The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck, and God in a Coin Locker

July 24, 2010

Friends and regular readers will know that I am something of an “eiga otaku”, which is Japanese for “cinema geek”. When I lived in Los Angeles back in the day, it was not unusual for me to go to the movies several times a week, and even to attend pre-release screenings at the studios, for which viewers were actually paid to critique films before they were released to the general public (what a concept, getting paid to watch movies! It is almost like getting paid to read books…). In Tokyo, however, a night out at the movies is a serious financial undertaking: $20+ apiece for tickets, another $10 for popcorn and Cokes, and perhaps $12 in train fares for two. On the plus side, the theater seats recline, alcohol is available for those in the mood, and the screenings are often IMAX or 3-D, but still…

So, nowadays I get my movie fix one of three ways: on the airplane back and forth from North America to Japan (on my most recent flight, I watched five movies in one marathon viewfest!); rentals of English-language DVDs at my local Japanese video store, which charges only $1 for two-night rentals; and through the purchase of Hong Kong-sourced Japanese-language videos that are subtitled in English, which I watch stateside (or province-side) over the summer. This last works exceptionally well when I have Japanese visitors, which is most of the time, as we can each watch the movie in our respective native languages, laugh or cry together at the appropriate places, and afterwards, over coffee, compare notes about what we have seen. Each summer I stock up on about thirty or so Japanese-language DVDs, strongly leaning toward winners of the Japan Academy Prize (similar to the Oscar). As is the case with American flicks, some are transcendent, and some are real clinkers.

Last night, I watched the 2008 comedy-drama The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck, and God in a Coin Locker, a whimsical (although turning darker mid-film) tale whose title riffs off the fact that the Japanese words for a native duck and a foreign duck (ahiru and kamo, respectively) are strikingly different from one another, although the birds themselves may be virtually indistinguishable. God (inexplicably, as is often His way), in the voice of a young Bob Dylan, sings “Blowing in the Wind” repeatedly via a portable CD player from within a train station coin locker. Over the course of the movie, one encounters a theme of reincarnation (personified by a likably strange kid from Bhutan), a grisly death or two, several versions of a peculiar episode of bookstore larceny, more than a bit of duplicity on the parts of all the major characters save one, and quite a bit of head scratching, both on the parts of the leading character and of the audience. And just when you think you have reached that “aha!” moment, another twist corkscrews reality into an unexpected direction. This is not a film you are likely to find at your local video store, but it is readily available through Amazon or eBay, and well worth the price of admission. For an authentic Japanese experience, sprinkle your popcorn with a dash or two of soy sauce.