Eclair depicts the resilience and the kindness of ordinary people amidst the turbulent period during and after World War II. After losing his parents at a very young age, Akio lives his life wandering the streets, going in and out of the orphanage and the reformatory. After a police detective saves him from hunger by giving him his first sweet pastry, he begins to find solace in sweets and the will to live.
Based on an autobiographical novel by Shigeru Nishimura, Eclair was filmed mainly in Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan prior to the earthquake that hit the area in March 2011. The film was created as a way to bring joy to its citizens – many of whom appear in the film. Before the film could open in theaters, the area was devastated by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. The film not only became a lasting memory of many places in Miyagi, but also a symbol of determination for the people to recover.
The 130 seat auditorium at the Japanese Information and Culture Center was mostly filled by the time I arrived but I managed to find a good seat. The Director of JICC introduced the film very much like above then the screening started immediately after.
I found myself surprised at the poor direction and acting of the film in the opening minute. We see Akio, the protagonist, running and supposedly bumping into someone except one could clearly tell he prepared for the oncoming contact, made a half effort at a bump then mechanically changed direction. Seconds later, we see him stumbling and falling but again, one could tell he cushioned ahead for the fall. Then a minute later, we see him holding a half eaten sweet bun, the camera angle jumps behind him, he doesn’t move but when the camera jumps back, he somehow finished the bun. And these are just the standout impressions. The exchange between Toyoma, the detective, and Akio also felt unnatural. I seriously thought I was watching a middle school production!
Of course, given it opened with the nadir in all of cinematic history, this means the film can only move up from here. Indeed, it skyrocketed.
The direction improved dramatically to capture very nuanced characters and an emotional plot. Each of the characters plays to a stereotype such as Fusano’s evil, greedy obasan or Yoko’s loving, dutiful teacher but they all share the universal constant of kindness, demonstrated in their own way. This uniqueness is where the film particularly excels in crafting characters so lifelike, one can taste them.
Kindness proves especially heartmoving and heartbreaking set against the backdrop of arguably the most atrocious act ever committed. Like biting into the sweet tenderness of an eclair, kindness gives us a taste of the best in humanity. Even in the darkest hour, kindness gives us a reason to believe in a new sunrise. Eclair makes a very convincing argument that kindness is a force more powerful than any other.
The film touches upon more than simply kindness. Its portrayal and interaction of life’s other ingredients adds to the film’s strength in creating realistic depictions of the varying textures in life. This is particularly well done with Fusano to which Ayumi Ishida deserves an ovation.
Effective use of other techniques including comic relief, a theme song and flashforward results in a tasty, satisfying eclair of a film filled with laughter, groans and cheers from the audience. It’s a dessert that serves as the main course.
Beyond the film, I like to note that the JICC is just as lovely. As expected of the Japanese, the center boasts all the modern facilities while keeping the aesthetics of its culture. I won’t share it here but I took a picture of the Toto toilet they had. It was my first time. I will definitely be back and encourage everyone to visit if opportunity arises.