Bashing – Review
by Miguel Douglas on August 23, 2010
Yuko volunteered to be an aid worker in Iraq and was taken hostage there. When freed she returned to Japan, but after being home six months she is still the ongoing object of harassment from her own countrymen.
While many films surrounding the Iraq War have often times been met with mixed results—usually stemming from personal opinions or views on the matter—Masahiro Kobayashi’s Bashing explores a topic rarely viewed when dealing with post-war situations, especially that of the individual. Heavily focused on Japanese society and its strict adherence towards honor and sacrifice, the film questions the nature of what honor truly entails amidst such a controversial subject as the Iraq War, remaining quite observant towards how the ideology of a nation might affect one’s living situation. Granted, while main protagonist Yuko—played superbly by Fusako Urabe—was a volunteer in conducting charitable work for the Iraqi people, the utter shunning by society once she returns is relentless. Rather than be accepted as being as heroic in her deeds, the fact that she was captured by insurgents and released alive is found to be an embarrassment by a majority of Japanese society—even that of her own parents. Her imposed alienation is not without logic though; they see her as a coward due to her not dying an honorable death. Why did she go there in the first place? Why did she put herself in harm’s way? These are all questions asked of her, in which her truthful response is never enough to justify her situation to outsiders.
As you can most certainly envision, Bashing details some very controversial material. While outside viewers not familiar with Japanese culture might view the hostility towards Yuko with much distaste, the fact remains that retaining honor is still a high priority within Japanese society. In a place where public figures are often forced to apologize openly to the remainder of the public for their inappropriate actions, Bashing explores the boundary of acceptance back into society once it’s deemed impossible to do so. The conflicting attitudes expressed by Yuko is exceptionally realized and thoughtful—her spurned presence is something she can’t fully understand, and she questions whether her heroism has any meaning within the contextual frame of her own country. Using the backdrop of the Iraq War as the film’s catalyst, the film remains ultimately unbiased concerning it, instead focusing on the aftermath of such participation. Not only is she individually harassed, but the ramifications of her actions affect her family as well. From harassment at work, going to the store, or simply meeting old friends, Kobayashi makes sure to paint a grim portrait of societal fear and dislike, effectively creating a rather claustrophobic atmosphere of hostility.
Regardless of the plot dynamics, the sheer power of the performances is what truly makes Bashing as engaging as it is. Unrelenting in her portrayal, the acting on part of Fusako Urabe is fantastic. From her timid mannerisms as she enters a convenience store knowing it will end in unnecessary confrontation, to her inability to communicate with that of her own parents, her presence is certainly an audacious one in consideration of the hostile climate that permeates throughout the film. As for the remainder of the cast, special mention should go towards Ryuzo Tanaka for his portrayal of Yuko’s father. Conflicted over his own daughter’s actions, his portrayal of a father attempting to deal with the hardships thrust upon him through external matters is emotionally challenging. Unable to grasp an alliance towards his daughter or society was a strong dynamic felt throughout the film, and it really established him as a character contending with some strong convictions.
Considering the rather harsh nature of the film, director Kobayashi easily translates the visual atmosphere over as well. From bleak and rusty landscapes, to shots of gray skies amidst escalating ocean waves, the film’s look is almost as depressing as the film itself—but it does work out quite effectively in creating mood. Perhaps Kobayashi wanted to offer a visual representation of the downtrodden nature of Yuko’s existence, but regardless of reason, the look of the film is certainly quite realized. The close shots offered by Kobayashi really delved into the emotional devastation during some of the film’s more crucial moments, with Kobayashi seemingly wanting the viewer to experience some form of intimacy regarding them. The intensity of such moments is wonderfully laid out, and engages the viewer in a fashion free of contrived emotional responses often viewed in other films.
Overall, Bashing remains a fascinating film that doesn’t shy away from showing the truthful existence of an ostracized individual. While certainly a bleak film, the realism established makes the film all the more engaging. While many films might attempt to present a broader scope considering the topic, Kobayashi decides to elicit a more personal tale. Considering the backdrop of the film’s setting—that of the Iraq War—the film delivers a unique combination concerning a nation and their participation within an already controversial war, but doesn’t delve into the subjective nature of it. This certainly frees the film from presenting a biased perspective, and allows it to explore an individual and their personal battles within themselves, family, and eventually society. It’s a complex film to digest, but it remains a truthful testament in how society is often inconsiderate of people regardless of the good they’ve done. In this respect, Bashing offers a crucial lesson in perseverance, which produces a film far beyond the typical entertainment fare. The film remains an intimate exposure into some very controversial issues, which ultimately makes it all the more challenging and meaningful as a film mainly because it’s willing to do so.