Family Movie Night

I have been watching the tragedy taking place in Japan since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant disasters.

I am horrified at the destruction, saddened by the loss of life, encouraged by the rare rescue stories. But I am also aware of the reality that only fifty years ago, this nation was considered suspicious by our own.

Times have changed. Their nation was rebuilt but their economy has gone through rough times lately. Japan is a country of incredible spectacle in its big cities and incredible grace in the countryside. There is a mix of the modern and traditional like none other I have seen.

And they have some great movie makers.

Poster for Ran, Image from

One of the best known Japanese movies in our country might be Ran by Akira Kurosawa. The story is based on the Shakespearian play King Lear, telling the tale of a warrior king who wishes to divide his kingdom between his three sons. He wishes to retain a title and stay with each son for a part of the year as an honored guest.

The youngest son, of course, warns him of the treachery of the other two. But the old man refuses to listen, refuses to hear. He makes sad discoveries too late and finds he must do other than what he had planned. This movie graced the screen in 1985. It won an Oscar for Best Costume design but was also nominated for Best Director. For those who love movies, love foreign movies and may not object to a sub-titled version, this movie is for you.

Hayao Miyazaki, Picture from

 I have long talked about Hayao Miyazaki, the chief animator and director at Studio Ghibli. His movies capture something we do not really have in America – folktales. Tales of incredible creatures that live in the forest or in sooty basements. His movies explore the feelings of children with sensitivity and humor while creating animation that is still hand-drawn. 

If you have not seen any Miyazaki movie, I would suggest

Scene from Ponyo, Picture from

starting with Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro. Both movies are firmly in the land of folktales and the absence of a parent. Next I would look for Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. The storylines are for tween or pre-teen and are fascinating. Move on to Spirited Away which I think is his most beautifully drawn and most emotionally complex movie. This last one is a masterpiece.

These are movies from Japanese makers. Letters From takes the famous battle scene from the point of view of the Japanese but the director is Clint Eastwood. I suggest it because this is a fantastic movie coming from the point of view of the ‘enemy.’ I felt sorry for the Japanese after seeing this movie. Heartsick for what they had to endure.

Ken Wanatabe in "Letters From Iwo Jima," Picture from

Iwo Jima

Another American made movie that shows the WWII Japanese with less prejudice than usual is Empire of the Sun by Steven Speilberg and starring a young Christian Bale.

Poster, Image from

It is the story of this boy who is separated from his parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai in 1941. This is hes story of physical survival as well as spiritual survival.

While times have changed and we are no longer enemies with the nation, disaster never changes. People are struck, many die but then others will re-build. It is what we humans do.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

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