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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Moratoriamu Tamako (Tamako in Moratorium)

Tamako in Moratorium (Moratoriamu Tamako): Written by Kosuke Mukai, directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita.  Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Suon Kan, Yasuko Tomita, Keiichi Suzuki, Kumi Nakamura.  Running Time: 78 minutes 

Rating: 4/4

             I am a Millennial, coming of age during the dawn of the internet era, and native to a world of constantly-changing technological gadgets and ever-shifting cultural norms.  My generation is only now attempting to establish its place in our world, but with all the uncertainties and all the latent problems of earlier generations confronting us, few of us know for sure where to go and what to do.  While it is not explicitly about these very large and very difficult themes, as I watched this movie, I could not help reflecting on how the frustrations and quandaries of Tamako mirrored those of myself and of many others my age, the question we all must face sooner or later; when we come to the end of our pre-written script, what do we do next? 

            Tamako in Moratorium is split into four parts, one for each season in her first year of post-college life, beginning with Autumn.  After graduating, Tamako has moved back in with her Dad, who runs a small sporting-goods store out of their small apartment in a small, quiet town.  Her days have become a seemingly endless monotony of sleeping, eating, playing Gameboy, eating, reading Manga, eating, teasing the much younger boy who works in the nearby photography shop, and eating.  She has no friends aside from the boy, and even when with relatives other than her father she seems awkward and insecure.  And, her father’s admonitions notwithstanding, she just can’t seem to summon the energy to send out more than a token job application, even when her father presents her with an ultimatum.    

            At first glance, this would seem to be because Tamako is simply lazy, or immature, or stupid, but she defies easy explanation.   She successfully finished college and is clearly not unintelligent, or unaware of the world.  She does eventually start to help out more around the house, even as her attempts at job-hunting fall flat.  She is childish, especially when the possibility of new romance in her Dad’s life enters the picture, but is not aggressively juvenile.   

            The one thing that does excite her, though, is food.  I was strongly reminded of films like Ratatouille and Babette’s Feast by how lavishly the film’s attention is devoted to food.  Cooking food, setting the table with food, discussing food, and of course, consuming food; hungrily munching on watermelon, greedily slurping hot soup or melting ice cream, stuffing oneself with facefulls of rice and vegetables and meat; all carefully laid out on-screen for us to consider (and desire).  The meals here almost seem to be a source of comfort, the one constant for Tamako in a world where any and all security seems to have abandoned her.  Regardless of her cares or worries, at least she can anticipate and appreciate the juicy flavor of a hamburger. 

            Tamako centers around its performances, and everyone in the cast delivers.  Although Tamako doesn’t always talk very much with her father, or the photography boy, or anyone else for that matter, there is a level of unspoken caring there between each of them that need not be said, nor even explicitly shown; it’s simply there.  The boy has a particularly poignant moment when his girlfriend asks him if he is in love with Tamako, and he replies, “No.  But I try to help her when I can.  I don’t think she has any friends.”  Later in the scene he turns and offers Tamako my new favorite quote of the year; “I can’t always look after you.  I’m busy with love and sports.” 

            I think a key to understanding Tamako can be found in one of her most-repeated lines; many of her evenings are spent watching complicated political news shows, already hardly the favored pastime of a seemingly lazy and disconnected college graduate.  Each time, she finally turns off the program with exasperation and (while turning to eat, naturally), mutters, “Japan is hopeless.”  That doesn’t sound like a brat churlishly refusing to face the “real world.”  It sounds like someone feeling despair- or at least frustration- over the overwhelming sense that the “real world” awaiting her is no better than what she already has.  Or perhaps she really is just an immature child.  Like any great film, this one lets us sort things out on our own. 

            Only once during the film do we briefly see Tamako interact with anyone approaching her age, when two friends from school happen to pass her on the street.  Later on, she sees one of them standing at the station waiting for a train, crying silently to herself.  It’s a small moment that brushes up against the edge of another story- why did the girl return to this town, and what did she experience, or not experience, that is causing her to leave in tears?  In any other movie, Tamako would go to her, try to comfort her, hear her tale, and learn some important life lesson in the process to break her out of her malaise.  Not here.  Like Tamako, the movie knows that life isn’t really that simple. 

Next film: Patema Inverted

-Noah Franc 

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