Haiku reflections on Japan

The Samurai way … or not

Dramas about food – yum

yet not so eager about 

diners in this one

I guess because I wasn’t overly impressed with it that I didn’t mention sooner a drama series called Samurai Gourmet which I watched lately.  I had a lot to say about the recent films I watched (I really hope you haven’t watched A taxing woman returns!).

A newly retired salary man, a nice guy too (unlike the obnoxious image of salary men you often get which is of course unfair to most of them), who finds himself with not a lot to do in his retirement but eat out everyday finds his behaviour somewhat influenced by the presence, which only he can see, of a samurai who is not shy about acting the way he wants.  This is mostly good – he learns to relax and not pay so much attention to what people might think of him – and sometimes ‘bad’ – he still backs down from a ‘good’ confrontation or gets intimidated too easily when he tries to ask someone to shut it as he’s annoying other customers.  If you summon up the courage to start to tell someone to shut it you should follow it through.

As an aside, I still think you should never slurp your pasta in Japan even if you’re taught that it’s ok with noodles.   Even if everyone else is doing it.   And I was not impressed with the way the pasta was cooked in the second or third episode I think it was.

An extra quirk is that in the scenes with the samurai, the actors present, bar the retiree, suddenly change from their modern attire to the style of dress from the particular era the samurai comes from and when he disappears they’re seen again in their modern attire.  The retired salary man is played by an actor I might have mentioned here before, Naoto Takenaka.  He’s a good actor for this kind of role.

It’s a real slow-moving casual kind of drama, sometimes charming, often funny, about an ordinary guy (re-)discovering himself in a Japan he hardly recognises (he’s been so busy working and has never had the time to relax and observe what’s going on around him) and in some ways it looks at family ties as well.  His wife seems to live her own life completely and his niece acts like he should be happy with her company even if she’s ignoring him and engaging more with her phone. Though I wouldn’t compare it quality wise to Cafe Lumiere, it did remind me of that film, only with humour.   I guess it’s a good one after all!  Midnight Diner, with its raggle taggle of different customers and a very taciturn diner owner, another nice guy, is similar but also without as much humour.

Speaking of Cafe Lumiere, Huo Hsiao-Hsien is 70 today (the 8th of April) – happy birthday!

Haiku reflections on Japan, International or other matters

Itami update – Taxing indeed!

Sometimes the sequel

to a film just ain’t worth the

effort of watching

Well, I watched A Taxing Woman and as expected, it was very good (earning Miyamoto a Best Actress award at the Japanese Academy Awards in 1988) with great performances by both Miyamoto, the ‘taxing’ woman of the title and Yamazaki, the tricky person she’s after for taxes, yet comes to respect and like (a feeling that’s more than mutual).  Who would think a film about a tax inspector could be so riveting!!  Not me.  There are some pretty comical scenes exaggerating the power and excitement these tax inspectors get in catching tax evaders.

However, I’d be very reluctant to recommend the sequel A taxing woman returns which I decided to watch straight after because I had just discovered a sequel existed (and I was doing nothing else). This time she’s going after a religious cult mixed up with the Yakuza (like the Yakuza aren’t challenging enough!) and there are some very distasteful scenes in it.  I turned it off after a while as I couldn’t watch anymore.  Even the first scene is hard to get past.  You could say it was taxing to watch.  It’s almost an insult to the original to be that distasteful (even though it’s the same actress and same director – I’m a bit disappointed people!)

I was wondering what the マルサ of the Japanese title referred to.  It’s slang for the tax inspection agency.  She does mention it herself when her boss decides they need the assistance of the national inspection agency (they’re just regular auditors working for the local tax office) to which she then gets promoted to working with, but I couldn’t see the linguistic connection.  Wikipedia put me right.  I’m a linguist by profession so this need to know something like this is obsessive.  I’m not a human dictionary after all and nor would finance /tax be an area I’d be in a rush to translate so I wouldn’t know it through my work either.  Anyway, サ/査 comes from one of the words for inspection (調査・ちょうさ) and マル・まる which is circle represents the circle beside the 査 kanji, two kanji  〇査 (ok, symbols as the circle’s not a kanji but you get my drift) which the tax inspection agency use side by side in their official seal. I like how it translates in English to ‘(a) taxing woman’ as to the people she’s after she’s rather taxing as she won’t get off their case but likewise it’s ‘taxing’ work for her to deal with such people, however smoothly she does it.   Exciting knowledge to have I know(ok now I’m just being sarcastic) – but you’d never know when you might need it.  Just don’t get caught out on your taxes in Japan and you won’t have to. But if you want to translate finance/tax (yawn!), it’s good to know anyway.

Don’t forget to watch the original though – it really is very good.

Haiku reflections on Japan, International or other matters, Snapshots of Japan

Itami’s slices of life

‘I must get back to

some Japanese film watching’

I said, and I did


After a bit of a gap in Japanese film-watching, I decided to go browsing for films and ended up making this weekend a Juzo Itami weekend after watching Minbo (ミンボの女) on Friday and The Funeral (お組織) last night , while A Taxing Woman (マルサの女) is planned for this evening. Thank you video-streaming website in question (and, of course, the people who put these films up)!  After watching Minbo, I saw The Funeral pop up as a recommended film and then A Taxing Woman showed up later.  I do remember watching Minbo while at college but had kind of forgotten a lot of it, while before this weekend I had never watched the other two.  In December it will be 20 years since the death of Juzo Itami, in 1997, apparently forced to commit suicide by a branch of the Yakuza who he had pissed off through his portrayal of them in the film Minbo where the Yakuza characters are defeated by the wiles of a sassy lawyer, played by Nobuko Miyamoto, and the staff of the hotel the Yakuza make trouble for.

Miyamoto Nobuko (宮本 信子) and Yamazaki Tsutomu  (山崎 努) co-star in A Taxing Woman, The Funeral and of course Tampopo, another of Juzo Itami’s gems.  Yamazaki doesn’t appear in Minbo.  You might know him from Departures (2008), – not The Departed as I mistakenly called it in a rush to write, an entirely different film Hong Kong or US-wise hehe ; ) – already gushed about in this blog, where he runs an undertaker business and coaches the main character in how to prepare deceased folk for burial.  They’re both brilliant in all the films. I’m going to include A Taxing Woman even if I am yet to watch it as I’m confident I’ll enjoy watching them in that as well.   The four films, as I’m including Tampopo, have other actors in common as well, playing supporting characters.

I really enjoyed Minbo and the Funeral, though in different ways.   Minbo has a strong female character standing up to the bullies that are the Yakuza, and teaching others to stand up to them (although if you ask me the final scene shows them still a little apologetic to them, so clearly there’s only so far you can go).  It also shows how the police were somewhat afraid to deal with them as well.  Ordinary cops on the beat at least as the detective and his gang had a great attitude to defeating them.   There are bound to be police that were and still are either afraid of them or colluding with them.

The Funeral shows that funeral procedures are the same in many countries in the ways people deal with them, personally at least.  In this one, the couple who have taken charge of organising the funeral, played by the afore-mentioned actress and actor, have to watch a How To video on how to put on a funeral, use the correct speech to funeral-goers and so on.  There is a lot of awkwardness and indecision about the funeral arrangements and family disagreeing over said arrangements, and comments on the personality of the deceased, which I’m sure many people watching would empathise with.   Uninvited guests make it yet more awkward but there is humour in the film as well.  There’s also a very brief cameo by the elderly father from Tokyo Story,  who plays the priest who appears in a Rolls Royce (another thing in common with clergy around the world – where’s your vow of poverty?).

I recommend these films without hesitation. A Taxing Woman, The Funeral and Tampopo are from the 80s but Minbo is from the early 90s (Minbo, 1992) but don’t let that put you off.  There is somewhat of a dearth of films coming from Japan at the moment but even if we were flooded with films from today’s Japan I would still watch and recommend these old favourites.