Aerial view of Manila, May 1945
Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the Imperial couple’s visit to the Philippines and what it was intended to convey to their fellow Japanese. As pointed out, Japanese people under a certain age probably know nothing about the Battle of Manila, during which more than 100,000 Filipino civilians died, most at the hand of Japanese soldiers. The basic reason for this lack of knowledge is the way history it taught in Japan: anything that happened after the turn of the 20th century doesn’t get covered due to time constraints, but it’s also convenient in that Japanese aggression during the first half of the century never becomes an educational topic. In a more general sense, this avoidance only feeds into revisionist ideas about Japanese intentions during the war, making it easier to refute claims of Japanese atrocities since most Japanese people don’t have any ideas about them to begin with. The Emperor’s message, though clear to many people, will thus be lost on most of the people it was meant for since those people would need a grounding in history before they could begin to understand what he was getting at when he emphasized that “innocent” Filipinos died in the war. Continue reading
As has been well documented, at least by the non-Japanese press, Angelina Jolie’s epic Hollywood retelling of the life of Olympic runner Louie Zamperini was not picked up by the usual Japanese distributor for Universal Studios product due to fears that right wing elements would make a stink about the film’s purported “anti-Japanese” slant. If the negative light this story shed on the Japanese movie industry was dimmed somewhat, it probably had more to do with the fact that foreign critics, not to mention American audiences, were cool about the movie. To a certain extent, the publicity stems from Jolie’s celebrity status and its somewhat paradoxical relationship with her intentions as a director. Her first film, after all, was set during the Bosnian conflict and featured unknown actors speaking in languages other than English. Unbroken isn’t quite as pure-of-purpose. It’s very much a big budget production, and while there are no famous faces on the screen, it has the melodramatic heft of a Tinseltown biopic. In that regard, and given Jolie’s popularity in Japan, it could have been a moderate money maker here, though I’m not sure if that explains why a distributor normally associated with European and Japanese art films took the risk of releasing it. Continue reading
Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s documentary, produced for HBO, immediately sets its priorities and its outlook. As the title forcefully suggests, the movie is a polemic against Proposition 8, the California state initiative to repeal legal same sex marriages, and which won in a 2008 referendum. That was the same election, the film notes, that brought Barack Obama to the highest office in the land. As journalism, the movie’s steadfast position in opposition to the particulars of the proposition would seem to make it less than objective, but Cotner and White gave themselves the luxury of covering the lawsuit that eventually annulled the election results, and which took five years. In that regard, the film is an invaluable investigation into how the American consensus on same sex marriages changed over time.
The undeniable hook of the story is the odd couple status of the legal team put together by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which rallied right after the Prop 8 win was announced to find a way of having it declared unconstitutional. Since the AFER is basically run by the California state elite (filmmaker Rob Reiner is a founding member), its politics are an interesting mix of social libertarianism and fiscal conservatism. To them, bringing together Theodore Olson, the lawyer who represented George Bush in the fight to preserve the contentious results of the Florida ballot in the 2000 presidential election, and David Boies, the man who represented Al Gore in the same fight, is simply good tactics, since both are passionate defenders of the constitution. To the respective members of the right and the left, however, it was baffling and wrong-headed, since such people tend to adhere to idealistic notions associated with their political stances. But lawyers are hired to make the case for their client, regardless of their personal beliefs, and as it turned out, even though Olson and Boies were adversaries in the 2000 case—which many people on the left think was rigged to make Bush president—they also mutually admired each other’s skills as attorneys. And just because Olson took Bush’s brief to the Supreme Court doesn’t necessarily mean he’s against the idea of homosexuals being able to marry. To him “family values” doesn’t preclude such matches. Continue reading
In Japan, real estate agents are by law required to inform potential renters or buyers of murders or suicides that occurred in properties under consideration, though if someone died there of natural causes no one has to say anything. In any event, if you look at an apartment that seems unusually cheap, it might mean the last tenant threw himself out the window—or worse.
This idea is the premise of Inerasable, a ghost story that director Yoshihiro Nakamura has chosen as his return to J-horror, and since I’m fascinated with anything having to do with Japanese housing it’s an idea that immediately appeals to me, even if I’m not exactly a big fan of J-horror. As it turns out, the latter aspect didn’t have a big effect on my opinion, since the movie didn’t strike me as a particularly impressive exercise in the genre. For that matter, it’s grounding in real estate lore wasn’t that intriguing either. Continue reading
It must be contractually mandated that every movie in which Morgan Freeman appears he has to provide folksy voiceover narration. He does it in this bittersweet domestic drama, though there isn’t a whole lot of need for it. The situation is easy to grasp and hardly requires elaboration. Freeman and Diane Keaton play Alex and Ruth, an elderly couple who have spent their whole married life in a 2-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. Since it’s a walkup and they live on the fifth floor, they decide, at the urging of their realtor niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon), to sell and move somewhere closer to the ground or, at least, to a building that has an elevator because they won’t be able to handle stairs forever. Continue reading
As the Oscar nominations for The Big Short testify, the 2008 economic collapse continues to provide raw meat for heavy-duty dramas, as well as comedies of the blackest sort. 99 Homes gets down to the bone of the matter, since it’s concerned with the housing bubble that started the whole disaster. Set in Orange County, Florida, where rampant building in the late 90s and early 00s created a surplus of mini-mansions and put the notion in every existing homeowner’s head that his property was a bottomless gold mine to borrow against, Ramin Bahrani’s tale isn’t subdued enough to qualify as a cautionary tale. Though the losers who find themselves at the mercy of ruthless real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) might provide lessons in reckless American financing, Carver’s unabashed opportunist does not, as some have analyzed, represent the 1%. What he actually represents is that element which sees through the sorrow and the pity of any economic disaster and finds a way of making money out of it. And for what it’s worth, Shannon is the perfect actor to play this land shark. His mush mouth delivery and rough features telegraph the man’s callous disregard for anyone stupid enough to have been caught in the racket the banks perpetrated on the public. He shows up at foreclosed homes with his paid cop pals and throws people out, along with their furniture and whatever shred of dignity they have left, without the slightest twinge of remorse. If anything, he implies they deserve it, not for being deadbeats but for being dumb. Continue reading
Sorry we’re such wusses
Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the recent tabloid coverage of Becky and SMAP. The headline chosen by JT is perhaps misleading in that it conflates the two “scandals” along the same lines, but if you read the column you can see that while both “acts” have the same provenance within the Japanese show business world, their respective problems have nothing to do with each other. Becky’s is a typical sex scandal, while SMAP’s is mainly existential—Should I stay or should I go?
But they are similar in the sense that, regardless of how deeply the problems affect Becky and the members of SMAP personally, it all comes down to money. Becky’s value to her management company is dependent on maintaining her pure image, so if that image is damaged in any way her value is diminished, and various media reports are now saying the scandal could cost Sun Music upwards of ¥500 million in lost revenues for TV commercials and penalties paid to the companies who use that image. With SMAP the money trail is a bit more circuitous but the numbers are nevertheless impressive. Shukan Bunshun, always a thorn in Johnny Kitagawa’s side, reports that SMAP’s fan club, which has close to 1 million members, brought in ¥4 billion in 2014 in membership fees alone. Tickets sales for concerts amounted to ¥9.5 billion; CDs and DVDs ¥2.3 billion. And then, of course, there’s the TV appearances, which grossed ¥6 billion. As a distinct business enterprise, SMAP made Johnny’s & Associates ¥22 billion in 2014, and that doesn’t even include licensing for SMAP-related merchandise, which is probably another ¥3 billion. Though Arashi is currently the most in-demand group in the Johnny’s stable, in 2014, at least, SMAP was the most profitable, accounting for one-fourth of the company’s revenues. Continue reading