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Everything I Learned: Five movies you should watch this month


Still trying to finish those Fistful of Fun books from last month’s recommendation list? Don’t worry if you haven’t, we won’t pile on any more literary works on your September to-do list. Instead we offer you a break in the form of five relevant films that every JET should watch this month. If you are hesitant to believe film can provide the same visceral feelings or life lessons that a good book does, don’t take my word for it, take Audrey Hepburn’s,“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.”


No recommended film list this month would be complete without honoring the memory of Robin Williams, an actor who engrained himself in minds of our generation and our parents’ generation by starring in countless films and television shows like Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and Mork and Mindy. It was impossible to choose just one film starring Robin Williams as an inspirational teacher and mentor, and if I’m being fully honest I would tell everyone to take a day and watch all of his films (although you might need an entire weekend). As a result, you’re stuck with both Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.


Dead Poets Society directed by Peter Weir, 1989


I guarantee when you hear “O Captain! my captain!” Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society comes to mind, rather than the original poem by Walt Whitman written for the then recently deceased Abraham Lincoln. Such was the dynamic power Williams had on his audience. At Welton Academy a group of students are introduced to a world perspective different from their current “do what is expected of you” existence by a new teacher, John Keating (Williams). It is a lifestyle we have all heard as we’ve grown older, yet still struggle to pursue ourselves. A life where one finds their voice, follows their heart and dreams, and seizes the day. Keating’s views appear so genuine it is easy to imagine Williams holding the same beliefs off the camera. Keating’s influence and impact on his students is something we can all strive for during our time in the classroom.


220px-Good_Will_Hunting_theatrical_posterGood Will Hunting directed by Gus Van Sant, 1997


If you’re looking for another model mentor look no further then Williams in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting. Switching to the role of therapist, Williams works with lead character, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a typical laborer, yet math genius, who finds himself in and out of trouble and struggling to sustain personal relationships. Williams’s character, Dr. Sean Maguire, eventually meets Hunting and the two develop a mutually beneficial relationship, opening up to one another and helping each other combat their inner demons. The fact that Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Role should be reason enough to drag this classic off the DVD shelf, but if it’s not, it was also nominated for Best Picture and won another Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


It’s a shame that many of the greats who inspired us all through their work have gone to soon – Ledger, Hoffman, Gandolfini, and now Williams – but the beauty of film is that it allows us to keep their memory alive. Sometimes it happens with screams, other times with laughs or perhaps even cries, and maybe even all three in the same film. This is the power these people have, the ability to make those watching feel something visceral, feel something that is often lacking in the typical day-to-day.


Kazoku_gemu_afficheThe Family Game (家族ゲーム) directed by Yoshimitsu Morita, 1983


I first watched this movie at my university as part of my Modern Japanese History class. The film is an inside glimpse into a modern, yet dysfunctional, Japanese family and primarily focuses on the pressure junior high school student, Shigeyuki, faces to do well on a high school entrance exam. In order to ensure his success, the family hires a private tutor. The tutor, Yoshimoto, in addition to helping the son prepare for the exam, helps shine a light on the negative effects modernity has on familial relations and effective communication. Specifically, it is a portrayal of how detrimental attempts to be the ideal salaryman, housewife, and student in Japan can be.


220px-Half_NelsonHalf Nelson directed by Ryan Fleck, 2006 


The overarching theme of these films, as you have probably guessed by now, relate to either a teacher/student experience or share an aspect of Japanese culture. Although not exactly pertinent to our situation here on JET, Half Nelson is simply a great movie who stars everyone’s favorite indie-mainstream man crush, Ryan Gosling (and whose entire soundtrack is scored by Broken Social Scene!). Gosling plays Dan Dunne a history teacher who attempts to empower his students, predominately minorities in an inner city school, by teaching about relevant issues in relevant ways rather than sticking to the school’s curriculum. Unfortunately, Dunne is also a drug addict who is seemingly trapped by the same social circumstances that surround his students and one student in particular, Drey – a member of the girls’ basketball team Dunne coaches and a witness to one of Dunne’s highs. It is a haunting contrast to the lives we think mentors lead and the ones they actually do.


Omiode_no_Marnie_posterWhen Marnie Was There (思い出のマーニ) directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014


When Marnie Was There is the last production released by Studio Ghibli before their announced hiatus on August 3. It follows the story of a middle school student, Anna, who suffers both from asthma and depression. As a result, she struggles to make friends and leads an unhappy solitary life. She is sent to a village in northern Hokkaido during the summer and befriends another girl, Marnie, at a house that is supposedly abandoned. When it appears Anna’s interactions with Marnie have been all an illusion she attempts to find the truth with help from another younger girl, Sayaka. Depicting issues of depression, abuse, friendship, and love, When Marnie Was There reveals how truly important relationships are and how eternal they can be. The film is still in theaters here in Japan, find showing near you here.



Sean Mulvihill



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