Movies in Japan

I wish I kept better track of all the movies I’ve seen in theaters in Japan.

The first was some sort of French film at a small theater in Okayama with a coworker at the company where I was interning on what she told me was 映画の日 (Eiga no hi, Movie Day). I remember her saying that it was the first of every month, but actually 映画の日 is the first of December, which is this upcoming Thursday. Movie tickets are widely discounted on the first of the month, but apparently only December 1 is actually Movie Day. I think I went to see another movie at the same theater with the same coworker on Ladies Day, but don’t remember which movie it was.

I remember seeing “The Return of the King” at Roppongi Hills when I was studying abroad at Waseda. I’d just finished reading the book. I waited and then went to see the movie. I must’ve seen another movie or two while studying abroad, but I can’t remember what they might’ve been.

On JET, I saw “King Kong” at the Prince in Shinagawa during my first winter break. One of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies at a theater in Koriyama. “Kung Fu Panda,” again at the Prince in Shinagawa. And then I think an anime in 2010 before I moved home, could’ve been Arietty, but I’m not sure. That was also at the Prince.

This time in Japan, I’ve been to see “2046” at Kyoto Cinema thanks to a free ticket from a coworker.

That feels like too few movies for so much time in Japan, but you have to remember that torrents dominated the 2000s and that I was not earning much. I vividly remember finally passing my driver’s license exam and then celebrating by watching five episodes of The Sopranos.

At any rate, this past weekend I went to see すずめの戸締り (Suzume no tojimari, Suzume Closes the Door), the latest from Shinkai Makoto. So I guess it was probably only the second or third Japanese movie I’ve seen in the theaters, definitely under 10, and likely no more than fifth or sixth, even if there are some gaping holes in my memory. There must’ve been something else that just isn’t coming to mind for me right now.

It was a great movie! Not as good as 君の名は (Kimi no na wa, Your Name), but the experience was better. The theater rumbled like a video game controller, and I ate mentaiko-flavored popcorn that I then rubbed on my mask, turning it not-quite Cheetos orange. I saw “Your Name” at the Music Box in Chicago, which is a historic theater but not as technologically new. Still, I was able to have Dairy Queen for dessert right after and an IPA during the movie, so it wasn’t a bad experience at all.

I didn’t have trouble understanding all that much of the movie. The hardest part were the regional Shikoku and Kyushu accents, which I think were supposed to be difficult to understand. I feel like watching so many J drama have paid off.

It was a wonderful ode to the Japanese islands (minus Hokkaido) and made me want to ride a ferry somewhere in the Inland Sea. Maybe I’m due for another trip to Matsuyama, or Beppu, or Nagasaki. Fukuoka would do.

For now, though, I don’t want to miss anymore movies. I’m making an effort to do more, just whatever I see, whatever looks interesting and unique, especially art exhibits. I’ve been to just about everything interesting within reach, and now I’ll have to keep watch for new exhibits. Which reminds me that I should check back in with Kyoto Cinema. I just got home from a quick trip to Kiyomizu-dera to see the illuminated foliage. If I hustle, I can be in the center of Kyoto by 6:00pm after work, which gives me time to grab a bite and catch a movie without any issue.

What museums, movie theaters, and tourists sights in the Kansai area have I missed? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

If you’re looking for further reading, don’t miss the November newsletter. I wrote up a few thoughts about how I learned the full nuance of だけ.

Review – When The Curtain Rises (Maku ga agaru)


Asian Pop-Up Cinema
Wilmette Theater
Sunday, October 9

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.