How to Strike the Dockside Pose in Japan

I’ve been listening to NHKラジオニュース (NHK Radio News) more regularly as an end-of-year resolution of sorts, and I have two strategies to pass on:

1. Listen to a bunch in a row.

Many of the news updates are just 3-5 minutes long, so you can steamroll through them. Most will include the same top news stories for the day, so you get a ton of repetitions with the same vocabulary. Always a good thing.

If you’re living in Japan or working with Japan, now feels like an especially good time to be tuned into what’s going on.

2. Make sure you don’t miss the hour-long ジャーナル (jānaru, journal) episodes.

These have meatier (meteor?) content. Longer news blasts, more analysis, and some random content sections. Like on December 10 when they discussed 筋肉のつり (Kin’niku no tsuri, muscle spasms) during the ジャーナル医療健康 (jānaru iryō kenkō, Journal Medical Care and Health) section.

I learned a lot about how to express muscle spasms in Japanese. Not only is it a noun as shown above, you can say things like 急に筋肉がつった (kyū ni kin’niku ga tsutta, My muscle suddenly spasmed) or つってしまった筋肉 (tsutte shimatta kin’niku, Muscle that spasmed).

Based on a few Google searches, it seems like the word is most often expressed in hiragana, and not the very cool kanji 攣る (tsuru).

In addition to vocab, you often gain access to different cultural concepts through the show. Including meme-ified bits of the culture.

In this case, the expert who was discussing muscle spasms was explaining how to prevent them, including how to stretch your ふくらはぎ (脹脛, fukurahagi, calves). This involves putting one foot up on something 30-40cm high and then stretching the calf of the other leg. He likened it to a famous pose:

石原裕次郎さんが波止場の船のロープを____くいに片足を乗せて決めるあのポーズのようなイメージですね (Ishihara Yujiro-san ga hatoba no fune no rōpu o ____ kui ni kata-ashi o nosete kimeru ano pōzu no yō na imēji desu ne, It’s like the pose that Ishihara Yujiro struck where he’s ___ing the boat rope on the wharf, with his leg up on the post).

As you can see, there’s one word I couldn’t quite catch—this happens—but I got the gist from context. (It sounded like ひっかくる? Anyone have the answer?)

It’s pretty easy to imagine what this pose looked like, but I was curious so I tried to track it down. This is about the closest I could find:

This is a scene from 赤い波止場 (Akai Hatoba, Red Quay) from 1958. (On a side note, Yujiro was also in a movie called 波止場野郎 in 1960. I love this title, and nothing would please me more than to translate it poorly into English, but I will resist this temptation.)

There’s also this “Forever Yujiro” set of Zipang sake which has Yujiro in a similar pose?

Whatever the origin of the pose, Yujiro, who is basically Japanese Elvis (full credit to the graduate assistant who made this comparison when I was an undergrad), has effectively made this the pose to strike when you find yourself dockside. Do a quick Google Images search for 波止場 ポーズ. Kind of amazing, no?

We also have confirmation from Chiebukuro where a guy asks “What are those things on docks called? You know, those little fuckers that Yujiro puts his foot up on?

This is clearly a cultural phenomenon.

At any rate, I now have a new goal in life – to stand on a dock in Japan striking this pose. Montrose Harbor in Chicago may have to do for now.

Listening Practice and Review of “Of Love and Law” at Wrightwood 659

Just a quick post this month. I’m in the Japan Times with a piece inspired by a conversation I had with a colleague during a business trip in June: “Get in tune with the sound of Japanese vocabulary.”

I found some interesting links on sound symbolism in Japan. Most of the research seems to involve onomatopoeia and how sound is representative of the meaning. That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was writing the piece, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

And as a random aside—although I guess it counts as listening practice—I went to the first Cinema Saturdays program at Wrightwood 659 yesterday where they showed the Japanese documentary 愛と法 (Of Love and Law).

Wrightwood 659 is a gallery in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood designed by Tadao Ando. The gallery is in an old brick building right next to the Eychaner house. I believe the Eychaner house was the first residence Ando designed in the United States, and Fred Eychaner founded Wrightwood 659.

The building was gutted, and they let Ando work his magic inside.

It’s been open since fall of 2018, and they’ve had a few nice exhibits so far, including an Ai Weiwei exhibit (before they actually opened as Wrightwood?) and one with a look at Ando and Corbusier’s buildings. Tickets are $20, but they release a lot of free tickets if you follow their email list. Definitely worth a visit, even if only to sit in the beautiful lobby space for a few minutes.

The Cinema Saturdays program was organized with Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, the largest and longest running LGBTQ+ film festival in the world.

愛と法 (Of Love and Law) is a great documentary about the Nanmori Law Office run by Masafumi Yoshida and Kazuyuki Minami, a gay couple.

I really liked the way they rendered 愛 and 法 on the title screen, which is recreated on the website for the movie:

You have the literal “eye” within the “ai” of love, and the drop of water for the さんずい in law, which reflects the many tears in the film.

The movie itself was kind of incredible. The law firm has been involved in a number of headline cases including the teacher in Osaka who would not stand during the national anthem and Rokudenashiko and her artwork, so the film is able to intersperse their personal struggles from the mundane (the regular bickering of a married couple) to the more profound (debating with attendees at one of their workshops over whether gay people can ever be “family” in Japan) with the legal struggles of others seeking the freedom of expression in Japan. The overall impression leaves the viewer with a sense that the persecuted have a suffocating existence in Japan, but that there is hope and that hope needs to be defended.

Definitely worth seeking out! And Wrightwood 659 is worth a visit. Check the website for more information about the other Cinema Saturdays showings over the next three weeks.

Review – Round Trip Heart (Romansu)

romance

Asian Pop-Up Cinema will close its third season next Sunday, December 4 (4:00pm at the Wilmette Theater), with the movie Round Trip Heart (ロマンス).

For those of you who can read Japanese, you may be curious about the discrepancy between the English and Japanese titles. I like the translation, although I was skeptical at first. The Japanese title, which is the transliteration of “romance,” does a lot more work establishing the setting for Japanese viewers: Hachiko Hoji (played by former AKB48 member Yuko Oshima) is an attendant on the Romancecar train that runs from Shinjuku to Hakone.

She lives a kind of sad life with a loser boyfriend and a loser coworker, but she seems to enjoy her job and does it well, until the day of the movie when she receives a letter from her estranged mother and a passenger named Yoichi Sakuraba (played by the extremely tall Koji Okura) tries to steal a snack from her cart.

The two of them are then wrapped up in a hunt for Hachiko’s mother that takes them all over Hakone, the site of Hachiko’s one family trip before her parents divorced.

The description on the Asian Pop-Up Cinema website calls the movie a romantic comedy, but I’d say it’s closer to a buddy flick. Other than a few coworkers, there are very few speaking roles that aren’t cameos, and the two characters are both linked by a kind of lingering dissatisfaction/depression that they can’t shake. The source of this feeling is very different for each of them, and the film does strong work playing with the audience’s sympathy for the characters. From this point of view, the English title does a lot of work—the viewer’s sympathy may make the round trip voyage.

The Japanese word that came to my mind while watching was 気分転換 (kibuntenkan, change of pace). We learn that Hachiko hasn’t seen her mother since graduating from high school and that Sakuraba is divorced himself and is a failed movie producer. Both could use a day off to run around the touristy sites in Hakone—to check out Odawara Castle, dip their feet in a foot bath, shop for new clothes. But the movie is careful not to fall into a kind of slide show “best of” Hakone. The characters drive the movie here.

My only complaint is that the movie may (or may not??) break the cardinal rule that fiction can begin with a coincidence but not end with one. I liked the way that the ending made me feel, but I can see how some might be disappointed.

And I should say that there is a very delicate touch on the part of director Yuki Tanada, who will be in attendance on Sunday. The final scene with Sakuraba could almost be a throwaway, but there’s a great attention being paid to both Sakuraba and the attention that he is paying. Very nice, and complemented by a long cut, which is technique used throughout the film.

Worth a watch if you have the time and can make it out to Wilmette!

Here’s a trailer if you want to see more. Japanese trailer:

English trailer:

And here’s a bonus YouTube video of the excellent and very karaoke-able song いい日旅立ち, which features in the movie:

Review – When The Curtain Rises (Maku ga agaru)

maku_ga_agaru_poster

Asian Pop-Up Cinema
Wilmette Theater
Sunday, October 9
2:00PM

For those of you in the Greater Chicagoland area, Asian Pop-Up Cinema is a great program to follow for Asian films in general and Japanese films in particular. Earlier this year I saw “Three Stories of Love,” which was an inspired movie that resulted from a series of acting workshops put on by director Ryosuke Hashiguchi.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema just started their third season, and next week they’ll be showing “When The Curtain Rises” (幕が上がる), which is kind of the opposite of “Three Stories of Love”: rather than the material being produced naturally through workshops, the idol group Momoiro Clover Z was drafted to act in an adaptation of the 2012 novel by Oriza Hirata.

The movie is a sweet if at times melodramatic treatment of a Japanese school movie: the group of girls from Fujigaoka High School go from a write-off drama club to a serious competitor at the prefectural competition. Protagonist Saori Takahashi is voted in as captain at the start of the film and is forced to negotiate her way through the emotions of her actors and lack of inspiration in order to put together a real performing group.

For me, as someone who has worked in Japanese schools, one of the most interesting aspects of the film was the treatment of crying. The movie starts with the school’s final club performances and a loss in the school competition that doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. Nevertheless, Mizoguchi-sensei, the group’s hapless coach, tries to work up the emotion to force himself to cry in his end-of-year message to the girls. The girls themselves don’t shed even a single tear.

Japanese students cry often. Most noticeably at their graduations, which are broadcast on the local news, and the tears are mostly those of joy, of appreciation, and maybe a few of a sadness for the upcoming departure, but they are not negative by any means. Viewers should watch to see if and when tears pop up again in the movie. The girls do find inspiration and sincerity in Yohioka-sensei, a new teacher who used to be a stage actor, who is inspired by the girls in turn.

“When The Curtain Rises” also does a great job of introducing Japanese spaces. Fujigaoka is a somewhat idyllic town at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and we see the town’s library, the school’s teacher’s lounge, the bus the kids ride into Tokyo on their summer trip, in addition to all the spaces in the school itself.

At 119 minutes, the movie feels like it would benefit from a trim, but some of the extra time is filled with clips from Japanese acting troupes, which seem to be real and inspired.

One other noticeable touch by either director Katsuyuki Motohiro, the screenwriter, or Hirata himself is the presence of only two male roles in the film: the women of the film are allowed to shine on their own. Mizoguchi-sensei adds slapstick comedy, and Takita-sensei, the Japanese teacher, adds serious artistic consideration with his solemn intonement of literary texts.

All in all, the movie in a sweet film and worth seeking out if you’re a fan of idol groups and Japanese pop music, interested in Japanese school culture, or interested in theater acting.