“In old Japan, the Emperor was to be approached with fear and trembling”. Thus the title of this French/Japanese film is justified. And if you don’t think while you’re watching, it’s reasonably watchable.
But once you engage the brain, you’ll find this film rather irritating, as I did. The lead character, Miss Amélie, is probably supposed to have a quirky charm, although she often just looks dishevelled and confused. The Japanese characters are all one-dimensional and uninspiring, and it’s hard to like any of them. Worst of all, there is an undertone of contempt for the Japanese that made this film very hard to like.
Miss Amélie comes to Japan from Belgium, having spent her childhood living in Japan, and having nostalgic memories. But despite continually harping on about how much she loves the country, it’s clear that what she loves is a traditional wooden house and a Zen garden: the people and modern life simply don’t interest her.
The Japanese characters are simply stereotypes of one sort or another, and some even change their behaviour in absurd ways. The explanations for these changes are given by other characters, in a flat, ‘describing the plot’, sort of way, and of course Miss Amélie dismisses these explanations out of hand.
In one scene, Miss Amélie is given the task of cleaning the toilets, by her immediate superior Mori Fubuki. Fubuki, a tall striking woman who Amélie initially admires, strides around the room unlocking the paper cupboard and towel dispensers, and finishes by flourishing a toilet brush around the toilet and then holding it proudly aloft, in the manner of Liberty and her torch. Alas for credibility, anyone who has actually wielded a toilet brush knows that waving it around afterwards will give you a sleeve full of toilet water, something that would probably dissolve Miss Mori’s oriental inscrutability.
And so it goes: Amélie with her disingenuous smirk shuffles around the office, Miss Mori looks impeccably groomed and completely unhuman, and everyone else is a cardboard cutout of Japanese office workers. Even Amélie’s underwear-clad romp around the deserted office one night doesn’t lighten things up. And if she’d shown me that persistent inability to use a calculator, I’d probably have tossed her out the window she keeps gazing at.