Rigid Japanese culture like `communism pretending to be capitalism’

Radio Prague, Czech Republic
March 20 2009

Rigid Japanese culture like `communism pretending to be capitalism’,
says documentary maker Sean McAllister

[20-03-2009 16:03 UTC] By Ian Willoughby

One of the biggest hits with audiences at the One World film festival,
which came to a close in Prague on Thursday night, was Japan: A Story
of Love and Hate. It is a portrait of a non-conformist,
fifty-something `kept man’ whose much younger girlfriend holds down
three jobs, including being paid to talk to men in bars. While very
funny, the documentary also offers a fascinating insight into Japan’s
rigid culture, including scenes of workers whose day begins with
obligatory exercises and chants about achieving targets. I asked its
English director Sean McAllister if it had been hard as a westerner to
come to grips with Japanese culture.

‘Japan: A Story of Love and Hate’`Very hard, yes. It was like making
a film on the moon.’

Why do you say that?

`Just everything is completely different. I know it’s a cliché
to say that, but¦from the road signs to the way the way they act
and behave. I don’t know, we’re just so different.’

You compare Japan to communism, or you said it was like communism
pretending to be capitalism ` what do you mean by that?

`I suppose that kind of controlled society, where under communism
people weren’t free¦in the same way that this is the most
ultra-capitalist society, that they’re not free, in the pursuit of
making vast amounts of money. The irony is that the characters in the
film have no money!’
Sean McAllisterThe main character in the film, Naoki, seems to be
quite different from other Japanese. He’s non-conformist, he’s very
funny, he uses bad language ` how unusual was he?

`[laughs] That was fundamentally¦you never, ever, ever meet a
Japanese person that swears. He’s exceptionally unusual! I think
that’s what you need to make a film, really¦When you saw the
exercise sequence, that was Japan. That’s what I’m dealing with to try
and make sense of the bloody place.’

You were saying at the screening that people in Japan reacted
negatively to Naoki in the film.

`Yeah. In their eyes he’s not a shining example of what is good about
Japan. He’s a loser in the eyes of the Japanese¦hanging your dirty
washing out for the public to see is disgraceful, its shameful in that
culture, he brought shame on himself and his country and his
people. He’s sponging off a woman. He’s a very negative image of
modern Japan. But I think he’s a hero, of Japan, and they don’t
appreciate him. The sooner they open their eyes and get real, the
better for the lot of them. And maybe they’ll stop killing themselves
a hundred a day.’

Japan: A Story of Love and Hate lost out in the main competition to
Below Sea Level by the Italian director Gianfranco Rosi, who picked up
the best picture award at a closing ceremony in Prague’s Lucerna on
Thursday night. The best director prize went to the Czech Republic’s
Jana Å evÄ?à – ková for Gyumri, about life in an
Armenian city 20 years after it was devastated by an earthquake. The
One World festival of human rights documentaries now moves on to over
two dozen other Czech towns and cities.


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