Monday, November 14, 2011

Men on trains. (電車に乗る男。)

I really shouldn't start series like I did in that last post, because I know that I'll inevitably get bored with the idea long before its completion.

There's also the fact that this is not, contrary to popular belief, a BUCK-TICK fan blog, and I should try to remember that every now and again for the sake of my adoring audience.

Thus, we return, once again, to that old stand-by...

Movie Review!

... or, well, movie-summary-and-stream-of-consciousness-discussion, but that's about as close as you're ever going to get on this blog, quite frankly.

So what, I hear you cry, is the movie today?

電車男 (でんしゃおとこ, Train Man)

Let me preface this by saying that I really like this movie. I am thus biased, and therefore this will not, by any means, be a fair critique. If you want fancy-pants movie analysis where the thing is picked apart in a cinematic sense by an unbiased judge, you're reading the wrong blog.

If you want someone to briefly summarize and then discuss the possible (and probably idealistic) social ramifications, however, then Google has steered you right at last!

(This blog is not implying in any way shape or form that Google is an inferior search engine--quite the opposite, in fact--but merely trying for a cheap laugh. Please, oh hosting corporation of my blog, forgive me.)

電車男 was a manga, then a television drama, and finally, a movie. While I have not read the manga, I have seen a portion the drama, but my opinion was unfortunately colored by having seen the movie first--it's hard to sit through eleven episodes of something when you've just seen it all condensed into two hours.

Which is not to say that I will not, again, attempt to finish each and every episode. Someday.

BUT, that's not what we're here to discuss.

This movie is cute, makes you feel good, and generally leaves viewers with a positive outlook on life. Being the shallow cheerful type that I am, I tend to prefer movies that don't make me miserable all day, or indeed leave me sobbing uncontrollably through the last twenty minutes (I'm looking at you, Finding Neverland.) This is why I have yet to watch おくりびと (Okuribito, Departures) despite it apparently being an absolutely fantastic movie.

But I digress. Again. Hey, it's what I do.

We begin by meeting our protagonist. He is an otaku in Tokyo who works as some sort of tech support, spends a great deal of time on internet message boards, and crawls Akihabara on a regular basis for anime, manga and video game memorabilia, like you do. Keep that middle bit in mind, it's the entire plot of this movie, kids.

But again, I must digress, because this. Is. Important.

There is currently a rash (yes, a rash) of young people in the US proudly calling themselves "otaku" because of their love for anime and manga and/or what they presume to be the entirety of Japanese pop culture.

Stop. It. Right now.

I don't care what Wikipedia tells you about loan words and all the other nonsense. Being an otaku is not a good thing, nor is it a way of life you should aspire towards. Being an otaku is not the back-bone of Heisei Japan. Being an otaku is CERTAINLY not something that'll score you a ton of points in Heisei Japanese society.

Being an otaku is a bad thing. At least in most social circles. Otaku is thrown around as an insult, as it generally means that the person in question is obsessed to the point of exclusion. Obsessed, and not in the middle-school "oh, I am OBSESSED with the Backstreet Boys!*" obsessed either. Normal, everyday activities are sacrificed for the sake of the obsession. Social relationships suffer. Hygiene tends to suffer, as does proper nutrition. The obsession very nearly takes over their lives. It is not a good thing.

*I refuse to move with the times. 

Admittedly, I partially blame questionable tourism promotion tactics for helping this idea along, but Japan is not the land of otaku. Yes, it's where the word and, arguably, one form of the lifestyle originated, but that's like saying that everyone in the US is a redneck due to the existence of a certain population that, frankly, we'd rather hide from the international sphere in the metaphorical national broom closet. You are taking a small, actually quite unpopular population and generalizing it to an entire country. Worse, you're appropriating its terminology without fully understanding the connotations or consequences therein.

Simply liking anime and/or manga does not make you an otaku. It just means that you like anime and/or manga, and that's fine. I cannot emphasize these things enough.

Simply put: 99 times out of 100, you, kid, are not an otaku. If you were, you wouldn't want to brag about it. You're quite possibly a weeaboo, but that's not something to be proud of. Take a Japanese culture class, punk.

...anger issues much, Edo?

Back to the topic at hand.

Now. Our protagonist is seemingly content with his run-of-the-mill otaku life. One day, he goes shopping in Akihabara, like you do, and has a good time of it. Of course, he is embarrassed to be seen as or thought of as an otaku (hint hint, weeaboos) once outside of his safe and contained social sphere (welcome to Akiba, kids), but such is life. He hides his purchases in a backpack, and generally tries to be inconspicuous. He gets some flack on the train from a randomly rude Tokyo couple when his merchandise falls out of his bag (seriously, do these people just hide until the foreigner leaves? Who says stuff like that? Bet it never happens in Osaka, guys), but is generally unscathed and puts on his handy dandy mp3 player for the ride home.

Until... Belligerent Drunken Salary Man (tm) Attacks!

(I never saw this either, though I find it much easier to believe as I have smelled it.)

As being drunk and disorderly in Japan is commonplace and generally excusable because "well, he had been drinking, he couldn't help it" (no, seriously), it is not surprising when a belligerent drunken salary man (now BDSM... ha, ha, what would Freud say) gets on the train. Oh, bother, thinks our hero, an turns up the volume on his music. BDSM hassles a few chatty middle aged ladies for being (of all things) too loud, then basically continues around the train car, looking for a fight. Up with the music, down with the gaze, oh brave hero.

Don't worry, it gets better.

Unfortunately, BDSM makes his way down to this attractive young lady that our hero has been forlornly eyeing since she boarded the train at his stop. She's trying to read her book, but we know that BDSM won't be having any of that, no siree bob.

Before things can get too hairy with the attractive young lady (AYL), our hero stands valiantly, stuttering in defiance at the belligerent and actually quite intimidating BDSM. BDSM, as you may have guessed, is not a fan of such a ballsy attack on his belligerent and drunken actions, and proceeds to get right in our hero's face. This does, however, succeed in saving AYL from his very, very dubious intentions. We proudly cheer our hero on and hope to Buddha he doesn't get his teeth knocked in and his glasses snapped in half.

Luckily, the train pulls up to the next stop before things get horribly ugly, and policemen race on board to apprehend our BDSM, having been phoned earlier by the poor middle aged ladies. The train is saved, and our hero actually is a hero! Huzzah!

After making their report to the police, both middle aged ladies promptly ask for our hero's contact information, as they want to send him thank-you gifts. (Though I have never seen the custom applied in quite this situation, this would be a very reasonable action in Japan--gift-giving is quite commonplace, whether visiting a person's house for the first time or coming back from vacation. Gifts to the hero of the train? Sounds good.) As he awkwardly stumbles through writing down the information (and who doesn't love an awkward protagonist?) he is shocked and amazed when AYL also asks for his information. In movie-land, we all know: something good is going to happen here.

The story then follows our protagonist's misadventures as he attempts to woo the attractive young lady from the train after he obtains her contact information from the label on the thank-you gift she sends via post. What makes it a good movie, however, is the fact that he bases his approach and actions almost entirely upon the advice of the people on the internet message board he created upon having the confrontation with the belligerent Drunken Salary Man.

(Just so you know, I'm not being that horrible a blogger here by repeatedly not using the hero's name--it's actually pointedly not made a big deal of in the movie, and he is mostly referred to as "電車男." AYL herself is referred to as Hermes after she gives our hero the gift of some fine Hermes-brand crockery, which our hero amusingly has no clue about before his internet friends tell him.)

The interactions online are, of course, in my opinion, the best part of the film, and what make it truly remarkable. We are introduced to a whole slice of society that finds refuge in social interaction online, all for their own reasons and all with their own (in some cases, quite considerable) baggage. We have a broken-hearted and possibly abused nurse, a hikkikomori (or shut-in, a young person who refuses to leave his room even to attend school or even interact with his family...which is a disturbingly common problem in Japan at present), three societal rejects who spend their time in internet cafes, a business man, and a housewife. This is, I admit, where the drama is stronger, as it is able to showcase a much larger variety of "internet people" (being a longer medium, time-wise), but the selection in the movie is still pretty damn good.

While the movie does tend to gloss over some societal problems by having their solutions come a bit too quickly (again, I can be a little forgiving due to time constraints and the general saccharine nature of this sort of movie), it does an excellent job of illustrating a number of reasons why people would find themselves retreating into someone else's life, and through an online message board at that. The movie touches on depression, loveless marriages, (possibly) the recent trend of poor young people basically living in internet cafes (the things you learn in depressing higher level Japanese courses, I tell ya), and of course the shut-in problem, and that's just all I can think of off the top of my head. It humanizes people and problems that tend to be marginalized or even ignored by the larger society, and thus brings the real people in these situations into positions where maybe, just maybe they feel comfortable confiding in someone, anyone, about their situation and what they can possibly do to adjust towards a better life.

... you know, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have gone into anthropology after all.

...but then I remember the forms you have to fill out to support these kinds of hypotheses with interviews, and how often my personal philosophy tends more towards the misanthropic...

....and I snap out of it again.


I recommend this movie for just about everyone, especially those who want to know a bit more about the underbelly of Japanese society yet stay out of the realm of crime. It's also good for those who mistakenly believe that Japan is populated entirely by anime and manga nuts--while it shows that side of the culture, it also demonstrates just how on the fringe it is to be that deeply focused on... well, anything, really, but that's another post.

Also good for those of you interested in Japanese-language internet speak/common typos and abbreviations--I thought that those little bits of detail were incredibly interesting, linguistic geek that I am. That, of course, is also the reason why I sometimes need to turn on the subtitles--quick-fire chat-room style speak/text is a bit difficult to keep up with. All in the name of a good challenge!

And hey, this one's actually on Netflix, so you really have no excuse.

...I know that by now that some of you must be insisting that I prefer the movie to the drama because in the movie, our hero is actually quite attractive once he cleans himself up a bit whereas in the drama... not so much. Well sir, I say to you...

You have a point. But still, the fact that I saw the movie first is still probably the biggest reason--I'm usually the most heavily influenced by the medium I first come into contact with.

Watch the movie, kids; it's good, amusing, touching, and surprisingly socially conscious.

This is Edo, signing off with the strangest urge to attack the drama once again... and the realization that she should probably be a bit nicer. But then again, there was that whole disclaimer about misanthropy, so...

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