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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #534  (Vol. 11, No. 25)  This edition is for the week of June 14--20, 2010.

"The Karate Kid"  by Mike Smith
Comic Book Confidential: The Seven Soldiers of Victory  by ED Tucker
Father's Day Cinema Therapy:Ten Film Fathers Worse Than Yours (Or Mine)  by Lisa Scherer
Ako (1965)  by Jason Fetters
Merle .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Ako (1965)

Director Hiroshi Teshigahara creates a short film that accomplishes more than other full-length movies. Ako is a 16-minute character study that follows a 16-year-old Japanese girl over a 24-hour period. One of the best things about Ako is that no knowledge of Japanese is needed. You can enjoy Ako by watching it with the subtitles off. You only have to watch the characters and how they interact with each other and pay attention to the location to have a complete understanding.

An alarm clock buzzes loud in a room as Ako sleeps in bed. She pulls the covers over her head to block the irritating noise. How many times have I done this same act myself only to have to wake up anyway and face the day? Here, Teshigahara creates a universal experience that requires no knowledge of Japan or Japanese culture. In fact, the beauty of Ako is that the movie could be set in any country using any 16-year old girl and it would still work. Ako awakes tired, with a homely appearance and the usual pimples of being a teenager. Slowly she washes her face, takes care to apply makeup, and puts on a turtleneck sweater and is transformed into youthful beauty. A remarkable metamorphosis occurs in only a few seconds. Ako walks out of her apartment, alone.

Next, she meets up with her friends and you see three girls in the backseat of someone’s car with three boys in the front. The camera bounces up and down as the shot shifts from giggling young girls to laughing young boys.

Juxtaposition between friends having a fun day is life at a bakery. Teshigahara cuts in quick edits of bread and sweet rolls being made at a factory and you see the young girls at work, taking lunch together, talking about boys, life, marriage, sex, and experience that is common talk.

The gang goes out bowling and you see each person bowling to show the characters as individuals. Each person is part of the group but is still allowed to be his or her own unique person. This is a great visual statement against the argument that all Japanese are the same and are molded into one big group with no differences allowed.

A few curiosities include the gang inside a graviton ride that spins faster and faster as each character makes goofy faces and attempts to stick to different parts of the wall. I would have never thought that the graviton existed in Japan until seeing this scene. I always believed the graviton was only at carnivals or amusements park in the US or possibly Europe.

On a technological note, Ako is seen playing a car driving video game back in the 60’s. You see Ako driving a car and avoiding hitting other cars and also from driving off the road into rocks. Despite the fact that Spacewar (1971) is the world’s first coin-operated arcade machine, this game probably is not a real video game. Yet all the basic elements of a video game are all there back in 1965 in Japan.

Ako and friends are shown happily eating lunch together as a voice over narration goes on with the boys worried that all their money is gone and what to do. Another universal experience that happens on countless teenage dates everywhere in the world.

Lunch is followed by another car ride scene. The gang runs out of gas and the boys siphon gas from a nearby car.

Teshigahara now accomplishes an amazing sequence as you see innocence shift from childish play to a darker reality.

After tightening up lug nuts on a tire, the gang cranks up the car radio and dances together. Ako, happily dancing with intense energy and enthusiasm is unaware of how her skirt is twirling around her legs and showing a little more to the dancing boys. Gyrating hips, sweat, laughter, and the eternal youthful energy creating a sex drive via dancing that comes busting out later on.

The friends decide to go to the beach to watch the sea. A common thing to do when all money is gone and the evening is early and romantic.

While at the beach, Ako gets separated from the group. She runs from a boy who chases her down the beach. Ako ducks behind a building to try to hide. The boy sees her and rushes at her as Ako slaps him in the face. Repeatedly the boy attempts to rape Ako as she punches him in the face. Finally rejected and beaten down the boy looks at Ako with intense angry eyes. Ako breaks down and cries. She waits for the boy to stalk off silently and she keeps a safe distance behind. In the background you see a factory releasing smoke and pollution into the clear sky as the time has changed from night to early morning.

The ending of Ako is like the end of a night out with friends that you stayed up with. Everyone piles into the car, no longer laughing, no longer having fun, no longer speaking as the gang drives back home, back to work and responsibility. Also, back to the familiar and away from the fun of bowling, eating out, and the getting away from it all that driving out to the beach represents. As much as people want to travel to escape their ordinary, boring existences, at some point the trip is over, despite if you had a good time or not, and you have to go back to the same you that you were before the trip and have the same life. The feeling to get away is crushed by life.

It is extraordinary that Ako has so much to say about the human condition on a universal level in only 16-minutes. Teshigahara could have easily expanded Ako into a full-length movie that provides a more in depth character study; but would that approach have worked? The fact that Ako is a short experimental film, when experimental movies were being made and shown back in the 60’s, shows the genius of Teshigahara and how he made it work when so many other 120-minute movies fail to achieve such insight.

Ako is available from Criterion from the Hiroshi Teshigahara box set that includes the following three films, Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes, and The Face of Another. Each movie is on three separate discs with a fourth disc called The Supplements that features interviews, documentaries, and short films.

Ako has something to offer anyone who wants to see a good quality indies experimental movie.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.