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Fear and Trembling
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by Brian McKay

"Fear and Trembling in Tokyo"
4 stars

Based on the memoirs of Amelie’ Nothomb, a Belgian woman who spent her childhood growing up in Japan, FEAR AND TREMBLING is the tale of her return to that nation as an adult who finds that being born in Japan and speaking the language perfectly does not make one Japanese.

Amélie (Sylvie Testud) was born in Japan, and although she was forced to leave it at the age of five when her parents moved back to Belgium, she has always felt like Japan was the nation of her birthright. “I left Japan, but my heart was left behind” she confides to her new supervisor Fubuki (The impossibly gorgeous Kaori Tsuji).

Amélie thinks she has realized her lifelong dream, when she lands a one year contract as a Japanese/French interpreter for a major Tokyo conglomerate. However, things do not go as smoothly as she hoped, and she soon discovers that just because she speaks and understands the language perfectly, she has much to learn about Japanese culture – especially in the business world.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much translating work about at the moment, so she is given busy work by her boss, Mr. Sato (Taro Suwa) and is introduced to Fubuki, her immediate supervisor. She is instantly smitten with Fubuki’s stunning beauty, grace, and impeccable poise, and gazes at her constantly like a love-struck puppy. But the attraction doesn’t seem to carry a Sapphic subtext – Amélie is simply enamored with Fubuki because she sees her as the perfect Japanese woman, something she wishes she could be. For her, looking at Fubuki is like looking at some magic mirror that reflects her own soul.

Amélie adopts Fubuki as her friend and confidante, mistaking Fubuki’s civilities as reciprocation of that friendship. She soon finds herself frustrated to be delegated to the role of coffee server. However, determined to make a good impression, she takes on the task with enthusiasm, along with that of delivering mail and updating the office calendars. Unfortunately, she does them a little too well and ends up stepping on some toes by doing other people’s work for them and causing them to “lose face”.’

Amélie gets her big chance to work on an important project, when Mr. Tenshi (Yasunari Kondo) admires her and asks her to help him with a task involving a major Belgian client. She eagerly jumps into the work and puts together a stellar report for him to use. However, it backfires on both of them when they are called into the office of Vice President Omochi (Bison Katayama) and thoroughly chastised for stepping outside of the bounds of their authority and taking initiative on a project not assigned to them.

Amélie is at first convinced that Saito blew the whistle on them. But Tenshi soon learns otherwise, and warns her that Fubuki was the one who reported them to the V.P. Amélie confronts the person she thought was a friend, inadvertently starting a war of wills that has Fubuki punishing Amélie with a variety of menial tasks until Amélie begins to reach her breaking point (including a naked midnight romp through the empty offices when she finally begins to lose it).

Fear and Trembling is an engaging office comedy/drama which drives home the point that all those notions of human compassion and understanding aside, there are major differences between cultures that cannot easily be resolved with a hug or a handshake. For all of her efforts and burning desire to become accepted as one of the Japanese, Amélie is faced with the realization that she is not. Even though many of her co-workers, like Mr. Tenshi, come to value and respect her, she is still an outsider. While her attempts to fit in are whimsical and amusing, one unfortunate drawback is that the film takes place entirely inside of the office, never giving the viewer a look at what the rest of Amélie’s life was like while living in Tokyo. Did she ever make any friends? Did she date anyone? Did she do anything besides sleep and go to work? Another problem is that some of the Japanese characters are more like broad characterizations, such as the obese buffoon Mr. Omochi, the seemingly idiotic V.P. who laughs at everything and takes great pleasure in screaming at his employees in public. Likewise, Saito is never really given the chance to grow much beyond the role of the domineering boss who shows only brief glimpses of appreciation. However, other characters, like Mr. Tenshi are tempered with humanity and compassion for Amélie’s plight.

The strongest performances come from the bilingual Testud as the indomitable Amélie, and Kaori as the beautiful ice-queen Fubuki whose cold exterior is a defense against her own insecurities and frustrations at having “passed the age of marriage” because she sacrificed a social life for her career, only to see it threatened by a Giajin.

Its few shortcomings aside, FEAR AND TREMBLING is a enjoyable look at the volatile Japanese business world, where Western ideology clashes with Eastern tradition, and the desire to overcome differences sometimes yields bittersweet results.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7553&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/20/03 22:29:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/10/10 Sol Wigutow Brilliant and deling with another strange culture 5 stars
10/22/06 Daisy Brilliant - ambiguous, tragicomedy. 4 stars
8/08/06 Elizabeth S Very good -- see it and appreciate your job. 4 stars
1/23/05 Ann Herbage certainly rang true; funny and touching 4 stars
9/20/04 pascal delapree I liked it too 4 stars
9/21/03 DELAPREE a delicious movie 4 stars
8/13/03 A.Gold MUST SEE- incredibly hilarious and well-produced - can't wait to see it again on dvd!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/18/03 Antti Selkokari Afterwards, you'll have to decide, whethewr 4 stars
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  19-Nov-2004 (NR)



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