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Fear and Trembling (2003)
"Stupeur et tremblements" (original title)

Unrated  |   |  Comedy, Drama  |  12 March 2003 (France)
7.1
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 3,358 users   Metascore: 75/100
Reviews: 39 user | 39 critic | 17 from Metacritic.com

A Belgian woman looks back on her year at a Japanese corporation in Tokyo in 1990. She is Amélie, born in Japan, living there until age 5. After college graduation, she returns with a ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
...
Amélie
Kaori Tsuji ...
Fubuki
Tarô Suwa ...
Monsieur Saito
Bison Katayama ...
Monsieur Omochi
Yasunari Kondo ...
Monsieur Tenshi
Sokyu Fujita ...
Monsieur Haneda
Gen Shimaoka ...
Monsieur Unaji
Heileigh Gomes ...
Amélie enfant
Eri Sakai ...
Fubuki enfant
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Storyline

A Belgian woman looks back on her year at a Japanese corporation in Tokyo in 1990. She is Amélie, born in Japan, living there until age 5. After college graduation, she returns with a one-year contract as an interpreter. The vice president and section leader, both men, are boors, but her immediate supervisor, Ms. Mori, is beautiful and trustworthy. Amélie's downfall begins when she speaks perfect Japanese to clients. She compounds her failure by writing an excellent report for an enterprising colleague. The person she least expects to stab her in the back exposes her work. Thus begins her humiliations. What can become of her and of her relationship with Ms. Mori and with Japan? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

12 March 2003 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Bojazn i drzenie  »

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Did You Know?

Goofs

In the copying room, the hands of the clock on the wall behind Amelie do not move first at all, even though several minutes should have passed. A couple of hours later they are shown to have moved. See more »

Connections

Features Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) See more »

Soundtracks

Goldberg Variations
(selections)
Written by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Pierre Hantai, harpsichord
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User Reviews

'Gaijin: Approach the Emperor with fear and trembling!'
30 July 2005 | by (San Francisco) – See all my reviews

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.


38 of 43 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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