One of the many pleasures of our trips to the Caribbean over the years has been learning the art of adjusting to island time. This is very hard given the frantic pace and drivenness of the workaday world we've left behind in New York. But all the hurry and pressure of deadlines vanishes once we are arrive in our sun-drenched paradise where the birds come around to be fed, the trade winds ripple through the palm trees, naps are allowed, and every day is a beautiful day. This is also the experience of the lead character in Megane.
Taeko (Satomi Kobayashi) arrives on an island in the south of Japan for a vacation. Behind her she lugs a large suitcase packed with her things. She follows a hand-drawn map to find the inn run by Yuji (Ken Mitsuishi), a very laid-back manager who has purposely made the inn's sign small to keep the place a secret. He tells Taeko that he hasn't had any new guests in the spring for three years.
Every morning on the beach, Sakura (Masako Motai) leads the "Merci Exercise." Taeko keeps to herself and does not join in the group. She is peeved when she finds Sakura sitting in her room and greeting her with kind words. She also doesn't like eating with Yuji and Sakura, who are joined by Haruna (Mikako Ichikawa), who teaches biology at a local school. When Taeko asks about sightseeing, they look at her as if she were from another planet. She decides to go to another hotel on the island but is shocked to find that guests there are required to work in the fields in the day and take classes in the evening. Taeko returns to the inn dragging her cumbersome suitcase behind her.
Naoko Ogigami has made a thoroughly enchanting drama that explores the spiritual practice of being present. Taeko, like many of us, doesn't find it easy to adapt to island life and what Yuji, Sakura and Haruna call "twilighting." They are referring to the art of slowing down, steeping ourselves in a place, doing nothing, and giving ourselves up to enjoying the present moment. As the day goes by, Taeko takes up knitting, sits quietly on the beach. and enjoys pleasant meals with the others. One of her students arrives and calls her "Professor." He has tracked her down but once he settles into the place, he lets everything go from the past and winds up doing a lot of fishing.
In one scene, Taeko comes upon Sakura in the kitchen standing quietly and almost reverently in front of a pot of beans. She says, "It is important not to rush." Taeko tastes the beans and finds out that they are just right. After resisting visiting Sakura's little shack where she makes a shaved-ice dish that delights everyone, Taeko finally indulges herself and discovers that it is the perfect accompaniment for gazing out at the blue sea under a sunny sky. Sakura's centeredness, her kindness, her Buddha smile, and her contemplative nature is something that has a positive impact upon everyone she encounters even Taeko, a closed and private person whose heart slowly opens in this island paradise.
Megane (Glasses) is one of the best films on the spiritual practice of being present that we have seen for many a moon. It will slow you down and transport you to a paradise where nothing is rushed, where reverie is encouraged, and where you will get just what you need if you just play it easy.
Screened at the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York City, April 2008.