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Saudade (Director: Katsuya Tomita, 2011):
The Harsh Realities of Local Communities Depicted
with the Humorous Acting of Amateurs

Masato Hase
Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

This film is a masterpiece. With an intense force we are drawn into a different reality like that which gives us the impression that contemporary Japanese society we know so well is actually in fact maybe nothing more than a false reality. This film is set in Kofu City. Most of the stores in the shopping district have their shutters down and the bustle of the city has disappeared completely. This is the sight of a regional Japanese city which became hollowed out, or a sight that people are all too familiar with. However, the scene we see here feels a little bit different to that is usually portrayed in television and movies.

The protagonist is a laborer* in his thirties. However, the wave of the recession has also come crashing down on the construction industry and he now appears to be on the verge of losing his job. On the other hand, his wife is working in a beauty salon and there she becomes friendly with some wealthy female socialites who pay hefty sums of money for her services. She then has a taste of a somewhat wanton feeling; she goes to parties where the notables of Kofu City gather, buys high price water and joins the support group of a politician. Even though the fundamental industries that make up the city are in a state of crisis, there is this absurdity that there are women enjoying this socialite lifestyle centered on the beauty salon. On the other hand, the laborer* pays to see a Thai hostess and is drawn into her saying things like "I am nostalgic for Thailand like my hometown." It is because of this that somewhere there is a separation from this transient world.

This couple live together. This is a strange scene, but there are no feelings of this setup being out of place. If so, we must consider that this movie depicts the realities of modern Japanese society which we don't really want to face. There is also surprising sight of Brazilian immigrants living in large numbers in Kofu City.

However, the charm of this film is that by no means are we necessarily taught about these unknown social realities. The fantastic scenes are where the social realities of this empty place with nowhere to go are charmingly acted through the use of the novice actors. For example, a scene keeps on reappearing where the laborers* are taking a break from work and idly chatting while squatting on the bare earth. Normally, these kinds of scenes are merely used to have the actors say their lines in order to move forward with the story. However, in this film, it is really interesting to watch this acting with dry humor.

At a spacious excavation site, heavy machinery is put to one side and there are four men standing around who start talking about nothing in particular. With just this, the audience becomes buoyant and happy. I think this is because while the film depicts the empty modern society, it does not cause an empty feeling inside of us. Before dreaming of going to Thailand and before making a bold statement of anger in rap, instead of throwing out the scene of the inconsequential talking in front of the camera on the local site which is not profitable, we see, not a skillful performance like professionals, but humorous acting of the grim realities they face in the style of amateurs. I'm sure that there was such an attitude of amateur actors on the set, and it becomes the reason this desperate film gives us hope.

(*This is the expression used in the film)

Masato Hase
Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Graduated from School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University, and dropped out of Osaka University Graduate School of Human Sciences. Entered current position after working as an assistant professor at Chiba University.
Majors in visual culture and communication.
Major publications include “Cinema and Technological Experience”(seikyuusya), “Secrets and Pleasure of the Screen”(ibunsha), “Sociological Communication”(co-authored, Yuhikaku), and “It's TV! Everyone Gather Around”(co-authored, Seikyusha).