James Bailey Turns In His Final Review. Rest in Peace (1946-2018)

Beloved film critic and journalist, who spent much of his career in Japan, James Bailey, passed away on August 24, after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 72. He was born in Bryan, Texas on December 13th, 1946.  He is survived by his wife Yurika, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Chelsea.

James Bailey with his daughter, Chelsea, and son Chris.

Bailey served as Entertainment Editor for Tokyo Weekender, which some consider the oldest on-going English publication in Japan (that is not a newspaper); it was founded in 1970. Bailey also wrote for Variety, Tokyo Journal, and other publications. Bailey was known as an observant and authoritative film reviewer, fluent in Japanese, and able to write with great wit and insight about all aspects of Japanese society.

James Bailey in 1981 with his close friend, Mark Schreiber,  in Shanghai.

Bailey’s film reviews, like those of Kaori Shoji, were always more than simple film reviews but a starting point for meditations on Japan, popular culture, cinema tropes and dark comedy. Take this paragraph from his epic review of Godzilla movies, in this case Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero:

Confirming the widely held assumption that Western men are irresistibly attracted to Japanese women, Glenn falls for and, unusual for a sci-fi feature, beds the lovely Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno), albeit off camera. 
Nonetheless, the purity of Japanese womanhood is preserved when it’s revealed that Namikawa is not really Japanese at all, but [an alien race] a Xian. And the parlous nature of ethnically mixed relationships is underlined when she is disintegrated by her own people.”

Bailey had no patience for bullshit and took great delight in setting things straight. His former editor at Tokyo Journal, Greg Starr, notes “He was a ferocious researcher. I remember his prodigious memory; if you were with him and Mark Schreiber, you didn’t need the internet.”

In the days before the internet, these two journalist were known for their prodigious memory.

Mike Tharp, former Tokyo bureau chief of U.S. News And World Report, writes, “I met James a few months after I arrived in Tokyo in 1976. Like many expats, I read the Tokyo Weekender, Corky Alexander’s free weekly newspaper. For the most part, its stories were forgettable. But the movie reviews were exceptionally well written, filled with wry humor,

So when I happened to meet their author, James Bailey, at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, I gushed over his reviews. I said they were good enough to appear anywhere. He blushed and said a head-bowed thank-you.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. James, fluent in Japanese, also reviewed Japanese subtitles on English-language films. I was astonished at his insights. He wrote with grace and wit. His stories for Variety told that audience more about Japan than most any other publication. James could write for anyone.

He was a gentle man. His voice never rose above a quiet pitch. His laugh was contagious. He shone when he smiled.

After he and Yurika moved their family to Seattle, we stayed in constant touch. I was in L.A. James would make what today are called ‘mixed tapes’ and send them to me. He wanted me to expand my musical interests beyond old rock ‘n’ roll.

He was an incisive critic of the media, sending me examples of redundancy, verbosity and grammar screw-ups every week. Just in the last two years we exchanged nearly 300 emails. He and Tokyo-based Mark Schreiber, described by James as a polymath, staged written contests to see who could fashion the worst puns in headlines. I think it was a draw.

James had appeared on GE College Bowl. He knew so much about everything. I stole his phrase to use in my college classrooms: I wanted to make my students ‘garbage brains’, knowing something about a lot. He was one of the handful of geniuses I have known.

James knew of my passion for Elvis and never ceased to send me stories about The King. If I were to write an inscription for James, it would be from this Elvis song: “And you’re there to always lend a hand in everything I do. That’s the wonder, the wonder of you.”

履歴書

****

His wife, Yurika Bailey writes, ” In accordance with Jim’s wishes, he wanted to stay home in Mercer Island Washington. He spent the last week of his life with me, Chris and Chelsea which made him feel happy and peaceful. Jim and I are incredibly fortunate to have [had such] good friends in our life.”

James Bailey with his wife Yurika, in Tokyo.

His son, Chris Bailey, writes, “My dad was one of the most selfless people I knew. He did everything to make my mom, my sister, and myself happy. We are grateful that he had a peaceful end with loved ones at his side.”

Chelsea Sakura Bailey, didn’t realize until visiting Japan, the great respect his colleagues had for James. “As a girl in our home, he was always ‘my dad’.  As a woman living in Tokyo in the city he knew among his peers it was only then that I came close to knowing the man Jim Bailey was.  At a very young age, I was keenly aware that there was something unique about him. He was always quietly observant, profoundly curious about all that surrounded him. He always had a book in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other. He was always humble about his accomplishments and gracious about his natural talents as a writer. So much so, that I didn’t fully know how talented he was until I was an adult, until I was in Tokyo, until I was among his community.  Few children are given the opportunity to see their parents outside of their home, as anything more than ‘dad’.   With that experience and spending his last moments of life, I am grateful that I can say I truly knew this man, my father, James Bailey.” Chelsea, said that on 6pm Friday (August 24th), that she kissed her Dad on her way to work, and said “I love you. I’m going. Rest well, okay?”

He passed away in his sleep twenty minutes later, knowing that he was loved and will be missed. 

There was no funeral held. Anyone wishing to contact the family is requested to write jamesbaileymemorial@outlook.com 

Arjen Kamphuis, a Dutchman, went missing in Norway on August 20. Help find him.

Arjen Kamphuis, “free software advocate, sailor, carpenter, geek and damn proud of it” was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th. He has long blonde hair and glasses. He is 47-years old, 1.78m tall and has a normal posture. He was usually dressed in black and carrying his black backpack. He is an avid hiker. Arjen is a Dutch citizen and did not arrive back home in The Netherlands. If you have any information, please write:

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis ble sist sett i Bodø, Norge den 20. August. Han har langt blondt hår og briller. Han er 47 år gammel og er 1,78m lang. Han er vanligvis kledd i svart og har store med seg sin svarte ryggsekk. Arjen er nederlandske turgåere på ferie i Norge.

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th

Marry Early or Marry Late or Remain “The Honorable Single”? You can pursue marital bliss in Japan but it’s a tricky animal.

Just in case you didn’t get the memo, Japan has a pretty terrible track record when it comes to love and relationships. People are marrying late or not at all and by 2040, half of Japan’s households will be single. In 10 years, one out of 4 men and one out of 5 women in the Tokyo metropolitan area are expected to live out their lives without ever having co-habited with a partner.

The Japanese have a phrase for people who go through life on their own, “Ohitorisama (お一人様)” – meaning, “The revered solo” or “the honorable single”.  Once upon a time, people scoffed at the Ohitorisama; now they’ve come to represent freedom and options. But the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. More young Japanese, especially women, are aspiring to marry in their 20s and start a family while they still have the energy to take a crack at the work/life balance thing. A phrase that has come up on the radar of women’s magazines, is “Oikomikon,” meaning: coercing oneself to get married. This was coined by Natsuko Yokozawa, who authored a book of the same title and has become something of a guru to young women eyeing marriage as a way to escape the fate of being yet another overworked, bled-out salariman who has sex once every 5 years – or less frequently than the Olympics and the World Cup.

Yokozawa’s book is eye-brow raising – not because it’s progressive, but because it sounds like something out of a 1970s bridal magazine. “The number one reason men split up with their girlfriends is because they can’t cook,” she writes. “We MUST learn how to put a nutritious meal together, and fast!” She also exhorts young women to stop partying and start taking care of themselves, in order to “catch” a nice, reliable, family-oriented man looking for a nice, healthy womb to carry his progeny.

While Yokozawa is sure to be much loved by Cabinet ministers who tend to view Japanese women as baby producing drudges, she also seems to be getting the women’s vote, too. As Maya Furuse, a freelance editor for a number of women’s magazines, says: “The allure of marriage and childbirth is more powerful than ever. No Japanese woman wants to grow old without having worn a wedding dress, but equally important is to spend weekdays in casual mom clothes, pushing a McLaren stroller and getting in line with other moms at Starbucks.”

For those who aren’t sure about the specifics of “casual mom clothes,” it’s a combination of high end (read: artistically distressed) jeans that go for 30,000 yen (approx. 300 USD) a pop, oversized shirts, cute flats and gifted jewelry (by her husband of course). The whole ensemble screams ‘woman’s happiness’ in a way that career advancement and workplace prestige never, ever could.

More young women are wising up to this hard truth, as Japan Business Insider reports that graduates from top level universities like Waseda, Keio and Sophia, are looking for employment as general staff, rather than becoming professionals (as would befit their degrees). General staff are most often referred to as “OL (Office Lady)” and have traditionally been considered a few notches below highly educated women who can trump their male colleagues and get ahead on the success ladder. Until about 5 years ago, female graduates from elite universities were adamantly career-minded. Now, according to the JBI story, more young women are making the choice to secure a relaxed and sustainable future where they can get married, have kids and still “work for life” instead of being single, childless and burnt out at 40. Marriage is the goal–a happy marriage? Not so much. 50% of Japan’s marriages are sexless. Chronically long hours may contribute to that–overwork may not always kill you as in 過労死 (karoshi) but it sure as heck will kill your libido.

Get married or miss out is the new/old message bombarding women in Japan. And of course, looking great is part of the package.

Women in Japan: they’re looking at jobs that don’t involve overtime, competition or stress. They’re looking at companies with paid maternity leave packages and assurance that they’ll rejoin the work force after childbirth. Young Japanese women aren’t against working, but they ARE against the idea of working like a man. Indeed, over 60% of women in high-powered jobs end up quitting within 10 years and that time span is getting shorter.

Some women get the wake-up call well into their 30s. My friend Kanako, who did the “Kakekomikon (the last chance, last minute marriage)” at the age of 39, said the reason she finally tied the knot with her on again, off again boyfriend of 10 years, wasn’t out of love. It was because she was afraid of turning into her father. “When I was young, I thought marriage was for losers like my housewife mother,” she said. “But after 35, I saw I was becoming my father, which was far worse.”

The message of one popular author in Japan is essentially “Women get married now or walk home alone for the rest of your life.”

Sad but true – on late night trains in and around Tokyo, you’ll see legions of exhausted women, their make-up worn off and their painfully swollen feet forced into heels, contemplating the end of yet another grueling day. Around them are equally tired men, carrying discount suit jackets and staring at their phone screens. In spite of the Abe Administration’s much touted (and reviled) Work Style Reform Law that recently kicked into effect, not much of anything has changed for the white collar worker. In fact, it’s gotten worse. People staying in the office until midnight? Check. Spending an hour or more in commuter trains? Check. By the time they get back to their homes in the suburbs, most folks are too tired to do anything but chill in front of the TV – WITH NO OVERTIME PAY. This has been the lifestyle for generations of salarimen, and though men had carried the bulk of the misery, this past decade has seen more women on the old treadmill, giving their all to the company and almost nothing to their personal lives or well-being.

Back to my friend Kanako – she was a powerhouse warrior who battled through tough workplace problems but was stumped when it came to relationships. She married her “sometimes boyfriend” after he was demoted at his company, staring at a 30% pay cut, and losing his hair and confidence. “The money thing wasn’t important for me anymore,” she said. “I was sick of working and earning. I wanted real down time, a home life, someone to laugh with. My father had none of those things and when he retired, he had to face the fact that no one wanted him around. He had done nothing to invest in his personal life and now that neglect was taking its revenge.”

In an ideal world, sexless marriages wouldn’t be 50% in Japan, but it’s not an ideal world.

Now 3 years into their marriage, Kanako and her husband are buddies. They cook together 3 nights a week, take day trips to a favorite onsen and board the same commuter train to get to work every morning. “We’re not romantic at all,” laughs Kanako. “I see him more as a comrade than a husband. But he has my back, and in the end that’s all I really need.”

HodoBuzz: New York-based Japanese Filmmakers Tackle Japan’s Sexism and Press Freedom With Crowdfunding

As Japan spiral downs the gender equality rankings each year with impressive speed(114th out of 144 countries), progress, on the other hand is being made at a snail’s pace in every corner of society.

But Japan’s death spiral towards the bottom isn’t just the status of women, it’s also with freedom of the press. Japan ranked 11th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual world press freedom survey in 2010, this year (2018) it came in at 67.  The only reason it wasn’t lower was that under the influence of President Donald Trump, press freedom has taken a punch in the gut all over the world—Japan remains essentially just awful.  The media here has never been much of a watchdog, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has turned much of the press into simpering lapdogs. NHK has become Abe TV thanks to political appointments.  Japan’s few investigative news programs have been cancelled or so neutered they no longer have bark or bite.

But what if….there were still some journalists, fighting the good fight. and what if, it was a woman?

A crowdfunded Japanese drama “Hodo Buzz” depicts a female reporter trying to get real news out while battling all the obstacles inherent in Japan’s media machine.

A new show “HodoBuzz” made by Japanese filmmakers based in New York City takes on these very topics and JSRC is excited to support and watch a show about Japanese people who aren’t afraid to speak the truth and champions a tenacious and outspoken woman(!) who will not be silenced.

Read on to learn more and support their fundraiser campaign!

Derrrrruq!!!, a New York-based Japanese filmmaking team, launched a Kickstarter campaign last month for its new journalism drama HodoBuzz. The campaign seeks to raise $30,000 by September 4th to complete post-production, release, and promote the show.

HodoBuzz Kickstarter Page

http://kck.st/2u8rx8o

The project will only be funded if it reaches its goal of $30,000 by Tue, September 4 2018 11:59 PM EDT.

The creators have a good reason as to why they had to turn to crowdfunding. The show focuses on issues that the Japanese entertainment industry tends to avoid discussing: media sexism and press freedom in Japan. You can check out the series trailer made for the Kickstarter campaign. Don’t forget to turn on the subtitles!

Link: https://youtu.be/TxRQt5vA83g

HodoBuzz is a story about Asuka Wada, a Japanese female reporter. Tired of sexism and objectification in Japan’s TV industry, Asuka quits her job as a game show host in Tokyo to pursue her long-time dream: becoming a news anchor. 

A Japanese version of The Newsroom would be a thrill to watch.

Asuka moves to New York City, the world’s leading journalism center, to work for HodoBuzz, a digital news company.

The first sensitive issue HodoBuzz deals with is the rampant sexism in the Japanese media. In Japan, female TV reporters are constantly objectified. They are often referred to as “joshi ana”, or “girl announcers,” whereas male reporters are called simply, “announcers”. Female reporters have to dress up in a way that entertains the male audience. It is not uncommon for some female reporters to be assigned sexually charged assignments, such as reporting from a beach in a bikini. However, the most obvious point regarding the sexism female journalists face in Japan is that hard news or more “serious” topics are almost exclusively reported by male journalists.

Even at HodoBuzz, which is based in New York, Asuka’s boss, colleagues, and several viewers underrate her skills, because of her past as a game show host. Asuka will experience intense online harassment and bullying, due to the belief that she was hired for her looks, not her abilities.

The second issue the show uncovers is the constant breach of ethical journalism standards in Japan. In HodoBuzz, characters discuss real news, cite actual political commentary, and refer to known false reports by existing Japanese TV networks and newspapers. This has never been done on a Japanese TV drama, due to the strong and complicated codependent relationships among the news industry, political parties, TV stations, sponsor companies, and major talent agencies.

The nature of HodoBuzz has made it very challenging for the creators to get enough investment and distribution support. And it’s safe to assume that HodoBuzz won’t get good coverage from Japanese legacy media, either. Due to the time-sensitive topics discussed, Derrrrruq!!! decided to turn to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter video Link: https://youtu.be/AuhIUjyFGUk

Their team name, “Derrrrruq!!!,” was inspired by the Japanese expression “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”, which describes the conformist nature of Japanese society. Derrrrruq!!! aspires to be the nail that sticks out, a “disruptive” voice in the industry.

For the readers of Japan Subculture Research Center, Derrrrruq!!!’s three creators, Mari Kawade, Maho Honda, and Tsukasa Kondo, might look familiar. Their previous work, 2nd Avenue, was also a bicultural show set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The entire series of 2nd Avenue is available on YouTube to watch.

Link: https://youtu.be/9jbXtOYNS1w

Like 2nd Avenue, Derrrrruq!!!’s aim with HodoBuzz is to create a show that is hard to find in the Japanese entertainment industry. To learn more about HodoBuzz and to make a donation to the crowdfunding campaign by the September 4th deadline, please visit http://kck.st/2u8rx8o.

HodoBuzz Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/derrrrruq/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/derrrrruq

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/derrrrruq/

Website: https://www.derrrrruq.com/

 

Sayonara, Robuchon-san: A Eulogy to Japan’s Beloved French Chef

The news shook the world of Tokyo’s French cuisine, but the iconic Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Ebisu, was open for business. Diners clinked their glasses in honor of the late Joel Robuchon, the world famous chef who took “nihonno furenchi (French food in Japan)’ to a new level. In early August, Joel Robuchon succumbed to his battle with cancer. He was 73 years old – young by Japanese standards and way too young for people like Kazunari Mizuki, who had studied under the great master for 2 years before working as an entree chef at the Hotel Okura. “I never got a chance to say goodbye,” he said, his eyes getting moist. “Many of us in this business revered him so much. Without Joel-san, the French restaurant scene in Tokyo would never have gotten to this point.”

The finest coffee ice cream dessert ever.
Every dish, delicious and beautiful. A feast for the eyes and the palette

Indeed, Robuchon’s famed Chateau Restaurant (opened in 1994) was one of the first establishments in Tokyo to earn Michelin’s 3-star rating and the Chateau building itself has come to represent the wealth and glamour of Japan’s capital city. It’s also a pilgrimage site for Japanese couples. In a city notorious for workaholic singles and a rapidly aging population, the Chateau is the one place where men confer with the restaurant staff weeks in advance to orchestrate the perfect marriage proposal and the presenting of the ring. No woman can possibly say ‘no’ to a Robuchon proposal. The very fact that the occasion happened HERE of all places, makes her that much more precious, or at least worthy of a 80,000 yen dinner course and a sizable bling.

The food – though formidable, is almost beside the point. Joel Robuchon taught the Japanese that French cuisine wasn’t about food per se, but the experience as a whole. Everything from the decor to the lighting and wine selection to the impeccable service, should be a reflection of Robuchon’s personal philosophy: never settle for anything less than state of the art.

Presentation matters

He also had a deep respect for Japan and Japanese cuisine. He lauded the soy sauce as “one of the greatest culinary miracles” according to an interview he gave on Fuji Television, and even developed a special shoyu to accompany western dishes. Four months before his death, he had collaborated with sake maker “Dassai” to open a Japanese/French restaurant in Paris. One of his best friends was Jiro Ono, sushi master extraordinaire and owner of “Sukiyabashi Jiro’ in Yurakucho.

Before Joel Robuchon arrived on the scene, the Japanese and French cuisine had an amicable if overly polite, relationship. In prewar days, it was customary for master chefs of the Imperial Household to train in Paris, working their way up from scullery boy to line chef at various establishments. The young Emperor Hirohito was said to have treasured his chef, and counted on him to produce French dinners that would melt the hearts of visiting western dignitaries, even in the midst of rising political tension that preceded WWII.

Back then, only the top tier of the elite could hope to sit down to a full course French dinner and many Japanese had no idea what a fork and knife even looked like. It wasn’t until after the Japanese surrender and the late 1950s, that well-to-do families began dining in Tokyo restaurants, cautiously tasting dishes that vaguely resembled French cuisine.

Fork and knife, not needed, the meat is so tender.

In 1978, 33 years after the Japanese surrender, Joel Robuchon was appointed master chef at the Hotel Nikko de Paris (now the Novotel Paris Centre Tour Eiffel) Coincidentally, Robuchon himself was 33 years old, a still-young chef on the brink of success. That he chose a Japanese hotel to work his magic before opening his own restaurant (the legendary Jamain) three years later, speaks of his enduring love for this country. Robuchon opened restaurants all over the world but has said in numerous interviews that he genuinely enjoyed working with the Japanese, because “we share an innate respect for food and nature.”
Merci, chef. We shall miss you.

Even In Japan, Bashing Gays Is Not Okay. Behind The Scenes Of The First Sugita Protest

Bashing Gays Is Not Okay Says Crowd At Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters

“We don’t need Parliamentarians who ignore human rights” (人権無視する議員はいらない)

“Mio Sugita, resign now” (杉田水脈は今すぐ辞めろ)

Silence is death” ˆ(沈黙は死)

These were just some of the statements protesters were chanting in unity, in front of the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters on July 27th, demanding for the resignation of the parliamentarian, Mio Sugita. On July 24th, in the monthly magazine, Shukan Shincho, Sugita published an essay in which she said, among many other offensive things, that no tax money should be spent on lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) individuals because “they can’t reproduce and are therefore not valuable to society.” At first, the protests were confined to the internet, but in a short time, they spilt out into real life–an actual protest, and that was pivotal in getting the Japanese media to pay attention and finally force the LDP to address the issue. 

Individuals- active citizens, representatives of NGOs as well as some politicians all gathered together in front of the LDP, angered by Mio Sugita’s comments clearly dissing the LGBTQ+ community.

It seems to be that an eclectic variety of individuals gathered. Those who identify to be LGBTQ+, those who do not, students and surprisingly (in the context of Japan,) a few people seemingly salarymen who came after work in their suits. To me, it seemed like there was an equal ratio of women to men. The crowd was mostly Japanese but there were a handful of foreigners who came to show support too. There were young women angered, who came alone, university students who came with their friends including myself. I believe there were a lot of men who seemed to be in their thirties to forties too. The crowd was very diverse.

There were all kinds of posters and signs held. There were many posters available online and they spread through social platforms such as Twitter. There was an identification number for the posters one could then input in a machine at a convenience store and get printed out. There were rainbow flags held up and most of the posters advocated for acceptance of diversity, lgbtq+. Some of these signs had statements like 生産性で価値を図るな which translates to something like Don’t measure our worth by “productivity.” Many of them criticised Sugita’s comment un “unproductiveness” and how it discriminates against many other groups of people in society. One thing which came a little of a shock to me were some other posters which came off as more aggressive. It wasn’t a majority but there were a handful of people with posters with Sugita’s face on it, however with a little twist. Some of them had a target on her face or one which made her look like a zombie, strongly demonizing her. I personally think this is going a little far and it’s better to argue against her comments and advocating for diversity but various perspectives were apparent.

There were countless numbers of policemen trying to control the people so that the participants were not standing over the studded part of the pedestrian road which is an aid for the blind. The police were trying to control the number of people in the main street and restricted participants from going onto the main street. The police were making some people stand against streets going around other blocks to limit the demonstration, but eventually, people overflowed onto the main street.

This issue may have caught a lot of people’s attention because many individuals saw this not only as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community but as one to all citizens, one to women, men, disabled people or the elderly. Sugita’s comments about how LGBTQ+ individuals are “unproductive” (生産性がない) as “they cannot have children” is inaccurate and extremely discriminatory to everyone as childbearing is an autonomous choice of an individual, not an obligation a citizen has to its government.

So, what exactly happened at the demonstration?

Apart from trying to get the attention of the LDP, the media and the rest of the public by simply being there and protesting, some participants, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, a few university professors, and some politicians delivered speeches explaining how hurtful Sugita’s comments were personally, how they could not sleep for days, illuminating how backwards Japan still is. Some participants also went up to the LDP to hand in a sort of a request for the resignation of Mio Sugita. Even though the few individuals who went up to the LDP headquarters seemed to contain their composure, they were denied a chance to even simply hand in the documents.

This demonstration was certainly not one the LDP could simply dismiss and move on with as they often do. There has been a lot of backlash to Sugita’s discriminatory comments on various social platforms and many other demonstrations have popped up in other parts of Japan. Recently, there was one on August 5th in Shibuya, Osaka and Fukuoka. There was also one on August 6th in Mie prefecture.

The LDP did acknowledge Sugita’s comments but have not condemned her, except for Shigeta Ishiba, who is running against Abe in the LDP internal party elections. Although modern Japanese governments prior to the current one have certainly not been the most transparent and democratic, the current one under Prime Minister Abe has continuously been moving far and far away from democracy, with its powerful members pulling strings in their favour, ultimately guiding the government away from democratic rule. It is does not bode well that since Abe took office Japan has dropped to 67 in World Press Freedom (it was ranked 11 in 2011) and not surprisingly Japan ranks lower than ever in the annual gender equality rankings, 114 out of 144 countries.

 

Erika Bulach is a university student in Tokyo majoring in social sciences. 

ナチス時代へ逆戻りする日本。共謀罪法案は安倍政権のタイムマシーン?

(帰って来たヒトラーの日本版が実録映画かもしれない)

もしナチスと日本帝国が第二次世界大戦を制していたら。想像しただけで恐ろしい話だが、21世紀の日本において、それを実現しようとする動きがある。舵を取るのはもちろん、釈放されたA級戦犯岸信介の孫である安倍首相だ。いよいよ憲法改正の時期を2020年と明言した首相だが、『我が闘争』を教材認定してみたり『ヒトラー選挙戦略』に推薦文書を寄せる大臣らを内閣に置くなど、ナチスへの肯定的な姿勢を無視することは難しくなってきた。

5月3日首相自らが明らかにした2020年の憲法改正だが、ナチスがワイマール憲法を都合よく改正していったように日本が誇る戦後の平和憲法を一新するつもりのようだ。それに向けての一歩として共謀罪法案が衆議院にて可決され、現在参議院審議中である。この法案は日本帝国の暗黒時代ともいえる1925年から1945年の間、日本を恐怖に陥れた治安維持法の再来と言われ、国会前デモや専門家を含め反対する声は数多く上がっている。治安維持法は、制定された当初は共産主義や反政権派を取り締まるためのもので一般市民は対象とならないとされていたが、いつの間にやら政府批判を口にする者は夜の内に消え、二度と姿を見ることはなくなったという。今回の共謀罪は「テロ等準備罪」とされ、あくまでもテロに及ぶ犯罪組織を取り締まるためのもので一般人は対象とならないとされているが、法案内に記載されている277の違法行為は解釈によっては容易に範囲を一般人に広げることが可能といえる。この危険性を察知した国連人権理事会のケナタッチ特別報告者からも法案の人権侵害の可能性を懸念した書簡が首相宛に届いている。

しかしこの警告に対して安倍首相は外務省を通じて「強く抗議した」との報道。批判には国内はもちろん、国外からであっても耳を傾けない強硬姿勢を見せている。

政党をナチスになぞらえるのは最も安易な政治批判とされているが、 安倍政権とナチスの共通点を見て見ぬふりすることは日に日に難しくなってきている。安倍政権がナチスへの敬意を公言しているからなおさらだ。 ナチスと戦前軍国独裁主義への異様な憧憬は政権発足当初から確かにそこにあった。

2013年夏、かねてから失言でメディアを賑わしてきた副総理そして財務大臣である麻生太郎が支援者へのスピーチ内で「ある日気づいたら、ワイマール憲法が変わって、ナチス憲法に変わっていた。誰も気づかないで変わった。あの手口に学んだらどうか」発言している。

また、安倍内閣の高市早苗総務大臣と稲田朋美政調会長に関しては日本のネオナチと呼ばれる山田一成とのツーショット写真が露呈した。そして高市総務大臣はさらに『ヒトラーの選挙戦略』に推薦文を寄せていた事が発覚し、海外メディアを賑わせたが国内メディアは目を瞑った対応となった。

公にナチスをお手本にしているようでは、類似点を指摘されるのも仕方のないことだ。

追い打ちをかけるように、安倍首相は国際的にも非難される在特会との関係が知られる山谷えり子氏を国家公安委員会委員長に任命。首相自身、そしてその他の閣僚たちからも在日韓国人への差別に異論を唱える声は聞こえてこない。そして政府は4 月にはヒトラーの『我が闘争』は教材使用に適切と認定した。野党の質問に対し、「仮に人種に基づく差別を助長させる形で使用するならば、同法等の趣旨に合致せず、不適切であることは明らかだ」と述べるにとどまった。

この件に関して当初主要メディアは報道を自粛したようで取り上げられることは少なかったが、世論の猛反対によってやっと取り上げられた模様だ。そして松野博一文部科学相は4月25日の閣議後記者会見に「人種に基づく差別やジェノサイド(大虐殺)は絶対に許さないという意識を定着させるため、教育の充実を図っていく」と強調したが、これまでの安倍政権の姿勢を見ると今ひとつ説得力に欠けて見えることは否めない。

また今年に入って政権は、特攻隊の思想の源となった教育勅語も再導入を検討していることを発表。明治天皇に1890年に制定された教育勅語は、最大の善行は天皇のために命を捧げることと国民を諭すものだった。そしてそのイデオロギーが原動力となり後の神風特攻隊、人間魚雷、沖縄の集団自決などの悲劇が起きたといえるだろう。戦後、1948年に衆議院決議にて「これらの詔勅の根本的理念が主権在君並びに神話的国体観に基いている事実は、明かに基本的人権を損い、且つ国際信義に対して疑点を残すものとなる」という言葉と共に失効が認定されたのだ。それにも関わらず再来の危機が目前まで迫ってきている。戦前回帰を求める軍国主義者にとっては「進歩」の一年といえる。銃剣も体育の種目として再び導入されることとなっており、戦前教育復活に予断がない。

また、安倍政権はこれまでに繰り返し、ナチスを見習うような節を見せている。自民党のマニフェスト自体が、戦前の帝国主義の復活を謳うものといっても過言ではない。神の子孫である優れた大和民族がアジアを制し、下位に当たる他のアジア民族を労働や性の奴隷として使う、といったところか。

直近で日本が直面している危機といえば先述の共謀罪強行採決だろう。現在参議院審議のこの法案だが、正式には「テロ等準備罪」。曖昧な名称だが、その内容も不透明な部分が多々あり、二人以上の人間が犯罪を犯す準備行為に及んだ場合、実際に罪を犯していなくても罰せられるというものである。しかしこの「等」そして「準備」という文字は何を指しているのだろうか。その定義の決定権は政府にあるというのである。つまり、一般市民のいかなる日常行為も犯罪行為になり得る危険性を孕んでいるのだ。

現段階で277の犯罪が対象とされており、切手の偽造、無免許で競艇レースに出ることなどが含まれている。しかし改正によっていくらでも項目は後から追加できる。

政府は採決を進める理由として2003年に国会承認した国際連合条約(TOC条約)に批准するために共謀罪が不可欠であると主張。しかしこれは国民を煙に巻く口実でしかない。

ジャパンタイムズによれば(http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/03/25/national/media-national/how-the-word-terrorism-can-help-pass-a-bill/#.WRqYg1N96SM) 既に日本弁護士連合会からこれを論破する声が上がっている上に、国連関係者からも「この条約はテロに特化したものではない。主要な目的は人身売買、麻薬取引や資金洗浄など国家間の犯罪の防止を強化することだ。」との指摘もある。

政府は「テロ」と「2020オリンピック」という二つのキーワードを駆使して、「世界一安全な国造り」を推し進めようとしているのだ。そして首相らが描く安全国家の完成形は、国民を常に監視下に置き、政府の管理のもと反対意見を徹底的に排除する社会だろう。

これでは治安維持法の再来と言われても無理はない。1925年に制定されたこの法律は戦前の日本において、政治的弾圧の最も効果的な手段だったと言われている。制定当時は共産主義を取り締まるための法律であり、一般市民は対象とならないとされていたものの、気づけば一般市民の監視、逮捕が日常茶飯事になっていたという。

憲法学者の飯島滋明教授は何ヶ月も前に共謀罪への警笛を鳴らしていた。「この法案は我々の憲法の最も重要な三つの原理に背く可能性がある。基本的人権の尊重、平和主義、国民主権の三原理を疎かにすればまた暗黒時代に逆戻りしてしまう。これは治安維持法の現代版である。」

このように、なんとも恐ろしい共謀罪法案の強行採決だが、これは戦後の平和憲法を取り壊し、戦前の日本を取り戻すという政府の最終目標に向けての序章でしかない。

一つ確かなことは、安倍政権は有言実行であるということだ。

少し遡ってみよう。

2013年の麻生大臣のナチス失言のあと、安倍政権は世論の大反対を押し切り特定秘密保護法を押し通した。これは文官、公務員が特定秘密を漏洩した場合10年間、また記者や一般市民が特定秘密を露呈、もしくは特定秘密について質問した場合5年間の服役が課せられるといった内容の法律である。ここで注目すべきは、どの情報が特定秘密に分類されるのか政府が公開しなくても良いという点だ。(http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/12/13/commentary/japan-commentary/abes-secrets-law-undermines-japans-democracy/#.WRLR1lN96SM)

これでは、無実な一般市民が特定秘密について質問しているとは知らずに、自身が犯した罪さえ分からないまま罰せられるというケースも起こりかねない。カフカ小説のようなシュールな話だがこれが現実になりうる未来が日本を待ち受けている。

さらにこの特定秘密保護法の採決は日本が海外にて戦争に参加することを可能にしてしまった。昨年の明仁天皇の生前退位表明を、平和主義を守り抜こうとする天皇の政府への抗議として捉える世論は少なくない。天皇が現状の憲法の絶対的支持者であり、戦時中の日本軍の数々の悪行を悔いているということは確固たる事実なのだから。

戦後70回目の憲法記念日でもあり、共謀罪採決に国が揺れる5月3日、 安倍首相は極右翼神道カルトである日本会議が主催した会見にて2020年1月までに憲法改正を目指すと発表した。国民の反発はすぐに聞こえてきたがもちろんおかまいなしだ。

ここまで来れば自民党の憲法改正案は日本が戦争国家になる以上の危険を孕んでいることが明快である。安倍首相は2012年の自民党改正案発表時に改正案に「緊急事態要項」 が含まれることを明らかにした。これは国家への外部攻撃、内乱や自然災害が起きた場合、内閣の承認を得て緊急事態を宣言できる権限を首相に付与するというものである。さらに、内閣が通常の法案採決の過程を経ずに、法律と同じ効力を持つ法令を発令することも可能となる。首相は国会を通さずに予算を採択することもできる。

日本の法律学者ローレンス・レペタ教授は、これはナチスの戦略から直接引っ張ってきた手段だと言う。具体的には、ワイマール憲法にあった緊急事態要項を巧みに使いドイツ国会議事堂の放火を受けて「首相や官僚の暗殺を企てたり協力した者は処刑、もしくは終身刑または15年以上の服役に処すと宣言した。さらには国会議事堂の放火魔が共産主義であったという事実を捏造し、共産党を禁止し全国選挙の出馬候補者全員に逮捕令状を出した。企てる、協力するという行為は警察や検察によっていとも簡単に捏造された」。

調査報道に定評のある『報道ステーション』でも、政府批判を理由に古舘伊知郎氏が降板になる前にこんな特集を組んでいた。2016年3月16日に放映されワイマール憲法から学ぶ、自民党憲法草案緊急事態条項の危うさ』と題された特集は自民党提案の「緊急事態要項」とワイマール憲法第48条内の緊急事態事項の類似点を検証したもので、2016年ギャラクシー賞を受賞している。特集内ではドイツの憲法学者がこれら二つの要項は本質的に同じであると明言し、ナチスがこの憲法の欠陥を乱用して権力を拡大していったことを見れば、日本も改正案を持って進めばこの先同様の危険が待ち受けていると警告している。

森友学園問題から国民の気をそらすために安倍首相が憲法改正時期を発表したのではないかとする声もある。

しかし、そうであれば、安倍首相率いる自民党がまさにナチスのように巧みにメディア操りプロパガンダを刷り込んでいるといえるのではないか。まずは報道の自由を制限し、政府の動きを国民が把握できないようにする。そしてあとはやりたい放題。2011年には報道の自由ランキングで世界11位だった日本だが、たった6年で72位にまで急落している。

ヒトラーにゲッペルスがいた。トランプにはバノン、ルパート・マードックが付いている。そして安倍首相には世界最大購読数を誇る読売新聞、そして読売王国の帝王渡辺恒雄が付いているのだ。

その癒着ぶりは、国会答弁で憲法改正について問われた安倍首相が「自民党総裁としての考え方は相当詳しく(インタビューに応じた)読売新聞に書いてある。ぜひそれを熟読して頂いてもいい」と発言したことからもありありと伺える。

安倍首相と仲間たちが作り上げたプロパガンダマシーンは準備万端だ。自民党はネット上での反対意見を糾弾するサイバーパトロール隊に報酬を与えて、ソーシャルメディアにもプロパガンダ拡散を推し進めている。そして首相の旧友である籾井氏を会長に任命した国家放送NHKは、今ではすっかり安倍テレビと化している。朝日新聞によれば、党内での異論もすべて弾圧に成功してきたため、党員もみな「ビッグ・ブラザー」に怯える日々だという。

これで日本会議の望む憲法を実現する要素はすべて揃った。

日本は来た道を着々と遡って、過去へと突き進んでいる。そして安倍首相は祖父、岸信介の叶わぬ夢を掴み取る寸前まで来ている。戦犯として逮捕されながらも裁判にかけられなかった岸は後に首相となり、帝国主義の復活を謳った。そしてそれは その夢は安倍晋三の原動力となっている。共謀罪法案の採決は自民党が2012年から静かに構築してきた軍国主義タイムマシーンのソフトウェアだったのだ。

歴史は繰り返すというが、日本では歴史改ざんを繰り返した挙句、過去から学ぶことができず今に至ってしまったようだ。それがこの世界の宿命なのか。民主主義を犠牲にしてまでも自身の意思を突き通した者が君臨する新たな時代。トランプ、プーチンそして安倍。「悪の枢軸」ならぬ「エリートの枢軸」誕生なるか。

しかし、安倍総理や自民党の老害幹部は歴史から学ぶことができなくても、歴史の大切さが分かる偉い人はまだ存在する。国家神道の復活を夢見る日本会議が、尊敬しているであろう偉人だ。

それは天皇陛下。

2015年の新年挨拶を改めて取り上げましょう。

「本年は終戦から70年という節目の年に当たります。多くの人々が亡くなった戦争でした。各戦場で亡くなった人々,広島,長崎の原爆,東京を始めとする各都市の爆撃などにより亡くなった人々の数は誠に多いものでした。この機会に,満州事変に始まるこの戦争の歴史を十分に学び,今後の日本のあり方を考えていくことが,今,極めて大切なことだと思っています。

この1年が,我が国の人々,そして世界の人々にとり,幸せな年となることを心より祈ります

合掌

 

(この記事はThe Daily Beastの英文記事に基づいて書かれ、趣旨翻訳)。

STAY: An African American Film Director Works Towards Finishing A Feature Film in Japan With Crowdfunding

TOKYO – July 16, 2018 Filmsnoir Motion Pictures and Fusion For Peace Productions are proud to share their rewards-based crowdfunding campaign for the independent motion picture STAY, shot in Tokyo by award-winning filmmaker Darryl Wharton-Rigby. The campaign seeks to raise 1500000\ ($15K) to complete final post-production in preparation for distribution and to raise awareness of their collective efforts to change the landscape of the Japanese Film Industry, as Wharton-Rigby is only the second African American to produce a feature film in Japan, in its 100+ years history. To date the campaign has secured over 600000\ ($6K) from supporters on Makuake, the Japanese crowdfunding platform. With just 9 days remaining, in this all of nothing effort, the producers are urgently pleading with the public to support their efforts.

“We are extremely grateful for the contributions we’ve received in response to the crowdfunding campaign for our feature film Stay. Because of generous donations, we are currently close to reaching 40% of our objective,” comments Executive Producer, Christopher Rathbone. “We believe in this film and are excited by the possibilities. Given the global festival acceptance rate and the awards won, STAY has great potential. With continued support, we can maintain this momentum and raise enough funds to complete the project in preparation for distribution and the Japanese premiere.”

The campaign seeks to build a community committed to film diversity and offers a variety of rewards including chopsticks, key chains, posters, screenplay copies, digital downloads, film credits, invitation to private screening as well as lunch with the director and film and it’s star, Shogen.

STAY, a touching romance, the story follows a couple who fall passionately in love over a long weekend.  Ryuu is a Japanese man who is a recovering drug addict, and Hope, is an American enjoying her last days in Japan. The film features emerging Japanese star, Shogen and introduces British model/actress, Ana Tanaka. Lensed by photographer Jeremy Goldberg, STAY, Wharton-Rigby’s second feature film, was shot on the Tokyo streets in fifteen days, guerrilla style. It’s a technique the former Homicide: Life on the Street writer has used throughout his career.

“Shooting STAY in Tokyo on the BlackMagic Pocket Camera made us virtually invisible and allowed us to capture the city up close and personal. We shot on train platforms and trains, Tsukiji Fish Market, ramen shops.  Everywhere,” explains Writer/Director Darryl Wharton-Rigby. “Every day was something new and challenging. We were constantly on edge. I really wanted STAY to feel like it was made by a Japanese filmmaker,” says Rigby.

For the black filmmaker, who lives with his family in Saitama, Japan, this story is personal as his father supervised recovery houses in Baltimore where he grew up. However, after reading aboutthe plight of those dealing with recovery in Japan, he decided that Tokyo would make an interesting backdrop for STAY, while simultaneously promoting diversity and inclusion in the Japanese film industry.

To learn more about Wharton-Rigby’s journey and to make a donation to the crowdfunding campaign by July 26th visit Makuake or go to the link here:https://www.makuake.com/en/project/stay/.

A Short History Of Aum Shinrikyo, their murders, and the failure to stop them

1984 — Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired yogi, forms “AUM Shinsen no Kai,” later renames it AUM Shinrikyo. It mixes elements of yoga, Buddhism, and other religions and begins recruiting college students and intellectuals.

AUM even used manga (comic books) to recruit members.

1987- AUM incorporates in New York City under the name Aum USA Company, Ltd. In the US it attempts to purchase military weapons, develop chemical weapons.

February 1989–AUM members strangle to death, 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi who had wanted to escape the group at its complex in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Nov. 4, 1989 — AUM members acting on orders from Asahara, kill the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son at their home in Yokohama. The lawyer had been part of growing vocal opposition to the group.

1990 — Asahara and 24 other disciples run unsuccessfully in a parliamentary election. The defeat spurs Asahara to begin plans to take over the country and began developing chemical weapons. The group also began manufacturing methamphetamines and small-scale incinerators  which they sell to the Yamaguchi-gumi and other yakuza groups to raise funds.

1993-AUM purchases a 500,000 acre sheep farm in Australia where they test out sarin gas, leaving behind 29 dead sheep.

AUM begins training helicopter pilots in the United States in hopes of eventually dispersing sarin gas over the Tokyo via helicopter.  Plans for launching an attack within the US are also considered.

June 1994-AUM purchases a helicopter from Russia

June 27 — AUM members test sarin nerve gas in a residential area of city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Eight people are killed, 100 injured.

December 12–AUM members kill a member, Tadahito Hamaguchi, with highly toxic VX gas on an Osaka street. He was suspected of being an informant.

January 1,1995–Yomiuri Newspaper publishes on their front page a special report that the police had found elements of Sarin gas in the ground near AUM facilities in Yamanashi Prefecture, linking the cult to the 1994 attack.

February 28,1995-AUM members abduct Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, to find his sister who wanted to leave the group. He dies under interrogation and his body is incinerated in a cult-built microwave heating device. (This and the other murders were later referenced in the series Millennium episode 2, Gehena).

March 20,– AUM members release sarin gas on Tokyo subway system. Thirteen people are killed and over 6000 injured.  Police immediately suspect AUM.

April 23, AUM leader in charge of “Science Technology” and conduit to organized crime, Hideo Murai, is stabbed to death by a Yamaguchi-gumi members in front of the group’s headquarters, while reporters watch.  The spokesman for the group says, “I heard that Murai was killed by the Jews.”

May 5–AUM members plant a cyanide bomb in the bathroom of an underground passage connected to Shinjuku stations, near the ventilation system. The poisonous fumes would have killed thousands if the bomb hadn’t been found.

May 16 — Asahara is arrested.

2000-AUM officially disbands and reforms under the name Aleph.

Feb. 27, 2004 — The Tokyo District Court sentences Asahara to death.

Sep. 15, 2006 — Asahara’s death sentence is finalized.

2007–

Aleph splits into another faction, Hikari no Wa. Later, a third faction of the group emerges.

June 15, 2012 — The last fugitive former AUM member, Katsuya Takahashi, is arrested for his part in the subway attacks.

Jan. 18, 2018 — The Supreme Court rejects Takahashi’s appeal, ending all trials linked to AUM Shinrikyo cult.

July 6, 2018 — Asahara and six others are executed by hanging. Seven members remain on death rows while their cases are being appealed.

 

New Movie “The Trial” (審判)Shows The Kafkaesque Side Of Japan’s Often Criminally Unjust Justice System

If you are unlucky enough to be indicted for a crime in Japan, you’ll find that the system actually works on the presumption that you are guilty until proven guilty. The conviction rate is 99%.  If Franz Kafka was alive today, he’d find that Japan’s courts provided ample material for his pessimistic work. The recently released film The Trial (審判)based on Kafka’s famous work, and directed by John Williams, thus seems tremendously disturbing.

The Trial (審判) is a new film which updates Franz Kafka’s classic nightmarish novel to modern Japan–with great effect.

John Williams is that rare western filmmaker who has chosen to live and work in Tokyo, though he originally came to Japan in 1988 with the intention of saving enough money to go to film school in the US. “I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 14,” he said, in the offices above the Eurospace Theater in Shibuya, where his latest work The Trial (Shinpan) is showing. It’s not everyone who keeps a promise made in their teens, but John Williams did just that, albeit in a place very far from his native England.

John Williams is from South Wales  and back in the mid 1980s when he graduated from university, the British film industry wasn’t what you’d call thriving, in fact it was rather gomping. “Actually it was at a very low ebb,” laughed Williams. “Of course in the 90s, works like ‘Trainspotting’ changed the landscape but we couldn’t see that coming just yet. There were practically no film schools for young students and the average age at the National Film School – the only institution for aspiring filmmakers, was 27.” So John Williams decided, like many others before and after him, to study movie-making in the US, specifically at NYU film school. To that end, he needed to get some cash together and Japan seemed like the place to earn it.

Fast forward 30 years and with the completion of “The Trial,” Williams has 5 films under his belt. He also teaches film production/European films at Sophia University’s Foreign Languages Department. But he never did get to NYU since, just like in the Lennon song, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. By the time Williams got the funds together for New York, he was deep in the throes of life in Japan and travels in Asia. “I was in India when the acceptance letter came and didn’t even see it till I got back. And, well, going to the US seemed to me like a conventional, boring choice. Staying here seemed much more interesting.”

Listening to Williams say that in the Eurospace office, the moment felt like a movie scene all by itself. Eurospace is an iconic Shibuya theater, famed for showcasing indie gems from around the world. There was Wayne Wang’s “Smoke.” Francois Ozon’s “Criminal Lovers.” More recently, it put on “Frances Ha” when few Japanese were even aware of the now Academy award contender Greta Gerwig. And now Williams’ “The Trial” is being shown as a limited release, it will currently be running as the late show every night until the 20th. Given the story (based on the Kafka novel) and weird but intriguing vibe, “The Trial” and the Eurospace venue seem to be made for each other. (Please check with Eurospace website for movie times as they may change).

Eurospace – situated in Maruyamacho, and sandwiched between two love hotels. In fact, every square meter of land in the area is occupied by love hotels. Couples sheepishly stroll around, checking on room prices and curiously eyeing the movie theater. “The Trial” – a film about a young Japanese salariman suddenly condemned for an unnamed crime, and who has a weakness for women and sex.

Otherwise the movie is an invitation to match and compare. Williams does a superb job of superimposing Kafka’s most famous character Josef K., a 30-year old German banker in 1914, onto the life of Yosuke Kimura, a 30-year old banker in present day Tokyo. “It’s present day, but I deliberately made the time frame abstract, almost non-technological,” said Williams. Indeed, Kimura’s hand isn’t welded to his smartphone the way everyone’s is these days, and he almost never looks at a computer screen. Kimura’s main interest seems to be women, as he tries to hook up with every female who crosses his path. His success rate is dismal however, and there’s clearly no emotion or chemistry involved. “I thought about Japanese women a lot when making this movie,” said Williams. “They’re trapped in a society controlled by men. They get so much encouragement to please men and become good wives and mothers, and practically no support when it comes to voicing their opinions or carving out careers.”

Aptly, “The Trial” is wintry and bleak, steeped in various shades of black and gray. Kimura (played with studied excellence by Tsutomu Niwa) even lives in a monotone apartment, devoid of color, clutter or any human warmth. On the morning of his 30th birthday, Kimura wakes up to find two strange men in his bedroom, and they inform him that his “case” is coming up for trial. Kimura has no idea what they’re talking about but in a few days, he receives an envelope summoning him to court the following Sunday. It doesn’t say what time or where exactly and when Kimura finally arrives, the Judge (Ichiro Murata) informs him that he is one hour and 26 minutes late. Kimura is incensed by this, and tries to argue that he cannot be late for an event that doesn’t specify the time. While this is going on, a woman (Shizuko Kawakami) has loud sex with a man in a dark suit in a back room. When Kimura returns to court the next day, the woman crudely seduces him and Kimura is ready to fall for it, until they’re interrupted by the janitor (Ichi Omiya) who tells Kimura that the woman is his wife. Later, Kimura encounters a group of people who are all awaiting trial, and no one seems to have any answers, either to the nature of their crimes or the system that seems convinced of their guilt. Yes, I know – surreal, right?

“For me, it was less about Japan’s judicial system than it was about dealing with the bureaucrats in Tokyo,” said Williams. “And what I’m seeing in Japan right now – the secrecy law, changes in the constitution, the rise of the nationalistic, quasi religious groups – I find all that very creepy. But at the same time, life goes on here. The Japanese don’t seem to paying much attention to this shadow creeping across the country. The metaphorical message of ‘The Trial’ works really well for what we’re seeing in Japan at this point.”–John Williams (photo by Kaori Shoji)

On another level, “The Trial” shows up the very Kafka-esqueness of Japan’s judicial system – the long, grueling process of scrutiny between arrest and indictment, and how, once indictment kicks in, it’s impossible to overturn it*. “For me, it was less about Japan’s judicial system than it was about dealing with the bureaucrats in Tokyo,” said Williams. “And what I’m seeing in Japan right now – the secrecy law, changes in the constitution, the rise of the nationalistic, quasi religious groups – I find all that very creepy. But at the same time, life goes on here. The Japanese don’t seem to paying much attention to this shadow creeping across the country. The metaphorical message of ‘The Trial’ works really well for what we’re seeing in Japan at this point.”

And how. Watching Kimura’s expression shift from incredulity and contempt to finally – defeated resignation, a kind of dread washes over me like a wave in a polluted ocean. The whole thing is maybe a little too close to home.

Editor’s note: One of the dark secrets of Japan’s criminal justice system is that the prosecution in Japan will punt (fail to prosecute) any case that is not a slam-dunk for fear of losing. Sexual assault cases have a particularly low prosecution rate and politicians or high-ranking bureaucrats are often allowed to walk free–including the 39 bureaucrats involved in forging, deleting and altering documents in a dubious land deal involving a right-wing school and the Prime Minister of Japan. The prosecutor who dropped the cases was recently promoted.