Yamato (California)

Directed by Daisuke Miyazaki

In Yamato, rap is a border, a bridge that connects two young women, while at the same time addressing the “American problem” in Japan.

[…]

Through the story of a young, angst-ridden female rapper living next to an American military base, up-and-coming young filmmaker Daisuke Miyazaki […], aims his lens at his country’s youth. He also tackles the complex relationship between Japan and the United States and the political control wielded behind the scenes. But in the end, it’s about music and the struggle to have your voice heard. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

I kind of put myself in a difficult position with this first post, but Sophie’s 3 things from this week post made me want to start a blog about all the various things that I consume. I’m a prolific, but passive, consumer most of the time. Unless prompted I tend not to think too much about what I’ve been watching/listening to/reading, so this blog is largely going to be a way of self-prompting myself into thinking about what I’m consuming.

Choosing Yamato (California) to start off with was not the best idea, because I’ve only seen it the one time, a week ago, and I can’t double check any of the parts of the movie that I attempt to talk about. Hopefully posts in the future will be a bit more structured, but that could take some time.

Japan and the United States

The “American problem” in Japan is the focus of three different manners in the film:

  1. Sakura and Rei’s friendship
  2. Sakura’s music
  3. A traditional Japanese barbecue restaurant and the owner

The first instance ends on a happy note, with Sakura and Rei resolving their fight.

The second instance ends on a hopeful note. Sakura, after having been accused of only copying American rap, is beginning to define herself as a uniquely Japanese/Yamato-ian rapper. Rather than allowing “American-ness” to dominate her work, she’s using rap as her own form of expression. During the Q&A this was compared to the introduction of cinema to Japan (which I know nothing about). This general sense of hopefulness set the tone for the end of the movie and the follow-up discussion, and it seemed to be generally agreed that the movie ended with a message of hope.

The third and final instance ended with the restaurant being shut down, a decidedly not happy and not hopeful ending. The Japanese/American cultural collision here was explained in a story that the owner told (going off of memory here):

When I was young, I would always see the soldiers on base having barbecues. One day, I told my dad that I wanted to move to America, where I could have barbecue every day! Do you know what he did?

POP

He hit me in the face! He said, “You’re the heir to a 150-year-old barbecue restaurant!”

At the end of the movie the 150-year old restaurant is up for rent, and it seems like a safe assumption that the soldiers are still barbecuing on base. I regret not asking about this during the Q&A, because it seems like it could potentially add some darkness to the hopefulness of the film’s ending. An “evolve or die” type situation.

yamato3

Noise

Yamato (California) was a very loud movie. The American military base in Yamato is produces a lot of air traffic, which in turn produces a lot of noise. Throughout the film the loud rumbling of the planes can be heard regularly, and at times they drown out the conversation between characters. Daisuke Miyazaki mentioned the noise when asked about how he felt filming in his home town. He said that he was excited to have the opportunity to film a movie in his home town, but was struggling with how to convey the uniqueness of the city in the film as the architecture of the city isn’t particularly unique or striking. When he invited some friends of his in the industry to visit Yamato, they all commented on the noise of the planes, saying that it was just incredibly loud. Having grown up with the noise, it was something that he was accustomed to living with.

Another interesting noise-related thing that I noticed while watching was that there were a lot of general walking sounds. It seems like most movies only contain “hard” walking sounds like those from high heels or boots or hard soled shoes. The scuffing of loose sneakers never seems to be present, but it was here.

yamato2

Brutality and Reality

The climax of the movie occurs when Sakura, out at night, alone, is assaulted. A girl who she punched at the beginning of the movie sees her, sees that she’s alone, puts an unopened can of beer into a plastic bag, and hits Sakura in the back of the head with it. It’s a short, brutal scene that very much stood out from the rest of the movie, but at the same time fit very well into the movie as a whole.

During the Q&A, Daisuke Miyazaki mentioned that other directors had suggested that he include a scene where an American soldier rapes one of the main characters. This, they said, would get the movie into larger festivals. He said that he wanted to accurately portray Yamato and that isn’t a problem that the people there face. I think that the desire to portray reality through fiction resulted in a film that felt real. Some movies require an active suspension of disbelief, and that’s not something that’s necessarily bad or wrong, but it’s not something that I felt I needed to do during this movie.

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