Delicacy and robustness are qualities rarely found
in the same movie, but that unique combination is
part of what makes "Gaijin" a special and
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
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
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
San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 1981