crap i have watched recently #24

tora-san film stillIf SPOILERS leave you cold, beware!

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Frozen (2013):  I’m fairly sure that everything that can be said about this movie has been said.  (That’s not going to stop me though.)  For some months after it came out it was nearly impossible to avoid its theme song and the many mostly clever reworkings of it on Youtube.  People raved about the movie on the Facebooks and the Twitters, numerous were the genderbends and anime-esque interpretations on Tumblr, and lo, did the cosplay erupt throughout the land.   It won Oscars and Golden Globes and all sorts of other awards.  I honestly believe there are very few things that could live up to that kind of hype so I wasn’t too surprised when Frozen left me sort of…indifferent.  (Hah!  Not what you thought I’d say, eh?)

Elsa and Anna are Disney’s two newest Princesses.  Elsa, the eldest, has a special ability to create snow and ice whenever she wants and she uses it to delight her little sister.  One night when they are playing Elsa accidentally injures Anna with a wayward frost bolt to the head.  Their parents freak out and have a troll king erase Anna’s memories of Elsa’s magic.  The troll also lets drop the information that it was a good thing it was only a head injury (wait, what?)  because if Anna had been hit in the heart there would be nothing he could do for her (ooooo…foreshadowing!).   The king and queen close the castle to “protect” Elsa until she can learn to control her abilities.   Elsa, miserable at what happened to her sister, rarely leaves her room and of course Anna never understands why her sister will no longer play with her.

Then, because this is Disney, both of their parents die.  Elsa must come out of hiding for her coronation ceremony and Anna is let out of the castle for the first time since she was a little girl.  She meets the charming and handsome Prince Hans, who after a whirlwind courtship lasting the length of one song, proposes to her and she accepts.  During the ceremony Anna and Elsa are reunited and share some awkward moments of  renewed sisterhood but when Elsa refuses to sanction Anna’s sudden engagement the two quarrel.  The already nervous and on-edge Elsa loses control of her powers for a moment and in panic she flees from the palace.  As she escapes, the world around her turns to winter and everything freezes.

As Elsa climbs a snowy peak alone, she sings the iconic song.  I must admit, as Disney songs go, it’s a pretty good one.  Sadly, the movie goes downhill from there, literally.  It turns out that Elsa’s liberation spells doom for her people, who are clasped in an unbreakable winter.  Assassins are sent to slay her.  Her sister goes after her to try to talk  her down the mountain.  When Anna tries to persuade Elsa to rejoin humanity an agitated Elsa accidentally hits her, you guessed it, in the heart with a frost bolt.   Then it is a race to save Anna from freezing solid (don’t ask) by finding an “act of true love” to thaw her heart.  In a small yet welcome bit of departure from the usual “true love’s kiss” nonsense it’s not the prince (either of them) who saves Anna.  It’s herself.

This is a Disney film and it probably doesn’t pay to think about it too deeply.  Much of their animated work these days exists solely to add new members to the lucrative Disney Princesses canon and none stray too far from the tried and true formula of Princess Sparkly meets Prince Charming and they live happily ever after.   Frozen suffers from too many villains (each Princess has her own with a set of henchmen) and not enough Princes (only Anna ends up with a true love).    There are random animals and other things that serve as counterpoints and comic relief, in this case a snowman and a reindeer.  There is lots and lots of mostly forgettable singing.  Kids, I suppose, loved it but most of the rave reviews I heard came from adults who were just transported by the film’s uplifting message.

So, what is that message?  It’s hard for me to tell actually.  Elsa, a young girl who is different, learns early on that different is dangerous and that different must be hidden for the good of others.  Even though Elsa must be in considerable agony, what we see the most of is Anna’s pain, as she faithfully comes to Elsa’s door and knocks and begs her sister to come out and build snowmen with her.  We see a lonely Anna growing up in a big empty palace, never allowed to leave the castle grounds, and eventually we see a naive and lovestruck Anna make a very bad personal decision.   But it’s Elsa that really resonates with people.   Anna is sweet and sisterly and hopeful and bland.  Elsa is the Ice Queen redeemed, the lonely hurt child who could have turned her pain and guilt into misery for others but doesn’t.  She gets the best song, the best clothes, the best palaces, the best magical ability.  But she doesn’t get a Prince.  Her anthem is the highpoint of the film, an increasingly joyous and self-assured “fuck you” to everyone that made her feel she wasn’t fit for human company (including herself) and a celebration of the glorious expression of her awesome superpower.  So what does she do?  She builds herself an icy palace on the top of a mountain, basically a filigreed fortress of solitude, where she plans to live alone forever.  I don’t really see this is an improvement.

I’ve watched Disney movies all my life.   The heroine always gets a Prince, even if he’s a poor but honest ice hauler with a dopey reindeer.  One must conclude that the sweet and non-challenging little Anna is the heroine and not the self-actualized, powerful Elsa.  Or…I suppose one could be generous and hope that Disney, in it’s hamfisted way, is trying to point out that not all heroines need Princes to be happy.  Ever since Beauty and the Beast Disney has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to expand the Princess canon to include women of color , women who are strong in their own right, women who work outside the palace, smart women, etc.  This is certainly laudable even when they have to rewrite history and fictional source material to do it, but it is surpassing rare that these women don’t end up with some kind of Prince.   Elsa strikes me as someone who will always be lonely because of her difference, who was briefly free, but who ends up being “the good girl she always has to be” by using her magic for others.  Frozen doesn’t really present any other options for her.

It really is a good song though.

Score:  Meh.

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It’s Tough Being A Man (Otoko wa tsurai yo; 1969):  This film is the first in a long-running series that ended only with the death in 1995 of the actor who played the main character.    Kuruma Torajirō (Atsumi Kiyoshi), called Tora-san, is a traveling salesman and con artist who exiled himself from his home in Shibamata (a district in Tokyo) after an altercation with his father.  The movie starts with him coming home for the first time in years, with only his suitcase and his clothes on his back.  His parents and his older brother are dead and his only living relatives are his little sister Sakura and the elderly aunt and uncle who raised her.  They, and especially Sakura, are filled with joy to see him again and he seems very happy to be home.   In short order though he quarrels with his aunt and uncle, gets drunk at Sakura’s omiai and tells crude and unfunny jokes inappropriate for mixed company, and leaves again, this time for Nara, where he sells used books on the street.  In Nara he accidentally meets up with the priest from the local temple in Shibamata and the priest’s lovely daughter Fuyuko.  He returns with them to Shibamata, where he courts Fuyuko and falls in love with her.   Fuyuko, alas, becomes engaged to someone else and Tora-san’s heart is broken.  He leaves again, with a young apprentice in tow, to try his fortune out in the world again.

Tora-san is often referred to as “Our Lovable Tramp” and initially at least, it’s hard to see why.  He’s not remotely lovable.  He’s in a shady line of business, even claiming to be yakuza.  He is physically and verbally abusive to nearly everyone around him, including the sweet and patient Sakura.  He drinks too much and too often and is crude and obnoxious when he does.  He embarrasses his sister and wrecks her opportunity to marry the very eligible son of her employer’s biggest client.  As if that’s not enough, when he returns from Nara he meddles again and nearly destroys her chance at happiness with Hiroshi, a factory worker who has loved her from afar for years.  But then comes the scene at Hiroshi and Sakura’s wedding.  Hiroshi also left home after an argument with his father (a recurring theme in the film) and has not seen his parents for eight years.  They attend the wedding but sit stone-faced throughout the ceremony and the many festive toasts to the bride and groom.  Tora-san drinks and drinks and becomes angrier and angrier and vows to tell them to their faces how crappy they are being to their son.  The astute wedding planner agrees to let him speak but only after Hiroshi’s parents have given their toast, out of respect for their position.  Then the old man and his wife stand before the guests and, with tears streaming down his face, Hiroshi’s father speaks only of his own shame in driving away such an accomplished son, his sorrow at the loss of years between them, and his joy and pride that a lovely young woman like Sakura would consent to join their family.   The camera cuts to Tora-san who is also crying.  He rises, hugs Hiroshi’s father, and then in his gruff way says exactly the right thing.  You realize in that moment that all the bluster and crudity and loudness hides his sorrow at forever losing the opportunity to reconcile with his own father.   By the end of the film, despite his bad behavior Tora-san does manage to see his sister happily married, he’s able to let go of his feelings for Fuyuko and to honestly wish her happiness, and he’s taken on a young apprentice who he teaches how to be a lively salesman.  So, yeah, lovable.  Sort of.

There were, in the end, nearly 50 films covering the exploits and failed romances of the “lovable tramp” and apparently (thanks Wikipedia!) they all followed this basic format.   It was hugely popular in Japan and there is even a Tora-san museum in Shibamata.  One can, apparently, walk all over the area and see local sites that were included in the films, including the dango shop, the temple, and some of the characters’ houses.  More than one person has pointed out to me how instructive these films are about Japanese culture, humor, and daily life, even though the oldest of them is 45 years old.  I can’t speak to that, not being an expert in all things Japanese, but this film at least was enjoyable and yes, does give one a feel for Japanese life (at least in 1969).   The character type is not unfamiliar to Westerners (think Don Quixote, Laurel and Hardy, George Costanza, Homer Simpson and every character Will Ferrel has ever played) and although the Japanese version of a lovable loser might grate somewhat, I chalk that up to cultural and generational differences in humor.  In any case I’ve queued up the next Tora-san film in Netflix so I can see what the crazy guy gets up to next.

Score:  Meh

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~ by gun street girl on May 21, 2014.

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