The nail that sticks out gets hammered in.
— Japanese proverb
Some of the best movies are about nothing more than the look on someone’s face. Bashing works like that: in its many moments of deep emotional discomfort, it zooms in on the face of its main character, Yuko Takai (Fusako Urabe) and unblinkingly watches her suffering. Here is a woman who wants nothing more than to work at her job, go to her local convenience store, order a bowl of noodles — in short, do all of the things we take for granted every day that should have no repercussions. She’s not that lucky.
We learn about her a little at a time, much as we learn about anyone. She was a relief worker in Iraq, where she was held hostage for a time and eventually released. On returning home, she was not greeted as a hero or even as a curiosity, but as a pariah. In the very first scenes, she loses her job as a maid in a hotel, all because a co-worker got on the Internet and posted scurrilous things about her. Her boss doesn’t need this sort of hassle, he tells her. Callous bastard, we think. We soon realize he’s one of the less malicious people we’ll see.
Yuko loses her job and faces near-total ostracism in her native Japan
after being a relief worker in Iraq and becoming a hostage there.
On her way home, Yuko picks up soup for dinner, only to have it torn out of her hands and thrown to the ground by some punks. Her parents sit around the table and smoke and look gloomy while the answering machine clicks on and some anonymous caller makes death threats. “A dozen or more of them a day,” the father admits to his boss at the factory where he works. Why not do something? his boss quite reasonably suggests. Change your phone number, for instance? But as the scene unfolds, we realize the boss has the same attitude as the father, and Yuko’s boss: This is a terrible bother; we don’t need this sort of trouble. Do something, please. The problem, of course, is not in anything Yuko has done. It’s that her attitude is out of sync with theirs, and no amount of explanation on her part will change that.
“Why go to some foreign country and help people there?” Yuko’s estranged boyfriend berates her. “If you have time to do that, there’s this country.” Everyone expected her to die by “going over there”, and she is now all too inconveniently alive, and that to them constitutes an embarrassment. Worse, by coming home and blithely continuing to act as if nothing happened, she’s broken an unwritten rule. Clearly, she is the problem. Everyone from her dad to the factory boss feels the same way, and on that note the scene with those two characters concludes with the former subtly pressuring the latter into resigning from his job. Dad argues and then begs for both his job and his daughter’s dignity, but he’s Sisyphus under the boulder. When he goes home he tries to act sympathetic to his daughter, but everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like a backhanded insult. Maybe it is. He says all the right words, but the music is not there.
The movie substitutes the nuances of human behavior for big,
showy statements about society and conformity.
A lesser movie would offer some potted sociological theory as an “explanation” — maybe Japan’s nascent xenophobia, or the way groups close ranks to crush nonconformity. But that would be misleading, because there’s no way to solve something like this by simply making the right speeches or humiliating the right person in public. Instead we get pieces that add slowly up via pointed, moment-by-moment observation of human behavior. The factory manager calls her “spoiled” (as if the people going over there somehow had it better). One of the anonymous callers taunts her, “If you’d been killed, you’d have become a heroine” (as if, again, the whole point is to go over there to get killed and become heroes), right before she tears the phone off the table and throws it out the window. In another ugly moment she meets a couple of friends on the street, and the conversation goes from innocent to subtly venomous with no warning.
Bashing is not a showy movie, and it doesn’t need to be. Most of it is filmed with a single handheld camera, with scenes lit in the dingy grays and greens of everyday life, but with an eye for framing and focus that finds quiet beauty in daily moments. The apartments and houses looked appropriately lived-in and worn, like the people in them. There isn’t even any music, but you never notice its absence. You’re too busy looking into the eyes of people who’ve been wronged in a way so huge and all-encompassing they’re not even sure why they are so angry. They want this nail not only hammered in but spackled over. Anyone that disagrees might as well not even exist, and it isn’t long before some of them don’t.