Japanese film festival focuses on post-war reconstruction

Menna Taher, Tuesday 13 Dec 2011

Films set at different stages of Japan's modern history offer audiences a glimpse into the Pacific nation's post-war renaissance

An Engineer's Assistant

Organised by Cairo’s Japan Foundation, a Japanese film festival kicked off Sunday 11 December. The festival’s theme is "Spirit of Renaissance in Japan," referring to post-World War II realities and how they have been captured in the country’s cinema.

Over ten movies with Arabic subtitles are being screened for the festival’s five-day run and include lectures and discussions. Before entering the screening a paper with Japan’s timeline is distributed, highlighting the film’s corresponding political circumstances.

Children in the Classroom, a 30-minute documentary which was screened on 12 December at Cairo’s Opera House in Zamalek, relates the story of a school Japan. The movie invites interesting comparisons between the Japanese and Egyptian educational system.

In a discussion on the post-World War II Japanese Renaissance by Essam Hamza, one of Egypt’s prominent Japan specialists, an eager attendee asked what lessons could Egypt learn from Japan and apply to its educational system.

The question was followed by a laugh from Hamza who explained that Japanese schools take care of each student individually, measuring their potential. “They teach them how to become a human being,” he said while relaying a story about his son coming home with a sack full of potatoes he had harvested in school.

Though the Meiji Reconstruction period in late 19th century Japan had its positive affects on the Japanese education system, schools essentially became government tools for the purpose of teaching children obedience and loyalty to the emperor prior to the war.

In the post-World War II years, Japan, under American occupation, underwent an education reconstruction programme. Today Japan has the highest standards of education and literacy.  

The documentary takes place during Japan’s accession to the GATT trade agreement and protests against US military base expansion in Tokyo and revolves around a particular classroom in Japan and the hardships that the teacher faces in order to educate them.

It is both personal and endearing and shows the difficulty of trying to reach out to and teach the school children without being overly stern.

The teacher reveals that it is much more difficult for a female teacher to try to control a class. The film contrasts a noisy and rambunctious class headed by her and a silent and seemingly orderly class – though students are afraid to raise their hands or answer any questions – headed by a male teacher.

The documentary looks closely at the personality of each student: some are extraverted, others bashful, others yet show interest in studies while some lack confidence. Throughout the film, the teacher learns how to deal with the different personalities.

The camera wanders naturally around the class, capturing intimate moments as students react to different situations. A narrator explains the background of each child.

The short documentary ends with the teacher’s contemplation her students’ progress.

“I can see the spirit of each child,” she says while correcting exams.

Another documentary, An Engineer’s Assistant, screened on the same day. The film depicted the hard work of a railway assistant, highlighting the needed precision and effort to operate Japan’s railway system.

Though not as engaging as Children in the Classroom, it is informative and offers a closer look at Japanese work ethic and the importance of timing. The film also captures interesting visuals through a wide range of camera angles.

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