Mary Poppins Returns
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A fantastic film, with so much to love about it. The story itself, which is true, is a little mind-boggling. An American woman from Tennessee (Carroll Baker) marries a Japanese diplomat (James Shigeta) and goes back to Japan with him after Pearl Harbor, when officials from both sides are deported. The pair have a daughter and live their lives in rural Japan while the war rages on.
The film is highly sensitive culturally, and well ahead of its time. The Japanese characters are shown to be regular human beings, and there are no stereotypes. At the same time, aspects of the culture are on display, e.g. sacrificing one's desires for honor, filial piety, not displaying one's emotions, etc. This is for good and bad - in one fantastic scene, Baker rips into Shigeta for his culture's expectation that women be silent, and keep their opinions to themselves, which was probably her best scene. I also loved how the dialogue is often in untranslated Japanese.
Though the war is a bit in the background, we see it from the perspective of Japan, which is fascinating. Seeing the community huddle around a radio and listen to Emperor Hirohito's voice for the first time, when he announces surrender to his country, is a powerful scene. Seeing American planes bomb the village is as well. It may be a touchy subject to those who suffered at the hands of Japanese aggression, or to those who (correctly) point out that Japan "started it", but I found the film balanced and truthful, relaying the events of this couple's life. We know that the people are suffering because of the actions of their own government, despite people like Shigeta (Terasaki-san) who advocated peace, but we can still feel for the tragedy of it all. And while the film humanizes the 'other side' in the war which is too often dehumanized, the main story is about this trials and tribulations of this interracial relationship set against the backdrop of their countries at war.
There are very nice love scenes between Shigeta and Baker, and they play just as if it were two white characters, with romance, tenderness, and passionate kissing, which was incredibly refreshing. Shigeta is not demasculated in the slightest, and makes a strong leading man. Just compare his suave, thoughtful, and human portrayal to the racist, shameful, and disgusting 'Japanese-American' that Mickey Rooney gives us in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', which was also made in 1961. Baker's performance is good but probably not great, feeling at times a little forced, though it's always heartfelt. The film really makes you ponder what you might do in some of the difficult situations these two find themselves in. It's a powerful story of the depths of love, and the need for world peace. There are a couple of scenes that gave me goosebumps, and the ending is just fantastic. Highly recommended.
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