Eclair: Okashi Hourouki [エクレール~お菓子放浪記]

Director Akio Kondo [近藤明男], 2011, 105 minutes, shown as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme – Tohoku on Film

Review by Mike Sullivan

SPOILER ALERT: CONTAINS PLOT SUMMARY

To mark the second anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake the Japan Foundation screened two different movies; the 2011 movie Fukushima Hula Girls and Eclair: Okashi Hourouki. Although Eclair is a movie based on the story of a young boy and his survival through the closing months of the Second World War, the Japan Foundation explained that this film was chosen because it “was shot in the autumn of 2010 in Ishinomaki-city and other places in the Miyagi prefecture. Many of the beautiful locations and historic buildings were swept away by the tsunami.” In Ishinomaki alone over 3,000 lives were lost and over 20,000 homes destroyed. The Japan Foundation representative explained how this movie now represents a record of buildings that no longer exist; the most poignant aspect is that there are extras that lost their lives in the tsunami who can be seen in this movie.

As such it was a very solemn audience that appreciated this opportunity to watch this movie, and in addition, the story itself is very heart wrenching and more than a few people wept some tears.

The film is based on the autobiographical book written by Shigeru Nishimura [西村滋] in 1975, [雨にも負けて風にも負けて] , that tells the story of an orphaned boy sent to a reformatory school, after which he is adopted and meets many new people. As the war draws to a close he begins to lose all those that he cared about and is left leading a gang of orphaned children struggling to survive in Postwar Japan. One of the main themes of the movie is the concept of the Eclair, a sweet pastry he has never tried, and a song about two girls buying sweets in Paris, “Okashi to Musume,” taught to him by a young female teacher. Throughout his story he stays in contact with the teacher until he believes that she died in Hiroshima.

Akio Nishimura (Hajime Yoshii ~吉井一肇) is starving on the streets and steals some sweets, he is caught by a police officer, but the kind officer (Kan Mikami ~三上寛) merely talks to the boy and offers him some food. One of the enduring aspects of this movie is that no matter how tough things are, or how desperate people become, there is always someone who offers him kindness and help, and this helps Akio retain an unconditional love and respect for those people. However, he is sent to the reformatory along with two other boys and it is at the school that Akio encounters a sadistic teacher intent on physical punishment, and a young female teacher, Yoko (Saori Koide ~ 小出 早織) who in contrast bestows great kindness on Akio.

One day Akio hears Yoko singing “Okashi to Musume,” absolutely enthralled he insists on Yoko singing it again, and she in kind makes him learn the song. For Akio living in a world where starvation is common, and sweets or pastries virtually non-existent, the song represents a path to happiness as he can imagine the joy of eating delicious food like an eclair. Surviving through miseries such as the death of a friend and Yoko’s departure to Hokkaido to care for her mother, Akio is adopted by an elderly woman living alone, he works at a local cinema and he enjoys a happy life as he can meet the police officer and his wife, the cinema employees are kind to him and as per his own nature he loves his new ‘mother’ unconditionally, unaware that she is only interested in the money that he can earn for her.

Eventually he discovers that Yoko plans to marry and move to Hiroshima, thus breaking her promise to come back, and after he injures himself and discovers that his new mother plans to replace him with a new orphan with more earning power, Akio runs away and ends up joining a theatre troupe. He once again discovers some measure of happiness working for the theatre troupe and he is able to travel the countryside and visit places like Ishinomaki, however as the months go by the war also comes to a close and starts to affect everyone and everything around Akio. One of the actors is hiding from the draft, and when a second actor receives his draft letter and commits suicide, the first actor has to flee as well because the police will come to investigate. With the two main actors gone the troupe has to disband and Akio returns to Tokyo. He luckily misses the bombing raids and comes back to a Tokyo in ruins, his friends the police officer and the cinema workers have died and he finds a newspaper detailing the new weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

In the aftermath of the end of the war Akio is leading a gang of orphans in a fight for survival on the streets of Tokyo, unbeknownst to him Yoko survived Hiroshima and is looking for Akio in Tokyo. As she wanders the streets and time goes by she starts to lose hope of finding him until it is revealed to her by Akio’s previous ‘mother’ that she has seen Akio leading a gang of children. On the day that Yoko visits that part of Tokyo looking for him there is a singing contest taking place and Akio is urged on by his gang to take part and win the first prize of rice.

Yoko looks for Akio while the songs of the contestants is played through speakers in the streets she walks through, however, she can’t find him and exhausted she sits on a bench. It is while she is sitting there that she starts to listen to one of the songs being sung by a young boy, she realizes that the song is “Okashi to Musume.” Akio is the clear winner of the contest as he sings beautifully and the whole audience joins him in his joyful imagination of living in a world where even children can happily eat sweets. They call on him to sing it again and it is as he sings it a second time that a young woman starts to approach him from the audience and as he sings the final line his eyes find his beloved teacher standing before him.

 

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