Categories
Original

人と物の間で踊る

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

あきさんは背が高い。そのため、彼ならではの視点があるのではと思ったが、実際はそれ以上だった。

初めてアトリエひこを訪れた時、入口近くにあきさんの青い絵があり、目を引いた。縦と横とも1メートルぐらいの大きさのキャンバスに青い顔が描かれた。顔はいくつかの円で構成され、その丸い目には瞳孔がない。

一見すると少し怖いかもしれないけど、細部ををもっと詳しく見たくなる。顔のすぐ下には、正方形ような白いスペースの中で何も描いていなく、キャンパスが空のまま残っている。一方で、白いスペースの外に、青い色がいっぱい入っている。

人の顔があれば、人の手、体や足があるはずじゃないだろうか。で、どこに描かれたのか。私は具体的な答えを探せば探すほど、ますます混乱していた。通常の考え方は全然適用できないように感じられた。

この絵をじっと見つめていて困っている私は、あきさんがキャンバスにしっかりと青色を塗っている姿を見た。「さささ…」っと、躊躇せずにさっと絵筆を動かした。描き出した青色が元の青色を覆って、すぐに新旧青色が重なり合ってしまう。

描くというより、筆が何も閉じ込められることなく、自由にキャンバスを舞台に踊ると言える。私はそんな描き方に夢中になっているところに、あきさんが席を離れていた。

オーケストラを指揮しているかのように、あきさんが人差し指を空中に上げているのが見えた。続いて、ピアノによる音楽が聞こえた。部屋の奥に、石﨑さんは一台白い電子ピアノの前に座り、心地よい音楽を演奏しながら歌っていた。「あきちゃん」を含む言葉も歌詞に入ってきた。

あれ?二人は阿吽の呼吸で音楽を作っているんだろうか。

不思議だと考えていると、あきさんが音楽に合わせて踊ったり、社交ダンスのような回転をしたり、部屋の奥に移動していった。音楽が続くにつれて、彼はハミングしながら、もう一本の葦ペンを手に取って墨で机上の紙に絵を描き始めた。

キャンバスに描いた人の顔とは大きく異なり、紙に描かれた物体はより認識しやすくなった。石﨑さんの弾いているピアノだったり、デザートとコップだったり、その形は私たちの目にする物に近い。でも、明らかに違いがある。

あきさんの描いた絵では、物の輪郭線は物と空間の境界線というより、一筆書きのように物から物へ繋がりがありそうだ。さらに、輪郭線は物から脱出するような自由になりそうだ。

さすが彼が体を動かしながら、物を観察した印象はそれなのだろうかと思わずにはいられない。私の物をじっと見つめる見方とは全然違う。細かいことにとらわれがちな私と異なり、あきさんの描き方も動き方も、もっと自由に見る方法を持っていそうだ。その自由がとても羨ましい!

Categories
Original

Please enrich me through the power of your words

I was honored to borrow from Atelier Hiko a collection of Haruna-san’s poems. Upon reading the first few entries, I told Ishizaki-san that I am amazed by the cleverness in her writing. Despite being based mostly on very common daily-use words, the topics were as diverse and compelling as ghosts, heaven, Osaka Pro Wresting, hiking, hot spring baths and birthdays. They were composed into slogans, poems, songs and letters.

As a foreigner who feels the “fish out of water” experience, I’m just grateful to read these thought that I find so genuine and powerful.

Among her fun writings, one poem caught my eye.

***

Email

Meaning dream.

That’s impossible.

It’s messy.

(I’m) still angry.

I will never forgive you.

That’s impossible.

Even if you cry, it’s probably your fault, teacher.

Why don’t you email me?

Hey, teacher.

Next time, you can’t do that again.  

Do you understand?

I’m serious about it.

I won’t forgive you until you cry.
It’s impossible even if you show your guts.

I don’t need a slogan. (*Haruna-san writes slogans to cheer up herself and others.)

That email thing,

Really make it happen, okay?

Make sure to keep doing it until the end.

I won’t forgive if you give up.

Also I want to get you angry.

***

At first glance, I felt that in this poem, she was longing for communication with someone whom she is close to. After not obtaining what she expected, she used strong words expressing the feelings of being hurt and angry.

However, the phrase “I won’t forgive you until you cry” resonated with my own experiences. I recalled a quarrel with my childhood best friend, and a mischievous image of myself emerged. No matter how many times the other apologized, I would pretend to not forgive my friend just to gain more attention from her. Of course I had already forgiven her – that is friendship. It was only at this moment that I started to see the hyperbole in my youthful sentiment.

Did Haruna-san also feel the same way when she wrote this poem?

After reading the poem the second time, I felt that the author has an enviable sincerity. If possible, I would like to borrow Haruna-san’s frankness by saying directly what I want to say. As adults, we often live our lives with too much caution. In a society full of polite behavior, isn’t it really embarrassing to express negative emotions?

If something that I don’t like happened, if something made me angry, if something broke my heart, I would like to say to the other person, “I won’t forgive you until you cry.” That way, both the other person and I would be able to reach a clear resolution (and perhaps a big hug).

I became aware of Haruna’s candor when I visited Ishizaki-san at Atelier Hiko for the fourth time.

It was a Saturday when the largest number of members attends the studio. While composing new poems, Haruna-san talked with other members about her concerns regarding a recent personal matter. Surrounded by a caring atmosphere, I was trusted to be part of the group, even while I was taking notes next to her. As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel that she carried such a sense of courage to openly discuss her disquiet with others.

“Do you have any secret, Haruna-san?” I asked curiously.

“No,” Haruna answered firmly.

I didn’t exactly understand at the time. However, as I’m reading the poetry collection now, I inevitably think of the reason she came up with such a solid answer. Maybe it’s because everything that came to her mind, including personal issues, worries, and anger, was all written down.

Well then, Haruna-san, I want to share in the power of your words! Keep creating and I will continue reading your poetry collections.

Categories
Original

言葉の力をもらいたい

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

石﨑さんからお借りした春菜さんの詩集「ハッピバスケチューユ」をご拝読していると、彼女の言葉を操る巧さには驚いた。鬼、天国、大阪プロレス、山登り、温泉、誕生日をスローガン、歌、詩、手紙に書かれる日常に使われる言葉でも、外国人としての私にも力を与えてくれる。ありがとうね、春菜さん!

楽しそうに書かれたものの中で、一つの詩に目を引かれた。

***

メール

意味ゆめ。

ありへん。

ぐだらね。

まだ怒っています。

絶対に許しません。

無理です。

泣いても、先生が悪いやろう。

なんでメールしないの。

なぁ、先生。

次メールしないとあれやで。

わかってるか。

本気行くで。

泣くまで許しません。

こんじょう出しても無理です。

スローガンはいらん。

あれ メールは

してな。

最後までづつけてやってや。

あきらめたらあかんで。

また、おこってほしいわけ。

***

春菜さんが親しい人からコミュニケーションを望んでいたのも感じられ、強い感情を表したことが分かる。ただ怒りの感情とは言えないかもしれない。「泣くまで許しません」というフレーズを読むと、幼い頃の喧嘩を思い出す。相手が何度も謝っても、自分は許さないふりで相手からもっと反応して欲しいというイメージが出てくるのだ。詩の中にもそういういたずらの感情が含まれるのではないか。

この詩を二回も読むと、うらやむべき率直さを感じられる。できるなら、自分で言いたいことを直接に言うという率直さをお借りしたい。大人としての私たちは、慎重になりすぎ、生きているのかもしれない。丁寧な振る舞いに溢れる社会で、ネガティブな感情を表すのは、恥ずかしいことなのか。何か嫌いなことがあったら、何か怒ったことがあったら、何か心を傷つけられったら、相手に「泣くまで許しません」と言いたい。そうすると、自分も相手もはっきりと分かるはずだ。

春菜さんの率直さは、四回目にアトリエひこを訪れたとき理解できた。その日は土曜日で、アトリエひこのメンバー人数は一番多かった。春菜さんは詩を作りながら、自分の悩み事を、皆さんと一緒にしゃべっていた。信頼してもらった私は、思いやりのある雰囲気に包まれ、傍でノートを取っていた。聞きながら、個人的な悩みを他人と話し合う春菜さんの姿に「勇気」を感じてならなかった。

「春菜さんには、秘密がありますか。」と私は興味深く尋ねた。

「ないです。」と春菜さんはきっぱりと答えた。

その時はわからなかった。今詩集を読んでいると、春菜さんのきっぱり答えた理由を考えずにいられない。秘密も、悩み事も、怒りなど心に浮かんだことを全部書いたからだろうか。では、春菜さん、詩集を読み続けさせていただきます。春菜さんの言葉の力をもらいたい!

Categories
Original

Warming-up Is Essential

At first glance, it might seem that trampolines and the spark of artistic creation are entirely unrelated. I discovered how intimately and interestingly connected they could be. When one speaks of artistic creation, it tends to evoke the image of someone peacefully painting in front of a canvas or sculpting clay. So, when I visited the Atelier Hiko, a small-size black trampoline set in the corner attracted my attention. One might wonder what it is doing in an art studio.

Machitaka-san, who attends Artier Hiko every Tuesday, is an active fourteen-year-old boy sporting surprisingly sinewy muscles within his thin body. At 4p.m., he came barging in to the Atelier with the force of a typhoon. Right away, he started to arrange the spacing of the furniture to his own proper proportions – all the chairs in line, the desks divided by the proper distance and everything in its place.

“What is going on?” I thought. As I was trying to figure out the situation, he had already picked up the trampoline from the corner. Very conscious of his surroundings, he made precise adjustments to the positions of the surrounding chairs and desks before placing the trampoline in the middle of the room. Then from a menu-like booklet, he selected a picture card representing a music song. He handed his choice to Ishizaki-san, which I perceived as another significant step in his preparations.

With great anticipation, Michitaka-san went to the trampoline. As the music began, he hopped on with a conspicuous sense of happiness. As if he were a metronome, the piano played along to his well-controlled rhythm. His T-shirt swayed loosely, its slogan “Just do it” seemed to match his dynamic energy.

“He is making a sequence of fast body movements as well as spontaneously incorporating the changes!” I thought. The image reminded me of a trampoline gymnast. On top of controlling the speed of his jumps, I guessed he might be targeted to achieve some awesome movements.

His control reminded me of gymnasts’ determination and skill.  For a moment, I didn’t know whether I was in an atelier or at a sports studio. I wondered what acrobatics he might achieve upon a full-sized trampoline. As an audience, I was eager to applaud his wonderful performance!

Jumping quickly, the excitement built up. Machitaka-san’s face blushed warmly and a bright smile emerged. “So is Machitaki-san, so is Hiko-kun…” as Ishizaki-san’s song drew to a close, his pace accordingly slowed down. I thought his energy was spent, but he promptly went to a nearby desk. With vigorous force, he started to draw with black ink.    

Within just six seconds, a painting began to take shape on the paper. Four circles, reminiscent of the Olympic logo, yet imperfect in shape, were linked together. Each brush stroke conveyed a strong force. “Wait, is it painting or calligraphy?” I pondered. In the way it was painted, it could be seen as four geometric shapes yet it could also be read as four written characters. Zero or circle, character or image, it was impossible for me to decide.

As I was trying to seek for an answer, I found out that they were high-fiving, as if celebrating an awesome accomplishment. “That’s it!” I came to a realization. The art work that Michitaka-san made was not just a solo work; instead, it was a fruitful result of his teamwork with Ishizaki-san.

It was the culmination of arranging the space and the canvas, moving within that space, connecting through music and finally creating his own unique art. For this artist, I felt the whole room was his canvas.

Is this any different than the great calligraphers, preparing their brushes, inks and paper and meditating before making the first brush stroke?

A peaceful meditation, playing an instrument, taking a stroll or intensely bouncing on a trampoline, warming-up is an essential part in the act of artistic creation.

Categories
Original

ウォーミングアップが大切だ

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

アトリエひこを訪れる度に、小さな黒いトランポリンが部屋の隅に置かれているのを見ている。芸術の創作というと、キャンバスの前で静かに描くイメージを思い浮かべがちだ。トランポリンと芸術創造は一見関係なさそうに思える。私はどんな面白い繋がりが存在しているのか知らなかった。

火曜日のメンバーである道隆さんは瘦せ型で筋肉をつけつつある十四歳の少年。午後四時頃、アトリエ部屋に入るなり、わくわくして、椅子を並べたり、二つの机を分けたり、空間位置を変えたりしていた。

何が起こっているのか。私が頭を抱えているうちに、彼はトランポリンを隅から拾い上げた。空間に意識を持っているようで、トランポリンを部屋の真ん中に置く前に、周囲の椅子と机の位置を微調整した。準備に手落ちがないように、もう一つ大切な項目は、メニューみたいな冊子から音楽曲の絵カードを選び、石﨑さんへ渡すことだ。

待ちきれない道隆さんはいよいよ楽しそうにトランポリンで飛び跳ね始めた。石﨑さんの弾くピアノ音楽とともに、「Just do it」と書かれたTシャツが彼のジャンプに合わせて上下に揺れていた。音楽のテンポが速くなると、彼は高く飛び上がるほど興奮し、体の動きも活発になっていた。足を前に蹴り出し、手も振っていた。

それほど速やかに動きながらも、即興的に動きの変化を取り入れる道隆さんは私にトランポリン体操選手を思い起こさせた。ジャンプのスピードを自分でコントロールしたうえで、かっこいい動きに挑戦しているのだろうか。

一瞬、アトリエにいるのか、スポーツ会場にいるのか、私はわからなかった。観客として彼の素晴らしいパフォーマンスに拍手を送りたい!

盛り上がりつつ、道隆さんの顔が赤くなり、笑みが浮かんでいるのが見えた。「道隆さんもアイーン、ひこくんもアイーン…」っと、石﨑さんの歌が終わりに近づくと、彼も自然にスピードを落とした。終わりだと思ってたけど、彼は近くの机に直ちに歩いて、勢いよく黒いインクで描いた。

たった6秒ぐらいで、四つのオリンピックのロゴみたいな丸が並んできて、一枚の絵が紙の上に現れた。いいえ、書道なのか。円として見ることもできるが、ゼロとして読み取ることもできる。はっきり判断するのは本当に難しい。

それが何なのか尋ねようとしたが、彼らは祝うかのようにハイタッチすることがわかった。ああ、なるほど!道隆さんのやってきた作品は、単なるソロ作品ではなく、石﨑さんとのチームワークの作品になるのだろうか。

ジャンプしたり、歌ったりすることに続いて、間髪入れずに絵や書が生じる。そういう身体的関係が理論としてあるのかどうかわからないけど、中国の書道家で似ている創作過程を見たことがある。筆を執る前に、作者は目を閉じて瞑想し、始まると、すべての文字を一気に書いた。

静かな瞑想と、片や激しいジャンプ。どちらもウォーミングアップとして大切な時間であり恩恵を受けているのだろう。

Categories
Original

The Twirling Artist

Aki-san is quite tall. I wondered if it was because of his height that he developed a unique perspective from others. I found out he possesses many more abilities.

The first time when I visited Atelier Hiko, I was immediately attracted by a piece of Aki-san’s painting that was set at the entrance. On a one-meter square canvas, there was drawn a blue human face, composed of several circles and no pupils in the eyes.

At a glance, I felt a bit scared, however, I couldn’t help but continue to look and discern more details. Directly beneath the human face was a square-shaped white space occupying the center of the canvas, completely without paint. Meanwhile, outside the white space was filled with blue.

If there was a human face, shouldn’t there be human hands, body or legs, I wondered? Yet where were these parts? The more I searched for a specific answer, the more chaotic it seemed to me. My usual thought processes failed to apply to this scenario. 

As I was gazing at the painting with confusion, Aki-san, instead, was confidently adding colors on the canvas. “Sa, sa, sa,” he hummed. Without hesitation, he quickly moved the paintbrush in random-seeming strokes. The newly painted blue covered the previous one on the canvas, so the two shades of blue quickly overlapped each other.

Rather than regarding it as painting, in my perspective, the paintbrush, as if it was not trapped by anything, was freely dancing on the stage of the white canvas. I was so immersed in watching this scenario that I didn’t notice Aki-san had left his seat.

Just like an orchestra conductor, Aki-san raised his index fingers up in the air. Following that, I heard music played on the piano. From the back of the room, Ishizaki-san was sitting in front of the white piano, playing pleasant music while singing a song. The name Aki was included in her lyrics.

What happened? Did the two of them just spontaneously mirror each other’s actions?

I was amazed at how incredible it was. Aki-san started dancing to the music, spinning like a ballroom performer, and spun to the back of the room.  Humming along with the on-going music, he picked up a reed pen and began drawing with ink on a piece of paper set on the table.   

Far different from what was painted about the human face, the objects drawn on the paper were so much more recognizable. The shapes of the piano Ishizaki-san was playing, a dessert plate and a cup were drawn with lifelike proportions, in his own unique style.

The outlines of objects in Aki-san’s drawings, rather than being a boundary between objects and space, seem to create connection from one object to another. Furthermore, presenting the objects through this impressionism of their outlines seems to provide some sense of freedom.

I can’t help but wonder if that impression remained so strong from his observation of objects while he orbited the studio. While I tend to get caught up in the details of art, Aki-san seems to embrace a more flexible view of things. I’m so jealous of that freedom!

Categories
Original

A Superhero On Rooftop

Feng was only seven years old but he was a superhero. His power were mainly that of being immune to any appeal beginning with the words, “Do not.”

“Do not touch your food with those dirty bare hands again!” “Do not dare swim in that filthy river again!” “Do not go out onto the plains alone again!” “Do not start a fire again!” So many “do nots.”

Perhaps those words have power coming from gentle mothers who indulge their child or stern fathers who give wise warnings. But for Feng, these admonishments came all too often from his grandpa and the many villagers who felt they had a role. They often said, “It takes a village to punish a child.”

After so many warnings and “Do nots,” the words, and the ear-boxing by the village elders, had lost the power to discourage the curiosity and sense of adventure in a young boy. Instead, “Do not” seemed to Feng like an invitation and became the source of the young hero’s superpowers. It instilled in him the will to explore breathtakingly memorable but forbidden experiences.

Two young boys ran through the yards and around the baked mud walls with sticks serving as laser guns in their imaginary games. “I got you, fall down!” called out the elder boy, Wei.

“No way, you missed,” retorted Feng. “But it’s so hot, lets go over there.”

He indicated the cool shade near the tall barn. Wei wanted to resist but sweat was streaming down his sun-browned face and he followed the younger boy. “OK, but I won.”

Though the days in Gansu’s high desert plains are usually comfortably warm year round, this was one of those days where the plains were baked under the relentless midsummer sunshine.

The two boys flopped down against the barn wall feeling the cool shade. Some curious goats came out of the barn nuzzling the boys for food. All they could do was to pull up handfuls of the brown, tough grass, the only thing to grow in the arid land.

Feng looked up in the clear blue sky with the soft cottony clouds. “I am going to join the airforce and learn to fly. Then I will fly to space like the astronauts.”

“I already can fly,” quipped the older boy.

“No way! You can’t fly.”

“Shh, its a secret,” said Wei conspiratorially. “I did last night.”

“Prove it.”

Wei pursed his lips together and looked away, then shot back “I climbed up on the barn, jumped off and flew all around the village.”

“Oh! Like the kung fu masters in movies?” the younger boy was leaping with excitement. “Then teach me!” Feng jumped eyes wide, glinting with excitement.

Wei already was beginning to regret having made such a claim because Feng was more stubborn than the goats when he got his mind on something.

Feng was looking to the roof and reaching for handholds to try to climb. “Is this where you climbed up? Let’s go.”

Feng tried to clamber up the rough baked mud wall but could not get more than a meter above the ground.

“Do not try to climb the barn, you are too little.” scolded Wei. He did not know that Feng was a superhero and that he had just unlocked his powers.

Feng looked longingly up at the barn roof. He was feeling frustration and almost in tears at not being able to climb. Suddenly his face lit up. Feng got a gleam in his eye. He started running excitedly to the neighbor’s house with Wei tagging along telling him to give up. He went to the side of a shed and returned dragging an improvised ladder. It was made of discarded lumber and bamboo, reused nails and a few repurposed pieces of baling wire.

“You can’t use that, it is junk.” said Wei.

That did not stop Feng from dragging it over to the barn with his tanned arms straining under the weight. Despite Wei’s feeble attempts to discourage him, Feng struggled and strained and in an all-out superhuman effort, the rickety ladder thumped against the edge of the high roof over the baked-mud wall.

Feng looked up reluctantly at the rickety ladder and the great height of the barn roof. He estimated that the ladder was at least twice his age and that the roof was six of him tall. These were reasons to give him pause.

“Do not go up there.” said Wei. This of course gave the boy all the courage he needed.

“Hold the ladder,” Feng said. He started clambering up the improvised ladder.

“Come back down here, the old folks will box your ears!” Wei blustered.

But it seemed nothing could stop the younger boy from undertaking his great adventure. The fear of feeling the slap of grandpa’s belt could not outweigh the reward of adventure.

Feng was teetering as the rickety ladder bowed and swayed. He was half way up by the time he heard a creaking sound followed by a snap as one of the rungs gave way. He froze.

This first-grader’s hands were slippery with sweat that he tried to convince himself was from the scorching midday heat and not from the fear of the height.

Even though Wei was only a year older than Feng, he seemed to have developed an extra decade worth of mischief. Seeing Feng paralyzed with fear, he could not resist shaking the ladder. He hoped the boy would fall from this height or climb down.

But Feng could see that, at nearly four times his own height, a fall to the packed clay ground would be unwise.

“You are too scared, so climb down.” He looked down to see the older boy shaking the ladder.

Feng came back to life, actively swaying his butt from right to left like a metronome in opposition to the undulations of the ladder and then finally he found his balance and new courage. He giggled loudly as he continued clambering up the ladder.

“Do not be stupid! You will fall!” said in a voice filled with authoritative sounding bluster attempting to hide the boy’s nervousness. If the younger boy successfully reached the top, he would have to follow him up there too. Wei’s brow furrowed in worry and regret. It is ironic because it was his exaggerated claims and challenging dare that set Feng off on this adventurous climb.

Feng loudly cheered as he finally reached the rooftop. He landed with a heavy bang. “I did it!” echoed his ecstatic call from the rooftop.

“Be quiet.” Wei hissed as he saw two village women crossing the yard.

In response to the tumult on the rooftop, the chickens sheltering inside the barn from the midday sun suddenly flapped their wings, clucked out of fear and scurried away from their refuge, raising their own indignant protests.

Feng squatted on the straw-made rooftop while he gained his composure. He could see the two aunties striding rapidly and clucking as loud as the hens. But he felt he was already flying high above them. He looked up and saw miles of desert plains without any sign of human habitation. He saw the vast plains of exotic yellows and reds stretching into the distance as he had never seen it before.

“Wei, come up here, it’s just like we saw on the TV about the rovers, it’s Mars!”

Wei saw the two villagers now walking quickly over to the barn, pointing at the roof.

“You will get us in trouble!” Wei scolded. “Climb down or I am taking the ladder. Three…”

“I won’t need it,” shouted Feng joyously. “I will fly to Mars. Come with me, Brother!”

“…Two…”

“To Mars!”

“Oh?” Wei suddenly was captivated and swept into the boy’s enthusiasm. It was often so contagious that sometimes when Grandpa was about to punish the boy, his earnestness would make the old man burst out in laughter instead of anger.

Staring at the peaceful reddish land, Feng felt its irresistible attraction. All the former wild adventures suddenly seemed commonplace compared to the adventure of flying to the red sands.

Wei was under Feng’s spell and started to climb the rungs. He was halted suddenly with the tweak of his tender ear in the aunties’ strong grasp.

“Get down here now, you foolish boy.” The other woman called.

They all looked up in horror and saw Feng with his arms out like airplane wings. He was looking toward the horizon and moving to the edge of the roof as if in a trance.

“I didn’t fly. Do not jump.” Wei called out.

The confession came too late. Feng heedlessly bounded towards the edge of the roof and then he disappeared from from sight.

The aunties screamed out and Wei began to wail in piteous tears. They abandoned Wei to his sorrows and began waddling like ducks around the side of the barn, expecting to be greeted by a horrendous scene.

A low cack-cack-cackling came from inside the barn.

Feng could feel the rough straw of the hay loft where he fell through the thatched straw roof. A hen cocked its head curiously looking down at the boy. There was commotion below.

“How could you lie to Feng like that? Boys can’t fly!”

Feng and the hen both looked out from the cracks in the barn boards and could see the women boxing Wei’s ears.

Mars would have to wait.

The Qaidam Basin in North Tibetan Plateau is a Martian analogue. 
Categories
Original

Crossing the Divide

A film review of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

Art-house movies, made primarily for aesthetic reasons, enjoy the privilege of not following mainstream narrative formulas. Much of the Asian arthouse fare centers on family drama as low-budget vehicles to gain international film festival attention. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s tenth work is an exception to this trend.

Shedding light on the impact of chance encounters, the 2021 Japanese drama, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy偶然與想像 ), weaves an anthological tapestry of tales encompassing a love triangle, a failed seduction and a romantic encounter that results from a misunderstanding.

Unlocking The Charm of Arthouse Movies

It can be a great challenge to define the theme of arthouse films especially when it’s divided into three independent segments.

Encapsulated in the three short stories, Magic, Door Wide Open, and Once Again, this film presented three female protagonists at the age of 20s, 30s and 40s. Coincidentally or not, the chronological order did deliver a sense of growing maturity in facing relationships.

While Hamaguchi often chooses female characters, his works, including this one, are not feminist stories but are reminiscent in sensibility to the works of Eric Rohmer – seeking to reveal the interior imagination of characters.

The movie’s Japanese title is Guzen to Sozo (lit. Coincidence and Imagination) but it seems more like karma that mere coincidence, because it unfolds a philosophical manifesto – both small miracles and devastating tragedies can be born from a minor coincidence. In Buddhist teachings, misconceptions, illusions and desires, especially about the self, bring about suffering.

Each of the three stories explored characters seeking to transcend the isolation in their lives.The social distance in modern society, especially in Japan, is a burden leaving many to feel isolated. It is a scary thing to reach across the divide to seek a connection.

That said, the initial scene of the second installment where a university classroom conducted a group assignment – a teacher asked students the question of “What makes people feel distant?” – could be a key to comprehend the movie theme. It almost seems like a throwaway scene, as none of these are characters within the film yet it might set the tone for the central theme binding the three seemingly disparate works.

Minimalist In Narrative

The aesthetics of minimalism widely defined the production design in this movie through its best use of limited budget, prioritizing the essential and maintaining simple forms.

Director Hamaguchi addressed each segment simply with three characters and no more than five scenes. One essential scene dominated most of the screen time of each short. A young entrepreneur’s company, a college professor’s office and a housewife’s home. Despite contained settings, these key scenes were charged with dramatic and enticing twists in conversation.

With almost no camera movement and restrained use of editing, Hamaguchi put more emphasis on the actors’ talents, which offers moviegoer an experience akin to watching stage plays with riveting performances.

Some reviewers criticized the last segment as low-energy and flat compared to the first two stories, but it is carried by delightful performances and it perhaps most deeply explores the themes most essential to the film’s title.

The movie is a delicate presentation that does take a mature exploration into the suffering of the heart faced with the division of society.

Synopses (Spoiler Alert)

Magic

At the outset, the story showed Meiko (Kotone Furukawa), a model in her early twenties, making poses at a fashion shoot. She had an older friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) who shared the ride home after the shoot. In this taxi journey, Tsugumi revealed a romantic encounter that she felt could be the love of her life. Meiko prompted her friend to tell all and we learn that her date, Kaz, was still carrying a wound from his previous love.

After the friends departed, Meiko gave the taxi a different destination. She confronted Kaz (Ayumu Nakajima), a handsome entrepreneur, at his office and it was revealed she was the ex-love who broke his heart.

Both former lovers still harbored unresolved pain in their break up and, as the daggers flew, Meiko came to realize her past immaturity and a penchant for hurting the ones she loved. The two come to an embrace and perhaps renewed passions, but they were interrupted and Meiko escaped into the night.

Meiko put her self-reflection to the test during a chance encounter of the love triangle. Meiko both realized that she truly loved Kaz and wanted desperately to recapture his heart, but developed the mature insight not to hurt these two people she loved most, removing herself from the triangle.

Door Wide Open

Following the sense of a female’s maturation, the next segment portrayed a more sophisticated character who still lacked spiritual growth. It also explored the effects of coincidence.

An undergraduate student and housewife, Nao (Katsuki Mori), felt isolated from younger classmates, had an unsatisfying friends-with-benefits affair with a handsome but underachieving student Sakai (Shouma Kai). Sakai convinced her to conspire against Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa) who he claimed wronged him.

Segawa was known for his open door as he would rather expose even indelicate matters that conduct business behind closed doors. Nao attempted to seduce the professor by reading an erotic scene from the professor’s award-winning novel, and attempted to close his office door to offer the hint of intimate interaction.

The professor, however, seeming to take the bait of the “honey-trap”, approached her but, instead, reopened his door. In consideration of his reserve, Nao exposed to him the seduction scheme, which inspired them to reach a mutual agreement. He confessed he admired Nao for acting and thinking without being bound by social rules that distance people.

Despite his restraint and honor, a coincidence turned their unrequited relation into a public scandal ending his career and her marriage. Years later, Nao randomly encountered Sakai who had become a socially successful editor but had no interest in literature.

Undergraduate student Nao (Katsuki Mori), reads from the award-winning novel written by her previous professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa).

Once Again

Injuries, especially those of the heart, can leave deep scars. This third segment explored a creative human solution to ease the emptiness of loss.

Set within a sci-fi premise that a computer virus disabled all digital connection, Moka (Fusako Urabe) in her 40s travelled to a high-school reunion in a failed attempt to reconnect with the love of her life. Moka was convinced when she randomly ran into a woman on an escalator. Isolated in the role of housewife, the lonely Aya was obviously overwhelmed and bewildered as she hadn’t met teen friends for long while. Being polite to the woman who she did not recognize, Aya assumed Moka must be her former classmate so she invited Moka to her home for tea.

After revealing their mistaken identities, Aya came up with a creative idea to fulfill the void Moka had endured for decades. For a brief moment through a surreal role-play, they both found a warm closure to console their unhappy souls.

Moka (right, Fusako Urabe) mistook Nana (Aoba Kawai) as her first love. They made a role play to find closure to their life-long regrets.

***

Please contact Obscure Productions if you would like to explore writing film reviews with us.

Categories
Original

More Than “A Family”

A Review of Netflix’s First Yakuza Film

The Japanese movie sector is never lacking for serious gangster movies nor delicate family dramas that are sure to bring audiences to tears. It is rare to see a work that can balance a good combination of these genres.

The 2021 Japanese crime drama movie, A Family (ヤクザと家族 ), played a pioneering role by exploring a fresh narrative upon the well-travelled yakuza theme. It was the follow-up to director Michihito Fujii’s successful The Brightest Roof in the Universe (2020) and The Journalist (2019) which was adapted to a TV series this year.

The three acts of this narrative tale were divided across 20 years with chapters based in 1999, 2005 and 2019, against the backdrop of the yakuza’s decline over that period.

Unlike the old-school yakuza tales, the storytelling in this movie took a close look at a single person’s struggle of adherence to his code of honor and family, despite the police’s increasing crackdown upon yakuza.

More than a yakuza drama, this is a tale of an orphan who tried to create family ties in the complicated networks defining the dark underbelly of Aichi Province in the city of Nagoya. What we find is the cold reality that everything Kenji strove for turned to dust. However, even in Kenji’s tragedy, there is sown seeds of hope in the next generation.

Kenji agreed to join Shibasaki’s gang. Courtesy of Netflix.

Synopsis

Following the death of his drug-addicted father, the closest thing young Kenji Yamamoto (Go Ayano) had to family was his two fellow street thugs that he called brothers.

The rakish teen intervened in a turf war between yakuza syndicates and saved the life of yakuza leader, Hiroshi Shibasaki (Hiroshi Tachi). Shibasaki ran his syndicate in strict adherence to the traditional yakuza code of honor and prohibited drug trade. Kenji found meaning and a sense of belonging in the gang “family.”

Kenji forged a strong commitment to the yakuza code and eventually took on the role of Shibasaki’s foster son. In the search to form a family of his own, Kenji fell for the spirited bar girl Yuka Kudo (Machiko Ono) who was a strong-minded orphan working hard to pay off college tuition. Sharing the same isolation, she shared a bond with Kenji and succumbed to his rough charms. Meanwhile, the owner of Kenji’s favorite restaurant, a single mother, had a child Tsubasa Kimura (Hayato Isomura) who grew up admiring Kenji and treating him as a surrogate father and idol.

The heart-warming development of intimate connections broke off once a yakuza territorial dispute infringed on the life Kenji was developing. After a bloody attack on Shibasaki, Kenji sought to defend the gang’s honor in a petty gangland vengeance which sent him to jail on a murder charge for 14 years.

Upon his return to the society, Kenji found the people in his life and the world he knew had faced earthshaking changes. He realized that it would be impossible for him to restart the life as a normal person. With no hopes remained, he decided to fight once again for the code of family.

Kenji became a pawn in a yakuza territorial dispute. Courtesy of Netflix.

The Proper Mix of Blood and Tears

Alternatively titled Yakuza and the Family, the story was not limited in portraying only Kenji’s yakuza family. It unfolded the narrative upon a variety of relations, tinged with Asian sentiment and sentimentality.

Whether it’s about honor-bound Yakuza family bonds, his lifelong “brothers”, the spiritual son Tsubasa, or Yuka who bore Kenji’s daughter, the narrative drew a wide spectrum of family ties within Kenji’s life. Their relationships with Kenji shaped the family drama themes of departure, reunion and continuity of generations, which added layers of colors to an otherwise dark and cold yakuza story.

In this sense, the movie can be regarded as an unconventional family drama even though it did delve into serious crime elements such as drug-dealing, assassination and revenge.

Kenji with his teen friends were regular customers of a yakuza-frequented restaurant. Courtesy of Netflix.

The story was a narrative breakthrough that gave it a more international appeal and, although the cinematography was not groundbreaking, the movie adopted an internationally industry-standard cinematic language, which may have broadened the film to reach more international audience. It certainly attracted Netflix to take a chance on this very Japanese genre.

However, being too industry standard has brought criticism that the movie lacks a cinematic signature in terms of director’s visual style and some reviewers have noted that, to a western audience, the story may seem melodramatic.

Still, it is a strong and personal account exploring the social implications of the realistic crackdown on Yakuza and the powerful performances of the actor ensemble make this a worthwhile watch.

A Family (Japanese: ヤクザと家族 The Family; alternate English title: Yakuza and the Family)—Japan. Directed by Michihito Fujii. First released January 29, 2021 in Japan. Running time 2hr 16min. Starring Go Ayano, Hiroshi Tachi, Machiko Ono.

Categories
Original

Chinese Film Review – Red Amnesia

By Jude Jiang, June 2015

Wang Xiaoshuai’s movie, Red Amnesia, presents a modern Chinese family drama centering on an old widow and her estranged children. Then surprisingly, it takes a social tone and cuts deeper to reveal the wounds and guilt held by the elder generation in China, who survived the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution.

Even though the story introduces a mysterious case of harassment of this elderly woman, the story is not structured as a thriller. Instead, it evokes empathy through a slowly evolving family drama, yet Red Amnesia displays a calm insight into the ongoing consequences of the past sins of the former political movement.

Parental control

In Wang’s past film Chongqing Blue (Ri Zhao Chongqing, 2010), after a middle-aged father’s son is executed for committing a horrible murder, he seeks understanding of how his son and himself as father, went wrong. In a similar vein to Chongqing Blue, which explores the social effects from absence of fatherhood, Red Amnesia takes on motherhood through an overbearing and controlling dowager struggling to retain control of her clan.

The old widow Lao Deng (Lv Zhong) is a typical retiree in her late 60s who maintains a busy daily routine. She constantly visits her two sons’ apartments to cook for them, no matter how unnecessary they think it is. She also takes responsibility for picking up her grandson after school and cares for her ailing mother in a nursing home ward. Through all this activity, she seems to gain neither joy nor satisfaction.

She does so much for her family but they resist and even seem to tacitly resent her continual domineering influence. When she ends her daily routine and returns to her own gloomy apartment, surrounded by memories and relics of the past, she is lonely and isolated. She talks to herself, to the picture of her deceased husband and even his imagined ghost, sitting silently in his former seat at their table.

Even as she forces her presence and influence into the lives of her children, a stranger begins to encroach into her life. Starting with prank phone calls, a series of increasingly disturbing events upset Lao Deng’s daily routines and threaten her safety. Though she tries to stay in the elder son’s (Feng Yuanzheng) fancy apartment for her security, the harassing calls continue. When the unseen intruder [the literal translation of the movie title in Chinese is The Intruder] dumps a mound of trash to spill into their apartment upon opening the door, Deng’s daughter-in-law (Qin Hailu) blames the old woman as the cause. Unwilling to endure being accused, Lao Deng, filled with self-righteous anger, returns to her apartment. Ultimately, she is willing to face the threat of harassment on her own.

A multi-level mystery

Even as she faces the danger from a potential stalker, the film does not overly rely on the suspense element nor does it rush to unravel the mystery. Instead, it takes us deeper into the mundane daily issues in her life that she faces, yet can not seem to solve. We see that her frustration with her family even outweighs her concern for her safety. For instance she’s upset that her younger son (Qin Hao) is a homosexual, she is frustrated that her mother is unhappy with the nursing home ward and she is discouraged that her daughter-in-law always quarrels with her.

“The time is different from the past now”, she complains to her deceased husband. As her over-bearing motherhood leads to naught for both her and her family, she realizes how little impact she truly has. It is in the face of this realization that she lets down her guard and invites a stranger, an intruder, into her home, in part, because he says he came from her former cultural revolution factory.

It turns out that the intruder was the source of the harassment and a wanted criminal for several other break-ins and a murder. He tears apart Lao Deng’s family pictures when he was left alone in the home. She does not see this as a normal robbery or theft. Instead, she believes that it was retribution from the ghost of a recently deceased villager, whom she back-stabbed in the past.

This time, she doesn’t seek aid from police or her family. Rather than seeking out and confronting her physical antagonist, she takes a trip to the factory village in Guiyang, Guizhou Province to visit the family of the man she wronged in the Cultural Revolution days. Here she seeks to confront her true antagonist – her own guilt.

Seeking redemption

One of her former village co-workers and their family greet her on her pilgrimage to the site of her past dark deed. Here we learn that she wrongly betrayed a villager, condemning his family to suffer, so that she could take her own family to safety in Beijing. After so many years, she finally faces these people who lacked her chance to leave the impoverished village to make a better life like she did.

Her host doesn’t seem to hold any grudge but returning to this village brings her face-to-face with the images of the past that still torture her dreams. Therefore, when she goes to the family she sabotaged to apologize, she is shocked that it is rejected and met with a slap to her face. She receives an even stronger blow when she sees that the grandson (Shi Liu) looking out the window is the intruder himself. At that moment, she understands that all of the harassment she faced, was brought upon herself as the cost of her misdeed.

This encounter totally unsettles Lao Deng and puts all her plans asunder. She oddly does not seek to call the authorities on the boy. Unable to come to terms with the victims of her past wrongs, she is left to seek redemption on her own.

In the past, Lao Deng made a hard decision to do whatever it took to protect her family, right or wrong. Here, she makes another strong decision. As she wanders the village of her past, she hears police sirens. In this moment, her motherly instinct calls on her to protect this boy she never even knew she had wronged. As the police try to navigate the narrow, almost labyrinthine, twisting lanes to relentlessly pursue the fugitive boy and bring him to justice, Lao Deng runs up the steep back alleys to warn the boy.

Red Amnesia may come across as fragmented elements fused together. Nonetheless, it remains a serious social study and perhaps Wang’s most critical film. It doesn’t pretend to be a thriller but rather, offers an earnest commitment to interpret an elder person’s story, while actually revealing a collective guilt borne by so many of those that witnessed the Cultural Revolution and are still coming to terms with its results.

Film:Red Amnesia 《闯入者》
Director:WANG Xiaoshuai 王小帅
Starring:LV Zhong 吕中,QIN Hailu 秦海璐、QIN Hao 秦昊、FENG Yuanzheng 冯远征、SHI Liu 石榴
Screen Writers:WANG Xiaoshuai 王小帅;FANG Lei 方镭;LI Fei 李非
Cinematographer:WU Di 邬迪
Producer:Liu Xuan 刘璇
Production Company: Dongchun Films 冬春文化
Distributors:Dongchun Films 冬春文化, Inlook Media 银润传媒, Herun Media 合润传媒, Edko Films 安乐电影,WXS Productions 引力影视投资, Chongqing Film Group 重庆电影集团, Golden Village Pictures [Singapore]
Budget (estimated):Not available
Release Date:30 April 2015 (China)、11 November 2014 (USA)
Length:110 min.
Genres:Crime/Thriller