Alan G. Chalk Guides to Japanese Films
Lesson 18: The Japanese Family and Education
Viewing: film, The Family Game, 1984, Morita, as centerpiece for a humanities unit.
From A Half Step Behind, 1991, Condon, three selections: "Education Mama" "Schools and Teachers" "Students"
From The Material Child, 1993, Merry White, Chapter 4: "School in the Lives of Teens"
Johnson, Marcia L. and Jeffrey R. Johnson, Daily Life in Japanese High Schools National Clearinghouse, October 1996 Digest for U.S.-Japan StudiesEllington, Lucien Japanese Education National Clearinghouse.
Another helpful resource is Transcending Stereotypes, 1991, Intercultural Press Part II: Family and Society, Introduction, Imamura, 1943-76. Part III: Educational Cultural Transmission, Introduction, Finkelstein, p. 77-136.
Suggested grades: 9-12 and college - intercultural and interdisciplinary studies
The story of The Family Game:
The double edge provides the teacher and class with both a fairly realistic view of the family and educational system in modern Japan and a satirical basis for critical examination of those institutions. Further, the film invites the American viewers into cross cultural comparisons and contrasts. The problem for the teacher is to prepare the students to view the film as both quasi-document and critical satire.
Although The Family Game can be used alone, this unit suggests a three-week interdisciplinary and intercultural study of the Japanese family, educational system, and life of the teenager. In one school, during the first week, students in English and social studies classrooms viewed and discussed videos: "Suburban Tokyo High School Students," and from the faces of Japan series chosen by individual teachers, "Young Baseball Heroes," "The New Generation," "Beyond the Classroom," "The Entertainer," and "Cram School Teacher and his Students." Also, selected readings were assigned providing background information. During the second week classes were combined each period to view and discuss one reel of The Family Game. On Thursday evening, the entire film was shown to parents and students wishing to see it again. In Friday's combined classes, the film and selected scenes and motifs were reviewed. During the third week students returned to their individual English and social studies classrooms to work on subject area assignments and projects growing out of the first two weeks's studies.
The Family Game, study areas and
"My Home" -- The film focuses on the Numata apartment in the Tokyo High Rise Building. What is the apartment like? What does it reveal about their life-style and relationships? Considering an implied contrast with the traditional Japanese family home, an individual home with several generations under the same roof in a close-knit community of similar homes and families, what changes are implied and revealed in the modern Japanese family and society? Note the scene in which the young woman visits the mother and asks if she can move her chair to the other side of the table: Why does she do this? What happens immediately following? Note also long shots of the apartment complex juxtaposed with shots of industrial Japan: What does this setting suggest about the director's view of what is happening in modern Japan?
The Education Game: "Examination Hell"--Although we see the boys engaged in other activities such as hobbies, games, talking to friends and girls, fighting, etc., the center of their lives is the school (240 days in the school year in contrast with our 180), home work, and preparation for the examinations required for acceptance into the best schools at each level. There is considerable pressure on them because acceptance to the "best" high school and the "best college is a major factor in lifetime employment. Although the school and classroom scenes are few and presented to reveal the director's satirical view of Japanese secondary education, we can draw some tentative conclusions concerning the nature and problems of Japanese education.
The Family--The question is whether or not this satirical portrait of a family is representative of an emerging pattern in many Japanese families. Because satire works usually with the distortion of an identifiable basic situation and character types, we can assume a possible truth at the center of the work. The purpose of the satire is to get us to recognize and laugh at a problem that affects us an our lives. The difficulty for the outsider to Japanese culture, then, is to separate the cartoon from the realistic images and then to see through both to the truth within.
Other Motifs--roller coasters, star gazing, sexual relations, "twilight," games: literal, psychological, social, the family game, the education game, the Japan game.
Students projects and papers:
Extensions of these projects can lead to further reading and research into areas such as the changing Japanese family (from the traditional extended family of three to four families under one roof to the new, smaller nuclear family of only parents and one or two children in a small apartment); the strengths and problems of the Japanese education system and "examination Hell" as the key to getting into top schools and gaining opportunities for positions with large companies and corporations or even the government; and formal education versus the individual and creativity (the Japanese system is now making institutional changes to promote more individuality and creativity).
Finally, as one of the values in studying
and culture is a better understanding of one's own, comparative studies
of the Japanese and American educational systems, particularly in the
areas of school in the life of the teenagers and pressures to get into
top colleges, can be assigned or encouraged.