The title of Alain Corneau’s new film, a very faithful adaptation of a novel by Amélie Nothomb, is a reference to the fear and trembling demanded of people deigning to approach Japanese emperors—a power trip in the guise of respect. Born and raised in Kobe for five years, the Belgian Amélie (a predictably brilliant Sylvie Testud) returns to Japan to work at the Yumimoto Corporation in Tokyo. A fragile creature bent on acting Japanese, the gung-ho Amélie succeeds only in making one mistake after another. After impressing the saintly Mister Saito (Taro Suwa) with a survey on low-fat butter, Amélie incurs the wrath of her immediate boss, the beautiful Fubuki Mori (Kaori Tsuji), who forces the girl to hit the glass ceiling for scoring the kind of promotion it takes most people years to procure. In the tradition of Office Space and waydowndown, Fear and Trembling is an alarmingly twisted look at the corporate office as war zone. But throughout the film, Corneau dares to conflate cultural etiquette with office politics, a fascinating synthesis that frequently borders on the obscene. The problem here isn’t so much Amélie’s fascination with Japanese culture, which informs her relentless desire not to lose face and quit her job after Fubuki assigns her to a series of debasing jobs, but her outmoded social perspective. Both novel and film posit an East-versus-West showdown except the Japanese characters in the film don’t seem to be living in the same modern age as Amélie. Cartoons predictably grappling with issues of respect, honor, and subservience, the film’s Asians act and sound like throwbacks. That Amélie diagnoses everyone’s behavior using comparisons to WWII politics and ancient Japanese models only confirms her condescension. That’s not to say that Amélie is mean-spirited or that the script doesn’t work as a funny, depressingly honest look at the soul-sucking drudgery of the corporate workspace, nowhere more impressive than the scene where Amélie achieves “invoice serenity,” which she casually refers to as the “Zen of accounting.”
- Cinema Guild
- 102 min
- Alain Corneau
- Alain Corneau
- Sylvie Testud, Kaori Tsuji, Taro Suwa, Bison Katayama, Yasunari Kondo, Sokyu Fujita, Gen Shimaoka, Heileigh Gomes, Eri Sakai
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