Fear and Trembling (2003) Poster

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I Guess You Had To Be There
kjacobs5119 September 2005
Having been a foreigner working in a huge Tokyo office, much the same as the character Amelie, when I saw this film at the San Francisco Film Festival, I was hooked from the first scene onward. Having been denied attending the office Christmas Party because I was "part- time".... No, I am here 9-5, Monday to Friday! "But you are a foreigner, so you are considered part-time". 250 people went to the party. No foreigners....

Then, when the boss came 'round to ask which Saturdays I would like to come in and work, I asked "Do all full-time employees have to come in on some Saturdays?"

"Oh yes, we do."

"Well then, since I am only 'part-time', I will not be able to come to work any Saturdays. Sorry...."

This was a rare moment of zen revenge, which is what you will hope for when Amelie is subjected to life in HER Tokyo office. No, this is not Lost In Translation, which apparently did not enthrall the foreigners who were living in Tokyo, by the way. More like L.I.T. on steroids.

This is a fable, based on reality. Tokyo can be intense. I never flew above the city, but I got twisted enough to wish it.

By the way, the director told our audience that most of the film was done in an office in Paris, and that the lead actress did not know a word of Japanese before the film. This shocked me, as I was quite impressed with her pronunciation and speed. I thought she spoke Japanese, and felt humbled by her skill...

To all the GAIJIN out there - see this film! For others, I would suggest Japanophiles and quirky movie lovers should go, and the Hollywood action types should pass.
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A shock of civilizations behind closed doors
a-cinema-history23 April 2003
This film is an excellent, almost literal, transposition of the eponymous book by Amélie Nothomb, that I had read with great pleasure. It is quite rare that a film transposing a book is as enjoyable as the original work, but I found it was the case here. The film adds the musicality of the Japanese language, and the breathtaking aerial views of Tokyo. Obviously this film does not pretend to be an objective film about Japan, it is a distorted view by a rather unbalanced character, perfectly played by a hallucinated Sylvie Testut, desperately struggling to win her challenge to remain one year in that company, at any cost. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the film focuses only on her life within the company, as a symbol of her obsession. For those who want to know more about Japanese life, there are hundreds of movies by great Japanese directors from Imamura to Takeshi Kitano. If you liked this movie, and want to understand a bit more the mentality of the main character, I recommend to read A. Nothomb's first book about her childhood in Japan "La métaphysique des tubes".
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'Gaijin: Approach the Emperor with fear and trembling!'
janos45130 July 2005
The 2003 "Fear and Trembling" is just now being released in the US, with the Northern California premiere taking place in San Francisco's Balboa Theater, Aug. 4-10, 2005.

A mind-boggling view into the heart of Japan, "Fear and Trembling" includes some of the incongruous hilarity of Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" and the monstrous (if ceremonially correct) barbarity of Nagisa Oshima's "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence," but it's also tremendously new and different. It will make you laugh, cringe, learn, and refuse to accept what appears obvious to those on the screen.

As those two other Western perspectives on Japan, Alain Corneau's story is about the comedy and trauma of East-West relations, in this case through the epic (and yet deeply personal) struggle of a young Belgian woman "to fit in" with a Tokyo corporation.

Amélie Northomb is the author of the autobiographical novel on which the film is based, Sylvie Testud is the brilliant actress who plays the role. Amélie was born in Tokyo, daughter of Brussels' ambassador to Japan (although the film doesn't say this), lived there until age 5 when her family returned to Belgium. She considered Japan her real home, maintaining a deeply-felt, romantic attachment to the language and culture of the country.

In her mid-20s, Amélie gets a job as a translator with a giant corporation in Tokyo, and the film tells the story of her often incredible life of abuse, humiliation, and (to an outsider) near-insane routines that's the lot of Japan's salarymen... especially those who are women. Amélie goes from doing brilliant multilingual research - in violation, as it turns out, of company procedures, defying a supervisor's hatred of "odious Western pragmatism" - to resetting calendars... to serving coffee... to being made to copy the same document over and over again... to months of cleaning restrooms.

Impossible? Well, yes, but it is both "a true story" in fact, and Corneau - the great director of "Tous les matins du monde" and "Nocturne indien" - somehow gets the audience a few tentative steps closer to the "Japanese mind." It is, of course, only a partial success, but in the end, there is a fragile, right-brain appreciation of what is "most Japanese" in the film: Amélie's persistence through it all, "to save face."

At the same time, much of the conflict remains incomprehensible to an outsider, such as a supervisor's order to Amélie (hired because of language ability) "to forget Japanese" when there are visitors to the office. His explanation: "How could our business partners have any feeling of trust in the presence of white girl who understood their language? From now on you will no longer speak Japanese."

In the large, uniformly excellent Japanese cast, the name to learn is that of Kaori Tsuji, an amazing physical presence: a 6-foot-tall Japanese woman with a face that's both icily "perfect" and achingly vulnerable. In her film debut, Tsuji successfully copes with a major role that requires projecting many deep, often conflicting emotions - without changing her uniform, constant "correct expression."

Personally, "Fear and Trembling" came as a surprise, almost a shock. I thought, mistakenly, that after living in Hawaii for a decade, and having besides innumerable points of contact with Japanese culture and people, I wouldn't feel about an apparently truthful picture of the country as if I observed some bizarre and incomprehensible aliens... but I did.
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Oh, how I can relate! -might be spoilers-
hystericblue424 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
If you have ever worked for a Japanese company, or plan to work for one, even if you insist that you love Japan like I do, you must see the movie, "Fear and Trembling" ("Stupeur et Tremblements" in French) before you embark on such a venture. Being a movie, it does exaggerate some points, such as the bombastic personality of Vice President Omochi, and the utter cold-hearted cruelty of Fubuki. But besides that, everything is pretty accurate. The Japanese really do expect 100% accuracy in your work. Nothing less is acceptable. What may seem like a helpful, beneficial action, could be seen as an attempt at sabotage. No detail is too small-- when Mr. Saito makes Amelie copy his golf manual over and over because the text was off-center (so he said), I recalled M-san taking me to task for missing a tiny detail here or there after typing up ending credits. Or if I put the documents in reverse order on the top of the sorted contracts, that was wrong because it could "cause big problem". Even the issue of being able to report to no one but her direct superior...this too, is true. Even though only 10 people were working at the company where I worked, and even though the president was right down the hall, everything had to come through my direct superiors. And I was nobody's superior. And I can't forget the bathrooms. I, like Amelie, was made to supply the bathrooms every day with extra toilet paper, paper towels, soap, and trash bags. I can appreciate how Amelie felt, staring at Fubuki's beauty. One of my superiors was a classic Japanese beauty as well, only more petite than Fubuki. Such dainty, perfectly formed features. I was lucky that she didn't have a personality like Fubuki. I especially enjoyed Amelie's moments of "falling out the window". Very artfully done, even if you could tell she was in front of a screen. The actress was so wistful...she just wanted to escape... If I had seen this movie before working where I did, I wonder if I might have acted differently.
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Doing Business the Japanese Way
pdx35259 January 2005
Remember in the late 1980s when Japan's economy was the envy of the world and best-selling books said a company's survival depended on doing business the Japanese way? Belgian writer Amelie Nothomb was in Tokyo in 1989 and later wrote her own book – an autobiographical novel -- that inspired this dark, often funny, story about life inside a giant Asian corporation. It is well worth watching.

Amelie is hired as a translator for the enormous Yamimoto Corporation and put in the accounting department. She is bright, talented and fluent in Japanese and all goes well at first. Unfortunately, Amelie doesn't fully understand the office culture and protocols. That leads to a series of missteps that result in her receiving increasingly degrading assignments.

Amelie's descent down the corporate ladder provides a fascinating glimpse into Japanese corporate life. It is a place that rewards loyalty, not initiative, where workers are promoted based on time served, not because of accomplishment, and bosses use public humiliation to keep employees in line. Watching the managers at Yamimoto in action you begin to understand why the Japanese economy has been in the dumps for the last 15 years.
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rmvandijk2 August 2004
This film may accurately depict Japanese office life or it may be full of stereotypes, I don't know. But whichever it is, it makes a wonderful story brought to life by a good cast.

Belgian Amelie seems to know Japan and it's culture, but can't help get into trouble by acting "Western" while working in a Japanese office. As the film goes on you see Amelie make mistakes and you get the urge to warn her not to get into trouble. Her sense of absurdity and courageous submittance make her a likable character. The constricted setting in which people don't express their feelings make the internal monologues and narration very functional.

The story is strong, the filming sober and functional, the cast well-picked. A nice experience for anyone who wants to watch a production from outside LA.
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as good as the novel
Varboro9 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
When I read a novel i like to imagine the character's face, and I liked to see Sylvie Testud as Amelie. The movie is very close to the novel, and in my opinion a good adaptation. All the action takes place in the office of the powerful Yumimoto company, where Amelie gets a job and fails because, even if she is born in japan she is an occidental. Hired as an interpret she soon realize she has no work, except to serve coffee but she is an occidental, and fatality, she fails. The occidental brain is inferior to japanese one. In the end she becomes janitor in the 44th floor toilets.

The movie refers to "merry christmas Mr Lawrence"(named 'Furyo'), another good movie about the opposition between occident and orient. Here we have a different point of view. The poor Amelie tries to conform to japanese way of life, do her best but fails, and don't really understand why all goes wrong ( nor do the spectator, and this is the comic of the movie).

One can find the strict limitation to the office frustrating, as we don't know anything about Amelie's life outside. Well, In the novel Amelie Nothomb writes : this could be leading to think I had no life outside the office, which is wrong. but for a schizophrenic reason, when I was at job in the 44th floor toilets of the yumimoto company I couldn't think of myself as the same person respected and loved by friends outside.

For a similar reason, The other characters remain schematic. Mr Omoshi and Mr Saito are seen through Amelie's eyes as monsters, and we know she is lost and nobody tries to help her or to explain anything.

Even Fubuki is not very developed as a character. Amelie don't know anything about her real life, except she is 29, she works in the company for 7 years and she is too old to marry. But Amelie is a dreamer and she sees Fubuki as the perfect japanese girl, and her imagination leads her from the interpret job to the toilet cleaning...

Sorry, sometimes things are hard to explain, as english is not my natural language, but I think this movie was worth the try. Maybe it is not a masterpiece, but it lies among my favorites. My advice is to see the movie first, then read the novel ( and the other ones from Amelie Nothomb as well)
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Imagination is highly required!!!
Jolucy7 April 2004
Fear and Trembling seldom changed scenes; everything happened in the office building, but it will be a big mistake to describe this film as dull, unimaginative, boring, monotonous or a dry one. On the contrary, it is quite an imaginative and interesting movie. Amelie, a Belgian girl who is obsessed with her Japanese childhood memories, decided to go back to work at the place where she's born. And here began with her miserable office work life. The only way out is her wild imagination!!!

This is quite a universal issue, absurd, preposterous, ridiculous, strange, unfair, unreasonable things do happen in offices whether it's in Asia, Europe or in America. Your supervisor gives you stupid work just to prove that you are inferior to her/him, never ever giving thought to the benefits of the whole company. Try to find a decent job to demonstrate your skills or to make people you work with recognize your abilities are just some silly and naive notions for newcomers. You can hardly achieve any self-achievements, self-fulfillments or whatsoever while you have supervisors and colleagues. The only survival kit is taking the whole thing as a joke and using wild imagination to play along with other coworkers, just like what Amelie did!!!

Fear and Trembling gives you a glimpse of what happen in the offices, how foolish obsession will lead you, how culture differences play a big role in a foreign environment, and of course how and what you can do to face them bravely.

This film is highly recommended to those who were, are and will work with others in the office!! You will see that imagination is highly required for those who want to survive in an office work life!!!
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Would love to know what Japanese think about this
pauljcurley22 February 2009
I watched Fear and Trembling mainly because I like Sylvie Testud, and also because I am studying French and wanted to watch a French-language film. It turns out most of the movie is in Japanese -- other than the main character's internal monologue (which is in French, of course).

The plot involves a Belgian woman (Amelie) who loves Japan (having spent her early childhood there) and who obtains employment at a huge corporation in Tokyo. Through various cultural misunderstandings, she continually gets demoted until her job mainly involves cleaning toilets.

The film depicts late 80's / early 90's Japanese corporate culture as unbelievably hierarchical, brutal, inefficient and de-humanizing. I suspect this was exaggerated, for comic and dramatic effect. And, for the sake of the Japanese people, I hope so.

My only two complaints about Fear and Trembling are (i) the over-use of the voice-over narration to tell the story, and (ii) the fact that we do not get any hint of Amalie's life (or anyone else's life) outside the office.

With respect to the latter point, another commenter noted "In the novel Amelie Nothomb writes : this could be leading to think I had no life outside the office, which is wrong. but for a schizophrenic reason, when I was at job in the 44th floor toilets of the yumimoto company I couldn't think of myself as the same person respected and loved by friends outside."

Overall, it was entertaining, thought-provoking, and by the end, strangely moving. Both my wife and I got a bit misty-eyed at the end - I was a bit surprised that the movie drew such sudden emotion out of me. Definitely worth seeing.
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Reality surpasses fiction
zazoomovie18 March 2003
A friend of mine was wondering aloud whether the story could actually have happened in Japan. Well, I have no answer for that. All I can say is that to me, every detail was truthful to my not-so-in-depth knowledge of the Japanese culture. Only the gathering of them all in a single story line might yield such a surprising and delightful scenario worth being made into a movie.

All the Japanese characters were speaking to me in a moving way, for they were crafted according to real, human beings from everyday life. The casting was excellent and listening to the musicality of a once learned with enthusiasm and now forgotten foreign language was a treat. Casting was excellent and the Japanese actors all embodied perfectly their characters.

I missed seeing more Japanese female characters, especially those "office ladies" that would contrast with the leading Japanese lady (Fubuki-san) though, and help understand where she came from. I also missed seeing the French leading lady (Amelie-san) immersed in the Japanese very codified everyday life out of work : the kind of place where she lived, the kind of food she ate, the kind of places where she used to hang around when not spending her nights at the office, how she related with her co-workers, neighbors, friends during her spare time...

Have a wonderful time!
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A kind of a female Svejk
Ana_Banana11 July 2005
Luckily I read the book after I have seen the movie. Actually they transposed the book almost literally, with plenty of voice-over reading Amelie's comments from the novel. But anyway, it was enjoyable due to its real humor and anti-system irony. This movie has an atmosphere similar in a way to a kind of subtle, feminine "Office Space". Well, so ends another of our myths (Japanese efficiency)... I'm kidding! (Am I?) Don't you think Amelie is some kind of a modern days, female Svejk? She likes to appear dumb just in order to explore the stupidities of the system and to reveal them by obeying to anything. The implicit irony is the same in both characters. And Sylvie Testud was a pleasant surprise for me in that role, looking fragile but betrayed by her intelligent eyes. So, if you want even better fun, read the book!
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Tired cliché
jurijuri31 October 2010
I am Japanese who have worked in Tokyo for 2years and currently working in Sweden.

I wonder how much author of original book and director of this movie know about Japanese work culture because the story is for me just an old joke that looks like something from the 1900s Yellow peril or "Rising sun" by Michael Crichton, its very stereotyped view of what the Japanese are doing or what they are like, kind of saying that there's reason to not trust them and not like them. It is the typical way of showing how "different" Japanese people and Japanese culture is, and how impossible it is for a foreigner to even begin to understand the weird and bizarre psyche of the Japanese salary slave, scary robot like people who act in a too perfect manner to be truly human, maybe not even have a soul. Why are these differences always highlighted? A celebration to Western work culture and thinking is what this is, her creative brain was suffocated in the Japanese system, the Japanese only breed mindless robots who are good with numbers but have the social skills of a robot. It is sad that this movie is by some believed to be a somewhat accurate picture of Japan and its people.
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Interesting but maddening
rch42726 March 2010
As a long-time Japanophile and frequent visitor to Japan, I really wanted to enjoy "Fear and Trembling". Alas, the film ruined much of that potential for me. But first the pros: the social and business dynamics depicted are spot-on. The acting -- particularly by Tsuji Kaori -- is excellent. The office set where 99% of the film takes place, is utterly believable (for actually being filmed in Paris). The story has great potential, especially for being semi-autobiographical.

So, what are the cons? First, the pacing. For a film whose cover blurb compares it to "Lost in Translation", it has few of that films transcendent passages. The latter's pacing is poetic. The former's is glacial. They could've cut at least 15 minutes of unnecessarily long scenes from this and ended up with a better film for it. Second, the protagonist. Passive, slovenly, usually dim-witted, I found it impossible to sympathize with her plight, or even to look at her.

And third -- and most inexplicable -- the fact that she was utterly, bloody-mindedly ignorant of Japanese customs. The notion that she could speak idiomatic Japanese but not have learned even the basics of Japanese business etiquette is simply absurd. She knew enough to always address people by their proper titles, but not enough to *bow* when her bosses gave her an order?! She knew that blowing one's nose in front of another person was rude, but didn't know that she should never argue with her superiors?! She knew that she should accept blame for her own failures, but didn't know that staring at people is seen as highly aggressive?! Simply unbelievable.

I suppose that many people watching "Fear and Trembling" who are ignorant of Japanese etiquette and protocol might not have as much trouble with these, but for those who *do* understand the basics of social interaction and hierarchy in Japan, her behavior goes from being sympathetic to unbearable. I ended up rooting for those who were beating her down, simply because she was such an "ugly American" (for being Belgian) an utter dolt. Of course, your mileage may vary.
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simple answer
sumii18 March 2005
Hi all, I've watched this movie and enjoyed it as a Japanese born in Tokyo and lived there for ~30 years (though my wife, also Japanese, was p***ed off.;-) Just a short comment on questions like "can this be real?" - my answer is clear and obvious "no". It could possibly happen to _Japanese_ female employees in a few nasty companies 30 years ago, but is simply impossible to "Westerners" as they are specially respected. Whether this is good or bad is another question.

By the way, some of the text appearing at the official web site (http://www.cinemaguild.com/fearandtrembling/) as background decoration actually looks like Korean or something. It is definitely not Japanese. I'm not talking about the Katakana characters outside the flash window, but the white background inside the flash window itself, though it is very hard to see on some monitors.
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I feel like they want me to feel bad for her, but I just hated her.
MartinHafer1 June 2015
I was shocked at many of the reactions to this film, as a lot of folks really liked it, some felt it was a comedy and some felt that the Japanese business people in this film were racist or unfair towards the lead, Amelie. I just thought she was a horrible employee who blundered into the Japanese business world without doing her homework and wanted it to change to suit her. Frankly, from what I saw in the film, I would assume that she wouldn't have fit in at any company in Belgium, either. Because of this, I had a hard time caring about this lady and felt that a look at how different Japanese business culture is from the West was totally obscured.

When the film begins, newly graduated Amelie begins work at a Japanese company. Apparently, she'd been born in Japan and longed to return there and make a success of herself in the country. However, almost from the start, she makes mistake after mistake-- some of which she might have avoided if she asked her supervisor for clarification or if she'd bothered to learn ANYTHING about the culture. It's very odd that someone who was born in the country and lived there until age 5 would know practically nothing about the Japanese business world. Sadly, it also appeared as if she really didn't want to know as well.

When Amelie makes mistakes, her usual way of dealing with it is to argue with her bosses, make excuses and view herself as some sort of martyr. In fact, in a particularly tasteless part of the film, she compares her plight to those murdered by the Japanese during WWII. How do war crimes somehow seem to be the same as a boss yelling at her (usually after she did something that showed that she was either woefully ignorant of the company culture)?

Oddly, the film was designed as some sort of indictment of the Japanese. I was flabbergasted by this. My daughter (who studied in Japan) and wife (who worked in corporate America and spent time in Japan doing business) were also shocked by this and found Amelie to be thoroughly unprofessional and unlikable...and didn't understand so many of her complaints about the Japanese business people. And, the movie's attempts to get the audiences to dislike these Japanese people seemed contemptible and racist.

Despite the film begin technically well made, its message just seemed ugly and self- absorbed. The story is apparently autobiographical and the author clearly was in love with herself throughout the entire film. She also, in a very, very ugly finale, seemed gleeful that her old supervisor was 'old' and unmarried by the end of the film while SHE was a successful author who now was obtaining revenge on her old company with her book! How incredibly ugly--and I resent being a pawn in her strange revenge fantasy.
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When West meets East, some of your ideas often go west!
RJBurke194220 February 2007
Films about working in the office – any office – have been done before: Nine to Five (1980) comes to mind readily and there are many others too numerous to mention.

But, whereas this film has its comedic moments, it's not the same kind of comedy as the above, and not just because it was made in Japan, although that helped.

This really is a story about the difficulties in communication and understanding that exist between cultures and, arguably, those differences between Japanese culture and Western are, or can be, daunting.

Happily, the director presents the narrative from the Amelie's (Sylvie Testud) point of view almost exclusively. In doing so, he exposes and satirizes some of the ridiculous situations that do exist in the Japanese workplace, which, in another culture, would also be equally stupid, if not criminal.

Everybody's come up against tunnel vision in a supervisor. And the same goes for professional jealousy between co-workers. The difference with this film is, of course, the fact that Japanese modes of interaction, manager-worker relationships and, most importantly, individual initiative are regarded very differently when compared to similar conditions in an office in New York, London, Sydney or any other major Western city. To take just one example, a Western vice-president these days would be charged with assault if he'd acted in the same way as Omochi (Bison Katayama) did towards Amelie when the toilet paper tray in the men's toilet was empty. The fact that I could still laugh at that scene testifies to the ability of the director to highlight the absurdity of it all.

As you might expect, there's a lot of dialog, almost as much voice-over by Amelie as she thinks and fantasizes and very little in the way of action – well, action-fan type action, know what I mean? So, this movie will not appeal to everybody. I really liked it though as I have a soft spot for Japanese culture anyway, having been steeped in martial arts for nearly thirty years.

For me, this was a subtly satisfying slice of life of a Westerner – and female to boot -- in Japan. And quite hilarious at times.
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Funny, charming, witty and a little weird.
dpetrovic-18 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this film a lot. I haven't read the book though,so I cannot compare, but it is a very charming story about the working environment in Tokyo and a Belgian lady trying to fit in.

Having worked for Japanese for 4 years (in Canada), I can say that the Japanese characters are more like caricatures. Maybe things are different with Japanese people in Japan? I would like to read a comment from a Japanese person. I think that would give great insight into this film.

Anyway, I wouldn't like to give any spoilers, so my comment is: go see it! It is funny, charming, witty and a little weird.The actual plot is not as important as the atmosphere of the film. I gave it 9/10.
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Seemed a little overrated
thither15 August 2005
Being a dumb yank, I'd never even heard of the book this movie was based on, so I saw it based on a blurb describing it as similar to Office Space and Lost in Translation. With that in mind, I was somewhat disappointed by Fear and Trembling (no relationship to the Kierkegaard book of the same name).

I think my main problem was that the protagonist seemed like a blank slate, just as inscrutable in her own way as the Western stereotype of Japanese and other Asian people. She endures a variety of awful humiliations, but we get barely any insight at all into why she does so, apart from a vague longing to be Japanese. There is a little bit of flowery language about the city of Nara at the beginning, and we learn that she lived there as a child, but there is very little indication of what is driving her, in the present day, to integrate herself into a business culture which she obviously finds deeply unpleasant.

Compounding this is that the protagonist is never seen outside of the environment of the office. It's fine to keep the focus there, but a little indication with how she interacts with the part of Japan that is outside the office building could have greatly increased our understanding of the character.

At its worst, Fear and Trembling is a dour indictment of petty office politics which can doubtless be found in any large corporate headquarters. Things like backstabbing colleagues, autocratic and incompetent bosses, and spiteful busywork being assigned to hapless underlings are certainly not things that are unique to Japanese culture. While some episodes do cast a little illumination on (the writer's take on) that culture, for the most part they could take place anywhere. This fact makes the protagonist's persistence seem all the more puzzling.

The movie does have its moments, though. When it lets its hair down a little bit (as in an early scene involving calendars, or in a repeated one featuring the protagonist flying above the city) there is a good amount of humor and levity to be found, and the performances are all fairly good. Overall it's a worthy, but flawed, effort.
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Absolutely nothing to do with reality
KFL28 May 2011
Hard to believe that this is taken seriously by anyone who knows anything about Japanese corporate culture.

Yes, talented women are frequently relegated to serving tea. Otherwise there's not much else to take away from this absurdly distorted view of a Japanese company, the "Yumimoto Corporation" (even the company name does not wash as a Japanese proper noun).

I am an American fluent in Japanese, and have worked in a half dozen different Japanese firms. None of them bear the slightest resemblance to this place, which struck me as a Japanified Dilbert strip, minus the humor.

And anyone "impressed with" Testud's parroted Japanese has scant familiarity with the language. Tom Conti did a much better job in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a short clip of which appears herein.

An idiotic, absurd hit job, the poorly planned and poorly executed consequence of taking seriously one woman's revenge fantasy. Avoid.
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Bored to death
CatCat20117 April 2011
I picked up the DVD because of the introduction seems funny. After half of the film, I was wondering why I was still watching it. By curiosity, I decided to finish the film. And I was almost angry at myself why I wasted another hour of my life.

It is a very badly made, no-story film.

The film set is so far away from the reality, does not looks like a real office. It is hard to fall in love with the main character, almost to the point that you just don't care about this girl, she does nothing to change her misery. And the scene in which she trips herself naked and dance in the office looks really stupid and useless. On top of it, she put the garbage cover herself and sleep on the floor for the night. What does the filmmaker want to say about the personality. Amelie is not lovely, smart, and daring. What is her charm?

What is the point of the film? The reality of working in a Japanese company as a foreigner? Who put up with all the abuse and still decides to stay in such a working environment does not deserve any pity. It is nothing to do with the difference between western and eastern culture.

No company wants to waste their money to hire someone to do nothing. Japan has very limited resource, people hate wasting. A boss would keep wasting his employee's time and papers, it is hard to believe. They might love to torture this little Belgian girl but they would not like to waste their papers.

In general, it is hard to believe that the rating of this film in IMDb is 7.1.
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anti-Office Space
petr-177 September 2005
The best way of describing this film is like the antithesis to Mike Judge's Office Space.

The story covers a year of a Belgian/Japanese girl working in Japan for a large Corporation. The insanity of this arrangement goes beyond mere cultural East and West differences, and borders on sado-masochism. And in fact is pointed out as a metaphor for sex (although there is none in the film.) The cultural differences and rules portrayed in the film completely engross the viewer. It is a rare film where the play out of the subject matter completely engulfs your attention. Though the film does focus on familiar (or rather identifiable) stereotypes there are enough twists in etiquette to even break those.

The acting is superb all around. Sylvie Testud's performance is exceptional.

Cinematography is OK. The special effects of flying over Tokyo are below standard, and the window overlooking the city looks extremely fake.

Audio suffers from some blatant re-dubbing (particularly on Sylvie Testud's Japanese dialog.) The Bach music is out of place and does not fit the film very well, particularly as it is a harpsichord piece.

Overall a definite film for anyone who worked in an office environment and thought they had it tough. Also a good second thought for anyone considering working in Japan.
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Great movie about a horrific office situation
fepp11 June 2004
This movie is interseting to compare to "lost in translation" that preceded it in Swedish cinemas. Where Lost in Translation details the bewilderment of a casual visitor to Japan, this details the utter difference between Japanese work culture and western.

The focus in the office really works, the movie would have been exhilarating had there been any everyday scenes from outside the office.

The movie manages to engage the viewer, and you really feel sorry for Amelie when she fails to fit in. At times, she seems almost suicidably stupid when it comes to picking up obvious clues about proper behavior from people who want to help her. You would expect that she could behave more intelligently and less emotionally, but she doesn't. A good sign that the movie really does engage -- you care about the character.

Sometimes the movie is hilarious, especially the scolding that Amelie receives from the boss Ochiri.

Never having been to Japan, this movie seems believeable, and I like its focus on the workplace. I actually think you could use it in education to show people how a dysfunctional organization looks (at least from a modern western viewpoint putting a great emphasis on personal initiative and independence). Compared to my real experience from Korea, it also seems reasonable, even though Koreans are more flexible and less condescending towards westerners. I guess Amelie's being a woman did not help either.

OVerall, a movie well worth watching.
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Pretty Frightening view of Japan
zzapper-24 February 2006
One minute I was working in the UK. Then a lucrative job advert, a 30 minute interview, and a few days later I found myself in a huge office in Belgium. So I find myself in a foreign country where I know nobody at all. At least however there already some British co-workers. I still remember my bewilderment in the evenings watching all these thousands of people driving, catching buses to destinations I'd never heard of, ALL knowing where they going me; only me totally confused. But that was obviously NOTHING like the cultural shock that Amelie experienced and kept on experiencing. We just loved this film, you just felt you were there. Please more comments on it by Japanese.
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Land Of The Rising Son - If You're A Daughter Forget It
writers_reign28 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
It's tempting to read this film - co-written and directed by a Frenchman and starring a French actress - as a direct response to all those time-honored cliches about French arrogance, focusing as it does on Japanese arrogance. A further temptation is to read the Japanese multi-National, with its rigid pecking order writ in stone as a microcosm. For the Western viewer the early scenes especially are an amalgamation of every image we have - courtesy almost exclusively of the silver screen - of the Japanese psyche as one half passive courtesy and one half manic ranting. In this outfit a vice prexy doesn't murmur discreetly into middle management's ear 'have you got a minute, Mel'? That would be too civilised. Instead he rants and raves as if he'd just caught the guy disembowelling his first-born child, the blood-flecked sword still smoking in his hand. And that's how they behave with EACH OTHER, so if you're Belgian this must be Purgatory. Take our protaganist, Amelie-san, born in Japan to Belgian parents, returned to Belgium aged five, already fluent in Japanese and now come back to make a life in a country she loves. Employed as a translator on an initial one-year contract in a large corporation which could be an Eastern counterpart of the Insurance outfit in Billy Wilder's 'The Apartment' she learns within minutes that this is a whole new ball game. Her immediate supervisor, Fubuki (Kaori Suwa) is away at a meeting so FABUKI's supervisor, Mr Saito (Taro Suwa) asks Amelie to write a letter in English accepting an invitation that has been extended to Saito to play a round of golf. Deigning to ask for the scantest knowledge about the recipient she is answered with a ferocious stare reeking of intolerance so she composes a letter. I mean, how difficult can it be to write Dear, so-and-so, Mr Saito is pleased to accept your invitation. Right, duck soup. But that's in the real world. In the world of Japanese Corporate Business that's not good enough. Nor are the subsequent sixteen attempts and here's the kicker, she is never told exactly WHAT is wrong, WHERE she has failed, instead Saito merely barks like a dog and tears up her work in front of her, and it gets better, in the end he isn't even PRETENDING to read them, like Pavlov's dog he begins to bark as she begins to walk toward his desk. When Fubuki does appear she turns out to be a 29 year old beauty whom Amelie warms to on sight. It turns out that they were born in the same province which creates a bond of sorts. The biggest drawback for Amelie is that there is nothing for her to do so, having mastered the art of making tea/coffee and memorising each taste, she takes it upon herself to deliver the mail. Both these tasks make her popular with the workforce as does her updating of all the calendars but Saito is soon on her back once more. Seems she has created work for herself by using initiative, a definite no-no. Then she really blows it; serving tea/coffee in the Boardroom she DARES to speak in Japanese; true, she says little more than, 'your tea, sir' but that is three words too many and now Saito's supervisor, Mr. Omochi, bawls out Saito in public and now it's the old Army Game, the General yells at the Colonel, the Colonel ... well, you get the picture and who'd want to be a private. Certainly not Amelie who is totally bemused, she had, after all, been hired on the basis that she spoke Japanese. That's irrelevant. From now on she must FORGET that she speaks Japanese. What's that again. Yeah, you heard, forget that you speak/read/understand Japanese. But that's impossible, surely. NOT if you work for THIS outfit. And so it goes. When a middle management figure who is brokering a deal with a Belgian company asks for her help she is happy to provide it and writes a glowing report which Mr Tenschi acknowledges in private although both realize that she cannot be seen as the author. Nevertheless she is denounced, by none other than the one person Amelie thinks of as a friend, Fubuki. Seems that it has taken Fubuki several years to win a promotion and now Amelie looks like achieving the same thing in ten weeks. Forget it, kid. From then on things go from bad to worse til Amelie winds up cleaning the toilets and does so until her one year contract is up after which she returns to Belgium and writes a prize-winning semi-autobiographical novel which in turn provides the basis for the film. I was fortunate enough to see this film several months ago in a one-off showing in which the director, Alain Corneau, was present for a Q and A session following the screening. I didn't hold out much hope for a french film set in Japan in which the leading lady, Sylvie Testud, insisted on speaking Japanese throughout - as do the rest of the cast, so what we have is a French film shot entirely in Japanese with French subtitles for domestic screening and English subtitles in our case - but I did want to ask Corneau about the three films he made with Yves Montand so I was prepared to endure rather than enjoy the film. As it turned out I found the film charming and highly entertaining and I am delighted it has finally surfaced at a London art house where I enjoyed it as much as the first time. 9/10
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Racism and sadism
stensson30 May 2004
Western people are fully aware of their stupidity, their patronizing and their splendid bad behaviour on other continents. It's a cliché, a common conscience. For some reason this is supposed not to exist in other countries. That's why "Stupeur et Tremblements" is chocking. Have the Japanese been like this all time since World War II? At office anyway?

The Belgian and the Japanese girl, where the later is the boss, are getting involved in some kind of s/m relationship, although everything is part of Japanese office culture in its most brutal form. The references to "Goodbye Mr. Lawrence" are obvious. It's not totally clear who wins, Eastern arrogance or Western submission.

You get a lot to think about, after the chock-waves of seeing one of your of kind, a Westerner, being treated like that, has calmed. Is this a love story or just a way of turning things in a totally opposite way? You are not sure.
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