Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who Doesn’t Love Baby Elephants?

In 2004 a very young Japanese actor—Yûya Yagira, age 14—won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut performance in the film, Nobody Knows. It was a wonderful and deeply moving picture, and anyone seeing it couldn't help being impressed by the young actor in his first ever acting job.

Yagira appeared next in 2005, in a true story about a Japanese boy who went to Thailand to become a mahout, a picture called Shining Boy and Little Randy. It’s unfortunate the movie was stuck with this perfectly awful title, but in spite of that it is a good picture. Yagira portrays the real life Tetsumu Sakamoto in the simplest and most unaffected way that seems almost like non-acting. For the second film in a row he gives a very moving performance.

The story briefly… Junior high student Tetsumu lives with his family at what is a country zoo, where monkeys, tigers, donkeys, ponies and dogs are numerous. They try to earn a living by hiring the animals out to movies and TV shows, but it’s hard going caring for so many animals, and with the bank dunning them for loan payments. The mother has always dreamed of having an elephant, and by selling a few of the other animals, they manage to buy an elephant from a bankrupt zoo. The real story begins here, because it turns out that the son, Tetsumu, has an uncanny rapport with the elephant, insisting even that the animal talks to him. Before long they manage to obtain another elephant, this one an untrained baby. With this elephant too, the boy has a special relationship. He discovers that there is a school in Thailand where he can study to become a mahout, or caretaker-trainer of elephants. And so he goes off for a year and a half to Chiang Mai, Thailand, returning to Japan as a fully qualified mahout. With his skills learned in Thailand, the family fortunes appear to be on an upswing, as does the boy’s strained relationship with his mother and step-father. But there’s no escaping the sad ending, as it is a true story that ended in tragedy.

If you are someone who is quick to tears, this movie will have you crying both happy and sad tears. I think they call such movies a tearjerker. But that’s sort of par for the course when it’s a story about pursuing a dream, overcoming difficulties and eventually seeing that dream come true. Though it is true that the biggest part of Tetsumu’s dream—to create a reserve for older elephants—had to finally be initiated by his mother.

Two outstanding elements of Shining Boy and Little Randy are the music by Ryûichi Sakamoto and the visually lush photography of Thailand by Hiroshi Takase. There is also some simple and unsophisticated humor with the monkeys, as well as the elephants. The scene in which the chimpanzee ‘Smile’ releases all the animals to raid the unattended dinner table is very funny. I watched a documentary on the making of the movie and learned that it took them hours and hours to film that scene because of all the required animal tricks. But certainly there are things about this movie that some people will complain about, and I will say to them once more, relax and stop looking for perfection in a story that makes you laugh and cry and tells you something about the human condition without all the metaphysics. This one also tells us something about the short life of an extraordinary young man.

I feel certain that those interested in the movie will find it (with English subtitles) at the local video-DVD rental store. My guess is Redbox has it in their inventory. (If you're in Japan, Tsutaya has it.) I liked it enough myself to buy the DVD.

The preview below is in Japanese, but it will give you an idea of what the movie is like.

1 comment:

  1. There is a story in our paper today about the lady locally who takes care of the remaining elephant in the Central Florida Zoo. The other elephant died a few months ago.

    enjoyed this blog.



About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America