Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Nada Sou Sou 涙そうそう (2006)

Okinawa is the very last area of the world occupied by the US Army after the end of WW2, unless one considers Europe to be permanently occupied by the Americans via NATO. Okinawa, despite the rent the US Army pays Japan for its naval bases, is still by far the poorest prefecture in Japan. Okinawan culture isn't exactly Japanese - the islands have their own language and traditions which still survive a century after their annexation during the Meiji Revolution. Poor, colonialised, and marginalised, Okinawa barely registers in pop culture at all - do you remember the j-dramas, movies, manga, or even anime set in Okinawa? In recent years, only the Forbidden Siren movie and the vampire anime series Blood+ were set in what one might charitably call a fictionalised Okinawa. Even sadder to contemplate is the fact that Karate Kid Part 2, set in a more realistic Okinawa, was actually filmmed in Hawaii...

I suppose all good things come to those who wait, and Nada Sou Sou is the first huge movie from Japan that takes place in its entirety on Okinawan soil. It's a tearjerker about a pair of step-siblings growing up in the poverty of Okinawa's islands. More than that, it's a tribute to the noblest kind of love there is in the world - the love one has for their family. Even though they aren't related by blood, the idea of family and kinship compel the older brother to take care of the kid sister when they are orphaned early on. It is this love that enables the elder brother to selflessly sacrifice his education for his more academically-inclined sister's, while at the same time still pursuing his own scaled-back dreams and ambitions. In this way, Nada Sou Sou is also about the resilience of the human spirit, celebrating people who never give up even in the face of crippling obstacles, and fulfils the necessary ingredients for a tearjerker ending, which the movie relentless builds towards.

At the same time, the creators of Nada Sou Sou also cram in as much of the local flavour as possible - this movie should be watched for its depiction of many unique Okinawan/Rykyuan traditions and culture, ranging from its summer festivities, language (look out for old folk spouting not standard Japanese or Okinawan-accented Japanese, but Okinawan language), architecture and even music. I'm not sure if the centrestage promotion of Okinawa culture would appeal to local fans of Japanese movies, but I personally was impressed by both the strong local flavour of the movie as well as how the Okinawan elements actually didn't hinder - and in fact helped - the development of the tearjerker plot.

Nada Sou Sou boasts of all-round great acting by its cast, and its simple but homely style neatly complements the strong rural Okinawan setting, making this movie a classic triple hanky tearjerker which should appeal to not just the young Japanese movie fan, but also older audiences who have been starved for good tearjerkers.

First published at incinemas on 29 March 2007

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