Sunday, March 6, 2011
The Difference Between America and the World
Yesterday, me and my film partner shot an interview with a Japanese businessman for the documentary that we are making at school, and we asked him to compare and contrast the differences between Japanese and American movies, and his answer really summed up what I've tried to nail down for some time when thinking on this subject.
I've always noticed a marked difference between Japanese and American films, the pacing of the films, and the sheer scope and scale, are often as far apart as the two countries themselves, but what this Japanese businessman said was that he found most Japanese films tended to be about the heart and mind, where as American films were usually just about the scale, and in rare cases, the mind. Now, this wasn't always the case in America, way back in the '30, '40s, and even '50s, what would now be considered sentimental lifetime fodder were the films that had reign at the box office, with works of such greats as John Ford and Frank Capra. Then, that all changed when the French New Wave hit the US in the '60s, and our movies became cynical, and for the most part, our movies have been that way since.
Now, take for example the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, the animator behind Ponyo, and the folks at Dreamworks Animation, the guys behind Shrek. Why have Miyazaki's movies been able to be so internationally successful, where as Dreamworks' films are at best an American enterprise? While Shrek is funny and appeals to both adults and children alike, there is a beating heart beneath the stories that Hayao Miyazaki tells that manages to transcend nationalities and affect people the world over. Just look at the Academy Award-winning Japanese flick, Departures, or the movies of Akira Kurosawa and Takeshi "Beat" Kitano. These Japanese made movies favor sentimentality and pure heart over just about any other American made movie I can think of, save for some of the films of Ford or Capra from way back when. And this is a tradition that can be found, not in just Japanese movies, but movies from every other country but America. Look at the two biggest critical hits of this past year, The King's Speech and The Social Network, one engaged the heart, the other, just the mind, and The King's Speech was more successful than The Social Network, because it favored the heart over the mind. Now, let's break it down, The King's Speech was British, The Social Network was American.
There are tried and true themes that manage to affect people universally, and be cross-cultural. I mean, a movie about the founding of facebook and the dangers of the internet doesn't play as well to someone in another country who doesn't have the internet, as say a movie that is about an unlikely friendship between two men. Themes like friendship, love, and family, exist in every culture around the world, it is why the Star Wars films are loved the world over, or why Avatar was a bigger international success than Inception. At the end of the day, it didn't really have anything to do with originality or how groundbreaking the movie was, what mattered were those heartfelt themes that no matter how old, how young, or what corner of the Earth you hail from, you can identify with those said themes. This is what I feel this Japanese businessman was saying, and it was so beautiful and poignant, I had to share it. Thanks for your time.