Japanese Film Festival Day Nine: The Stars Converge & Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

I missed days 6, 7 & 8 of the festival; I needed my down time. Day 6 was the student forum. By all accounts it was good. Day 7 saw the J-Horror Night, which nothing would have got me near. Its first movie, Ghost Train, was given rankings varying from “awesome” to “so bad it’s good” and its second, The Neighbour Number 13, was alternately ranked “arty and confusing” and “amazing”. Day 8 saw the movies Aegis (“made of boredom and lose”) and Ubume (“confused a complicated story for a good one”).

So I returned refreshed and ready to fight for Day 9, the penultimate day of the festival! Fortunately enough for me, it featured one of my picks of the festival. The other film wasn’t so bad either.

The Stars Converge

Why can’t we be friends?

This movie was known as “Chirusoku no Natsu” or “The Summer of Chilsok” in Japan. You can’t find it anywhere under the name The Stars Converge, although it is a logical title.

The Stars Converge is a romance between two people who met only once yet wanted to make things work. The problem is that one of them, Ikuko, is Japanese, and the other, Anh, is South Korean. On the night that they meet, they pledge to meet again in one year at the next Busan-Shimonoseki Goodwill Games. They will have to fight their families just to have permission to send letters to each other, however.

The romance of The Stars Converge is, by nature, distant. The majority of the film focuses on Ikuko living at home, dealing with her parents and consulting her friends for advice on the next steps of her relationship. Set in 1970s Japan, it is at its best in the times when it evokes the mood of the time. 1970s Japanese pop was presented largely in ballad form, and the highest point of this film for me was at the moment when the girls stood on their balcony and sang along. This was one of their moments of solidarity.

Girls cannot be the best of friends forever, of course; things will come between them (note that this holds true of boys, but I’m talking about girls here). If a movie can provide a rare moment of the sort of perfection that exists before trouble sets in, it’s worth holding onto.
The romance between Anh and Ikuko (Anh mercifully growing better at Japanese as the letters progress – even I couldn’t have watched an entire movie of such stilted delivery) is set against a backdrop of Japanese society’s evolution. Ikuko’s father feels frustration towards Ikuko’s relationship as the advent of karaoke threatens his job as a wandering minstrel. The country itself is moving closer and closer to the idea that the only decent jobs can be obtained through university education, and that education should perhaps be pursued by women.

Yet, in all of this progressiveness and the alleged goodwill generated by the goodwill games, the Japanese and South Koreans still do not like or trust each other.

This sort of romance either works or it doesn’t, and it’s interesting to see the way that this film goes. As the details of a year in which two people largely defined each other, it is a well thought out, if not epic film. It is unfortunate that many of the issues that existed in the seventies of this film prevail into modern day, but from The Stars Converge we learn that individuals can make a difference to each other if they do not allow national divisions to impede them. A worthy film, although it freeze frames on its ending a little too soon for my taste.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

Iro iro na sakanatachi

After Himiko, I was expecting nothing special. Fortunately I’m not a very accurate fortune teller, and before closing day I was presented with a lovely film guaranteed to send an emo over the edge. That’s funny, because there’s nothing really emo about this film: it’s just about not having the strength to go through with something that is difficult but rewarding.

Tsuneo works in a Mah-jong parlour. On one of the days when his boss asks him to take the parlour’s mascot dog for a walk, he runs into a pram that turns out to have a knife wielding young woman. This woman is Josee, and cerebral palsy means that she cannot walk.
Intrigued by such a strange girl – strange for reasons far above and beyond the fact that she can’t walk – Tsuneo can’t resist. Josee’s house becomes almost a second home for him, despite the presence of Josee’s unsupportive grandmother.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a complex relationship film, with the sort of subtlety of romance that is, in other films, too subtle to detect. Tsuneo is too fresh faced and pleasant, while Josee is too out of touch and selfish. While Tsuneo lives by himself and is shaped only by a student from university with whom he has a cynical relationship, Josee has been hidden from the world by her Grandmother, who was always wracked by shame at her very existence. It’s surprising that Josee is as well adjusted as she was, given the circumstances.

It’s strange to think that this film hinges on weakness, because that is far from a problem for Josee herself. Although she has been programmed to loathe herself by her grandmother, she doesn’t think of herself as any less of a person. Because of all of the discarded books she has read, she isn’t lacking for intellect. The disability has never been an issue for her, and a reading of dependency only works when she’s in a relationship where she makes the other one feel that she is needed.

Essentially Josee, The Tiger and the Fish is about a perfect relationship that cannot work because one of the people in the relationship isn’t perfect. Watching these two when they’re together is a joy that is difficult to describe; watching them apart is at once hard to fathom and completely understandable. At the end, the characters have left their marks on each other; ultimately that’s all someone can be guaranteed in this world.

There was a problem with the reel change in this film, and it unfortunately took place at the passage of a few months. It took a few minutes to reacclimatise myself to the idea that so much had changed and was changing in the life of the hero. This was more than made up for by the fact that, upon leaving the cinema, I was awarded a free ticket. I used that to see Casino Royale, so the only conclusion we can come to is that Josee, The Tiger and the Fish is a class act all around.

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One Response to Japanese Film Festival Day Nine: The Stars Converge & Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

  1. I missed The Stars Converge from the Japanese Film Fest held here in Manila. I’m trying to find video streaming… would you know where I can see it? Thanks!

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