DOCUMENTARY JAPAN Rating: NNN
In Japan it's called mizu shobai - "water business" - because it's fluid and constant. It's the business of entertaining men. Penelope Buitenhuis's Tokyo Girls (2000) follows Canadian women doing hostess work in Japanese bars. Mostly, that means making conversation with salarymen and big-spending yakuza, and above all keeping the drinks flowing. Made for the National Film Board, Tokyo Girls is conventional, but Buitenhuis pulls fascinating stories from these clean-cut women navigating currents of booze, speed and unfamiliar customs.
Part of the Japan Foundation's two-week Documentary Japan series (August 9-22), Tokyo Girls screens with an older but equally fascinating look at Japan through foreign eyes.
Regge Life's Struggle And Success: The African American Experience In Japan (1993) offers a sea of shifting paradoxes - black people greeted with enormous respect for their positions at the same time that they're denied housing and compared to pop stars and coon dolls.
Both films emphasize the absolute otherness that trumps all other difference: "If you're a foreigner in Japan, you're a foreigner." (August 12, Japan Foundation Event Hall)