What better to do when one is unemployed than stay awake till 4am watching Japanese movies and drinking neat rum? I saw three a few nights ago, and here are my thoughts on them. They were all very different from each other. Koizora was a typical “true love” Japanese romance, with a tragic tear jerking script set around the lives of two high school students. Amalfi was an unexpected creation – the closest thing to a Hollywood blockbuster I’ve seen emerging from Japan, yet set (and filmed) entirely in Italy, with a Japanese and Italian language script and a big budget. Linda Linda Linda was the pick of the bunch – a story of four high school girls practising for their school festival gig. It reminded me of a group of three girls in the school I taught at who practised constantly for their gig at the school festival, as well as my own preparations with other students in our band Natto’s magnificent cover performance of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Koizora 恋空 (2007)
Given my love of the previous evenings 「ただ、君を愛してる」, you might think I’d like 「恋空」. Given my generally sound film preferences, you might think I’d hate it. The truth was somewhere in the middle. It had all the ingredients of the previous films emotional rollercoaster – indeed the twist was possibly even more painful – yet it didn’t quite get to me as much. It was still a good movie, well acted if not brilliantly acted like ただ, and certainly deserves a watch if you’re a fan of this genre. That’s the trouble really – as a genre, Japanese love films are certainly not my preference. ただ broke out of this genre-bias due to it being a genuinely good film. 恋空 is just a bit too sickly sweet for my liking, a bit too contrived, and a bit too, well, overly emotional. It’s probably a good jolt of reality for me to realise that I’m not a fan of this type of film – it further confirms the quality of ただ in contrast. ★★★
Amalfi: Rewards of the Goddess アマルフィ 女神の報酬 (2009)
Amalfi is a Japanese blockbuster starring Koichi Sato (When the Last Sword is Drawn), set in and around Rome, Italy. It centres on the Japanese Embassy in Rome, the kidnapping of a woman’s daughter, and the mysterious intrigue of the circumstances and reasons for this kidnap as the story unfolds. It’s solid blockbuster fare – maintaining interest, well paced, nice shots of dramatic scenes around Rome (no shots of the horrible Victor Emmanual typewriter monument however). It’s not much more than this, and the stoic features of lead actor Yuji Oda don’t do quite enough to suggest he’s anything more than an average actor. Koichi Sato is better. I enjoyed it as light relief, and the strains of “Time to Say Goodbye” work well as stirring backing music. Incidentally, Sarah Brightman seems to be cashing in on her appearance in the movie by releasing a CD of love songs in Japan. ★★★½
Linda Linda Linda リンダリンダリンダ (2005)
Now this is more like it. After expanding my net to soak up some Japanese cinema, I managed to end the evening back in solid art-house territory, much more comfortable than “true love” and much more interesting than blockbuster drama. “Linda Linda Linda” tells the story of 4 high school girls preparing for their school festival, where they will cover three Blue Hearts songs- Rinda Rinda, Boku no migite, and Owaranai uta. If you don’t know the Blue Hearts, they’re something of a Japanese Ramones, and well worth a listen. This understated story follows the group of friends from their initial decision to enter the school festival- and recruitment of new vocalist, Korean exchange student Son – through numerous late night band practices, and spending time together. Its a story about friendship that touches on other high school themes without being hysterical about them. All of the characters are well played, with Korean Son being the highlight – a brilliant performance tackling the trouble of language barriers but also the way that you can get around these barriers, as not all communication requires language.
I must admit it probably wouldn’t have found such a warm place in my heart if it hadn’t reminded me so strongly of my own participation in a high school festival with students. The school was set up in a very similar way to mine (I’m coming to conclusion that all Japanese schools look exactly the same), even the supermarket they went to looked like my local Nishina. So below are some pictures of mine and students own build up to our ‘Linda Linda’ moment at the school festival. Seeing the movie really made me appreciate the importance of these things so the students – music club certainly did attract the ‘misfits’ of the school, each with their own ideosyncrysies and amazing personalities. I felt privileged to be part of the trials and tribulations of after school band practices, making the uniforms, pre-gig nerves and post-gig celebrations. The 2007 music festival remains one of my fondest memories from Japan. But back to the movie – even for those who don’t have a personal experience of gigging in a Japanese high school music festival, it’s still definitely worth watching. ★★★★½