Documentary on Japan’s Suicide Problem

Channel 4 Documentary Screen Shot Ages ago — ten years ago, in fact — I wrote about Japan’s high suicide rate. Today I came across a documentary on the subject that must have been made around this time, commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK, which someone uploaded to YouTube last year. Following this search will take you to all five parts (with the somewhat misleading title of “Secret Life of Japan”), or you can watch Part 1 below and continue on from there.

Not knowing anything about this film — and there’s very little information on the YouTube page aside from a (again slightly misleading) description, I assumed it was a Japanese made film (it’s completely in Japanese, with subtitles), yet couldn’t help but be surprised as it was quite unlike most Japanese made-for-TV documentaries I’ve seen. Alas, at the end the credits reveal that it indeed was not Japanese-made.

Of course this is not to say it couldn’t have been made by a Japanese, but I honestly don’t think any of your Japanese networks — to say nothing of the average viewer — would have been comfortable with the way the subject of suicide was treated, and the honesty of the opinions and stories of the various interviewees. The documentary also avoids, for the most part, the overly maudlin and manipulative tear-jerkingness of standard Japanese TV fare. The lack of a comforting and distancing narrator forces the viewer to listen to the stories — of the victims’ surviving family members, of employees dealing with the loss of what they thought were lifelong jobs, of people who for one reason or another ended up deciding not to kill themselves — as it these people were in the room with us.

Highly recommended.

Newish movie theater in Jimbocho

Hadn’t been to Kanda-Jimbocho in quite some time, perhaps 9 or so months (that long?), but went there the other week to look for a book for an overseas customer. I ended up buying it from someone online but it was still nice to go to “book town” and wander around. Kanda-Jimbocho was my favorite place from my first trip to Tokyo in 1997 so it’s a place that brings back memories.

Anyway, I was in search of a Tenya (a cheap tempura chain) which I had been to once before, but it was nowhere to be found. Instead, I ran into this rather startling site — the Jimbocho Theater, which is owned by the publishing house Shogakukan (“Magazine and book publication, etc., including 66 magazines, 9,000 books, 13,200 comics, 850 mooks and 5,000 videos and DVDs (as of 2006)”) according to their English website. jimbocho_theater2Apparently it opened in 2007, though hell if I knew.

Of course, this being Tokyo, right opposite on one side was this scene of corrugated tin and vending machines. You win some, you lose some.

On view at the moment is a season of old Japanese films called 日本文芸散歩 (nihon bungei sanpo, or literally, “Japan Literary Walk”). Looking over the films listed on the theater’s site, the movies date from between 1939 (the biopic 樋口一葉 (higuchi ichiyou) about the Meiji-era novelist Ichiyou Higuchi) to 1986 (Kinji Fukasaku’s 火宅の人 (Kataku no hito, “House on Fire”)), and are jimbocho_posterdivided into four thematic groupings like “Writers in the Landscape” and “Student’s Tokyo”. Some of the directors featured, besides Fukasaku, include Kon Ichikawa, Yasuzo Masumura, and Nagisa Oshima. Looking down the list of films and film stills brings back many a fond art-house memory, and a regret my Japanese is still not at a point where I could truly appreciate these.

Lead architect for the theater building was Nikken Sekkei. The exterior was supplied by Takahashi Kogyo, a company with roots in the shipbuilding industry (read this inspiring interview with the founder, a 7th-generation shipbuilder). World Buildings Directory has more background and information about the building. And lots more photos at Got Arch?

Wim Wenders in Tokyo

German filmmaker and photographer Wim Wenders will be in town later this month for a couple (perhaps more?) events that those in the Tokyo area might be interested in.

At the new Omotesando Hills building there will be an exhibition entitled Journey to Onomichi, featuring photos by Wenders and his wife Donata, which will run from April 29 – May 7. The series came about in part because of Wenders’ long-term desire to visit Onomichi, which figures prominently in one of Wenders’ favorite films, Ozu’s Tokyo Story. (Interesting to note that just a month or two after the Wenders visited Onomichi, I did too for much the same reasons).

On May 1st, Wenders will be lecturing and presenting some short films of his at the Ikebukuro campus of Rikkyo University (poster here). The event is free. I believe he’ll be speaking in English with a Japanese interpreter but I’m not sure.

There was a time when I was a huge Wenders fan, starting from when I first saw Paris, Texas (in Texas, appropriately enough, in 1985). Later that year I would see his documentaries Chambre 666, Reverse Angle, and Tokyo-ga, the latter of which still to this day I can see reverberating around in my head (as I wrote briefly about here). The “back catalogue” so to speak — particularly his first “road” film, Alice in the Cities, was also very influential to me at the time. But then for some reason, the wheels fell off; blame it on Wings of Desire, which I could never “get”. They all seemed to get progressively more pretentious after that.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I’m keen to get re-in-touch with Wenders again.

UPDATE: Another Wenders’ event I’ve come across is a May 2nd “all-night” screening of three of Wenders’ films (Paris, Texas; Buena Vista Social Club; and Land of Plenty) at the Shin-bungeiza movie theater in Ikebukuro. According to the listing, Wenders will be there to introduce the film screening.