Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Films for Obon 2015

It's been three years since we've had any films to recommend for Obon. While there have been some films from Japan dealing with death, nothing has spoken to us like this year's picks. Now why you might ask? In part for two reasons. Our first film pick was inspired by this year's Obon Service by Imamura Sensei. In it he spoke of the origins of the Obon ceremony in where a direct disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha had tried to feed the hungry ghost of his mother but found that the food he had laid out burned her. Frustrated, he sought the consul of the Buddha who explained that because she could not appreciate the food in front of her she remained a hungry ghost. Now how many times have you had a meal that for some reason you were so focused on something else that upset you that you could not enjoy such a meal? In that very moment you become the hungry ghost! For this reason, we have selected our first ever non-Japanese pick the 1987 Danish film Babette's Feast.
Much like Imamura Sensei's sermon, this film deals with regret, foolishness, and appreciation. In the plot, a French woman escapes to a small fishing village in 19th Century Jutland Denmark whose entire community centered around a pastor who had recently passed away. No one in this tightly held community including the two surviving daughters of the pastor seems to trust her. What they do not know is that she was a world renown Chef who had just won the French lottery. In an effort to show respect and break the ice with her neighbors, she spends her entire fortune preparing a feast to commemorate the anniversary of the pastors passing. Sounds like people would appreciate that right? Wrong!
Gripped by fear and distrust, the two sisters convince themselves that this foreigner is a devil in disguise who seeks to corrupt them away from God. They devise a plan to attend the meal in their father's honor but deprive themselves of enjoying it. What they did not expect was that Denmark's most famous General who Babbette once had a chance encounter with comes to the dinner and is blown away by the incredible 12 course cuisine. He had not eaten so well in many years and tried his best to compliment the exquisite cooking but is quickly shot down by people who ignore his remarks and change the subject as they continue to eat without a word or ounce of joy. These foolish old Danes fail Babbette in their ignorance in not appreciating what they had been given and thus become as Imamura Sensei calls a hungry ghost. As the Japanese would say: BAKA! 

Our Second film for Obon is a replay from an earlier year. We choose a terrifying short story from within Akira Kurosawa Dreams entitled "The Tunnel." 
As many of you may have read about our connection to the Vietnam War and by proxy WWII. This segment deals with regret or as what my father suffered from a sense of survivors guilt. Here within this Kurosawa masterpiece is the story of one such Japanese soldier who at the end of the defeat in WWII returns home. But just short of getting there he must pass through a long dark tunnel where he hears the footsteps of ghosts marching. To his terror, he discovers they are his dead troops who followed him into annihilation.
This short story could be about any war where one who has regrets must come to terms with what they have done. Obon is a time of reflection and this piece gives plenty for those who in recent times have been calling for war never caring once of the consequences for those who must fight it. Please reflect on this.

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