An easy to follow yet subtely complex film, a young, white woman Amelie (Sylvie Testud) lived in Japan as a toddler then moved to Belgium. Now a young woman, she moves back to live in Japan believing if she immerses her life in this country she will proudly become Japanese herself.
She already speaks fluent Japanese. She is hired as a translator by a presumably respected and successful Japanese corporation. She works there for one year. Over the course of the year she is only given simple, menial tasks and in the process of doing them breaks a series of Japanese cultural taboos. For example, in one scene she is asked to serve coffee to customers. She speaks in Japanese in front of the customers. Keep in mind she is white, red headed and does not look remotely Asian let alone Japanese. The customers are deeply offended by the fact a ‘westerner’ can understand their discrete conversations. Amelie is berated by her superiors for this.
These seemingly simple mistakes cause Amelie great stress and multiple demotions over the course of her one year stay. The more social taboos she commits the more degrading and meaningless the work becomes.
If you are not part of Japanese culture, if watch this film (I recommend it) you will ask yourself is Japanese corporate life really like this? I personally have no idea but I suspect some of the film accurately reflects the work culture in Japan. Whether this is the way thing are or not, Fear and Trembling (aka Stupeur et Tremblements) send a clear message that speaking another language is not enough to fit it. To resolve conflicts and mesh with society you must also understand the cultural norms of a society. Speaking a foreign language in a foreign country can be a great communication tool as well as a weapon against yourself. Say things properly within socially accepted custom and you’ll be respected, break those customs and you’ll be ostracized or worse. As a westerner, I found this message fascinating and well played out.
Cast & Credits
Directed by Alain Corneau.
Amelie: Sylvie Testud
Mister Tenshi: Yasunari Kondo
Fubuki: Kaori Tsuji
Mister Unaji: Gen. Shimaoka
Mister Saito: Taro Suwa
Mister Omochi: Bison Katayama
Mister Haneda: Sokyu Fujita
Screenplay based on the novel by Amelie Nothomb.
For more info on watching Fear and Trembling, click image below.
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