“JAPAN JAPAN”— When Life is Drab

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 “Japan Japan”

When Life is Drab

Amos Lassen

I remember watching this film when it was released by WaterBearer films and not thinking much of it. Even with that, “Japan Japan” found its way into my heart when I re-watched it this afternoon. Having spent many years in Israel, it was a special treat to see that gay films not only are being made in Israel, they are also thriving there. I loved being able to watch it and recognize places and remembering walking on those very same streets past the very same stores. While I discounted the film when I first saw it, I am now the wiser in dealing with film and I see how wrong I was then. There is a lot going on here and we will recognize the bond between ennui and wanderlust.

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Basically the story goes like this: It is the story of Imri, who at 19 goes to live in Tel- Aviv after having been raised in Ashdod. He dreams of living in Japan. We see his life through his relationships and encounters and in diverse cinematic tools. The film explores  living in the modern and exotic city of Tel Aviv  yet Imri is dreaming about another exotic place and while we are never really sure why he wants to live in Japan, we are not sure that he knows why either. What we see is “a unique correlation formed between the hero’s misconception of Japan and ours of him”.

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The film is “like a mash-up of all sorts of different styles. (i.e. at one point, you only see quoted white text on a black background. Another part of the movie feels like a music video and yet another part uses Google Earth and synchronizes the zoom-ins and zoom-outs to a song playing in the background”. There is no real structure to it and it looks very unprofessional. It uses the concept of visual freedom and there is no real plot or integration of themes.

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At first I was a bit lost trying to understand what was going on; the main character, Imri is also lost in the banality of his life. It disregards for narrative and consistency. It centers on the unfocused, under-employed Israeli boy/man  Imri (Imri Kahn) who spends his days dreaming of travel, downloading porn, and staring out the window when he isn’t gazing at his (or someone else’s) navel. The film does not tell a story—it is a view at Imri’s condition. Imri comes across as displaced and disenchanted and he sees that even leaving his family home does not give him the escape he needs—his troubles moved to Tel Aviv with him. Having left the Israel Defense Forces, the Army, he feels he is adult enough to move to Tel Aviv, work and save money so that he can get to Japan. We are privy to his ramblings, friendships, and nascent philosophy. Director Lior  “Shamriz links the audience to this purposeful slacker through the experimentations of late youth, not crucially through the identities of being queer or Israeli; the Middle East news is just one more set of sounds and images competing for attention. Defaulting a couple times too often to a goofy, show tune-singing friend’s video diary sent from New York, the film builds Imri’s imaginative bridges to everywhere he’s not by the accumulation of collage through the gamut of popular technology. If the young man’s construction of a 21st-century identity is a fragmented, multimedia process, its core is a recognizable attempt to sort priorities while being guided by passions”.

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What at first feels like juvenile punk nihilism soon turns into a study of teenage world-weariness, cleverly exploiting its own limitations by featuring songs, images and corporate logos which could never be secured legally. Shamriz’s debut feature, is  something of a documentary, a home movie which is digitally manipulated and “aggressively punctuated with pornographic inserts from an alternate image system, namely cyberspace”. Shamriz uses his “multiplicity of cinematic languages in an attempt to evoke a truer representation of life, to use the motion-picture not as a documentation of continuous 3D space but as a screen”. We see a ‘problem’ with this semi-improvised, post-everything riff on apathetic Tel Aviv “hipsterdom” and this is exactly the film’s chief value: a defiant disregard for narrative nicety and tonal consistency.  Shamriz has created a  unique and entertaining film. On the background of the hard political situation in Israel, Imri wants to find his own way outside his internal exile. And while the film appears to be a bit sloppy and unpolished but it makes up for that in its vision and vitality.

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