There is a well-known fairy tale here in Japan about a boy named Urashima Taro. In the story, Taro travels under the sea to visit the Dragon Palace (in East Asia, including Japan, dragons are generally marine animals…) and when he returns to his village, he doesn’t recognise anyone. “Urashima Taro?” replies a villager. “Maybe he lived here long ago.” Turns out 100 years have passed since poor Taro went beneath the waves and he has reemerged to a world he no longer recognises (and no longer recognises him).
It’s such a familiar tale that one can casually refer to Urashima Taro when speaking to a Japanese person of any age and pretty much guarantee that they will know exactly what you mean, even if you are speaking metaphorically. And so, during my many years immersed in daily life in Japan, Urashima has become a useful shorthand whenever I have wanted to explain my cluelessness about basically everything back home in Canada (hockey playoffs, CBC TV shows, polar bear swims, Justin Trudeau becoming PM, the 2010 Olympics, everything Bieber- related, the invention of hipsters…) and especially new movies.
This distancing happened gradually, of course, as it took time to realise that Japan would become more than just a few-year stopover on my way back home to Canada. And of course it took time and effort to learn the language. But in time, almost before I’d realised, Japan had become home and shows from back home just became less and less relevant. Perhaps the fact that CSI was the only English show on TV for my first two years in Japan played a role. When you start to know who did the crime before the theme music plays, it’s time to find a new hobby.
I didn’t actually get Netflix until 2017, but when I did, I found myself drawn back to Western TV shows. Narcos, The Crown, Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale–like everyone else out there, I was hooked.
And yet, over time, I began to feel dissatisfied. These were great TV shows, of course, but they were still…TV. Bloated plots, cliffhangers just to keep you watching, endless storylines. I missed watching films, great films, tightly-wound two-hour immersions that leave you returning to the world gasping, unsure which way is up.
Netflix, of course, has plenty of films, including some great ones, but it just easier sometimes to click the next episode of something you are already watching, like choosing familiar, convenient food instead of something you know is more interesting and nutritious.
That’s when I happened upon the wonderful podcast Truth and Movies, produced by the long-time film magazine Little White Lies. I became aware of the podcast via a strange route: the best football podcast in the world, James Richardson’s Totally Football Show. Alongside his passion for the world’s favourite game, Richardson is a huge film enthusiast (during the Premier League’s stoppage for the lockdown, he and his fellow football panelists watched football films and reviewed them in a hilarious segment entitled “Flicks and Kicks”). And so I ended up listening to Truth and Movies, which Richardson initially helmed alongside different film critics, and enjoying it so much that I was soon scribbling down a list of films to watch, and watching them whenever I could.
Obviously these days you don’t need a podcast or a review in a newspaper to decide to watch a film. You can just open up Netflix or whatever streaming service you want and see what it suggests (sort of like flipping channels in the old days). For me, though, I found it so refreshing to hear extended passionate discussions about films, and not just new ones (they have a “film club” as well which chooses one older film per week).
I enjoyed the podcast so much that I did something incredibly embarrassing, something that I have never done before (and mostly associate with old people who used to write letters to the editor) I wrote in to the show. They had had a recent episode called “A Samurai Cinema Special” and I thought I had a few things that I might add. If interested, you can listen in here (minutes 1:52 to 4:05).
There has also been another unexpected and quite surprising benefit of Truth and Movies: it has enhanced my exposure to great Japanese films. While this might sound surprising, when you actually live in Japan, the sheer volume of shows, movies, books, manga, etc. available is quite overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start, especially in terms of separating the rice from the husks. And so Truth and Movies gave me a few focal points for Japanese films (beyond Ghibli and Kurosawa…though of course like everyone, I love those) that gave me enough direction to start watching Japanese films more seriously again.
Making a list of films to see (or books to read) might not be for everyone, but it can help one avoid the hamster wheel of modern algorithmic content. Truth and Movies has been a real help with this. I highly recommend it.
Below are two lists of film recommendations (not all from Truth and Movies, but many are), 1) Non-Japanese and 2) Japanese.
- The Host
- Get Out
- Paddington 2
- The Iron Giant
- Beasts of No Nation
- Knives Out
- 秋刀魚の味 – An Autumn Afternoon
- 万引き家族 – Shoplifters
- 深夜食堂 – Midnight Diner
- そして父になる – Like Father, Like Son
- 送り人 – Departures
- 真夏の方程式 – Midsummer Equation
- 容疑者Xの検診 – The Devotion of Suspect X
- Isle of Dogs – (not Japanese, exactly, but set in Japan…sort of. I really enjoyed this).
- 泥の河 – Muddy River (such a wonderful film…Academy Award nominee in 1981)
- 東京物語 – Tokyo Story