27 Feb 2007

On the other hand, Babel gets it right

filed under: journal  :: entertainment  :: japanese culture  :: movies

Last time I griped about the numerous ways in which the popular U.S. TV series Heroes got Japanese things so totally wrong. Over the weekend we finally got to see Babel. The merits of the movie as a movie aside (I liked it, sort of, though it left me a bit cold), as far as the Tokyo scenes were concerned I thought that they felt absolutely right. There might be some minor quibbles with some details of how Chieko (played by Oscar-nominated Rinko Kikuchi) and her friends act (though, not having been a Japanese teenager for some time, I really don't know how a typical 16-17 year old acts) but the atmosphere, the sets, and the way people generally behaved felt very natural.

My favorite scenes were of the apartment where Chieko lived with her father (played by Koji Yakusho). It's in a modern high-rise (this type of apartment is called a 'mansion' in Japan, which is a great example I guess of wasei eigo, English words that mean something quite different from the original). From the polished stone clad lobby to the modern interior and the view of the city from the balcony, it expressed a view of a modern, clean, yet cold Tokyo to a T. It somehow reminded me of a Japanese movie about heartbreaking loneliness called Tony Takitani, which used rather similar looking modern, cold interiors.

I don't know if the fact that Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu is Mexican, and not American, has anything to do with this cultural awareness. (Though I must say I didn't have any quibbles with the way Sofia Coppola treated Tokyo in Lost in Translation either...though many others did. Some old posts about Lost in Translation are here, here and here.)

Comments on this post:

Dividing Babel into the

Dividing Babel into the three stories (or locations), I definitely enjoyed the Japanese story most. Having recently returned from Japan it was nice to experience some familiar sights and sounds. I didn't encounter anyone who behaved like Chieko and her friends though, I hasten to add! Lost in Translation is one of my favourite films. I dismissed it on its release many years ago as I assumed it was a comedy taking the easy route of lampooning the East-West divide, 'l' and 'r' etc. - the film was delightful; for me its value was in showing a glimpse of a possible future, should one make the same choices as Bob. Interestingly for me, while I was in Japan I remembered Lost in Translation as having shown a rather extreme Japan (thinking of the TV shows shown, in particular). I then watched the film again while in Japan and discovered that it doesn't go far enough in fact! It transpired that it was providing a real, almost boring* portrayal of Japan. It remains one of my favourite films as it manages to be pleasant, poignant and humourous every time. * The girl I watched it with nearly fell asleep. She was Japanese, and when the hyper TV host appeared just said, "Oh, that's so-and-so, I like him".

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