17 June 2018 | KFL
Friendship and its limits
I was surprised to find that no-one has reviewed this yet. This movie, A-Un (clumsily translated "Buddies" in English), is a rather wonderful tale of a friendship between two men, one (Kadokura) a company president in an unhappy marriage, the other (Mizuta) a mid-level employee of a pharmaceutical company with a lovely wife and beautiful 18-year-old daughter. The setting is Tokyo in the 1930s; fascism is on the rise, and everyone is in thrall to the burgeoning Japanese military machine.
The Japanese phrase "a-un" refers to two entities that are complementary--similar in some ways but not alike; glossed in various Japanese-English references as inhalation and exhalation, or as alpha and omega; each presupposes the other. They are also represented by the "koma-inu" guardian-dog statues that are present at the entrances to Shinto shrines in Japan, and which appear several times in this movie.
The two men are different, strikingly so even, but these differences paradoxically reinforce their friendship--up to a point. Beyond that point, the friendship becomes untenable, at least temporarily. A parallel storyline traces the tentative romance of the daughter with a young student.
There are innumerable films depicting the rise of fascism in Germany and elsewhere in the 1930s, and its consequences for ordinary people. But such tragedies occurred in Japan and other Asian countries as well. This tale similarly recounts the imminent implosion of a family, or family-like group, preceding Pearl Harbor and WWII. And as is generally the case, it serves as a powerful rebuff to fascism, by limning the heartbreaking consequences of such strident nationalism for ordinary folk. Highly recommended.