6.7/10
63
1 user 1 critic

The First Timers (2000)

Ichigensan (original title)
Boku (Edward Atterton), is a foreign student in Japan, who wants to assimilate with a polite Kyoto society but finds himself rejected as a outsider. Undaunted, he volunteers to read books ... See full summary »

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Credited cast:
Honami Suzuki ...
Kyoko
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Sôkyû Fujita
Keizô Kanie
Yoshiko Nakada
Toshi Shioya
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Storyline

Boku (Edward Atterton), is a foreign student in Japan, who wants to assimilate with a polite Kyoto society but finds himself rejected as a outsider. Undaunted, he volunteers to read books to a young blind woman (Honami Suzuki) and begins to find acceptance with the beautiful Kyoko. She chooses classic Japanese literature for their sessions until one day she has him read a translation of a French love story. He understands this to be a confession of sorts and a love affair develops. This is however challenged by cultural misunderstandings and prejudice on both sides.

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Drama | Romance

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29 January 2000 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

The First Timers  »

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Brief background to Ichigensan
10 July 2002 | by See all my reviews

I used to work as an MC at Side-On, a small theatre in Sydney that specialises in independent and short films. (www.side-on.com.au) I was lucky enough to see Ichigensan before it was even released in Japan and discuss the film with the Director and the Cinematographer. Ichigensan had been shown at the Kyoto Film Festival and then at the Melbourne Film Festival in 1999. As the Cinematographer was a friend of Side-On, we managed to get the film before it returned to Japan.

Ichigensan is the story of a Swiss student (Edward Atterton, English) studying Japanese literature in Japan. As a gaijin (foreigner) he encounters a mixture of fascination and confusion, as everyone assumes that he is American, can speak English and can't speak Japanese. When he holidays in Hokkaido the locals everywhere assume that he is lost (why else would he be there?) and try to help him to the nearest railway station.

In fact, his Japanese reading, writing and speaking are excellent. I confirmed this with several Japanese friends who were in the audience.

To assist with his studies he takes up an offer to read books for a blind woman. She is annoyed at the selection of braille books available; everything from mathematics to law. She asks him to read somewhat more interesting material. Over the many months and many volumes their relationship changes, develops and follows a narrative set in part by the books he is asked to read.

To some viewers it felt as though the Director was trying very hard to convince you that the gaijin was almost Japanese. For western viewers this might seem a bit heavy-handed to see scene after scene of proof that the gaijin can speak, write and can eat noodles like a local? The Director explained that the film was intended for domestic release only and that this approach was necessary for Japanese audiences. He wanted audiences to stop seeing the male character as in any way foreign so that the rest of the story could progress. He needed the audience to be sympathetic towards the character for the right reasons; respect as a student rather than sympathy for someone far from home.

Shot in Kyoto, the film shows the beauty of the old parts of the city, as well as the ugly side of sharing a flat with other students. :) The Cinematographer was Peter Borosh, an Australian and the only non-Japanese speaker on the crew.

I rated Ichigensan as 8. It is an off-beat romance and subtle comedy that also looks at what is meant by nationality.

Trivia: This was the last film by the female lead before retiring to have a family.


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