Can’t Judge - Corona and the Japanese Government
By: Darida Rose
Japan has been quite slow compared to other advanced nations when it comes to rolling out vaccines against Covid-19. Why this is so is not clear. But with the imminent opening of the Olympic games in Tokyo, the entire world will be watching how Japan will perform and whether there will be any outbreaks.
How will Japan fare? If you ask Yuri Sasamoto, the writer and director of the short film Can’t Judge - Corona and the Japanese Government, the answer is likely to be that the government will not do a good job. The film is a sort of sci-fi comedy, but Sasamoto’s point of view comes through very strongly: The government is not in a position to cope properly with this outbreak.
The film itself is not set in the present time. We’re in a future Japan in the year, 20XX. Japan is now known as Pandora. Aliens come from other worlds to settle in Pandora, but first they must get past the totally inept and incompetent civil servant at the border. At first ridiculous and constantly laughing aliens arrive and ask for permission to live in Pandora. The aliens want desperately to apply for government benefits that will support them. But the civil servant denies them, claiming that he can’t judge. Next we have a Darth Vader like alien who seems to want only to plunder Pandora. The alien eventually becomes impatient with the slow lazy civil servant and zaps him.
What we see here is that the state is in danger from two different sides. On the one hand, there are those like the first aliens, who suck their thumbs like babies. These aliens are parasites who will suck the country dry. But the civil servant can’t seem to figure out or judge whether they should be let in or not. On the other hand, the civil servant doesn’t seem to know enough to fight back against the violent alien. Both aliens, one way or another, want the state’s resources and the government, Sasamoto seems to say, should know enough to defend itself agains these sorts of beings.
In what sense is Japan like Pandora? Pandora’s jar, of course, contained sickness, death and other evils. It’s supposed to remain closed, but the foolish Pandora opened it. Pandora’s name, by the way, means ‘all gifts’. The warning here from Sasamoto seems to be that if we’re not careful, and if we can’t keep control of our borders, we’ll be unleashing all sorts of horrors on the world.
There is also mention in a song in the film of Hayek’s famous book, The Road to Serfdom. In that book, Hayek argued that as soon as we expect the government to plan and do things for us, we embark on a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to totalitarianism. Through the visuals in the short, Sasamoto seems to indicate that the advancement of technological control of the population because of Covid has in fact accelerated our rush towards state control of everything. Whether this is more so the case in Japan than other countries, I really can’t say. But it does seem like much of the population has accepted a much higher degree of surveillance and AI tracking than might have been the case without Covid. And the trouble with temporary government measures is that once they start, they tend to become permanent. Governments inevitably find reasons to keep any tools in place that they find useful.
Sasamoto, in the film, likens our acquiescence to the government giving us hypnotizing pills. Our only hope is, like the civil servant in the film, to wake up and realize we’ve been tricked and to fight back.
From a technical point of view, this film is unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before. It is wild and disorienting and, if we weren’t paying attention, we might be forgiven for not taking the film seriously. The music here is a real strong point. The background music is perfectly atmospheric and the song that we hear fills in a lot of details we might otherwise have missed. The special effects are quite wild and the film overall is hilarious.