Before the Korean phenomenon, recent Japanese films and TV shows offer a fascinating side to the lesser-known aspects of the nation
Ansel Elgort, Ken Watanabe in a still from Tokyo Vice
Tokyo Vice, a new series on Lionsgate Play, brings back the charm of noir drama topped with classic journalism. JT Rogers created this series with Jake Adelstein, the American (foreign) reporter at Japan’s leading newspaper. Yomiuri Shimbun. Based on his memories, Tokyo Vice – An American reporter on the police crackdown in Japan, the series effectively captures their non-inclusive culture and nuanced social code of conduct. Adelstein interacted with the Yakuza, the mysterious but entrenched mafia, and worked closely with reliable police officers. He gets a third look at how Japanese crime and police work that few others have had access to. With top directors of American and Japanese descent directing episodes, this drama offers a rare glimpse into crime in the land of the rising sun. She has a worldview for white people, but underscores the fact that being a gaijin (foreigner) can be a stumbling block when operating in Japan, and the series increases her resonance and appeal.
Tokyo Vice belongs to a unique series of stories that offer facets of Japanese life and culture in recent years. A relatively small nation, one of the most developed and expensive places on earth, Japan has an unusual influence on cultural, fashion and food trends worldwide. Before the Korean phenomenon, Japan always had an independent and fascinating space in the finer aspects of life. This explains the growing interest in films and TV shows set in Japan that reveal lesser-known sides of this nation.
There is Giri/Haji, a series about a police officer who finds himself at a moral crossroads when his brother joins Yukuza. It extends its range when the protagonist moves to London for a short time. Here he teams up with a British police investigator. Contrasts in Western culture and in interactions between foreigners and Japanese determine the choices made by the key characters in this series.
The foreigner experience in Japan has prompted a number of films in the West. Lost in translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, is the best example of Tokyo acting as the setting for two people from a very different, more open culture to discover themselves. Both find a little bit of love, life and making memories. Similar, Tokyo project, a short film starring Elisabeth Moss and Ebon Moss-Bachrach, works with the theme of love and letting go, of momentary pleasure, with Tokyo providing a stunning backdrop for its story. And there is The Last Samurai by Edward Zwick, a poignant, visually arresting drama set in the early modern period. Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe lead an excellent cast of actors in this beautifully retold story about an American’s admiration and affection for the complicated, perfected culture of Japan and the samurai. This film reflects a grudging respect that Japan historically enjoys among Westerners.
Dramas set in Japan go beyond crime. drive my car, this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, is a touching tale of loving memory of a loved one who has passed away. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has built on an unnamed relationship forged by a playwright-director with a chauffeur. The film sets a high bar in terms of visual narrative, production value, and believable characters. drive my car represents Japan’s new-age cinematic voice, transcending languages with its sophisticated storytelling.
The naked director, a Netflix-supported series, is another unseen side of Japanese life. The porn industry here has been active and has diversified into forms of animated porn like manga and hentai. A provocative filmmaker who wanted to change perceptions of porn, Toru Muranishi is an unusual protagonist in this series that has acquired taste but tells an important story. Comedic and full of explicit scenes, this series contains poignant stories about characters working in pornography; and builds on human stories. It takes a more evolved approach to attempt seasonal drama about the making and re-making of a specific form of pornography. If you can see beyond the core content, the Naked director has a relevant and touching story of the rise and safe fall of a self-obsessed, creative man.
Marriages and disappointments are at the core Fishbowl women, a Japanese drama based on a manga series. While some found the mix of multiple characters in a tightly written episode a bit confusing, Fishbowl women effectively captures the conflict and disillusionment of marriages. Here, wives strive to make more livable choices and deal with preconceived notions of marriage in their own way. The story is structured around the care of a goldfish, which makes for an interesting premise for weaving in the lives of various characters.
Japan has a painful recent history associated with war crimes, atrocities in Southeast Asia and the unimaginable, crushing price of losing a world war after being faced with atomic bombs. What followed as the historic Tokyo Trials, in which Japanese army leaders and bureaucrats were sentenced to death or life imprisonment, first established the term Victor’s Justice. processes in Tokyo, an indulgent but well-written limited series on Netflix, focuses on discussions and conversations conducted by a panel of renowned judges from around the world before delivering their verdict. Starring Tim Ahern, William Hope, Paul Freeman and the late Irrfan Khan, the series is directed by two directors known for independent cinema (Peter Vierhoff and Rob W. King). Her approach to this complex and difficult historical moment is patient and open-minded, which is reflected in the execution of the series.
Drawing for myths and legends of Japan is also The Terror: Shame a series about a ghost crossing from the old world of Japan to the North American shores. While this series plays on the gallery with its horror trope, the series captures ancient beliefs and practices that still govern Japanese life to this day.
Japan is unique in sounds, sights, stories, food and smells. It attracts filmmakers and storytellers to its unusual way of life. As OTT brings movies and shows together from everywhere onto common platforms, more stories with roots in Japan will find their place on our screens.
Archita Kashyap is an experienced film, music and pop culture journalist and writer. She has edited entertainment content for broadcast news and digital platforms for over 15 years.
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