One Wonderful Saturday: Japanese Cinema and Sights of Chinatown

by Caitlin Joyce on December 4, 2017

Ever since I was young, I have been enamored with Japanese pop culture and history. Sometimes I feel myself wishing that my interest had been for somewhere like Great Britain— it would be a lot easier if my dream destination required travel only across the Atlantic rather than traversing an entire hemisphere.

Since it will likely take me a long while to save up my change for a ticket to Japan, I try to embrace this interest in other ways. One of them is taking cultural classes offered here at Arcadia. Though I haven’t found a spot for Japanese 101 in my schedule yet, I was able to take the University Seminar “Japanese Cinema and Anime” this semester. I’m no stranger to anime (periods of my life can be categorized with every beloved installment of the Pokemon TV and game series), but I was admittedly quite unknowledgeable about the Japanese big screen. My eyes and interest have opened to a new realm of Japanese media.

With my roommates and "Grandman" at Joy Tsin Lau.

Our class meets once a week for three hours (half lecture, half film screening), and we learn about the progression of Japanese cinema through the decades. We analyze films— connecting major themes and motifs within the dialogue, plot, and cinematography— to the social movements and political landscape subsequently occurring in Japanese society. This class allows me to exercise the skills I have developed in other courses analyzing movies through a sociologist and feminist perspective.

One of my favorite films shown in the class is One Wonderful Sunday (1947) by Akira Kurosawa. The film follows a Sunday date of a young couple struggling to find hope during the Occupation of Japan. I loved the film because of all the subtle cues Kurosawa left throughout the movie to invoke dark images of the Occupation, an act that went against the American censorship codes.Though I previously thought all black-and-white films would be boring, the movie painted a fascinating portrait of daily Japanese life post World War II.

I also attended the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, since my professor, Robert Buscher, is also the festival director. For a weekend day trip, my roommates, Kaitlyn Jones ‘20, Faith Roman ‘20, Dana McCabe ‘20, and I decided to see a film (along with Dana’s grandfather, who we affectionately call “Grandman”) at the Asian Arts Initiative, then later explore Chinatown. The film screening, Resistance at Tule Lake (2017) by Konrad Aderer, was a documentary on the forcible internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. While American media painted the Japanese as the “model minority,” Resistance at Tule Lake exposes the depth of the U.S. government’s violations of civil liberties against Japanese-Americans and highlights the organized resistance by these citizens during the internment. The film  showcased the No-No Boys, Japanese-American citizens who responded “no” to the degrading “loyalty” quizzes given by the U.S. government’s War Relocation Authority. Following the film, a survivor of the Tule Lake internment camp, Ed Kobayashi, spoke to the audience about how his own experiences at the camp was reflected in the movie, and that of his father, who was labeled a No-No boy.

I’m glad we went to see Resistance at Tule Lake. The depth of the government’s misdeeds through Japanese Internment is underrepresented in our history textbooks, and the film taught me things that I never knew about our nation’s history. I strongly believe that it’s important to study the past, especially the mistakes, so history does not repeat itself.

After the film, we went to my  favorite restaurant in Chinatown, Joy Tsin Lau. I often wish I could have the same food I tried in Shanghai, but this restaurant is one of the best places to get traditional Chinese cuisine. You know it’s an authentic restaurant if they give you orange slices at the end of the meal! After dinner, we stopped by my favorite store, Asia Crafts, which we all mostly know as the Hello Kitty/Sanrio Store. After meticulously picking out the cutest sticker sets and lucky-paper star wrappers, we ventured on to find a bakery that was still open. We found a small bakery off the main road, and I ended up treating myself to a bubble milk coffee— the “bubbles” are chewy pearls of tapioca. To top everything off, we ordered a fluffy almond cake. As you can tell I was very well-fed during this day trip.

As we left Chinatown, I was struck by an immense sense of deja-vu. The bright neon signs reflecting in the street’s puddles reminded me of a similar drizzly night on Nanjing Road during Preview. The blend of shimmering black asphalt and vivid lights flickering in the rain is one of the most beautiful sights in the world to me. I’m glad I could experience this day with my closest friends and explore one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Philadelphia.