JIN-302 -- Back to the Countryside Through Film

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 302
Friday December 17, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Back to the Countryside Through Film

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Back to the Countryside Through Film

Old Japan hands, the generation of scholars who arrived in Japan with the
Occupation Forces, lament the country was once one of the world's most
beautiful but, alas, has suffered the encasing of its shoreline in cement,
the damming of its rivers, the cutting of its forests for golf courses.
Director Yoji Yamada, toward the end of the "Otoko wa Tsurai yo" series,
remarked he had difficulty in locating pristine landscapes in which to
plunk down Tora-san, the movies' hero, for the beautiful pastoral scenes
that were hallmarks of the films.

However, this year's hit Japanese films suggest a rediscovery of the
countryside as Japanese seek cinematic representation of their roots,
with a little help from recently created film commissions.

Let's reel off some of these hits.

- “Swing Girls" is the story of high school girls who form a big band
in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The mismatch of jazz and bucolic scenery elicits
humor and empathy.
- "Shimozuma Story" is a tender evocation of a supermarket set amongst
rice paddies in Shimozuma, Ibaraki Prefecture.
- "Hanochi," a Seicho Matsumoto-esque mystery shot on location in Gunma
Prefecture, creates an animated dynamic between local cops, prosecutors
and newspaper reporters.
- "69 Sixty Nine," a paean to youth set in the turbulent decade of
the student movement, and "Gege," the story of a man who loses his sight,
were filmed in Sasebo and Nagasaki, respectively, in Nagasaki Prefecture.
- "Umi Neko" is set in Hakodate, Hokkaido, and "Umi Zaru," in Kure,
Hiroshima Prefecture.

One reason for the unprecedented number of hit films set in provincial
towns is that the Japanese, the majority of whom are from rural areas,
seem to have given up trying to be big shots and have begun
searching for personal narratives of their own lives. This is evident
in young people's gradually turning away from Hollywood films and
toward domestic flicks.

Another reason is that film commissions established by regional
municipalities assist with filming and in acquiring the cooperation
of local groups. The municipalities are motivated by revenues with
potential to reinvigorate their economies. For example, Ajicho, in
Kagawa Prefecture, was inundated with tourists after the
filming of "The Center of the Earth" there.

Those of us without personal knowledge of the Japan-scape before the
years of economic growth may take solace in the the recent cinematic
disclosure that much beautiful countryside remains and the realization
that rural settings now tug at the heartstrings of a fresh generation
of Japanese. And if solace is not enough, and we must regret and
vent our plaints, we can always rent a Tora-san film and feast our eyes
on one of Yoji Yamada's sparkling idylls.

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)


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