Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 01: It’s a Lost In Translation moment
If I could spend a day staring at a screencap of Azu-nyan, I could definitely spend a week staring at a screencap of Yune.
(I’d be dead after the first 3 days, but my body would still be facing the screen. Probably.)
For the uninitiated, Lost in Translation is a 2003 movie that centered around two Americans in Tokyo, facing culture shock and alienation and all the relevant emotions associated with being in a country speaking a wildly different language and with wildly different customs.
It’s one of my favourite movies, although it’s also an excuse to watch a young Scarlett Johansson look cute and pretty as she wanders around the city.
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée takes the same general premise, throws a Japanese girl into 19th century Paris and turns the cuteness up to 11.
And it’s brilliant.
Using a little girl as the protagonist works extremely well because kids have that innocence and curiosity that adults repress and grow out of – Yotsuba to! thrives on this exact aspect.
But an American kid in Japan (or any other Asian country) wouldn’t have worked as well. Not to disparage Western culture, but only a kid from technologically-backward, stiffly traditional, 19th century Japan could have pulled this off.
Other than the Dutch with their wooden toggles/clogs, I can’t think of any other culture that wears noisy wooden footwear that would have allowed for the toothache-inducing opening scene of Yune tapping her clogs on the marble floor.
But contrary to my seemingly dismissive attitude, I’ve actually fallen quite hard for Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. I’m loving the Claude-Yune interactions. Specifically, I’m loving Claude’s reactions to everything weird Yune does.
It’s easy enough to make an outsider commit all sorts of faux pas in a foreign culture, but it’s way difficult to create a straight man character that will respond convincingly.
Most straight man characters are either overexcited politically correct strawmen or unresponsive obtuse blocks of wood. And those that attempt some measure of balance end up moodswinging worse than a Symbiote-influenced Peter Parker (kindly refer to Spiderman 3; on second thought, don’t – it’s not worth your time or your brain cells).
And it certainly helps that Yune isn’t exaggerated. She may be all enthusiastic and filled with wonderment about Paris and Western culture, but she never freaks out.
That’s why I feel that Ikoku connects so well.
I’m pretty sure a majority of people in real life would visibly react to Edgar’s magic trick, even if it’s tired and clichéd. But Yune’s reactions are almost always low-key. Everything she does, short of the intense devotion to etiquette and all the associated cultural quirks, is realistic.
There isn’t any wild flailing, although Yune does cry out when she’s alarmed or raise her voice when she’s passionate about something. But her moderated depiction helps anchor Yune and helps the audience identify with her.
I feel like I’m talking out of my ass because I can’t seem to identify exactly what it is about Yune that makes her so real. Perhaps I’ll be more eloquent by the next review.
I think it’s because at its core, Ikoku is earnest. Whether it’s being solemn or lighthearted, it’s always earnest.
I wouldn’t be surprised if people are turned off by such ‘raw’ emotion, as it were, but to me it’s heartwarming. To say anything more would be trite, so I’ll just leave it at that.
One last thing. I’ve read quite a few opinions on how technically everyone should be speaking French for this to be an accurate depiction.
And I would agree, if Ikoku Meiro no Croisée was narrowly focused on a Japanese girl trying to get used to 19th century Paris. But it’s not.
Because the story isn’t so much about Japanese-French assimilation, but about forming a connection through cultural differences. It doesn’t matter what language is being spoken – what matters is how two people become close friends despite their extremely different cultural backgrounds.
Personally, I’d prefer French. But much of the dialogue would have been ruined or necessarily simplified to keep with the realism, so Japanese it is.
A snarky cute Yune is fine too.