I love reading books, and watching movies, and I particularly love reading books or watching movies that are insightful and provide commentary on what it is to be human. In my experience, I have found many Japanese story tellers to get the balance of joy and tragedy so right. I also find that they do not shy away from topics other cultures find taboo. Becoming a widow at 41, with two children, I really appreciate a story that can tell my kind of tale. Not a fairy tale, but a tale of reality and sadness, which invariably has a rich silver lining, which offers so much more than the vacuous, meaningless princess story.
Tonight I watched Tokyo Story, a film made in 1953 by Yasujiro Ozu. What a masterfully told and beautifully filmed story. Every scene, you are allowed the time to digest the environment. The black and white so sharp and richly textured. The paused empty room at the beginning and end of each scene. The subject matter of the family too busy for the visiting parents, that I am sure makes many viewers slightly uncomfortable with guilty familiarity. Such a visual treat, while at the same time, pulling at your emotions. A poignancy I find particular to Japanese stories.
Some of my favourite stories and storytellers include the following, Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I like all of Murakami’s books that I have read, but this one is particularly heart breaking. It deals with suicide, a common theme in many Japanese stories, and indeed Japanese history and culture. Hosoda’s Wolf Children. A very beautiful Japanese friend suggested this one, as it reminded her of me, with my two wild children. Well, they’re not that wild, but this story of a single mother is heart wrenching and uplifting at the same time. Shinkai’s Your Name, which had me blubbering like a baby in the cinema. The injustice and beauty of love. And finally, the king of spectacularly beautiful sad, but inspiring stories, Miyazaki and Spirited Away. I love all of Miyazaki’s movies, especially Totoro, Ponyo, KiKi and Spirited Away. Children in stories where they must be stoic and courageous, confronted by situations that, indeed many children are dealing with every day.
I am unsure what it is about the Japanese culture which allows this insightful understanding of the beauty within the tragedy. I do know, it is one of the things that I love about Japan and I am looking forward to more movies, more anime, more books. Please leave a comment with a few favourite titles that you recommend. The list gets increasingly longer, the more I watch and read, the faster it grows.