Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Linda, Linda, Linda
I caught this Japanese film directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, about a group of high school girls getting a rock band together for a performance at a school festival. Things are complicated when one of their members injures her finger and cannot play guitar, so they have to find someone else to take her place. They change course a little and pick out a song they really like and ask this Korean exchange student to be their vocalist. She isn't fluent in Japanese, but she can still do the job.
This film is important in a broader sense because of its observation of Japanese-Korean relations circa 2005. During World War Two there were about 2 million Koreans in Japan, in many cases not by choice. Afterwards many were repatriated, but maybe 1/4 stayed behind. Today there are about 600,000 Koreans living in Japan, and laws have been relaxed via their status, and many are now able to become full Japanese citizens. It wasn't too long ago when Koreans still faced a lot of discrimination in Japan, but today it is thought to be "cool" to be Korean. Things have changed a lot. (It helps to stay for the after-movie discussion with Japanese cultural experts from the university.)
What is then remarkable about this story is how unremarkable it is thought to be that a Korean is fully accepted into this group of Japanese girls. It's as if no big deal, when it used to be so. There are some hilarious scenes such as one where a boy professes his love for Son (the Korean girl), and he's trying to speak broken Korean while she's trying to speak broken Japanese, and they can barely make sense of each other, until she realizes what he's saying and says she doesn't feel the same for him.
This film also observes the subtle differences between Koreans and Japanese, such as that Koreans tend to be a little more direct and ask pointed questions, such as a scene where Son asks this guy if he's an ex-boyfriend of one of the bandmembers. Something none of the other girls would dare come right out and say. The film may seem slow and plodding at times, but it is merely observing how the girls relate to one another. Culturally, Japanese tend to be more guarded about their thoughts, especially about anything deemed provocative. So some of the girls may take a little while to respond to a question or two. Or they might communicate with subtle gestures. Though the filmmaker also likes to probe the characters' faces, and I like that in a film.
The film follows the girls through practices and hanging out together, leading up to the big show at the end. Linda, Linda, Linda is the title song that is going to bring the house down, they hope. It is a song made popular by an 80s Japanese punk rock band called the Blue Hearts. I'm not giving anything away, because you know from the start where this thing is going.
After the title song, there is this really poignant part while the rain is falling, and in a few lyrics is laid out the history of Koreans in Japan. Nice coda.
The DVD is out and available! Here's a snippet from the movie: