"What do you want to do tonight?" Aki is asking me as we stroll down the less-crowded side streets of Shinjuku. We’ve reached that point in our relationship where we dispose of drawing up complicated plans, where meeting once a week becomes a given and the long flow charts of activities for “date night” are replaced by a simple, dispatch-style message of time and place. When a relationship reaches this sort of limbo, it all too often degrades into nights of wandering aimlessly before inevitably settling for “dinner and drinks.” Aki and I have decided to buck that trend and actively seek out new things to do, but tonight it’s getting late and it’s beginning to look disconcertingly more like another izakaya night. “There’s this movie I want to see…” Aki offers, sounding hopeful. The movies. I rub my eyes with thumb and forefinger like a weary politician, trying to find the appropriate words. See, I don’t like movie dates. No, I hate movie dates. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time than a movie date. I actually like movies. But, I’m also a bit of an energetic guy and I find it difficult to sit still through any event that requires me to be seated for hours at a time. I’m the kind of guy that watches a movie at home in installments. I would also prefer to drop a few bucks on a cold drink, a stick of yakitori and a good conversation over spending nearly 2,000 yen to sit in a darkened room in total silence, shifting uncomfortably like a sugar-addled child. I also hold a personal belief that the “movie date” is the canary in the coalmine – a surefire indicator that you’ve run out of things to talk about in a relationship, that things have become dull and routine, that you’ve decided to let movie stars entertain you, rather than each other. Aki names the movie and suggests a theater down the street. I groan and rub my eyes with renewed fervor. She looks at me with concern, as I’m sure at this point it appears to her as if I’m attempting to blind myself. I finally manage, haltingly, “I… don’t really…want to see a movie.” “But we’ve never done a movie before, and you said this one looks interesting,” she retorts. I feel as though I’d be a hypocrite to argue with that logic, so I resign myself to my fate and we end up at the movie, my legs bouncing like pistons through all two and a half hours. Aside from my childlike inability to sit still, a movie in Japan presents a number of other logistical problems as a date choice: Subs or dubs? Japanese movie or Western movie? I consider myself lucky that the movie in question was at least an American film that I did, admittedly, have some interest in seeing. On the other hand, I might have seriously considered actually blinding myself had the proposed film been Japanese. I watch Japanese television and find it entertaining for the most part. The variety shows can be funny at times, and the often bubbly tone of the news is a welcome reprieve for me, an American raised on a diet of blood-and-guts headlines and angry pundits shouting at each other. Movies are another monster. The Japanese film industry is woefully behind American, European and Hong Kong cinema in terms of production value, and I think the subject matter of most Japanese movies fails to appeal to Westerners. That’s all well and good. I’m not a movie critic. But, I find that the table talk at the ubiquitous post-movie dinner or coffee can suffer from a lack of understanding by one party or the other at a concept a film presents to audiences. In the few times I’ve chosen a movie date in Japan, the conversation afterward seemed stilted – like we were both grasping at straws for something interesting to put forward. Should this really be surprising? As an American, after all, my culture – especially my pop culture - is very different from that of my Japanese partner. In each country’s film industry, there are visual and audio cues, story tropes, and filming techniques that have accumulated over time to create a sort of cinema language that is unique and requires the audience be educated in it to fully understand the themes of a given film. It’s natural, then, that trying to explain a concept from a film to someone not versed in your country’s pop culture language can often feel like running in circles. I’d rather just avoid the whole thing and talk about events that actually happened in our respective real lives. For me personally, all these forces collude to pretty much earn movie-going in Japan a strict ban from my “date choices” list. From now on, I’ll settle for dinner and drinks. What do you think about movie dates with a Japanese partner? For Japanese readers, do you like going to the movies with your foreign partner? Have you experienced a relationship that fell into a certain routine, like always ending up at an izakaya?© Japan Today
A movie date? No thank youTOKYO
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