Beyond~en~Scène

be·yond
first and foremost a filmmaker. often a photographer. usually a writer. always a music enthusiast.

I have this weird thing where if the title of a movie refers to a certain time of the year, I try to make it so that I will watch that film at that respective time, i.e. watching Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day. I believe that by doing this my experience will somehow be more immediate, more pure. Or maybe it just gives me an excuse to watch something without having to “choose”. So far, this approach has worked wonders, so don’t knock it.
Seeing as we’re approaching the end of April, I felt like it was finally the right time to tick April Story off my watch list. I’ve been hesitant to approach any work by Shunji Iwai after All About Lily Chou-Chou left me somewhat dumbfounded when I saw it back in my senior year of high school. I think I was much too young to really get it, the soundtrack however has remained an absolute favourite of mine even till today. Perhaps it’s time I revisited that film.
Unlike Lily Chou-Chou, April Story is very light-hearted and straight forward. Through the iconic 90s super soft lens filters, the cherry blossom snow and spring rain look ever so graceful. It also doesn’t hurt that the then 21 year old star Takako Matsu has a face that you can’t help but to fall in love with. I had no idea it was the same actress that played the teacher/mother in Confessions. For the actors, film can help to preserve their youth and beauty. For us, film can help to document a time and place in society. Short, innocent and sweet, I like it.

I have this weird thing where if the title of a movie refers to a certain time of the year, I try to make it so that I will watch that film at that respective time, i.e. watching Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day. I believe that by doing this my experience will somehow be more immediate, more pure. Or maybe it just gives me an excuse to watch something without having to “choose”. So far, this approach has worked wonders, so don’t knock it.

Seeing as we’re approaching the end of April, I felt like it was finally the right time to tick April Story off my watch list. I’ve been hesitant to approach any work by Shunji Iwai after All About Lily Chou-Chou left me somewhat dumbfounded when I saw it back in my senior year of high school. I think I was much too young to really get it, the soundtrack however has remained an absolute favourite of mine even till today. Perhaps it’s time I revisited that film.

Unlike Lily Chou-Chou, April Story is very light-hearted and straight forward. Through the iconic 90s super soft lens filters, the cherry blossom snow and spring rain look ever so graceful. It also doesn’t hurt that the then 21 year old star Takako Matsu has a face that you can’t help but to fall in love with. I had no idea it was the same actress that played the teacher/mother in Confessions. For the actors, film can help to preserve their youth and beauty. For us, film can help to document a time and place in society. Short, innocent and sweet, I like it.

Revisited Linda Linda Linda for the first time since I saw it at the Auckland International Film Festival in 2006. Good god, that was almost 8 years ago. I never heard the song “Linda Linda" prior to the release of the film, now I can sing it without much problem at karaoke. It’s weird, I always thought the longer I stayed in one place, the less interested I’ll be to see that place on film. I guess a year and a half isn’t quite long enough, because I’m even more fascinated by Japan on the silver screen now than I was before. Especially stories of family and school life, the everyday stuff. And there’s no better place than the Japanese High School. An iconic place so full of life, so full of stories. I wish I could be a high school student for a month and see what it feel like. Maybe I’d make up for not trying as hard as I could have back then. I like how real the movie is, how definite it is, and how it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Oh and of course I love the music! LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA LINDA…

12 years ago, right around when I first became interested in movies and filmmaking, I saw the 74th Academy Awards. It was a very memorable ceremony for many reasons. But one thing really stuck with me even after all these year - this short montage edited by Penelope Spheeris paying tribute to documentary filmmaking. Watch it.

meet yuka

Yuka is the newest addition to my smallest elementary school. Including her, the student body of this school year will be 7 people.

me:

...so in New Zealand we...

yuka:

you're from New Zealand?!

me:

yes! do you know where that is?

yuka:

it's like on this (*gestures right*) side of Australia.

me:

wow...pretty sure most 6th graders don't even know that.

teacher:

yuka-chan, what country do you want to visit the most?

yuka:

...Bolivia

teacher & me:

BOLIVIA!?!

me:

why?

yuka:

I think it's beautiful there. I also want to go to the country with the pyramids.

me to teacher:

wow...she's so mature

...LATER WHILE PLAYING ZOMBIE TAG...

yuka:

Beyondo-sensei, I'm going to take a poop, please wait for me!

Koreeda Hirokazu is perhaps my most favourite contemporary Japanese filmmaker. I love the way he frames humanity. Using his experience as a documentary filmmaker, he is able to give his fictional work just the right amount of realism, such as the way his characters and sceneries are observed. Yet he remains dramatically interesting, never boring. After Life is a great example of this perfect marriage between documentary and fiction. A brilliant concept executed with beautiful simplicity. I’d like to make a film like this some day.

The film touches on an existential idea that has fascinated and troubled me for years - our memories and its purpose. Our identity is almost entirely constructed out of memories, what we have done defines who we are. Yet as we get older, our memories start to slip away, some memories seem like they might as well have been from another lifetime. We have happy times that we try to remember, but we can’t; bad experiences that we want to wash away for good, but they won’t; and then there are times that seem to hold no significance whatsoever, but they stay with us until death. At the end of your life, if you could choose only one memory to take away with you, what would it be?

A certain film critic described Tokyo Sonata as the most frightening film to date by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (a filmmaker most renowned for his work in the horror genre), even though there were no ghosts, no monsters, no supernaturalism, nor does it have any other real horror elements. I have to agree completely with this observation. 

This film’s portrayal of the meager existence of lost souls hangs heavy in my heart. Its depiction of loveless and disconnected family dynamics worries me. And its reminder of the dangers of falling into  the rabbit hole of existing for the sake of existence rings like an alarm bell. The film deals with a lot more than that, but being the politically-inept and globally unaware person that I am, what I can take from the film is very personal. I need to be grateful to be living a life that I find meaningful, to have a dream and be able to pursue it, to know that my life and my future are in my own hands and that I should never lose faith. One day, when I’ve hit a personal trough that makes me feel utterly hopeless, I shall remember…there is always Clair de Lune.

Some thoughts on big cities…

As I was on my way back home from the gorgeous Naoshima in Kagawa prefecture (my 23rd prefecture visited! oooh yeaaa! more that at another time) and passing through Osaka, I got that familiar vibe again. The big city hustle and bustle vibe that you always get in great old Osaka. And it reminded me that while I love the tranquility of small towns and faraway islands, the big city just excites me. There’s nothing here really worth “visiting” per se, but what a joy it must be to LIVE amongst these crowded streets, to have restaurants, bars, shops, clubs, sports stadiums at your disposal until late hours of the night. It’s not as clean nor as friendly, but it makes me curious how the others survive and thrive. Knowing that I am merely one of a few million people residing in a giant bubble gives me the drive to do better, to get busy and to stand out. And that is the feeling I hope to embrace when I eventually go to New York City. Just as I was lost in my own thoughts, the overhead speakers in Osaka station stated that an accident has happened in Tsuruhashi Station (a very important and central station), thus all trains going through there, which was the majority, and all Osaka Loop lines, the line that everyone uses to get to anywhere in Osaka city were at a stand still. I left the station after half an hour of no trains moving, which was crazy by Japanese metropolitan train system terms. Although I’ve heard a lot about this, but this was my first time experiencing it first hand, the delay was most definitely caused by someone jumping on to the tracks to commit suicide. There’s something you never get in small town living.

Tomorrow, I will be making a small dream come true by seeing the great composer, pianist, experimentalist, genius, one of the most prolific musicians and a personal idol of mine - Ryuichi Sakamoto live in concert with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. YAAAAH! This is one of my all time favourites by him - The Last Emperor Theme.

8 Chinese independant films on my radar. Actually I’ve been waiting for A Touch of Sin for almost a year now.

After debating a bit about whether or not I should alter my golden week plans in order to save 1 day of paid leave allowing me to catch Shiina Ringo live in Osaka, I came to the conclusion that OF COURSE I HAVE TO! Seeing her live has been a dream for so many years, and who knows if she’ll have another concert during my time in Japan. I’d hate to kick myself for missing the one chance to see her. Wish me luck that I’ll able to get a ticket and she’ll play some of her classic jams!

Gamble by Shiina Ringo

Things I’m going to miss about Japan - #5 The Kids

This is an obvious one that requires no real explanation. I love kids, Japanese children are especially adorable. I love the fact that I get the best of them, because I’m not their parents or their real teacher, I don’t have to deal with disciplining them or taking care of them, all I do is play with them, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Maybe it’s because I’m Asian too, they’re extra open and acceptive of me, yet they treat me like a celebrity because A) I’m foreign, B) they only see me once a week if that, and C) because I’m apparently the youngest and best looking teacher they ever have contact with, so I’m just kool by default. From faraway I could already see their little faces light up as they whisper to each other “he’s here!” when they see me walking towards their classroom. They treat touching me as something to brag about and they always shower me with compliments. I can’t imagine being told I’m handsome by a 7 year old back home, especially from a boy, but in Japan, they’ll interrupt the lesson to tell me that.

ME: Elephant!

KIDS: Elephant!

ME: What does it mean? …Yes, you.

BOY: Beyondo-sensei, you’re handsome.

ME: …Um, thanks. What does elephant mean?

BOY: I don’t know.

EVERYONE CRACKS UP.


I often wonder, what the world must be like through their little eyes. What do they think about in their little heads as us adults get so preoccupied with “living”? Kids really do say the darndest things. Sometimes they confuse me, sometimes they enlighten me, most of the time they just crack me up. When I have a great day with the kids, I feel at peace with the world, without a worry on my mind. It’s not very pleasing to think that when I move on I won’t be surrounded by kids in the same way ever again, I’m really gonna miss this.


P.S. This is the last time I’m saying “cheese” when I get my photo taken.

Things I’m going to miss about Japan - #5 The Kids

This is an obvious one that requires no real explanation. I love kids, Japanese children are especially adorable. I love the fact that I get the best of them, because I’m not their parents or their real teacher, I don’t have to deal with disciplining them or taking care of them, all I do is play with them, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Maybe it’s because I’m Asian too, they’re extra open and acceptive of me, yet they treat me like a celebrity because A) I’m foreign, B) they only see me once a week if that, and C) because I’m apparently the youngest and best looking teacher they ever have contact with, so I’m just kool by default. From faraway I could already see their little faces light up as they whisper to each other “he’s here!” when they see me walking towards their classroom. They treat touching me as something to brag about and they always shower me with compliments. I can’t imagine being told I’m handsome by a 7 year old back home, especially from a boy, but in Japan, they’ll interrupt the lesson to tell me that.

ME: Elephant!

KIDS: Elephant!

ME: What does it mean? …Yes, you.

BOY: Beyondo-sensei, you’re handsome.

ME: …Um, thanks. What does elephant mean?

BOY: I don’t know.

EVERYONE CRACKS UP.

I often wonder, what the world must be like through their little eyes. What do they think about in their little heads as us adults get so preoccupied with “living”? Kids really do say the darndest things. Sometimes they confuse me, sometimes they enlighten me, most of the time they just crack me up. When I have a great day with the kids, I feel at peace with the world, without a worry on my mind. It’s not very pleasing to think that when I move on I won’t be surrounded by kids in the same way ever again, I’m really gonna miss this.

P.S. This is the last time I’m saying “cheese” when I get my photo taken.

*EXHALE*
Running a total of 4 hours, Love Exposure plays like a rock soap opera of sexual perversion and craziness we have come to associate so lovingly with modern extreme Japanese cinema. The result? An amazing ride that I have not had with films of this subgenre. I have seen two other films by director Sion Sono, Suicide Club (aka Suicide Circle) which was one of the weirdest film I have ever seen, the experience felt more like a dream than anything else. And Himizu, which I liked for the most part. One thing is for certain, Sono has an ability to get some amazing performances from his young actors. All three leads in this film were truly remarkable, I really hope to see more work from all of them.
One of the main reason why I believe Love Exposure succeeds so well is due to it’s well maintained tempo. The pacing is helped with rapid editing and the dominance of a specific musical theme for each of it’s 5 chapters. First, it’s a boy choir hymn, then Ravel’s Bolero, then two different funky rock tunes by the band Yura Yura Teikoku, and only in the film’s final hour do we finally get some silence interspersed with melodramatic synth and piano score.
On top of all the aesthetics, the film deals with so many complex themes, from religion to fetishisation. Hilarious, heartbreaking and with more upskirt shots than you’ve ever seen, this is truly an one of a kind masterpiece filmmaking.

I often think about why…why is it that my life here in Japan is so amazing. The great days are in abundance and the bad times never really last very long. Trust me when I say this is not how I’ve always felt for the most part of my life. I believe that answer is…because my time here is limited. Although I have a job here that consist of routines just like any other job in any other part of the world, life here is still a holiday, a break from “reality”, I know that in no time my journey here will come to an end, so whatever time I have that I don’t enjoy will be lost. Most of the reservations and instincts to procrastinate I’ve had before gets washed away because I actually won’t have all the time in the world to do the things I want to do here. This is why I pack my weekends and off days with exciting things to do and see, because I don’t want to leave with any regrets.

If I can maintain this mentality every day for the rest of my life, regardless of where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing and what stage of my life I’ll really be in, how amazing would that be? It’s the way I SHOULD approach life because our time on Earth is indeed limited, we just often forget about it.

Before Sunrise gives us a glimpse of what romance would be like if we knew exactly how much time we’ll have together. This is my favourite scene in the film.

'Tis the season of graduation, and with that, comes a hint of inevitable sentimentality on my side. Seeing the piles of year books and memorabilia lying around the teachers' room, I wish I was just a little bit closer to my students of the the large junior high school and knew them a little better (something I can't really change because of my limited time at each school). But also, it made me miss my own school days, not so much the studying or the mundane routines, but of the leaving process, that end of an era feeling, and of a time when I had all the time in the world as I swam in the endless ocean of youth. 青春万歳!

友〜旅立ちの時〜 by ゆず