Comparing notes: What they thought of each other’s No. 1


Special To The Japan Times

Who says critics are out of touch? At the time of writing, entertainment website Pia’s “Satisfaction Ranking” for current films has “Intouchables” at No. 3, and “Argo” No. 2. (“Ninkyo Helper” is No. 1.) Kaori Shoji, Mark Schilling, and Giovanni Fazio got together to chew over their No. 1 picks.

Kazoku no Kuni (Our Homeland)

Mark Schilling: I went into this with no expectations, but it blew me away — the way it is dramatized. Everyone has a big scene, and, in Japan, that’s usually an excuse for over-acting. (Laughs.) But each of the performances is stripped down to the essentials. There’s something raw about it.

Giovanni Fazio: I’d say you should include a warning with your Top 10: “This film may cause uncontrollable sobbing.” When I saw it, and the lights came up in the theater, the audience was just wrecked.

Kaori Shoji: It reminded me of Orwell’s “1984”. (The son who was in North Korea) comes back a little zombielike, he doesn’t want to talk, he can’t remember things … That sense of resignation and fear is what happened to Winston Smith, right?

G.F.: You need a lot of context to get the story, though. For foreign audiences — or even Japanese — the idea of sending your son to go work for Kim Jong Il’s “socialist paradise” seems deluded.

M.S.: In my Top 10 list I often try to draw attention to films that have been neglected, but not this time; this is Japan’s nominee for the Foreign Language Academy Award. This stayed with me the most.


M.S.: I remember the ’70s well. All the details in this film were so right — the clothes, the people. It really made me think of “All the President’s Men.” And for Ben Affleck to do that now is extraordinary. If I hadn’t known it was him, my reaction would have been, “Which great veteran director made this?”

K.S.: It’s just really intelligent — far more intelligent than we have come to expect from Hollywood.

G.F.: One thing that struck me is that this could have been just another “demonize the Arab terrorists” movie. But Affleck went to great pains to explain exactly why the embassy was taken over.

M.S.: It really had an impressive authenticity. Although there were scenes where you think, “Yeah, Hollywood had to do it this way.” Like the final takeoff with the plane …

K.S.: Did that even happen?

G.F.: In reality, the plan went off without a hitch. But if you made the movie like that, no one would believe it!

M.S.: I thought it was timely. In a way, the revolution in Iran was the beginning of the Arab Spring. It’s almost like a warning: This can happen; it can get out of control.

G.F.: Did you like Affleck’s performance?

K.S.: He’s cute, a lot cuter than in his other films. I loved the way his jeans sat on his hips. It was so ’70s.

G.F.: And the facial hair, too.

M.S.: It’s true to the character, but it also takes away from who Ben Affleck is. It’s a kind of self-sacrifice. His fans don’t want to see him behind a beard.

K.S.: Really? I know three women who became his fans because of that film.

G.F.: Beards are back.


K.S.: This is obscenely successful. The reason for its success here is that it reflects the super-senile society we’re heading toward.

The hero for the 21st century is the one who can give care. To the elderly!

G.F.: So you’re saying we can look forward to movies with Matt Damon changing adult diapers on Morgan Freeman?

M.S.: Japanese films are always like that. Someone’s got Alzheimer’s, or whatever …

G.F.: Or like “Ninkyo Helper.” Anyway, this was more or less based on a true story, and so were “Argo” and “Kazoku no Kuni”. We clearly prefer reality over fantasy.

M.S.: Maybe it’s a reaction, but I see so many films based on a manga or a TV show. There’s just no reality. Of course, fantasy’s fine, too, but it tends to leave you craving something real.

K.S.: What did you guys think of the “Driving Monsieur Daisy” aspect?

G.F.: It was like, stuffy white people learn to loosen up thanks to life-affirming black guy. We’ve seen it before. But, to be fair, there were some scenes that weren’t cliched.

M.S.: It could have been very PC and all that … but it is a very funny film. The disabled guy hates being disabled! He’s in a bad mood all the time. It’s kind of a formula, but sometimes the formulas work.