It’s awards season in Hollywood. On Sunday, all eyes were on the ゴールデン・グローブ賞 (Gōruden Gurōbu-shō, Golden Globe Awards), where two Japanese directors were nominated: 是枝裕和 (Koreeda Hirokazu, Hirokazu Kore-eda) and 細田守 (Hosoda Mamoru, Mamoru Hosoda).
Though both are critical darlings, Kore-eda’s 「万引き家族」 (“Manbiki Kazoku,” “Shoplifters”) and Hosoda’s 「未来のミライ」 (“Mirai no Mirai,” “Mirai”) both lost out in the end. Let’s hope they find better luck when the nominees for the アカデミー賞 (Akademii-shō, Academy Awards) are announced Jan. 22 (the ceremony takes place Feb. 24).
Until then, film will be a great topic of conversation, especially in Japan where 映画鑑賞 (eiga kanshō, watching movies) is one of the country’s top two 趣味 (shumi, hobbies). (The other is 読書 [dokusho, reading books].)
The first movie camera came to Japanese shores — Kobe, to be specific — in 1896. Back then, 映画 (eiga, movies) were silent and referred to as 活動写真 (katsudō shashin, moving photographs), a term that was then shortened to 活動 (katsudō, activity [moving]). Men known as 弁士 (benshi, narrators) stood by the screens and provided narration and sometimes dialogue, live. The “ben” in benshi means “verbosity,” and the phrase 弁が立つ (ben ga tatsu, to have a way with words) is still in circulation.
“Katsudō” remained in use through the early 20th century, and was later replaced by 映画, whose kanji “映” (“ei”) means to reflect or project, and “画” (“ga”) is picture. Still, many Japanese directors used neither katsudō nor eiga for their work until the 1970s, and instead used the word “写真” (shashin, photographs) that were made in 撮影所 (satsueijo, film studios). Filmmaker giants such as 小津安二郎 (Ozu Yasujirō, Yasujiro Ozu) and 黒澤明 (Kurosawa Akira, Akira Kurosawa) publicly referred to their work as shashin, and as directors they were referred to as 演出家 (enshutsuka, person who brings out a performance) through the 1960s.
Another great thing about awards season is that it reminds us of all the good stuff that came out last year, films we maybe never got around to seeing. In 2018, my favorite Japanese film was 大森立嗣監督の「日日是好日」 (Ōmori Tatsushi-kantoku no “Nichinichi Kore Kōjitsu,” director Tatsushi Omori’s “Every Day a Good Day”) if you’re looking for おすすめ (osusume, recommendations).
一番好きな映画は何ですか? (Ichiban sukina eiga wa nan-desu ka?, What is your favorite film?) I’ve been finding, recently, that a lot of people have been mentioning Kore-eda. 最近の映画だったら、「万引き家族」かな? (Saikin no eiga dattara, “Manbiki Kazoku” kana?, If it’s recent films [we’re talking about], I guess “Shoplifters”?)
Asking why someone likes a film can be done simply in two ways: どうして好きですか? (Dōshite suki desu ka?) or どこが好きですか? (Doko ga suki desu ka?) The first question uses “dōshite” (why, for what reason), which makes sense. But the second option, “doko” (where) might sound a little strange in English (“Where do you like it?”). However, the doko in our film question refers to what part of the movie you liked. Was it the 演技 (engi, acting, literally the “skill of performing”), 撮影 (satsuei, cinematography) or the 筋書き (sujigaki, plot)?
When it comes to the films of Kore-eda, many 批評家 (hihyōka, critics) have praised the story. 是枝裕和監督の映画のテーマは家族の在り方なので、考えさせられた (Koreeda Hirokazu-kantoku no eiga no tēma wa kazoku no arikata nanode, kangaesaserareta, The theme of director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films are the state of the family so [the film] made me think). A film that makes you think (考えさせられる, kangaesaserareru), makes you feel (感動させられる, kandō saserareru) or makes you laugh (笑わせられる warawaserareru) is a great thing indeed, and “Shoplifters” did all that and one more: 泣かせられる (nakaserareru, makes you cry) which is a crucial element in Japanese movies.
However, when it comes to all-time Japanese film favorites, I still love sitting down with the film 「男はつらいよ」 (“Otoko wa Tsurai Yo,” “It’s Tough Being a Man”). You may know it as the 「寅さん」 (“Tora-san,” “Mr. Tora”) series, in reference to its main character (kind of like James Bond). The first of 48 installments (beat that, Bond!) came out in 1969 and まだ笑える (Mada waraeru, I’m still able to laugh [at it]).
Some parts of Japan are knee-deep in snow just now, so it’s the perfect time to go home early and ぬくぬくする (nukunuku suru, get all cozy) with “Tora-san,” the works of Kore-eda or 昔のアカデミー賞作品 (mukashi no Akademii-shō sakuhin, an Oscar winner of old).