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September 11, 2012: Sleeping with Hedgehogs

September 11, 2012

I’ve been noticing new DVDs coming in at my local library (Hudson Public Library) and I thought I had a triple score when I found that they had a new-ish Independent Japanese film slated to be comedy! The trouble was that after watching, I realized I didn’t like it! I find that those films that trouble your spirit may be the ones that can make you grow the most, and I was glad that I sat on it a while and gave it a re-watch to figure it out a little more. It was in one of those weird moments of synchronicity that life sometimes throws at us that it came together even more for me. That moment took the form of an Aesop’s Fable I was reading while mulling the movie over.

The Hedgehog and the Snakes
A hedgehog had selected a comfortable cave as his home only to find the cave already occupied by a family of snakes. “Would it be OK if I used one corner of your cave to spend the Winter?” the hedgehog asked. The snakes generously offered to share their home. The hedgehog moved into the corner, curled up in a ball, stuck out his prickly quills and settled in for his Winter’s nap. Before long, the snakes realized that they could not move one bit without being pricked by the hedgehog’s quills. After bearing this discomfort for a while the snakes finally complained to the hedgehog. “That’s just too bad,” said their guest. “I am most comfortable here, but if you snakes are not satisfied, why don’t you move out?” He then curled up to resume his nap.

Moral: It is safer to know one’s guest before offering him hospitality.

Hospitalité (2010) by Foji Fukada story centers around a small family who own and run a small “mom & pop” printing shop with living quarters above. The father, Mikio leads a busy but understated life managing the shop with the help from his young and lovely wife, Natsuki. They have a young daughter, Eriko that Mikio has had with his former wife. One can tell the current situation is fairly new as Eriko treats Natsuki with some emotional distance, calling her “teacher” as their main connection is from Natsuki trying to teach Eriko English. The family has another new situation as Mikio’s sister, Seiko is in the home/shop, herself recently divorced. The local neighborhood has a watch group out for the activities of the gaijin (foreigners) in the area, whom they detest. This watch group seems to have a mission to rope as many members of the family into its fold as they can. The family has recently lost their pet parakeet and are busy posting fliers around for anyone who may have seen the bird.

Enter Kagawa, someone who lives nearby, who finds the flyer and visits the printing shop with “information” about the bird’s location, saying that he has seen it in the park. By hook or by crook, Kagawa slowly injects himself into the work and family at the shop/home. First, he sells himself as a replacement for an ill worker. Then, he moves into the house, saying he has been evicted. Then, suddenly a gaijin woman shows up in the house when the family returns one day. She is Annabelle, Kagawa’s wife of convenience. Annabelle also slowly invades the family’s life, first by taking over English lessons for Eriko, as her English is better, as is Kagawa’s it turns out. Annabelle says that she is Brazilian to the family but in a later scene introduces herself as Serbian to a visitor. The odd couple slowly takes over just about every aspect of the family’s life and business, until it is clear that the family are the guests in their own home!

So a fine independent film, with rich characters, shot well with a good story, and well executed Hospitalité still left me unsettled for a number of reasons: first, my own issues aside, I find it hard to believe anyone would qualify this film as a comedy. At best, some scenes were amusing. There was nothing approaching even a chuckle. Good drama, but misrepresented as a comedy.

Second, I lack the cultural knowledge to weigh what seems to be an important aspect of the script: how foreigners are perceived by Japanese. The foreigners were portrayed in exactly the way that the watch group fears: loud, obnoxious, intrusive to Japanese life, yet at the end, Mikio chastises the watch group, telling them to lay off his “friends” who all at that point have been the opposite of “friendly” (or even considerate) to him. At the same time, it’s clear that the family has grown from the contact of the foreigners, but at a great cost. Someday, I will see this with Teja, my good friend who lived labeled as a “gaijin” in Japan up until he came to the States for college and he can best explain the significance of all of this (and I promise an update, then.)

The main unsettling component to Hospitalité was the character of Kagawa. Having had my share of treacherous and dishonorable Machiavellian personalities in my real life, I can no longer appreciate them in my entertainment. Kagawa is Iago, he is Don John, he is every rotten, cowardly schemer of literature and film. I suppose my extreme reaction ultimately is testimony to how well the story works. Also, having lost so much in my life, the idea that someone could lose their privacy and personal space, frankly…terrifies me.

So, with almost no laughs, but still a good execution, plot, and acting Hospitalité is a decent indie. Even with my criticisms, I still plan on seeing it at least once more to understand it better. But I have no misgivings: at parts I will be gritting my teeth and enduring. Kinda like sleeping with hedgehogs.

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One comment

  1. Often, humor is not the same in different cultures. What qualifies as ‘funny’ may be as different as what qualifies as scary or odd or exciting. In this case, (I haven’t see the film yet, and hope to, with my good friend Steve), as a 14 year resident of Japan, and having been considered a ‘foreigner’, know very well that perspective is also part of the story. The hedgehog represents anthropomorphically, and the ‘gaijin’ in the movie represents ‘all foreigners’… I suppose. I look forward to seeing it!



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