Review: Better Days

Now that China has effectively exercised its mandate over Hong Kong and all that entails in terms of freedoms for the former British territory, it remains to be seen how independent of party influence the city’s famously independent film industry will remain. Derek Tsang’s Better Days is being touted as a kind of test case. Though a typical Asian youth drama, it was pulled from the schedule of the Berlin Film Festival in 2019 by Chinese authorities, which later cancelled its theatrical release, though the movie finally opened in theaters at the end of the year. These factors probably had something to do with its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film; that and the notion that, a year after Parasite won big, the Academy probably thinks it has to recognize at least one Asian film a year from now on (Minari didn’t really count). Generally speaking, the movie’s buzz is more intriguing that the movie itself.

Apparently, what pissed off the Chinese censors was Tsang’s portrayal of school bullying, which is pretty brutal, as well as the national university entrance text process, which comes off as slightly less distressing than a season in hell. These are hardly original subjects, especially in Asian coming-of-age films, but now that China has its hooks in Hong Kong the authorities probably think it’s best to get people prepared for lowered ambitions. In any case, the story is based on a novel set in 2011 and focused on a student named Chen Nian (Zhou Dongyu), who, like everybody else, is cramming miserably for the exam. When her study mate commits suicide, the police center their investigation on Chen, who knows that her friend was being bullied by a clique of girls. These girls now redirect their malevolence toward her in order to keep her quiet. 

One night while trying to evade her tormentors, Chen happens upon small-time hood Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee), who is himself being beaten up by his betters. When she tries to intervene the thugs humiliate her, but the incident gives her common cause with Xiao. At school, the bullying escalates to physical violence and threats against Chen’s family owing to the fact that, in order to corner the “queen bee” bully, the police lie and tell her that Chen has already fingered her as the dead girl’s tormentor. The bullies are suspended and, naturally, come after Chen one night with box cutters and a cage full of rats. She seeks sanctuary with Xiao and asks him to be her protector until she takes the exam, and from then on he shadows her wherever she goes. They become close, and one night while being questioned by police, Chen is attacked by the bullies who beat her mercilessly and cut off her hair.

Tsang’s command of tone is impressive, and he juggles the various story lines adeptly until the thriller plot points that drive the second half shove the film into a mire of implausibility whose excuse is that it is meant to be heartbreaking. As with most youth movies of its ilk, the romance is chaste and the sins of the fathers (and mothers) explain everything about the mess that these young people now have to navigate, though Tsang doesn’t hold anything back in his condemnation of societal rot. It’s not clear what kind of future he has in such an environment, but he’s already mastered the art of stylish youthful melodrama.

In Cantonese. Opens July 16 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670), Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264).

Better Days home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Shooting Pictures Ltd., China (Shenzhen) Wit Media Co., Ltd., Tianjin XIRON Entertainment Co., Ltd., We Pictures Ltd., Kashi J.Q. Culture and Media Company Limited, The Alliance of Gods Pictures (Tianjin) Co., Ltd., Shanghai Alibaba Pictures Co., Ltd., Tianjin Maoyan Weying Media Co., Ltd., Lianray Pictures, Local Entertainment, Yunyan Pictures, Beijing Jin Yi Jia Yi Film Distribution Co., Ltd., Dadi Century (Beijing) Co., Ltd., Zhejiang Hengdian Films Co., Ltd., Fat Kids Production, Goodfellas Pictures Limited

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Media Mix, July 10, 2021

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about how the press moved away from talking about public opposition to the Olympics as it became clear that the powers that be would hold them regardless of how the pandemic developed. Since I wrote the column, the situation has changed even more. It’s no longer a question of how many spectators would be allowed to watch the events. Now, apparently, there will be no spectators except those associated with the IOC and the local organizers. Obviously, the press can’t avoid covering that aspect, but, again, what’s most important is avoiding the impression that the games are still very unpopular right now. Next week’s column will be about, in part, protests against the Olympics, which the press is covering in such a way as to make it seem like a fringe thing. Yesterday, on his VideoNews web talk show, journalist Tetsuo Jimbo said that a civic group filed a lawsuit on Thursday to stop the Olympics, and the only mention of it I can find so far is from Kyodo.

What needs to be stressed is that the public’s opinion is, as Heizo Takenaka so stridently claimed, not important; or, at least, not important to the people who came up with the idea of hosting the Olympics and then promoting it once Tokyo was selected. No one asked the people of Tokyo if they wanted to be a host city, and while some will wave this concern away in the belief that everybody loves the Olympics, other cities have attempted to gauge public opinion on the matter and some cancelled their plans to bid for the games after it became clear there was little or no public support. As costs have skyrocketed over the years, placing a heavier burden not only on Tokyo residents but likely Japanese taxpayers, the ill feelings have just intensified. We are now actually facing the worst case scenario—not cancelling the games, but holding them behind closed doors in an environment where such an endeavor could very well cause an explosion of illness. For anyone in Japan still looking forward to the events, they will have to watch them on TV just like the rest of the world. There’s absolutely no benefit for Japan or Tokyo to hosting the Olympics, except maybe some vague sense of pride. But pride for what? Having made it to the point of being able to hold the Olympics without as many people dying as did in the U.S. or India? I suppose that’s something, but cold comfort to the people of Tokyo, who can’t even go out for a drink while the games are taking place.

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Review: The Mole Agent

It feels like cheating to label the Chilean movie The Mole Agent a documentary. Though we are informed right at the start of the premise of the investigation being recorded, there’s such an overriding sense of calculated setup that the viewer is constantly checking their own capacity for suspension of disbelief. Everything, from the camera work to the development of the narrative, is perfectly calibrated to what we expect from a good detective story, and the peculiar genius of Maite Alberdi’s direction is the way it masks its cleverness: Was it designed to be like this, or did everything just fall into place of its own accord?

Granted, there isn’t a lot of danger involved in the enterprise. A private detective named Romulo Aitken is hired by a woman who thinks her elderly mother is being abused by the staff of the nursing home where she lives. Unable to get anywhere by directly confronting the nursing home, Aitken advertises for a mole, an old man who will be surreptiously enrolled in the nursing home to work undercover to reveal abuse. He auditions candidates and chooses Sergio, a pretty genki 83-year-old without a cynical bone in his body, which makes him, at first, an unlikely sleuth. He’s securely ensconced in the home thanks to his own daughter, who’s in on the scheme and makes the necessary request for care. Aitken equips Sergio with a smartphone and even special spy glasses linked to a camera app. However, the old man doesn’t seem to have much use for these tricks of the trade, and takes a more journalistic approach to the assignment, asking staff directly about their treatment of the residents as well as residents about their experiences. 

All of this is meticulously recorded by Alberdi’s crew, who tell the home that they are making a documentary about old age in general and seem to have all the freedom in the world to hang around Sergio while he does his job. That no one found this aspect of the project suspicious automatically tips the viewer off to one very likely truth: That nothing particularly untoward is going on at the nursing home. People who are suspicious, after all, are those who themselve have something to hide. As far as the movie’s own sense of mystery goes, Sergio at first has trouble locating the supposed victim of abuse, Sonia, because most of the residents are elderly women, and a good portion of them don’t socialize. But those who do automatically attach themselves to Sergio, who becomes the star of the place for obvious reasons: He’s a man, he possesses all his faculties, and he’s more charming than Cary Grant. This aspect complicates his job, since he’s always being pursued by one or more widow who would like nothing better than to spend her remaining days in this place with Sergio.

Alberdi enhances the espionage component of the movie by playing up the communications between Sergio and Aitken, which actually read more like literary dispatches than coded messages, as well as the secret videos he takes with his spy glasses. The fact that these portions of the film inadvertently show up what a pleasant place the nursing home is and how happy most of the residents are conveys, way ahead of time, that there may not be much to the client’s charge that terrible things are going on within, but as they say, it’s the trip, not the destination. 

In Spanish. Now playing in Tokyo at Cine Switch Ginza (03-3561-0707), Cinema Qualite Shinjuku (03-3352-5645).

The Mole Agent home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Dogwoof Ltd.

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Review: Samjin Company English Class

As the Korean Wave has brought greater attention to South Korean movies and TV dramas, differences must surely have become obvious. Korean cinema maintains fairly high production values across the board while varying greatly in tone and style, depending on the genre depicted. TV dramas are, for the most part, fairly uniform in tone and style, and even adhere to uniform structural templates, such as previews and ending theme songs. The idea is to appeal to as large a cross-section of the public as possible. In that regard, Samjin Company English Class feels more like a TV drama in that it gets very broad in terms of acting and melodramatic plot points. Where it succeeds as a movie is the way it focuses on its story for maximum efficiency.

Essentially a social comedy, the film is set in 1995 when the Korean economy was at its headiest. This situation is characterized by a boom in English language classes at Korean companies, which would often peg promotions to good results on the TOEIC test. For women employees, it was a particularly important means of getting ahead, since relatively few had graduated from university. The three protagonists of Samjin are high school graduates whose main tasks are custodial or secretarial, even though they betray native intelligence that often save their male superiors a lot of grief. The uniformed trio—Ja-young (Go Ah-sung), who works in product management; Yuna (Esom), assigned to marketing; and Bo-ram (Park Hye-soo), a champion math whiz who practically runs the accounting department, which relies mainly on doctoring expense receipts—sign up for in-company English classes thinking it’s the only way they will ever rise above their present positions. 

Director Lee Jong-pil addresses this aspect with both nostalgia and humor, but he understands that in 2021 he must focus on the inherent unfairness of it all and makes sure the misogyny on display is pointed and clear. Consequently, when the mystery aspect of the movie takes over, it may feel like gilding the lily, an attempt to add relevance to a film whose critical tone is best handled through jokes. But, as it often turns out in Korean movies, the mystery is pretty good, and, as a result, the social criticism makes more of an impression.

Ja-young, the most enterprising of our three heroes, discovers that one of Samjin’s electronics factories is dumping deadly chemicals into a river that passes through farmland. Through subterfuge she brings the matter to the attention of both the local village head and the responsible people in her own company, and what seems like a tidy settlement is distributed to the affected farmers with a promise that Samjim will stop polluting. (The implication is that it was a one-off mistake.) But eventually Ja-young realizes that the pollution problem goes much deeper and recruits her two mates to help her find out the truth, which turns out to be much more complicated than anyone could imagine, involving an M&A buyout from an American fund and dire consequences for everyone in the company, even management.

As with Korean TV dramas, many of the characters here are caricatures, the most egregious being foreigners whose stereotyped portrayals are exacerbated by amateurish performances. Perhaps more off-putting is the overall theme that, while corporate life is invariably soul-crushing, people constitutionally want to be part of a group that works together for the betterment of the group, and so rather than be discouraged by their lot in life as females in a male-dominated society and trying to make society better (or bailing completely–another use, according to Yuna, for English is to get out of Korea and find a rich foreign husband), our three protagonists would prefer to make Samjin better, or, at least, more productive, because it’s what they know right now. And while I acknowledge that that’s a laudable take on the matter, it’s also a slightly dispiriting one given the current state of Korean corporatism. I’m not too sure how much things have progressed since 1995.

In Korean and English. Opens today in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831).

Samjin Company English Class home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Lotte Entertainment & The Lamp

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Review: The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers’ previous movie, The Witch, was celebrated as a genre subversion. Touted as a horror film, it appropriated archaic speech directly from the source and grounded its terrors in experiences that only the truly God-fearing can suffer in order to tell the story of a doomed Puritan family who attempt to live outside their colony in 17th century New England. Its frights were existential even if its plot relied on familiarity with the occult. Eggers’ followup is another historical curiosity whose genre bona fides are harder to determine. As with The Witch, the dialogue avoids anything that smacks of modern speech, but the effect is more ridiculous. At times, it feels like an SNL parody of the kind of movie it aspires to be.

The year is 1890. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a recently recruited lighthouse keeper who is assuming his first position as apprentice to the gruff veteran “wickie” Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) on a tiny island off the New England coast. The two men will be stuck together for four weeks as Winslow learns the ropes, so to speak, and the dynamic between the two quickly descends into that of master-slave. “The light is mine,” Wake keeps saying through teeth clenched on his clay pipe, reserving the actual operation of the lamp for himself, while assigning Winslow the back-breaking labor of carrying fuel, shifting supplies, and digging holes for sundry purposes, some of which are pretty disgusting. Even more ominous, Wake runs things by his own rules, which differ from the regulations implemented by their employer. Winslow resists, refusing to drink with Wake and listen to his bullshit stories of when he was a sea captain. Their relationship deteriorates quickly as both men descend into what seems to be individual states of madness that involve sexual fantasies and death-obsessed hallucinations.

The usual problem with this kind of horror movie is that the audience is stuck with these two guys as well, and what for them is abject misery transfers to the viewer as mostly frustration, but Eggers understands this, which is where the black humor comes in. Some scenes, like the one where Winslow overdoes the killing of a pesky seagull, will likely offend certain sensibilities, but many of the running jokes — Wake’s gleeful, provoking flatulence; Winslow’s spiteful horniness — work well in propelling the somewhat thin storyline to ever greater heights of absurdity. The fact that the story does pay off with something thematically meatier than you expect is only gravy, and while The Lighthouse doesn’t qualify as a work of transcendent art, it turns out to be a truly ripping yarn, which is probably the genre Eggers was looking to lampoon. 

Opens July 9 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Shibuya Parco White Cine Quinto (03-6712-7225).

The Lighthouse home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 A24 Films LLC

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Media Mix, July 3, 2021

Sari Kaede

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the LDP’s LGBTQ “understanding” bill that stalled and what it really represented. One implication of the incident is that it’s difficult to legislate people’s opinions and feelings, and that popular culture and media exposure are more effective in changing people’s minds. The Japanese documentary mentioned, You Decide, is still playing in Tokyo as I write (it opened June 19) and will be released in more Japanese cities over the course of the summer. It’s a fairly straightforward profile of a transgender woman named Sari Kaede Hatashima, who decided to lay her life out for everyone to see in a bid to show the world that not only is she no different from anyone else, but that she’s really no different from what she was before she made the decision to live as a woman. What’s important to note is that in her mind she has always been a woman, and essentially what has changed is the trappings—the clothes, the makeup, and, yes, the hormones and the surgery. The title refers to a rhetorical rejoinder to the imagined question of whether another person would think of her as a woman. It’s up to that person to decide for themself. 

What makes the movie more complicated than it’s presumed intention is Sari’s own transformation. Though she has always thought of herself as female in the conventional sense, she is still working out what that means in a social context. A good portion of the documentary is taken up with her participation in the Japan edition of the Miss International Queen beauty contest for trangender women. Her coach is Steven Haynes, who is also an executive producer of the movie, and he approaches the preparation sessions as if she were auditioning for one of RuPaul’s reality TV shows. It’s all about conveying confidence and pride, and when he becomes annoyed with Sari’s seeming lack of either he says she must become a “star” on stage. Later, during the actual contest, we see Sari’s performance, a classic drag club musical number featuring two buff men as backup dancers, and she’s still pretty awkward. The awkwardness is not due so much to a lack of confidence, however. She just doesn’t seem cut out to be a performer, but she sees the contest as a kind of rite of passage, something that other trans women have done in order to show the world their commitment. 

She seems much more at home working with her students (she is a licensed architect) and doing volunteer services for LGBTQ employment opportunities. These scenes support the film’s theme much better than the contest footage or, for that matter, the interview with her father, who seems accepting of Sari’s decision but doesn’t really have a lot to say about it. Similarly, when the filmmaker interviews Sari herself and the conversation turns to love and sex, she seems reluctant to go there, not because it’s an embarrasing topic but because it’s not really that big a deal; which is a revelation, and a refreshing one. Because many people think transgender people have “changed sexes” they may also think that sex itself is a very important part of their lives, but it may not be. And, contrary to what popular culture and mass media tell you, it probably isn’t for a lot of people.

You Decide home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Musuko no Mama de, Joshi ni Naru

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Review: The Asian Angel

Quality-wise, cross-border co-productions are rarely as good as their intentions. This Japanese-South Korean film is a case in point, a true hybrid in that it combines Japanese writing-directing styles with Korean production values while presenting a mixed cast that mostly acts on instinct. The writer-director is Yuya Ishii, who’s earned an enviable reputation outside of Japan with idiosyncratic but low-stakes indie films like The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue and The Vancouver Asahi. Here he’s working on location in Korea with a local crew, and his script often evokes the kind of sentimental road movies that are common Korean indie fare, especially for novice filmmakers. 

The plot, however, constantly strains for relevance, if not credibility. Takeshi (Sosuke Ikematsu) travels to Seoul with his young son (Ryo Sato) not long after his wife has died of cancer. He has accepted the invitation of his expat brother, Toru (Joe Odagiri), a ne’er-do-well gladhander who has some sort of get-rich-quick scheme he wants Takeshi to help him with. Predictably, the job, or whatever, falls apart almost as soon as Takeshi shows up, and the three light out for the south in order to try their hand at seaweed exports. On the train, however, they accidentally meet up with Seol (Moon Choi), a pop singer whose career has stalled in second gear and whom Takeshi met in Seoul. She is traveling with her siblings in the same direction to visit their parents’ graves. 

Ishii drapes the usual cross-cultural misunderstandings—both comical and wince-inducing—on this barest of plot structures, and when it works it’s because the Korean actors understand how to effectively interact with both the setting and the dramatic protocols that Ishii provides. The Japanese actors, especially Odigiri, have less success owing to the sketchiness of their character development. Moreover, so much is implied about the underlying political tensions between Japan and South Korea that the sentimental resolutions, which are designed to dispel those tensions, feel contrived. In a sense, The Asian Angel actually highlights the differences between current Japanese cinema and Korean cinema. Technically, it’s an impressive work, but Ishii’s writing and conceptualization lacks the baseline rigor that makes even low-key Korean movies so compelling these days. 

In Japanese, Korean and English. Now playing in Tokyo at Theatre Shinjuku (03-3352-1846), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).

The Asian Angel home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 The Asian Angel Film Partners

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Media Mix, June 26, 2021

Map of Yambaru National Park

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the bill passed on June 16 in the Diet to monitor property sales to foreign entities. As pointed out in the column, over the last several months the bill’s wording was made more ambiguous to the point where its proscriptions and conditions can apply to almost anyone and any situation. I used the police raid on entomologist Akino Miyagi’s home in Okinawa as an example of what might become more common once the law is fully implemented, but Miyagi’s case is indicative of so many other things related to the way “national security” is carried out in Japan that it’s worth exploring further.

First of all, Yambaru Forest, the area that Miyagi was researching when she found all the trash, including live blanks and irradiated materials, left behind by U.S. forces that used the forest for training exercises in the past is on track to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s why Miyagi was there. A number of animal and plant species are considered unique to the area and presumably need to be studied in order to qualify for the designation. It’s not clear if Miyagi was there on her own or in some sort of official capacity, but, in any case, all news reports have said that the UNESCO designation is a foregone conclusion, so inspecting the area is nothing more than a formality. Nevertheless, it would be logical to assume that the area needs to be in some sort of pristine condition for it to qualify for a World Heritage nature site, and though the central government asked the U.S. military to stop using the forest for drills for that purpose, they didn’t demand they leave it the way they found it, which is usually the rule in Japan for people (i.e., renters) who use other people’s property. This fact was made clear by journalist Isoko Mochizuki on one of the Democracy Times’ programs cited. Apparently, there is a little known article in the Status of Forces Agreement that says the U.S. military doesn’t have to clean up after itself in such situations; that the Japanese government will do it for them. Miyagi may not have known about this term of SOFA, but in any case she dumped some of the trash at the gate of the Northern Training Center in April in protest after being ignored by local police when she complained about the litter as early as last fall. It was only then that the police acted—but against Miyagi, allegedly for “interfering” with the center’s business (reportedly, vehicles couldn’t pass through the gate for 50 minutes, though the amount Miyagi deposited was rather small and witnesses said any vehicle coud easily go around it). Why they needed to raid her home and confiscate her phone and computer, however, has never been properly explained. And here’s where the inevitable Catch-22 comes into play. When Asahi Shimbun asked the police why she was being investigated—after all, she admits to dumping the garbage—they said they couldn’t talk about it because it would violate Miyagi’s right to privacy. 

Is this Kafka or Keystone Kops? Here we have a national forest that the central government wants a world cultural organization to authorize as something special, likely for economic reasons, even though it’s been desecrated by a foreign military presence with the blessing of the central government; and the world cultural organization doesn’t seem to care since they’ve already approved the authorization. Then, when a person qualified to inspect the forest in order to determine its uniqueness as something special actively complains about the above-mentioned set of contradictions to the parties responsible, she is treated as a possible threat to national security. Where is Terry Southern when you need him?

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Review: The King’s Letters

The last we saw of King Sejong, he had completed a map of the stars with the help of former slave Jang Yeong-sil. Given that King Sejong is one of the most commonly portrayed historical figures in Korean cinema, I wonder if there is anything left of his illustrious life that hasn’t been interrogated, but, as the title indicates, The King’s Letters caps his career with perhaps his greatest accomplishment, which was helping create the unique script called Hunminjungeum, now better known to the outside world as Hangul, thus giving the hoi polloi a tool to communicate and participate more readily in society. 

Sejong this time is played by Song Kang-ho, whose inherent gruff style highlights the king’s less-than-regal background and points to his identifying with the people rather than the court, who are in thrall to China and thus can read and write Chinese characters, which they intend to keep to themselves. This fealty also results in the outlawing of Buddhism in favor of Confucianism, and when Sejong goes to a local Buddhist monk, Shinmi (Park Hae-il), to help him with devising an alphabet, the court is enraged to the edge of insurrection. At first, Shinmi, who is unusually proud for a Buddhist, seems unimpressed with the king’s request, but eventually sees the task as a means of helping to bring Buddhism back into some kind of favor. (It helps that the queen is a closet Buddhist.) He and his assistants, aided by the king’s two sons, work in secrecy, basing their research and development on Sanskrit, which uses phonetic characters rather than ideographs. 

Though Jo Chul-hyun’s direction lacks tension and dramatic momentum, he makes the scenes where the writing system emerges compelling. He does this by directly conveying the idea of a world where there is no writing system based on phonemes, and then working from there through a series of small but potent Eureka moments that bring home just how phenomenal the process was. Obviously, much of the humor and pathos attendant to such a process is lost on someone who isn’t Korean, but the ingenuity of the writing system itself is ably extrapolated. 

I have no idea if the movie is historically accurate, and the final scenes feel as if Jo is trying to make up for lost emotional traction with something a bit too sentimental, but, then, I’m not a Buddhist, so maybe it means something profound to viewers of a certain sensibility. 

In Korean, Japanese and Sanskrit. Now playing in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831). 

The King’s Letters home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Megabox Joong Ang PLUS M. Doodong Pictures

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Media Mix, June 19, 2021

Yuka Saso

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the local press reaction to Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open tennis tournament. Though Osaka is still well regarded as both an athlete and a celebrity in Japan, the media seems to have given up trying to claim her as its semi-exclusive property owing to her Japanese nationality. Often when a Japanese person gains fame abroad their name is prefaced with the term “sekai no…”, meaning that the person now belongs to the “world” as well. Osaka’s case is slightly different since she mostly grew up in the U.S. and while she is very comfortable with and knowledgeable about Japan and Japanese things, she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. When she was first coming into her own as a world-class athlete, reporters would try to get her to talk about Japan, and she was forthcoming about her relationship to the country where she was born. Things became more difficult when reporters tried to get her to filter her replies about matters in general through a Japanese point-of-view, because she doesn’t seem to think that way, and eventually the press gave up on this gambit. 

That’s why it’s important that she is definitely coming to the Olympics to play for Japan. If she had decided to sit out the Games, it is likely greater attention would have been directed to emerging golf star Yuka Saso, who will also be at the Olympics. However, Saso will be playing for the Philippines. Like Osaka, Saso is of mixed parentage. She was born in Japan but has lived a good part of her life in the Philippines, where her mother is from. Also like Osaka, it was her father who strongly encouraged her to become a professional athlete, and there lies a fundamental difference. Saso’s father is Japanese, and thus much of her training as a golfer included a strong Japanese component. Osaka’s father is Haitian-American, so, at least when it came to tennis she developed less of a Japanese sensibility toward the sport. From what I can gather, Saso, who is a teenager and thus still has double nationality, is playing for the Philippines at the Olympics because she wants to give something back to the country. After all, it was in the Philippines that she learned golf, since, as her father himself admitted, it is much, much cheaper to play golf there than in Japan. However, he has also said that when Yuka turns 22 she will, like Osaka again, choose Japanese nationality. But unlike Osaka, she’s comfortable speaking to the press in Japanese (reportedly, she is fluent or conversant in four other languages) and isn’t shy at all. Had Osaka chosen not to play in the Tokyo Olympics for her “home fans,” the Japanese media could have easily fixed their gaze on Saso as the prime Japanese participant with a world standing, except that she’s representing the Philippines. You can’t have everything.

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