Japan Abdication, New Emperor

I’ve found the story of the abdication of Japan’s Emperor Akihito. He’s the first emperor to leave office. Akihito is 86 and decided to abdicate due to his age and health. Many thought he should stay in this role till his death as is the custom. This weekend on NHK, the Japanese PBS channel, they offered several documentaries on the Emperor Emeritus’ long reign.

In Japan the year is determined by the current Emperor so this year will be Reiwa 1. Emperor Akihito’s era was Heisei and till April 30 the year was Heisei 30.

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Les Misérables, Ep 3

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The story moves on. Jean Valjean decides to go to the court to exonerate a man falsely accused of stealing and mistaken as Jean Valjean. It would be so easy to let this pass. Le Mayor (J.V.) could let this go and race to save Cosette, whom the Thenardiers abuse and neglect. But Jean Valjean (le Mayor) realizes he should free the man wrongly accused, even though that man is a thief. It’s a tough decision and few would sacrifice as J.V. does.

Cosette dies alone without seeing her daughter Cosette. She’s alone, emaciated and looks white as a ghost. A nun tries to pacify Fantine by lying that the doctor won’t let Cosette come because she’s so sick. Really, if Cosette was there, consider how zombie-like poor Fantine looked her daughter might have been traumatized for life. Better that Cosette remember her mother when she was healthy.

Jean Valjean entrusted his manager to rescue Cosette, but that grumpy, judgmental woman didn’t bother. Time passes and eventually JV manages to get free from jail and race ahead of Javert to get Colette.

At Thenardier’s we see how horribly they’ve treated Cosette. This production adds more suggestion that JV is buying Cosette for untoward reasons. It was particularly slimy. After JV departs with Cosette and her new porcelain doll, the Thenardiers report her as kidnapped. That was a strange, unnecessary addition. Then the Thenardiers are soon evicted from their inn. That was a change from the book and odd, because they had just received a windfall from JV.

JV and Colette make a life in a lower class neighborhood in Paris, where they live a quiet life, except for a nosy neighbor who wears an elaborate powdered wig, which I thought only rich people could afford. Any way this French Mrs. Kravitz suspects that JV isn’t Cosette’s kin and reports him to — da da da da –Javert. Hugo sure gives us a small world for this story.

Javert goes after JV, who manages to flee to a cloistered nunnery. In this story rather than a gardener, whom JV knew, helping him. The nuns do. The abbess agrees to let Colette attend school there, hires JV and lies to Javert.

I think it’s impossible to ruin this Victor Hugo’s story, but I could have done without a few of the changes that modernized or over-explained. Fantine’s make up was overdone IMHO and the added scenes on with Thenardier’s eviction and the nosy neighbor who suspected pedophilia didn’t improve the story. Nonetheless I enjoyed the episode.

Poem of the Week

May Day

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daughter of Heaven and Earth, coy Spring,
With sudden passion languishing,
Maketh all things softly smile,
Painteth pictures mile on mile,
Holds a cup with cowslip-wreaths,
Whence a smokeless incense breathes.
Girls are peeling the sweet willow,
Poplar white, and Gilead-tree,
And troops of boys
Shouting with whoop and hilloa,
And hip, hip three times three.
The air is full of whistlings bland;
What was that I heard
Out of the hazy land?
Harp of the wind, or song of bird,
Or clapping of shepherd’s hands,
Or vagrant booming of the air,
Voice of a meteor lost in day?
Such tidings of the starry sphere
Can this elastic air convey.
Or haply ‘t was the cannonade
Of the pent and darkened lake,
Cooled by the pendent mountain’s shade,
Whose deeps, till beams of noonday break,
Afflicted moan, and latest hold
Even unto May the iceberg cold.
Was it a squirrel’s pettish bark,
Or clarionet of jay? or hark,
Where yon wedged line the Nestor leads,
Steering north with raucous cry
Through tracts and provinces of sky,
Every night alighting down
In new landscapes of romance,
Where darkling feed the clamorous clans
By lonely lakes to men unknown.
Come the tumult whence it will,
Voice of sport, or rush of wings,
It is a sound, it is a token
That the marble sleep is broken,
And a change has passed on things.

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Death by Hanging

Oshima’s Death by Hanging has masterful cinematography and great acting. Loosely based on a real crime, Death by Hanging attempts to argue against capital punishment and prejudice against Koreans.

The director directly states statistics of Japanese approval of capital punishment, before introducing the story. Oshima believes if he shows his audience an execution they’ll come to oppose punishing murderers with death. The story begins with all the protocol of an execution. The criminal named R has been convicted of raping and murdering two school girls. R has a champlain, gets a last meal as the officials in charge go through the usual procedures.

However, when R is hanged, he doesn’t die. Now what?

The doctor finds that R is still alive and soon he comes too. But R insists he isn’t R, which means they can’t hang him again. (Evidently, in Japan if there’s a botched execution, they could try again.) Now begins the long process, mainly led by the Education Chief (not sure why someone with this title is part of this process — it seems he has to make sure the felon has understood why he’s getting punished and agrees that he’s guilty). The black farce is turned up to “high” as the film proceeds. It’s full of dark humor as well as the logic behind ending capital punishment or it’s meant to be.

The film goes down some bizarre rabbit holes, which are pulled off by an outstanding cast. The Korean-Japanese actor who played R should have won an award. It’s amazing how he maintains this impassive presence amidst madness.The story drifts back and forth between fantasy and reality and the plot twists and turns and is full of surprises till the last second. I sure did not expect the ending.

I applaud Oshima for presenting the injustice against Koreans living in Japan so directly and thoroughly. Usually such cultural faults are well hidden.

However, the film felt long and was confusing at time. When R’s sister appears from no where and her relationship with her brother takes an incestuous turn, Oshima lost me. The arguments that followed against capital punishment weren’t convincing and in fact made me think, perhaps execution is acceptable since these arguments are the weakest I’ve heard. So in that respect Death by Hanging, while an example of dark humor and powerful imagery, fails. Because it’s incredibly original, I do recommend the film, but I imagine some people will have problems with some of the foolishness of the officials, the sister or the logic. It is a film you’d want to discuss afterwards.