Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Film review: Ian Thomas Ash's "-1287"

I knew it was going to be a sad film. It was about this woman with a terminal cancer, and from the film title "-1287" and trailer, we can infer that it's about her death, and probably that the number -1287 is some number of days having to do with her death. The entire audience in the small theater where I watched it knew it too, and we all expected to shed some deserved tears in the end.

The ending was pretty much what I think we all predicted—but what we weren't prepared for was to experience the death of someone close: someone who is so much alive with  sense of humor pouring out, and genuine laughter from her belly. After the showing of the film, one of the audience members (while sobbing) said, "I'm so sad and can't find words because I feel like someone I knew has just died." That may sound a bit too dramatic if you haven't seen this film, but I shared this sentiment, and so did the rest of the audience, I'm sure. I couldn't stop crying. It wasn't so much about her death itself that made me cry— instead what moved me was how she lived and the tender and honest conversations she had with the filmmaker (Ian Thomas Ash.) And how she wanted to be loved—"truly truly truly" loved by someone, and how she wanted that even until the very last days of her life. 

We know death happens to all of us one day. What we don't know is when that one day is going to be and how to come to terms with it. And we really don't think about it so much because we somehow effortlessly forget the fact that we all die one day or maybe because it's just simply scary to even imagine. When the movie star Ken Takakura (he's often noted as "Japan's Clint Eastwood") passed away last month, I came across many tweets saying something like, "I never thought he would actually die one day!" As silly as those tweets may sound, that's probably how we think of our own death too: we just can't imagine we all die one day! 

In "-1287", through the lens of Ian, we get to know Kazuko, a lovely woman in her 60s, who loves cooking and reading books in English. It begins with a shot in her kitchen where she's cooking for him. Then he starts asking her questions. The film consists only of dialogues between Ian and Kazuko: dialogues of two complete strangers to me. But to my surprise, I was quickly drawn to their world and the tender moments the filmmaker shared with Kazuko. The tender moments of the two of them were so intimate and perhaps so personal that I sometimes felt shy or even wrong about watching it. It's not because of what they talk about; Ian asks Kazuko fairly general questions: who she is, about her family and her hobbies—and then he moves on to ask her about her illness, and about big questions: life and love.

What made me feel a bit shy watching was I think the tone of his voice. He's shooting the film so we don't usually see him on the screen. We saw him occasionally when she held the camera, but we mostly just heard his sweet, calm, warm, modest, and sometimes very interrogative tone of voice. And how happy & shy she looked, responding to his voice, which revealed a unique intimacy they embraced together. Their conversations (carried out mostly in Japanese, sometimes in English) were incredibly real and honest; not even a tiny bit was phony. I don't even know how I know that, because I don't know her in person but I was somehow able to sense that she was true to herself, and to Ian, the filmmaker. Maybe it was more about him. She wanted him to hear her story. Her true story—the true her, that she'd probably never shown to anybody before. 

After the film, Ian was invited on stage so we could ask him questions and/or share our thoughts with him. One woman in the back said, "I'm turning 70 so I'm Kazuko's age, and I envy her that she had a friend like you. I have a husband but we never really talk. I wish I had someone to tell honest stories to each other, like you and Kazuko did." She continued, "Maybe it's my generation thing, or maybe it's a Japanese thing. We don't really talk!"

I looked at Mike who was sitting next to me and I thought, no, it's not a generation thing or a Japanese thing. We're a bit younger and married internationally, and we do talk but we don't tell honest stories to each other, the way Ian and Kazuko did, either. Then I thought, do I tell honest stories to anyone really? To my parents? To my brother? To my best friends back home? 

We never know what the future holds; we don't even know about tomorrow. But there is one thing that we know for sure: we all die one day, sooner or later. That much we know. I think about this fact a lot lately thanks to this film—but give it a week or two, I can assure you I won't be thinking about it a lot anymore. But I just don't want to forget the conversations between Kazuko and Ian and how she lived and shared her honest stories with him, and with us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014



10月23日 木曜日


Sunday, October 5, 2014

A new translation of "Love" by Tanikawa


Love  It's easy to say
Love  Not too difficult to write either

Love  We all know the feeling
Love  It is to like someone until you grow sad

Love  You always want them to be near
Love  You wish them to live forever

Love  It's not the word, love 
Love  Not just a feeling either

Love  It's to not forget the distant past 
Love  It's to believe in a future you can't see

Love  It's to think over and over again  
Love  It's to live at the risk of one's life

---Shuntaro Tanikawa
(English translation by Naoko Smith

(『みんなやわらかい』より 1999年)

あい 口で言うのはかんたんだ
愛 文字で書くのもむずかしくない
あい 気持ちはだれでも知っている
愛 悲しいくらい好きになること

あい いつでもそばにいたいこと
愛 いつまでも生きていてほしいと願うこと

あい それは愛ということばじゃない
愛 それは気持ちだけでもない

あい はるかな過去を忘れないこと
愛 見えない未来を信じること
あい くりかえしくりかえし考えること
愛 いのちをかけて生きること

(Any copyrighted material on this website is included as "fair use," for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis of literary translations only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Words from Berlin

My bible here : "Berlin Guidebook" by Masato Nakamura

So I'm in a hotel room in Berlin, watching local news on TV, munching on chips, drinking grape juice and trying to write a digest of my stay so far. Mike and I decided to come to Berlin and have a little vacation before and after his meetings on Sep 10th and 11th. I had never been to Berlin or Germany before, and my teaching job at a college doesn't begin until the mid-September, so we couldn't think of any reasons not to. 

as I write this blog at a hotel room...

We arrived here last Wednesday, so it's been exactly one week since then. Everything seemed "wunderbar!" the first couple of days; we enjoyed the gorgeous fall weather (coming from muggy Tokyo where it was still the midst of summer), there were no yucky mosquitoes (while Tokyo seems to be suffering from a pandemic of Dengue fever, believed to have been spread from mosquitoes in Yoyogi park), everyone speaks English, we didn't have any problems getting around the town (thanks to the excellent subway system in Berlin), trains run on time and more frequently than the ones in Tokyo—plus it's never crowded even when everyone seems to be heading home. I was like, wow! I could imagine living here! 

First exploration day! Near Kurfürstendamm street, Berlin

On our 3rd or 4th day here though, I was already starting to notice shortcomings of this "wunderbar" city, and this makes me realize how quickly I take things for granted and start bitching about what I miss or what I don't have. For example, I was getting annoyed by not being able to find public bathrooms easily, because there are *always* toilets at the train stations in Japan (though when in Japan, I often complain about the presence of filthy traditional Japanese toilets and how unnecessary they are.) Even if I find toilets here, we usually have to pay to use, so before I know it, I naturally began to rant, "Come on! Who needs to pay to pee? It's the most basic of minimum human rights we should never have to ask for!!"

Subway station, Berlin

In addition to the lack of free public toilets, I began to notice how dirty some streets are here; there's trash littered around in some places even though there are trash bins available (for everyone to use, for free!) at every corner. I often heard people outside Japan saying how clean the streets in Tokyo are, but I'd never thought Tokyo was such a clean city before I came here; I was wrong! Considering there are 20-30 million people living there and no trash cans available on the street, Tokyo does hella good job keeping the city as clean as it is.  

Mauerpark—with some garbage scattered on the grass, in spite of several huge dumpsters in the park

I assure you that when I go back to Tokyo I'll find everything to be marvelous the first couple of days but I will soon find something to complain about; whether it's the humidity or mosquitoes, I don't want to do that! So that's why I wanted to take time to write my reflections while I'm still in Berlin. 

Trying to look pensive at Nikolaiviertel

There are things that Berlin and Germany in general do so well, so much better than Tokyo or Japan do; how they face and handle some of the darker chapters in their history is one. We went to the Holocaust memorial (Holocaust-Mahnmal) just a couple of blocks from Brandenburger Tor. There, you'll see thousands of stone monuments laid out in all different heights. We couldn't find any sign or a board explaining what they are so we decided to walk in the narrow paths in between the monuments. Within a few seconds of being down there, you'll realize what these stones represent and at the same time, you start having some indescribable fear. However, in order to escape from that scary maze, you'll need to continue walking in the narrow paths. The taller the stones get, the scarier it gets; you never know what's going to happen at the very next corner. I almost bumped into someone at the corner who was also finding his way out. 

Holocaust-Mahnmal, Berlin
These stones were laid out pretty close to each other and are a lot taller than us, so we needed to be careful not bumping into other people coming from different directions.

We then found this very insignificant looking sign just a few minutes walk from the Holocaust memorial and learned that it was where Hitler and his wife committed suicide. We couldn't believe how so unremarkable it looked compared to how those Japanese war criminals are treated (as gods) in Japan. There, too, we feel like we eye-witnessed great efforts and commitments of German people, not wanting to repeat that not-so-proud part of their history again, without hiding or turning their back from it. They must not be proud of their dark history during the Nazi regime, but they must be very proud of how they dealt with (and still dealing with) history and accepted and made amends for past wrongdoings. I am amazed and saddened by how hard it is for Japan to do the same. 

Where Adolf Hitler committed suicide — his underground bunker

Other than having free public toilets at the train stations, perhaps, there are things Japan/Japanese people do so well, too; superb customer service is one. I always thought that cliche "o-mo-te-na-shi" is overrated, but now I have to disagree with myself-then. Of course there are rude people everywhere you go, but Japanese people normally tend to go out of their way to be polite and kind—though not necessarily always friendly—especially to their customers. When you are a customer in Japan, you should be treated like a king or even a god (as in "customer is god" お客様は神様です), but in foreign countries, I'm not god, and I sometimes even feel like I'm actually working for them! 

Monday evening after we came back from Hamburg, I took a short nap. When I got up and opened the curtain, there was "super-moon" gracefully floating in the sky; that same moon that Japanese people enjoyed several hours ago. I realized some things are the same, even on the other side of the world. Everywhere you go, there are pros and cons. No place is perfect—though Sweden or Switzerland seem to be perfect, but I'm sure I'll find something to bitch about once I visit there. So, once I'm back in Tokyo, I promise I will try to focus on the bright side and won't complain too much, for a week or two at least! :)))))

Super-Moon in Berlin! (Monday, Sep 8th, 2014)

More later... 

Photoautomaten is obligatory, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

日本で日本語を教えるという事① Teaching Japanese in Japan 〜Vol. 1




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A new translation of 「夕立の前」 BEFORE THE SUMMER EVENING RAIN SHOWER by Tanikawa


Stretching out on a chair like a dog and smelling the air of the summer
The sound of the harpsichord, which enchanted me so much only a moment ago,

Began to seem like some outrageous temptation
It's because of this stillness

Stillness sounds from where a number of faint lives resonate
Hum of horsefly, murmur from the distance, a breeze fluttering the leaves of grass

Can't hear the silence no matter how carefully you listen but

Stillness comes to our ears with ease
Through the dense atmosphere surrounding us

Silence belongs to a dilution of the infinity of the universe
Stillness is rooted in this Earth

But I wonder if I heard enough of it
When a woman accused me, sitting in this same chair
Sharp thorns of her words lead to hair roots intertwined underground

There was tranquility lurking in her voice, refusing to fade away into the silence of death  
Lightening flashed from clouds in the distance to the ground 
After a while, the rumbling of thunder slowly drew a long tail

The sound from the time before humans emerged in this world
We can hear still

---Shuntaro Tanikawa
(Translated by Naoko Smith)

Taken from the bridge near Shinjuku Central Park (7/22/14)

夕立の前(『世間知ラズ』より 1993)



虻の羽音 遠くのせせらぎ 草の葉を小さく揺らす風......




(Any copyrighted material on this website is included as "fair use," for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis of literary translations only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).)

Friday, June 13, 2014