A Japanese town without pity

Writer-director Kobayashi Masahiro (1954-; Man Walking on Snow) seems to me a Japanese outlier of the Dogma school, relying on natural light to make depressing, undramatic movies. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of his 2005 “Bashing” is that the viewer never knows what happened to Yuko (Urabe Fusako, who was in “Man Walking on Snow”) in Iraq, where she was an international aid worker, other than being held hostage. Was she raped? The movie provides no indication.


Back home, not only is she shunned (murahachibu), but a dozen or so a day harassing phone calls are still coming in to her home phone and additional ones and e-mails to the company for which her father (Tanaka Ryuzo) has worked for 30 years and to the hotel that employs her as a chambermaid. Both she and her father are fired, the boyfriend she has been ducking summons her to formally break with her, boys attack her when she buys take-out soup, etc.

Yuko is affectless in response to all this harassment, beyond lying clothed in bed in fetal position facing the wall.

More bad things happen, all aimed at expelling Yuko from her hometown (Tomakomai on the northern island of Hokkaido on which Kobayashi also set “Man Walking on Snow”) and obliterating consciousness of her shame (whatever it might have consisted of). There is much to make the viewer wince at the malicious cruelty for someone who tried to help other people and did not do anything reprehensible. (Again emphasizing that I don’t know that she was raped in captivity, the cultural logic reminds me of Muslim execution of women who have been raped to preserve the honor of her family.)

The real-life volunteer on whose ostracism the movie was based was not harmed/violated by her captors but criticized for going where she did not belong and embarrassing the nation. Coworkers were disturbed by her presence, etc. The nail that sticks out for whatever reason gets hammered, to borrow a common Japanese metaphor for the perils of nonconformity.

Her father is the only one providing her any sympathy in the movie, and he can not take losing his job (even after getting down on his knees to beg to be retained).

The ordeal of being ostracized in a hyper-conformist society is clear to me. I wonder if Japanese audiences felt solidarity with Yuko or her tormentors. Probably the latter, in which case what I see as critique of their conduct may have reinforced adherence to such conduct.

Looking drab, lacking action or character development, with minimal dialogue, no music until a song with the closing credits, and with the tormentors as lacking in affect as the tormented, the movie is not just a downer/bummer but dull in ways that “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark” are not (with their much-suffering heroines).

Though running only 82 minutes, I felt I had been trapped with Yuko, enduring her indignities in silence for much longer.

There are no DVD bonus features, not even a trailer.


©2009, Stephen O. Murray

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