World Cinema - Japan, January 2016

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.

With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience. One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland. I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.


This week I had the pleasure of chatting to Akiko Pearlman who hails from Japan, a town called Chiba which is a suburb some 30 minutes from Tokyo airport - a little like Chesham to Heathrow she explains.

Akiko worked for a telecom network company similar to BT and met her husband in Tokyo in 2003 when he was on a business trip. Akiko’s husband worked for a Japanese company and when offered a transfer to the Japan Office he jumped at the chance. Within four years they had married, and had a daughter who was 1 year old when the family moved to the UK and had never visited UK before 2009.

Initially they lived in Preston Road and then moved to Chesham in 2010 where their son was born a year later. Akiko loves living in Chesham, preferring the countryside to the city, and loves the fact that it is such an international town (as evidenced by these articles).

She loves reading and watches film on her computer however she finds it hard to watch long films in English unless they have subtitles as it is tiring to continuously translate.

1) How does the cinema here differ from that in Japan?

The cinemas in Japan are much the same size as those here, due largely to the American influence which cannot be underestimated. In Japan, America is by far the strongest influence, as all children learn American English for 6 years which may go some way to explain the popularity of American culture and American films.

The multiplexes are mostly built in the suburbs because of the high cost of land though there are some smaller cinemas. One cinema in Tokyo is famous for the fact that it only shows films that are liked by the owner.

More usually the cinema programme is dominated by US and UK films accompanied by subtitles, very necessary for films such as Harry Potter. English Films are popular and Akiko has a friend who is a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. Other European cinema is much less popular

2) What is your first memory of going to the cinema as a child?

I went with my Dad and younger sister and would have been maybe 7 or 8. The film was very popular and the cinema was so crowded that people were standing in every available space this made the cinema unbearably hot and the children were getting overwhelmed so lots of crying.

3) What was the first film that you recall seeing?

Doraemon is a Japanese anime film which was first shown in 1973 and is very popular in Asian countries. The hero is a cartoon robotic cat with a pocket from which he takes out all sorts of useful items to help him get out of trouble (rather like Batman’s utility belt). Doraemon is there to rescue his friend who is 10 year old boy who embarks on lots of adventures such as time travel and stopping bullying. Every summer a much awaited new film is released as a longer film. (Incidentally am I the only person in CFS who didn’t realise that POKEMON is short for Pocket Monster?)

The first film that she went to see with a friend as an adult was Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and both Akiko and her friend cried at the end.

4) How expensive was it to visit the cinema?

It was £9.00 to sit down, that was the regular price but there was a marketing campaign that allows ladies to pay £5.00 on the first of each month.

5) What was the etiquette in the cinema in Tokyo?

Well there was no talking during the film but alcohol is allowed - but pretty much the same as in the UK.

6) When I was a child the only food eaten in the cinema was tubs of ice cream or choc ice, Orange Juice and hot dogs. What kind of food could you buy at the cinema?

Most cinema complexes are owned by American companies - young people don’t think that Japan is cool and are drawn to the more fashionable US culture so hot dogs,  pop corn are very popular as are giant cookies/biscuits and doughnuts.

However Japanese style tea without milk and sugar is available from a vending machine or a shop. The greater choice is available from the vending machine where most are cold teas especially popular in summer.

7) What sort of films were shown in Japan? Was it the usual blockbuster? Walt Disney or something else?

James Bond, Harry Potter - really everything from Hollywood is popular in Japan as I said at the beginning. Also Studio Ghibli (animations) were particularly popular when I was a child.

Friday and Saturday were film nights so kid’s films were shown in the early evening every Friday and Saturday.

8) Do you go to the cinema in UK – if so what were your first impressions?

Honestly it is just the same as in Japan. I have only been to the cinema once in UK – due to the children and that was to see Sex and the City 2 (Your interviewer groaned and pulled a face but Akiko was unrepentant).

Akiko also described the unique experience of combining classical music with film when she took her 7 year old daughter to an event at the Barbican to see Fantasia. Akiko also noted the comfort of the seats which may just be a reflection on the seating in some Japanese cinemas.

9) We have certain films that are shown every Christmas, is that the same in your country and if so what ?

Christmas is more of an event for friends so like your New Year's Eve, whereas New Year is about getting together with the family. Home Alone is always shown and is a particular favourite.

Every summer a film is shown called Hotaru no haka (or Grave of the Fire Flies) which is an anime film from Studio Ghibli, but Akiko has not been brave enough to watch it as she has been advised that it is quite shocking and it concerns a little brother and sister and their experience in the Second World War.

10) And what film character would you like to be?

Without hesitation Akiko chose Daemo because her children are always saying that they would like Daemo as a friend and they could have adventures together. Daemo has access to a magical door which can take you to wherever you wish to go and Akiko could go visit Japan more frequently.

11) Finally what is your favourite film?

Akiko recalls watching American and English films with subtitles in order to learn English but now she says things have changed. ‘I am now living full time in the UK so I can practice English conversation live. Now I like to watch Japanese films and I find myself becoming more interested in the culture.

'I go back to Japan every summer and get all the titles to download or buy on dvd so that I can catch up on Japanese films.

'When I was there in 2014 I saw Soko nomi nite hikari kagayaku (The Light Shines Only There) and really enjoyed it; it is a serious dark film set in the north of Japan and tells the life story of a family struggling against poverty. The grandfather lives with them and he has a disabled daughter and another daughter who is supporting the family from her earnings as a prostitute until she meets a man with his own issues. To me it shows how hard some people have to struggle to survive and it is the first serious film that I have watched.'

Akiko also tells me that her Japanese friend also living in Chesham is a wigmaker in the film industry for films such as Harry Potter, Sherlock, Star Wars, James Bond so she gets advance notice of all the up and coming films made in the UK. Apparently, London Film Wig makers are considered to be the best in the world and once her friend saw no less than 8 of her wigs whilst watching a Harry Potter film.

I have called this series of interviews World Cinema and as I am finding out it really is a small world. Thanks again Akiko.