Movies (Part 1: movies at the theater)

Carrying more than 20 credit hours a term is not an easy thing for international students. What’s good for these students about Klamath Falls is few sorts of entertainment available in the city. Well, of course, students who love natural environment may enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, or even caving. But not me. I don’t like natural environment. And I had very limited time for myself to relieve myself from stress of studying. Even in a rural place like Klamath Falls, going on hiking or cross-country skiing takes at least half a day. That was too long time for me to afford. I needed something I could do in a few hours that suddenly pop out when I could finish my assignment far much quicker than I had expected. Movies, either at the theater or on video, gradually became the major means to fulfill my need.

While I was in the dormitory, particularly while I didn’t have a car, the rental video service was not my alternative, as the closest video rental shop was located too distant to walk to. The only movie theater in the city, Pelican Cinema, was barely reachable on foot. There was another motivation for watching movies at the theater. They were, and still are, very cheap in the United States than in Japan. It usually cost 1800 yen to see one movie in Japan, which is about 13 dollars depending on the currency value. Movies there cost only four dollars or so. Matinee or other special discounts would cost less than that.

When I was to enjoy myself watching movies there, there loomed a few obstacles I should overcome. One was the lack of information. The school paper at OIT would show the titles of the movies accompanied with the schedules and the fees of Pelican Cinema. But that was it! There was no story line nor list of actors and actresses. I had no cable TV back then. Whenever I dropped by the library, there always someone with enormous spare time sitting all day to enjoy the newspaper exclusively. Friends who knew a lot about movies were hard to catch on campus because both they and I were running around from a hall to another to attend classes. Friends in need are friends indeed, but they are out there somewhere.

And the friends, who were planning to see a movie, would share the information with me when they became occasionally accessible. Those who had seen a movie, however, would often refuse to tell the story saying, “Oh, Sho, it’s not good for you to know it before you see it. You will not enjoy the movie fully.” Actually it’s not the case to me. If I once take a fancy to a movie, I can watch it over and over.

I like the movie “Green Card” which was out in the theater when I graduated from OIT. Three months later, I was in a small town near Chicago for the new employee training of Andersen Consulting. I watched the movie there for the second time. I flew back to Japan after the training, I watched it for the third time on board. I was sent to Hong Kong for a project to participate in. I watched the movie in the vivid city and spread good reputation of it. Then the colleagues wanted to see it. So I went to see it again. I watched the movie five times on big screens. I bought the video of it. And I run the video while vacuuming the room or doing laundry as what I call “Background Video.” Presumably I have seen “Green Card” more than 15 times and at least 5 times in a row at the theaters (including one in the plane). But I still willing to see it and I’m sure to enjoy it as much as I saw it for the first time. There are plenty of movies like that such as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Star 80,” or “Dead Zone.”

Anyway, I don’t mind knowing the story lines of the movies that I am going to see, but many of my American friends remained almost silent. The distribution channels of the movie information, thus, were extremely limited and rare for me at the beginning.

What’s worse, the titles of the movies in English were often non-intuitive. If you see the title, “Elvira,” what do you expect? Even the title “Everybody’s all American,” a movie I really enjoyed doesn’t suggest anything related to football games and the star players. Those were probably the first two movies I saw at Pelican Cinema in my very first term at OIT. I remember walking down all the way to the theater during a short vacant class hour just to see the posters on the door of the Pelican Cinema, in order to obtain the clues about the movies there. This tough situation lasted until a friend from Hawaii found me a movie magazine to subscribe, “Premiere,” which I end up reading it even now.

As the number of the people I could talk to gradually grew, I found those who could give me a ride to the theater, those who owned a video player and gave me a ring whenever they were to rent bunch of videos and those who dare to break the silent-rule among the Americans to report the story of the movies that they had seen.

After I bought a car, I became able to drop by the movie theater whenever I wanted to. Since I moved to Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong’s house, the situation drastically got developed. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong let me watch HBO channels all night; they told me about Siskel & Ebert; they explained about the system of video purchase-club through which I bought more than a dozen of videos almost unavailable back in Japan.

In the meanwhile, people around started to call me “movie buff.” Some even came ask me my opinion over a movie they were to go watch. Then I began to realize the difference in the type of praisable movies between in the United States and in Japan. Well, it may not accurate to determine in this way, as Premiere articles sometimes analyzed the difference between credited films by critics and the actual box office figures. Mrs. Armstrong’s friend, Esther, who loves watching movies, values artistic films more than so-called Hollywood films. And my favorite movie critic, Roger Ebert, whose evaluation on movies I almost always agree to, sells his books very much.

So it’s not a structure of the Japanese view against Americans’ or Hollywood’s. It’s not simply west coast against east coast. It’s not movie buffs against lay people, either. But there were not many people who share the same values on movie critique in those days in Klamath Falls.

Once I went to see “Sex, lies, and videotapes.” I thought that was a great movie. It reminded me of “Unbearable lightness of being.” The audience at the theater, however, did not enjoy it at all. When the ending credit started to scroll up, they really gave a bad booing loudly. I wondered what they had expected out of the movie. When I went to see “Jacob’s Ladder,” which I really like, people sitting around me were totally lost by the complexity of the story. They got bored and began to yak. I yelled at them to walk out if they want to talk. I thought that was kind of surrealistic experimental film beautifully done.

The people around me seemed to refuse thinking. They don’t like drama that they have to interpret the characters’ facial expressions and subtle changes in verbal tones in order to follow the story. They do not stand a long silence. They do not read between the lines. They do not try to translate director’s intention out of what they actually see. They simply accept what they actually see. They like some easy straightforward stimulation to entertain themselves. So they prefer action movies and comedies.

In the action movies they see, as I described in the story titled, “Star Trek or Not Without My Daughter Syndrome,” the protagonist must be absolutely good and the villain must be an evil monster. The audiences do not need prerequisite information or cultural understanding. They just sit there and enjoy the film as if they were riding a roller coaster. I eventually got sick and tired of people’s overall taste of movies like this. I got really so, and I told them so.

“You know. We go see movies to relax and enjoy. We don’t want messy reality in the movie, ’cause we have tons of shits already out there in our life, Sho. Why do we have to pay four bucks to see something that really sucks?”
“So you like something that you don’t have to think, because you have too many things to think about in the reality.”
“Yeah, right” the friend nodded.

“Hey, think about this. If you don’t find joy in reality, where else do you find it? If it’s joy for you not to think anything, you’ll get dumber and dumber. Life itself never sucks. It is simply you that’s making your life a harsh reality; because you think it’s something you gotta escape from. Face it. If you go to the movie theater thousand times a year, and if you spend two hours forgetting reality every time you go there, your life sits out of the door waiting for you to come back. You say you got lots of things to think about in the reality. Well, imagine that you go to Japan, and you attend a school there. You are sure to have far more things to think about. Well, that’s my situation now. Staying in the United States surely is a valuable experience to me, no matter how hard the life is. If you get curious about various things, if you think about many things, life becomes worth living.”

Well, the friend just said, “I understand what you mean. That’s the way you see us, dumb Americans, huh?”
“Not all of them. Not all the time. It’s just my way of thinking. Probably not the typical Japanese thinking. But watching people that pursue instant and thoughtless joy, particularly ones that try to justify the easy way out of reality, surely bothers me. That’s all. It’s just your money. You can spend for whatever you like. I know that.” I replied.

I expressed this kind of thought out in some cases, and I leave it unsaid in others. As I watched “Batman,” “Star Trek,” and some other movies, which the movie theater audience applauded enthusiastically, I began to feel alienated. (Incidentally, the Japanese people usually appreciate movies at theaters. They do not get so emotionally involved with the movie context. They don’t applaud nor give a idiot-like booing. Yes. They, or rather say, we, just watch movie as a appreciable vision on flat screen.)

This was the very reason that I began to prefer going to Pelican Cinema alone and that I became to see more movies on videos or in HBO channel as I became able to communicate with people around.