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Kojima Nobuo’s (小島信夫) 1954 short story “Stars” (星) is first of all a humorous read. On the surface its wit expertly pillories the system of rank in the Japanese military during WWII. Like most good humor, however, this story functions on more than one level. The protagonist, a second-generation Japanese-American by the name of George Sugihara, is unfortunate enough to be visiting his grandfather in Japan during the war, and is drafted into the army. The story follows the insecure George (Jōji), who is routinely disparaged for being American, on his journey from buck private to PFC. [Note that there were more than a few cases of Japanese-Americans being drafted in the Japanese army during WWII, see Iwao Peter Sano’s 1,000 Days in Siberia.]

The story quickly becomes a theatre of the absurd. Read the rest of this entry »

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http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/showcase-101/

Shiho Fukada is an amazing photojournalist. I highly recommend her work. In this particular spot from the NYT, she focuses her lens on Kamagasaki, an area in Osaka that used to be known as “labor town,” but has recently been dubbed “welfare town.” The economic downturn put a stop to much of construction work in Japan, rendering most of these day laborers unemployed. Please see the slide show and story on the NYT Lens Blog or on Fukada’s personal website.

The Blue Bird (Aoi Tori) 青い鳥  2008 – Nakanishi Kenji

****/5

Bullying has been a widely acknowledged problem in Japan, and this isn’t the first movie to explore it. But Aoi Tori, based on a novel by Shigematsu Kiyoshi, does something most other movies dealing with this issue fail to do. It explores the gray areas, between outright physical violence against and the virtuous defense of the weak, in which many instances of bullying probably occur.

Abe Hiroshi (who has a few outstanding roles in TV dramas and won the Mainichi Film Concours award for his role in this movie) plays Mr. Murauchi, a stuttering substitute teacher who comes to a school in the aftermath of bullying incidents, which the entire school wants to forget. Murauchi actively dredges up those memories, forcing the students to reassess their own responsibility in the matter they’d rather move past.

This film is worth watching and I don’t want to give anything away. Not because there are any plot twists or clever tricks the directors pulls—there aren’t any—but because watching the story gently unfold is better done without much knowledge of the relationship of each student to the incident in question. I am not a fan of heavy-handed message-driven movies, but I can say I enjoyed this one. And you probably will, too.

Notes:

The director, Nakanishi Kenji, won the special mention SIGNIS Award for this film in his directorial debut.

Do not confuse this film with a TV drama of a similar name, but an entirely different story.