Modern Family (Film Thoughts: Shoplifters)

4154894A lot of times, when we don’t have blood-related family (or when we have problems with them) we build our own families through friends. In Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘Shoplifters,’ he gives he definition of family a very different spin. There are a lot of people in this family, and in the beginning, we think they are all related by blood, and then slowly we see, like an onion being peeled, that there is more layers to how this family become one, even as they add a new member to it. At first, I had a little bit of problem with the film, as I really do not like films that show poverty porn, especially in Asian countries (although, admittedly, they are not many from Japan) Ultimately, this film is much more than what it shows, and it has a big beating heart in the middle of it.  I know this film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, and I do think that this is one of those films that would probably benefit from repeated viewings – it is subtle and there’s skin under its skin. I don’t know, honestly, if I got them all in one viewing, and there are times when I felt it was just a bit more self-indulgent that I could take. But I found myself thinking about the film more as I was walking home from seeing it. I found myself asking, ‘what did I just see,’ and then trying to search for answers.

Japanese Melancholy (Film Thoughts: Oh Lucy!)

1lucAtsuko Hirayanagi’s ‘Oh Lucy’ is one of those movies that is a portrait of the art of melancholy, and that’s one of my favorite genres. It tells of how loneliness shapes a person’s life, and how one can react to an escape from it. This film is bookended by scenes at a Japanese train station, presumably a metaphor on how people come in and out of our lives in myriads of ways, and most of the time, they serve a purpose. Shinobu Terajima is Setsuko, alonely woman in a boring job. She gets enrolled in an American English class and meets a handsome teacher John(Josh Hartnett) and from there gets tangled in a spiral of a story. The journey takes her to Southern California with her sister and niece – and John, and in the process she finds herself, but not without some emotional collateral damage. If there is one word I can use to describe the film, it’s unpredictable. The film takes you different places, but they never seem gimmicky, and you even feel like everything makes sense and believable. This is mostly because of a great performance from Terajima, who transfers from a shy and meek Japanese woman to one thrust in California sunshine, hanging out at seedy motels lu2and dirty tattoo parlors. Hartnett is great here, too a boorish ugly American, but much more than that, thanks to his sensitive performance, showing sensitivity and vulnerability, and he is still fine as freak, too. I really do wish he becomes more visible. I really can’t help but really be taken by this film, and even relate to it, as I have started this new chapter of living life truly alone. This is a great film filled with sadness, and for me, a reflection of what is real in life a lot of times.

Here Comes Hiraga (Vintage, Marcia Hiraga)

FolderMarica Hiraga is a Japanese jazz singer whose name I have encountered numerous times over the years. But somehow someway I never really appreciated any of her previous albums before. They all seemed generic, though admittedly I never really gave it a real chance. So what I did was sat down and listened and paid attention to the music.

Voila! This is a delicious little (or maybe big?) album that engaged me. Even i Japanese and with an accent, this album engaged me and I felt Hiraga had total command of the lyrics as she navigated the creative arrangements. I especially loved the take on Cole Porter’s ‘So In Love’ as I felt like she was running to the one she is on love with, which I think matches the feeling of your heart beating as you think of the one you are in love with. And that’s just the highlight. Splendid performance also highlight other tracks like ‘As Time Goes By,’ and the fun ‘Golden Earrings.’

In Japan (Music Thoughts, Nobody Else But Me, Mica O-kura)

p8-jacket-omoteThey love jazz in Japan. I remember when I was collecting compact discs, I would only find obscure hard-to-find titles in Japanese pressings. So whenever I see a Japanese jazz singer, I always pay attention. There’s not much information about Mico O-kura on the internet, which in this day and age, is weird, almost unthinkable. This is the extent of what I found:

She start study piano at age9. She start to singing jazz at age 20. Released 1st album Nobody Else But Me on 2016. She Based perform in Jazz club at Tokyo and Yokohama area.

Perhaps that’s better, as I can listen to her with an open mind and open ear. O-kura has great musicality, and her band consists of pianist Eisuke Kato, and Kiyoshi Ikeda on base and Kazuaki Yokoyama on drums. They certainly know what they are doing, and one can sense O-kuna’s love of the material. She sings with a stronger accent but I do not mind that all. I always say I think accents personalize singers’ interpretations of songs. But I wonder how much of these words O-kuma understands. While she displays technical musical proficiency, I sense a detachment to the material, treating these songs with gloves. The scat portion in ‘Nobody Else But Me,’ felt memorized instead of free-flowing and I never got the poignancy of ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ and its lyrics. The record is easy on the ears, but also low on depth.

Such Devoted Sisters (Movie Thoughts: Our Little Sister)

163e02b613fa761ce8f0a9a1f715d58cThere are so wonderful little moments in ‘Our Little Sister’ that they add up to a great little something, even if sometimes that something is a molehill of nothing. Yes, that kind of sounds like a riddle. Director Horekazu Kore-eda delivers a film filled with poignancy and sentimentality that always feel quite right. Just like the well-balanced Japanese seafood curry that they cooking the film, the film always feels so right when it could have gone so treacly. It is a story of three sisters (all wonderful performances by Masam Nagasawa, Kaho, and especially Haruka Ayashe as the eldest sister) who take in their newly-discovered youngest sister, an offspring from the relationship that broke their family. When the sister (Suzu Hirose) arrives, the dynamics between the sister subtly change, and we follow as each of their stories give us life lessons on how we form our families when we find ours broken. To be truthful, not much happens here, but I suspect Kore-eda is more interested in how these characters drive rather than where they are going.

2617e051b9bf85332ee42832cbf14fbbIt is refreshing for me to watch a movie about modern Japanese life that isn’t Tokyo-centric. The wonderful seaside location lends a rich country feel, and the touch is always gentle – nothings get hammered in your face. I found myself very touched at the end, as the film touches on issues such as mortality and what we leave behind. This film was an official entry at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and apparently won a jury prize .