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Gaijin

Delicacy and robustness are qualities rarely found in the same movie, but that unique combination is part of what makes "Gaijin" a special and rewarding experience.

A Japanese woman director, born in Brazil, has brought her inherent sense of understated beauty to the drama of the immigrant experience in that vast, cruel and vital land. Tizuka Yamasaki dedicated her film "to all those who leave their country." Her artistry and sensitivity toward many cultures transformed what seems to be an exotic slice of history into a film with universal appeal.

The trauma of life in a new country is seen through the eyes of the central figure, Titoe, a fragile Japanese beauty whose experiences eventually give her courage and resilience. Titoe's destiny was fixed at the age of 16 with an arranged marriage to her brother's friend; the two men wanted to emigrate to Brazil, and the plantation owners preferred hiring settled men with families. She thus became part of the exodus of Japanese that began in 1908.

Their sense of wonder, dislocation and dismay is captured in a quick early sequence of scenes, laced with humor, showing their arrival and the comic incongruity of the brass band that welcomes them.

Titoe is slow to adjust to the difficult conditions at the plantation and fearful of a sexual overture by her patient husband. Her anxiety and his frustration are expressed with powerful restraint by Kyoko Tsukamoto and Jiro Kawarasaki, particularly during the firelit scene in which he finally overcomes her resistance.

Not only has the director drawn their story with subtle, tender strokes, but she is equally skilled in depicting the other families on the plantation that is designed to keep workers in a state of perpetual poverty.

With strength and economy, she establishes the plantation owners' desire for a more docile, productive labor force than the free-spirited Italians and Spaniards who had arrived in an earlier stream of immigration. The relationship between the warm-hearted , easy-going Europeans, the reticent Japanese and the few native Brazilians comes alive in vivid scenes that show them at work and at play.

The contrast between the boisterous European dancing and the stylized Japanese art is adroitly handled in beautifully photographed flashbacks. A lovely score integrates both Japanese and Brazilian musical motifs.

The plump, jovial Gianfrancesco Guarnieri (an important Brazilian playwright) is marvelous as the ebullient, wine-loving, courageous Italian anarchist whose wife is a devout Catholic and whose daughter has a lusty appeal for Titoe's brother . Antonio Fagundes is the appealing assistant foreman, attracted by Titoe's shy manner, and sympathetic to the coffee bean pickers, but unable to free himself totally from his early debt to the plantation owners.

In dealing with the life shared by these foreigners, the director has taken the sting out of the word "gaijin," the Japanese pejorative for stranger, and shown the strength in all these varied strands.

The happy ending may seem more like wishful thinking than a real possibility for Titoe, but this is a minor criticism for a first film that is a splendid achievement.

San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 1981

 

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