Starring: Mohamed Abdelmoaty, Ahmed Eid, Youssef Al Bassiouny
Director: Mahmoud Karim
Running Time: 94 mins
From Japan To Egypt is an Egyptian film about a man who, after years of determination, finally wins custody of his children back from his Japanese wife, allowing them to return to live in Egypt and become a part of the local culture.
It’s fair to say that there aren’t many films out there which compare the cultural differences between Egypt and Japan – I’d even go so far as to say this is probably the only one in existence – so I was intrigued going into this movie, and how it would showcase the difficulties of intercultural marriage in two relatively traditional societies, as well as the issues that come with raising children with two vastly different cultural perspectives and sets of values.
Now, for the most part, the film looks at quite s lot of that, and occasionally even makes for an engrossing watch, particularly surrounding the strained but loving relationship between a father and the two sons he hasn’t seen in years. However, as intriguing as those themes seem at first, they’re overshadowed by a film that’s really not all that well put together, with frustrating narrative inconsistencies and jarring breaks from the story for moments of heavy-handed patriotic propaganda or even random musical numbers.
Now, looking at the positive side of things, it is fair to say that From Japan To Egypt does pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s not quite as incisive or enthralling as the premise suggests at first, but it does point to some interesting differences in the two countries’ cultures, as well as how parents and children stuck in the middle of that cultural divide struggle to bridge the gap.
So, when the film touches on the very real-world dilemmas of being near to your children or letting them go and have the opportunity of a better life, it all works really well, and even hits some strong emotional beats throughout with that internal struggle on the part of the father.
However, what doesn’t work is the opposite side of the argument, which comes through the characterisation of the Japanese wife. Now, at first, she’s described in a nostalgic, romantic fashion, making you like her just as much as her husband seemed to when they first met. But then, all of a sudden, she turns into this vindictive, angry and stuck-up character for almost no other reason than being uncomfortable living in Egypt, deciding to run away to Japan with her children behind her husband’s back, and then fight a vicious custody battle over years to keep them with her.
That random turn of character is the first thing that makes this film so jarring and frustratingly inconsistent, and as it still feels difficult to grasp the idea that she is so mean-spirited all of a sudden, the husband’s struggles to win custody against her are very difficult to sympathise with, taking a huge chunk out of the film’s emotional core.
Beyond that, however, From Japan To Egypt proves even more jarring with its bizarre tendency to break for blatant lessons of social conduct and national pride. On four or five occasions throughout, the film randomly breaks off a perfectly nice scene for a forced, vomit-inducing declaration of how great Egypt and its cultural heritage is, or how if all men behave well and are good to each other, then Egyptian society will be truly great.
Now, I have absolutely nothing Egypt itself here, and the messages are both fairly positive, but the way in which it delivers them is so heavy-handed that it completely destroys the illusion of the fictional story you’re watching, suddenly turning into little more than a propaganda film. Of course, all countries have films designed to push government agendas and patriotic sentiment, whether it be Egypt, the USA or North Korea, but this films carries it out in terrible fashion in a number of occasions, making for an embarrassingly jarring watch at times. (And let’s not even mention that inexplicable musical break near the finale which barely features a shot of anybody who plays a role in the story).
Overall, then, From Japan To Egypt was a real disappointment for me, failing to deliver on a series of intriguing and original themes on a consistent basis, and being largely overshadowed by its terrible characterisation and blatant, heavy-handed propaganda throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 6.5.