“JAPAN, JAPAN”–a gay Israeli dreams of Japan

“Japan Japan”

Dreams of Japan

Amos Lassen

A friend of mine in Israel sent me a copy of the new Israeli film, “Japan Japan” and I discovered very quickly that the film is the work of a filmmaker who knows film and also knows where film is going. Lior Shamriz gives us a film about a perspective as it looks at the life of Imri, a 19 year old living in Tel Aviv but who has dreams of moving to Japan. He is a young man with not much direction in his life. He has a simple job but elaborate dreams. Life seems to hold no pleasure for Imri but people seem to care for him, maybe because he is good looking or because he exudes a damaged quality that has its own beauty.
The movie is filmed documentary style and there are moments when the characters address the camera and not each other but we are constantly reminded that we are watching a film because of the flashing letters that this is the film “Japan Japan”. We feel we are taken into the heads of the characters and we sense what it is like in a place where music, imagery and randomnesses exist. Shamriz is playing into us so that we will find a level of intimacy with Imri as we enter his world.

Everything about this movie is unique and because of that some may find it disconcerting and boring. Personally I love this film but that could be because I spent most of my life in Israel and am familiar with the mentality of the people.

“Japan Japan” is a study of teenage angst and when a nude Imri announces that “Cinema is dead” and then parades through the streets of Tel Aviv repeating this, we get the definite feeling that all is not right with the teen. Shamriz uses alienation as equal to narrative deconstruction. As we watch Imri’s interactions we sense his loneliness and despair. Everything he does—be it how he relates to his female roommate, to his dead-end job, to his sexual adventures for love or money, to his sharing his thoughts with his best friend, Neema—reflects his alienation. These events which are, in effect, non-events add to his desire to go to Japan but Imri offers no exit strategy or plans. And why does he yearn to go to Japan? It seems that he has seen a gay pornographic film from Japan and that is the cause of the lure. Somehow Shamriz tells the story of a young man trying to discover his place in the world without exerting any real effort to do so.


Because the film is episodic, it seems senseless and distracting and therefore more than one view is necessary to really get what this film says. We see that Imri is not without soul—his soul is lost somewhere. His best friend has moved to New York and he can’t bear the thought of being alone in Israel. We see the wanderlust of youth and Imri’s mood of displacement. He knows that wherever he goes, he can’t leave his feelings for his home. His innocence is unflattering and Imri is not much more than a slacker and through him we do not get a true picture of Israeli gay life but rather a look at a gay individual who seems not to be able to fit anywhere. He has problems of identity as many Israelis do. They grow up in a small worn torn country which is dominated by American culture. He feels his own culture is not really his and he erects a barrier between himself and his surroundings.

Shamriz obviously planned the film as he would have planned a documentary and waiting for the editing process to bring everything together. I am sure the movie is based on Shamriz’s own life but he fictionalized it.

Even though Imri is the lead actor, we should look at the film as an ensemble piece as all of the actors are important to the understanding of the character of Imri. The construction of the movie came about by both improvisation and script and it is an exploration of living in gay-friendly Tel Aviv. However, there is something in the way Imri sees Tel Aviv as well as the misconceptions he has about Japan.

In closing I feel that I must say to those of you who will tear this film to pieces that you must be free with it and let it enter your mind. Once you do you will have a remarkable viewing experience.

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