Japanese ajumma spies paradise on a lonely tropical island

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Japanese ajumma spies paradise on a lonely tropical island


Satomi Kobayashi, left, and Masako Motai, right, keep an eye on the cooking in Naoko Ogigami’s latest film “Megane (Glasses),” which has just opened in Korea. Provided by the Sponge House

Naoko Ogigami’s films give viewers cravings, for the savory food, the unworldly places and the independent spirit of the female characters that typify her work.
Her 2006 film “Kamome Shokudo (The Kamome Diner)” tempted audiences with cinnamon rolls and onigiri, Japanese rice rolls. One hard-to-please critic was even seen booking a flight to Helsinki, Finland, where the film was shot. That critic was a woman, and she is said to have yearned for the lives of the women featured in the film, the way they stood on their own two feet and did things they chose to do for themselves.
Ogigami’s latest film “Megane (Glasses),” which has just opened in Korea, is no exception. “So where did you shoot this film exactly?” was the first question directed at the filmmaker at an interview in Seoul last Monday.
A distant island named Yoron in Kagoshima, Japan, replied Ogigami. “Time passes gently there, twice as slow as the rest of the world,” she said.
Although Glasses doesn’t identify the island, time does pass gently there. It’s certainly the ideal environment for the main character, Taeko (Satomi Kobayashi), who craves a place where cell phones don’t work. Taeko arrives on the island on a small propeller plane and meets Yuji (Ken Mitsuishi), who runs the Hamada Inn, but doesn’t like too many customers; Sakura (Masako Motai), who visits the island to make kakigori, the Japanese dessert that uses shaved ice; and Haruna (Mikako Ichikawa), a schoolteacher who says a world without pretty boys is not worth living in.
Their daily routine is to practice weird physical exercises, drink beer and spend hours thinking. After fleeing from the quirky characters at the inn, Taeko soon begins to find meaning in life on the island, relishing the slow pace and the distance from the rest of the busy world.
Like in The Kamome Diner, which also starred Kobayashi and Motai working in a Japanese diner in Finland, Glasses features people tucking into delicious-looking dishes.
At the interview last week, Ogigami, 35, defined her films as slow paced, without explosions, car accidents or death.
“When you turn on the television, there’s only sad news that makes living in this world feel miserable,” Ogigami said. “I want my movies to make audiences grin and have fun.”
Another important theme in Ogigami’s films is the image of women. A single woman herself, Ogigami said that she finds some of the female characters in films by male directors “disturbing” because they reflect the “ideal images of a woman from a man’s point of view.” Ogigami declined to identify which directors she was referring to, but said, “My ideal woman is someone who can be independent and be her true self by herself. A woman who has her own ways and will ― that is the kind of woman that I want to be, too.”
Ogigami could be describing herself. She writes and directs her own independent films, having studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California. She has made three feature-length films and several shorts.
The Kamome Diner was a surprise hit in Japan and Korea. It debuted in Japan on just two small screens, but ended up playing in some 150 theaters.
Kobayashi and Motai are firm favorites with the director, whom Ogigami said she has worshiped since she was seven years old. “They are not just pretty faces,” she said. “They understand the meaning of acting.”
Asked about the significance of the title of the movie Glasses, Ogigami was elusive. “There is no meaning. I just gave a title without reason,” she said.
It’s strange, though, that all the characters in the film wear glasses.
“So what has meaning in your life now?” she was also asked at a talk after the film’s opening.
Ogigami paused, then said, “My passport, my boyfriend and my cat.”
Glasses opened last Thursday in Korea in small theaters filled with Ogigami enthusiasts.


Naoko Ogigami, the director of “Megane.” By Chun Su-jin

By Chun Su jin [sujiney@joongang.co.kr]

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