short: you will be able to go on with your live as if nothing has happened. You will completely forget about your ex and the relationship you’ve had. But there is a catch: not only will you forget the bad stuff, but also all of the lovely memories you made together. Would you do it?

In The Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Joel (Jim Carey) has to answer that question when he finds out his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) erased him from her life and memories after their break-up. Pure desperation and hurt eventually make him choose to undergo the same procedure. He feels betrayed and wants to forget about Clementine as soon as possible, just like she did with him. Though he fails to consider one importing thing: how precious those good memories actually are to him. By then, it is already too late.

The first time Joel and Clementine meet.

What follows is a film in which we see Joel desperately clinging on to his memories with Clementine. Not only the good ones, but also the bad memories become precious to him. We see them when they are fighting, when they are making love, we see them doing everyday stuff and we see them during their happiest times. Joel tries to hide all those memories. He does not want the doctor to erase them. But will it work? Or will the doctor succeed and let Joel forget all about Clementine? And if so, will this also mean the end for their relationship or will they be together no matter what?

Joel’s memories are messed up when Clementine in one scene suddenly acts as his mother.

The things I love most about this film are probably the characters and their interesting relationships. Kate Winslet plays the role of a psycho bitch (sorry, no better way to describe it I guess) and Jim Carey is just SO good as Joel. I’m used to Jim being the crazy one, but for this film Kate has gone all out on that one! I think the casting is perfect and they play this crazy couple so convincingly. Clementine and Joel challenge each other and may not always bring out the best in the other, but all in all they are very cute together. Kirsten Dunst also has a small but very convincing part in this film as a girl who falls hopelessly in love with her boss.

Other than that it it a very original story. It will fascinate you (if not only for all the different haircolors Clementine dons in this film) and it made me think about life and relationships in general. Let me put it this way: if you answered the question I asked you earlier with a “yes”, maybe you will think differently after seeing this film. Because it sure made me wonder: is a spotless mind even that sunny at all?

This is a translation of a piece I wrote in dutch about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on September 2th 2010. So, no, you’re not going crazy if you recognize this post, you have just been reading this blog for way too many years ;-)