It was the spring of 1956, roughly 10 years after the end of the Pacific War. A new teacher named Rieko Sakamoto is assigned to an elementary school in Kiba, downtown Tokyo. At the same time, Shizu Miyanaga, a transfer student from Kobe, joins the class #4 of the 6th grade. Shizu is a bright, pretty girl who dreams to become a singer. Blessed with both athletic and academic abilities, Shizu quickly becomes the center of everyone's attention in the class. Akira, the son of a joiner and also the class president, starts to develop a special feeling for Shizu...
The most destructive war the world has ever faced has come to a close. A once powerful nation lies in ruins. Millions are dead, and most cities have been razed to the ground. Those responsible have much to answer for and will face punishment for their crimes. But in the aftermath of such violence and destruction who will be left to pick up the pieces afterwards, and rebuild an entire nation?
Those who are least responsible: the children. Those generations which were either too young to influence what was happening, and those who had yet to be born. They may have escaped the fighting and
bloodshed, but they have still been left with nothing. Furusato Japan is a film about a group of children living ten years after the Second World War in an impoverished district of Tokyo. Still toddlers by the time of the Pacific Victory, one cannot place any of the blame with them for Japan’s crimes during the war yet it becomes clear that the struggle to rebuild the country will be their cross to bear.
Though the main cast are all children, for them childhood is only part-time; all of them must assist their parents with their work. Whether it is lead character Akira helping his father by transporting wood around town in a trolley, to Gonzo serving drinks and clearing away bottles in his father’s bar, no-one seems to be getting away easy. That is until a new girl arrives in town. Shizu is originally from Kobe and the daughter of a wealthy family. While many of the boys find her pretty to look at they are shy to admit it in front of each other and poke fun at her strange accent and wealthy background. However, all are moved by her wonderful singing voice. Her singing is so good that the new class music teacher considers her a shoe-in for the school choir, which she plans to run in a national event for the first time.
All that seems like such a co-incidence, one might expect there would be something in it. Particularly when the music teacher is introduced as a “singer who could have been a professional vocalist” and Shizu says her dream is to become a singer. However there is nothing in it and it is a mere co-incidence. It’s the first of a few incidences of sloppy writing in Furusato Japan. Particularly because it could easily have been worked around without creating any problems with the rest of the story; but because they don’t even mention that fact it is a co-incidence it feels more than a tad awkward.
Other examples of sloppy writing come in various plot twists which occur without any foreshadowing and feel derailing. In one instance the lack of any hints about it is justifiable, but in the other it is completely unreasonable. Attempts are made to get away with it by characters offering some explanations but these seem like token gestures put in place as an excuse for something the writers knew wouldn’t sit with the audience.
Another sign of weakness in the Furusato’s writing is the script, which is pedestrian at its best and clichéd and obvious at its worst. The fault for this may lie with those who wrote the subtitles (Medgirl) but whoever is responsible should be ashamed of themselves; characters never say anything original or clever; they respond to what happens by either stating it plainly (and not bluntly). On other occasions they insert unnecessary exposition into the dialogue, which attempts to explain what the audience would know already if they had only been paying attention. This gets quite irritating after a while and leaves one with the feeling that if only they had tried just a little bit harder, this film could have been so much better.
Because for all the faults I have described here, there is plenty to show that the writers gave this project quite a bit of thought. On the surface this film has a rather ordinary storyline and a terrible script, but what lies beneath is a complex ecosystem of symbolism dealing with a subject far more interesting than the lives of a few teenagers- a picture of Japan’s economic development during the post-war period. Indeed there is much that is remarkable about this subject, given that in the space of only forty years (which means that these characters would be starting to reach retirement age) the country was transformed from a war torn wreck into the second most powerful economy in the World. Much effort has been made to capture the post-war feeling in the characters. For example, two boys –Akira and Hiroshi- are said to be capable of entering a state High School, even though a small percentage of students get high enough grades to do so. Hiroshi is eager to try it out, representing Japan’s desire to strive and improve through hard work, but Akira wants to go to the local school, because he does not want to abandon his roots.
These two desires, which at times conflict with each other, are the two key themes in the film. The desire to rebuild and develop to become prosperous; and the sometimes desire to retain a national identity and the traditions of the past. Furusato Japan concludes that the second is important on an intellectual level while clearly portraying the necessity of the first. Another example of this is Akira’s family heirloom, a sword which identifies them as the direct descendents of a Samurai Warrior. Akira’s family do not own a telephone- they must instead use their landlords phone, even for business calls. This causes both the landlord and the customers some irritation and it is decided that they must buy a new phone. The problem is they need money to do it- and so the prospect is raised of selling the family heirloom. The solution to the problem makes the films position quite clear.
It could be argued that this is a rather simplistic story and that does not show this film to have much depth, but to include every example would be an exercise in futility. There are some who would say that one can see links like these if one wants to see them. That claim I refute; the sheer abundance of these allusions and metaphors is not the result of wishful thinking or coincidence. It is clearly something quite deliberate. Having said that, if one is unwilling to look beyond the narrative then there is little I can recommend you about this film. The dialogue is weak and the story is not particularly original either.
The characters are not particularly special either; the only member of the cast who stands out is Gon. His difficult family background and anti-social behaviour seem like rare qualities in an anime character and there is something about him which is complicated and real. One development of his character is poorly explained and this leaves us with a rather muddled picture of him, but this is quite refreshing when the other characters are so straightforward and predictable.
The film does not score well for presentation either, and in many respects is weak. The studio responsible for the production, WAO World, is not particularly well known. In fact only two items in its back catalogue stand out: Speed Grapher, which was largely the work of Studio Gonzo, and the rather infamous Mars of Destruction. History aside, the art and animation in this film is typical of what one normally gets from a studio that isn’t well established: generic character designs, not terribly well animated and predictable cinematography. It does the job, and manages to avoid looking awful but there are plenty of things out there that are prettier and more exciting. One quality which is worthy of praise is the use of 3D visuals. In particular there is one scene early on in the film where a bridge is depicted in accelerated time, illustrating the way society has changed since the Second World War.
While the visuals are functional, the audio is largely painful. As discussed the script was weak to begin with, but the delivery is utterly flat. Whether the characters encounter happiness or tragedy, whether they are with friends or with their teachers, everything line is delivered in the same one size fits all packaging. Even if one cannot understand what is said, one can still hear the apathy (or the absence of talent) in the voice actors. However, much like the visuals it is something which can be overcome. The soundtrack on the other hand is absolutely dreadful, which is rather problematic given its importance in the story. The film features many renditions of songs performed by the same Children’s orchestra in quick succession, which leaves the impression of stalling for time- particularly as those sequences featured random images with limited animation.
Indeed there is much about Furusato Japan which is done poorly or is unremarkable, yet simply because it has some substance behind it, you cannot bring yourself to hate it. Daring to be different goes a long way in a medium which at times seems so formulaic it is mathematical. Furusato Japan on the other hand is art. Not a great masterpiece from the past which thousands of people queue up to see; rather a slightly ugly modern art piece which a few people in turtlenecks and odd hats will gather to talk about in a cafe over coffee.
Or to put it another way, the film is much like the period it presents. It is a bit scruffy round the edges, and a bit impoverished. The production has a lot of faults and there isn’t much in it yet. ‘yet’. Because there is something intriguing beneath the textbook plot, the ugly character drawings, and awful soundtrack. There is something here that can be salvaged. Think of it like this- money can fix the second two. Writing improves with experience and with time. But artistic vision is something you either got or you don’t got. And Furusato Japan has definitely got it.