You will have gathered that I like Japan and I recently watched a french movie “Wasabi” that is worth mentioning here. It portrays elements of what fascinate me in Japan.
Wasabi stars Jean Reno and other less known actors. It’s about a an ex-secret service agent turned cop who 19 years earlier had fallen in love with Miko, a japanese counterpart, got dumped, and became bitter and never loved another. Upon being informed of her death, he also learns that this lady names him the executor of her will. Upon arrival in Tokyo for the funeral and the opening of the will, he finds out, to his great surprise, that he has a daughter, now 19, that Miko never told him about and that he has to take care of her until her 20th birthday (when she becomes an adult). Follows the building of a relationship between a tough but sentimental frenchman and a typical wild, very pretty but excentric japanese teenager. This while a group of Yakuza chase them to recapture 200 million USD that was stolen from them by the now dead mother. You get the picture. A nice little action oriented comedy feature.
What is interesting about this film is that it quite accurately points out what is specific (and bizarre to western eyes) about japanese youth. Japan puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on youth (even though it has one of the oldes populations on Earth). Youth is the time when everything is allowed and one does not need to conform or be governed by all the obligations of adulthood. Japanese teenagers never cease to surprise me by their crazy attire (everything is possible) and their seemingly endless freedom. They also spend their parents money like there’s no tomorrow. A contrario, by the time they reach the age of 25 and have integrated the workplace or for women, when they start having children, all trace of their former individuality vanishes to be replaced by a very dutiful, respectful and conformist attitude (and attire, which automatically becomes conservative). The cycle then starts again with a new generation. It is a very different way of functioning from our’s and forms the basis of the appeal of this film. Ryoko Hirosue, the actress who portrays the daughter, does a great job introducing us to the quirkiness of japanese youth culture and it all make for good comedy 😉
In Jerusalem, a journalist heard about an old Jew who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out.
She goes to the Western Wall and there he is! She watches him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turns to leave, she approaches him for an interview.
“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?”
“For about 50 years.”
“50 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 50 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a fuckin’ wall.”
I just spent six days in Tokyo and stayed at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. This is the hotel in which a large part of the movie “Lost in Translation” happens. I loved the movie, and so, instead of staying at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills where I usually stay, I decided to give the Park Hyatt a shot to see if it would capture some of the magic.
Did it ? Yes in a strange way… This a top class business travelers hotel. The design, the rooms, the famous pool, the even more famous bar, the service, everything is definitely up to the best standards. One definitely feels well taken care and nothing is out of place.
This is where it captures some of the movie’s feel : you walk in on the second floor (main) entrance. You then take an elevator to the 41st floor where the lobby is situated. You must then walk through lobby, restaurant, and book-filled hallway to get to the front desk and do your check-in. Then you take another elevator to your room (higher up). “Lost in Translation” starts kicking in. You have a view over all of Tokyo, you’ve got serious jet lag, you’re floating and you’re away from home. The design is perfect but cold. Japanese relaxation DVD is playing on the huge flat screen. Not the slightest item out of place in the huge room, everything there for a reason. You are away from home. And the Shinjuku location doesn’t help either because though relatively central and very upscale, the dimensions are of the kind that have huge towers in their own grounds and you do nothing on foot. You ARE away from home and it all starts becoming a little lonely. I can just imagine how a scenario such as that of “Lost in Translation” could come to mind in place like that and yes, it is the place where actors stop when they come to do promotion in Tokyo. I crossed Antonio Banderas at the pool on friday morning.
Tokyo is a strange place… Not beautiful. Compelling. Does the Park Hyatt add to the experience ? I don’t know… For some maybe. For me, next time, I’ll be returning to the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi, center of Tokyo nightlife, where one feels all in all less “lost in translation”.
As the precedent entry shows, I’ve just spent a week in Tokyo. And as any good technophile, I was hoping to have reached heaven. Well folks, I was in for a very big disappointment. Another example of globalization rendering the world homogenous.
Japanese people love their gadgets and technology but I guess nowadays so do we. In Akibahara district as in Shinjuku, the stores are filled with all of the same stuff we can get anywhere in Europe. Even the prices, strong euro not withstanding, are pretty much the same. Only differences were mobile phones (different system but 2 megapixel camera phones) and subnotebooks. They have a huge and very cool selection of ultraportables but they don’t sell for export (no warranty, no english OS or keyboard etc…).
For those interested in seeing what I’m talking about and maybe even buying, check out Dynamism.com for a good selection of top Japan tech that’s not easily available at home.