Danny Glover stars in The Harimaya Bridge which is just the type of film this blog has been lacking. A film that combines cultural and race differences to develop a story that is both interesting and gripping. After the sudden death of his estranged son in rural Japan, an American man must go there to claim some important family items. While there, he discovers some secrets his son left behind. The Harimaya Bridge takes place in Kochi, Shikoku, where traditional customs remain strong and the ancient bridge of the title still exists. The bridge is a fitting metaphor for the film, which addresses the connections and conflicts between past and present, fathers and sons, insiders and outsiders, Japanese and Americans.
If you are interested in Japan, or if you’ve lived here as a foreigner, especially as a black person, The Harimaya Bridge is essential viewing. The film follows the deceased father and on his journey he experiences culture shock, he encounters prejudice as a foreigner and a black one at that – and he is forced to face his own prejudices. Daniel struggles to overcome his animosity toward the country, a result of his own father’s death in a Japanese POW camp during WWII.
The film is beautifully shot. The lighting is harsh and realistic, but this makes the beauty of Kochi all the more real – it really looks this good, even in bright daylight, even with all that concrete. As someone who has been interested in living in Japan for many years, it’s gratifying to see such a personal film set in this country but from an American director. Although there are some big stars, including Danny Glover, Harimaya Bridge feels more like a Japanese movie than a Hollywood one in its pacing, character interactions and atmosphere. Further, this film has something rather revolutionary: double subtitles. The English is subtitled in Japanese and vice versa. This works surprisingly well and is indicative of a rather impressive ambition of appealing both to a Japanese and a non-Japanese audience. You can see evidence of this in the youtube footage I attached below.
The Harimaya Bridge is a wonderful film. Never more so than when it reaches its thematic and visual stride in the second half of this quietly haunting story. Moreover, the acting, the camera work, and the music are all top-notch. The story is something new and fresh. And the message of the film is really wonderful. It is a film that portrays the experience of being a stranger in Japan better than it portrays what Japanese life is like to Japanese people. As such, it might have more to offer to Japanese viewers who are interested in what living in Japan is like to a foreigner with no knowledge of the language. The actors all deserve commendations for their amazing work. Great film all around, go see it.