Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Discovery Channel

Over the years I have done a lot of commuting between Japan and China. When I lived in Kobe, I went to China about once a month. When I lived in Shanghai, I went to Japan more than once a month. On almost every trip, I flew on All Nippon Airlines (ANA or “Zen Niku”).  ANA is a top level airline with a modern fleet and great service but I flew ANA for a different reason – the selection of Japanese movies with English subtitles.  Of course, ANA has an up to date selection of American movies but I use my flight time to try to get a better handle on the language and the culture through Japanese movies.

Yesterday I flew from Tokyo to Shanghai – I watched a wonderful movie about a couple that runs an Inn/bakery in Hokkaido and their adventures dealing with a cross section of customers.I like the way the films are shot – much simpler than most American movies with less “action” and much less violence.  

As the years have gone by I find less need to rely on the subtitles but the main benefit of the movies is seeing how Japanese view various relationships.  Unlike the US, the Japanese seem comfortable with sad endings – the guy doesn’t always get the girl, good doesn’t always triumph over evil, etc. Despite being a country that provides the world with very violent and insensitive Manga comics and video games, much of Japanese cinema seems to come from a different culture than the one that drives the authors of the thick, violent comic books contained in the briefcases of so many salarymen. I guess this is consistent with Japan being “an enigma wrapped in a riddle” to paraphrase Churchill speaking on a completely different topic.I got a surprising amount of insight into how Japanese companies work and how workers relate to each other through a series of movies about a “salary man slacker” that constantly avoided work to sneak off and fish often cleverly involving the CEO to support his sloth  – a completely improbable premise that worked for 20 movies. On the surface, the series was simple minded but I watched each of these movies multiple times and found it helped me understand the structure and behavior of big Japanese companies much better than most of the books I have read on the subject. When it was announced that “Tsuri Baka 20” would be the last of the series – I felt like I was losing an old friend.

Nishida Toshiyuki in Tsuri Baka
My Japanese customers are normally surprised when I mention Japanese movies and actors.  A nice change from talking about weather and golf.  For me, the “Discovery Channel” is not on cable TV, it is on the in flight video system of ANA.