School in the Crosshairs – Translation Notes by RagnarXIV (Owen Baron)
The opening theme is performed by the singer Yumi Matsutouya, also known as “Yuming”. Debuting in 1972 as Yumi Arai, she married fellow musician Masatak Matsutouya in 1976 and took his last name. As Masataka composed the score for the movie, Yumi was invited to record the main theme for the film, resulting in “I Want to Protect You” (Mamotte Agetai). The success of the single prompted a resurgence in her career, which had previously been in a slump; it was included on her next studio album, “Let’s Meet Last Night” (Sakuban Oaishimashou), the first in a run of 17 consecutive albums to take the number one spot on the top of the Oricon charts. You can also hear her 1974 song “In the Town I was Born In” as background music in the film when Yuka visits Arikawa’s mother. Matsutouya also wrote the title theme of The Girl who Leapt Through Time, sung by Tomoyo Harada.
This is the debut film for lead actor Ryouichi Takayanagi in the role of Kouji Seki, who would again star with Yakushimaru Hiroko in Obayashi’s later film “The Girl who Leapt Through Time”. He retired from acting in 1986 upon graduating from Keio University Law School, and is reportedly married to one of his fellow actresses who also appeared in this film.
The Principal is played by Taku Mayumura, the author of the original novel on which the film is based.
(00:08:08) “It’s a new school year now”
Japanese school years traditionally follow the calendar year, starting in January and ending in December; hence, the film is set in winter as the students have begun a new school year as second-years. Japanese school grades are divided into 1-6, 7-9, and 10-12, meaning that a high school second-year would correspond to the 11th grade in a US system.
Arikawa is played by the young Macoto Tezuka, who would pursue a career as a film director. He is the son of the legendary “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. You can also find his film “Barbara”, based on his father’s work, available from Third Window Films.
(0:10:35) “Some of us aren’t wearing socks!”
The Japanese phrase “tighten your loincloth”, meaning to buckle down, loses something in translation, so I’ve replaced it with the similar “pull up your socks”.
(0:11:50) Harmonica Riff
The man in the leather gear is assistant director Tadashi Naitou, listed as “Cruising Man” in the credits; this is a reference to the Al Pacino film “Cruising” in which Pacino plays a serial killer wearing a similar leather outfit. He is an actor, writer, and director who would go on to collaborate on many of Obayashi’s films. He served as assistant director on nine of Obayashi’s films between 1981 and 1986 including The Girl who Leapt Through Time, and wrote the screenplays for many of his other films including Poisson D’Avril, Lonely Heart, I Want to Hear The Wind’s Song, Seven Weeks, and Labrynth of Cinema. In 1998 he co-directed the movie Manuke Sensei with Obayashi. His other work mainly involves Roman Porno and Pinku films from Nikkatsu and Okura Pictures. “Cruising Man” will show up several other times during the film with a harmonica riff.
(Sourced from Directors Guild of Japan website, https://www.dgj.or.jp/members/?id=365)
(0:15:07) Yuka’s Family
Yuka’s family has all the trappings of a bourgeois household, living in a fairly large multi-level standalone house. In a crowded city in Japan, a country where the vast majority of the population is concentrated in only a handful of urban areas, this would be a major luxury. Her mother, about to go out, is wearing a traditional Japanese kimono, rather than more practical Western clothes.
(0:16:37) Kouji’s Family
In contrast to Yuka’s family, the Seki household is the very image of a stereotypical Showa-era working class family. Three generations living in the same house that doubles as the family business, in this case a liquor shop. The entire family eating, seated on floor cushions around a low central table laden with multiple small dishes, is like a Normal Rockwell-style slice of 1980s working-class Japonicana. The family wears practical Western clothes designed for working and activity, as opposed to the expensive silk kimono worn by Yuka’s mother. In addition, Kouji’s father speaks in a deep Tokyo dialect peculiar to the Edokko, the long-time city-dwelling residents of Tokyo (formerly called Edo) whose families may have been in the area for several generations.
(0:17:41) Big Goose Eggs
Rather than A-F, Japanese grades are given on a scale from 5 (good) to 1 (bad). Kouji’s father tells him his report card looks like a “fleet of ducks – all 2s!” Fortunately, English has a phrase about goose eggs that can keep the avian pun relatively intact.
Kouji isn’t drinking liquor here, but rather barley tea. Cooled barley tea is a popular drink during the hot summers in most East Asian countries. After Kouji comes back from kendo practice a little later, you can see his grandmother pouring the steeped tea from the kettle into an empty liquor bottle to refrigerate.
(0:28:14) Bend… bend… bend…
Spoon-bending as a psychic power is famous in Japan due to the influence of self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller.
(0:28:38) Daiichi High vs Jounan High
Here’s Naitou Tadashi again!
(0:29:00) Kendo Tournament
A point in kendo is scored by striking the head, throat, midsection, or wrists with the sword. The school Yuka and Kouji go to, Daiichi High, is facing off against Jounan High in this kendo match. In this style of tournament, two five-man teams compete one-on-one, with the winner of the first match going on to fight the second competitor of the losing team. Usually, the captain is the last player on the team. As you can see on the chart, Jounan High lost the first match, but their 2nd has beaten four out of the five members on Daiichi High’s team – not a good look for Daiichi!
There are a couple of notable cameos here as well. The chief referee in the kendo mach is the then-CEO of Kadokawa himself, Haruki Kadokawa. The other two referees are the movie directors Tsugunobu “Tom” Kotani (Last Dinosaur, Pink Lady’s Big Movie) and Yoichi Takabayashi (The Water was So Clear, Death at an Old Mansion). The announcer is Ai Matsubara, who you may remember as “Prof” from Obayashi’s 1971 debut film “House”.
If you look closely, you’ll notice Yuka’s father is reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a German newspaper printed in Frankfurt. Paired with his casual usage of German just minutes later, he seems to be quite well-educated!
A tally in Japan is done by marking off the five strokes used to write the character 正.
Eiko Academy, or the “Glorious Academy”, is a juku, which is a supplemental private “cram school” that operates outside of the normal Japanese school system. Often students attend these schools to reinforce their grades in order to increase their chances of getting into a prestigious university. Juku are usually but not always academic, as some offer instruction in music or arts.
You can hear Yumi Matsutouya’s song “In the Town I Was Born” playing in the background during this scene.
(1:21:02) Bravo! Bravo!!
The tradition in Japan is to shout either Tamaya or Kagiya when watching fireworks, dating back to the Edo Period when two rival foreworks workshops in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) by those names would hold fireworks displays on opposite sides of the Ryougoku Bridge over the Sumida river. Although the Tamaya workshop was disbanded after causing a fire in 1843, their name has preserved over Kagiya to become the standard.
Special thanks to manga-ka Eiichirou Mashin who introduced me to this movie and @Weizz_wiz on twitter who helped with the identification of Tadashi Naitou.