Remember your first Foreign Film? I do. Japan’s “Skinny and Fatty”

Maybe you were exposed to something your parents were watching, in a theater or on TV, that had subtitles which you weren’t yet old enough to read.

Possibly, you caught a late-night Italian, Spanish or French film dubbed into English, probably losing a lot in translation.

Or maybe, like me, you were lucky enough to catch the short film below on “The CBS Children’s Film Festival.” I recall pictures like “The Red Balloon” and others from around the hemisphere and around the world being featured in this series, basically filler that the network slapped on the air on winter Saturday afternoons. The movies I remember were shockingly effective as mind-expanding and cultural myopia-breaking fare, truly “educational” children’s TV, revealing a great wide world beyond “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”

In that pre-cable “vast wasteland,” this was a TV series that pushed American kids into considering what other cultures were like, and how much we had in common with them.

And the one film that sticks out the most in my mind is linked below. I was thinking of my lifelong mania for Japanese cinema and stories set in Japan while watching “Oh Lucy!,” and traced the origins of it to this little dubbed parable from 1958 (Who knows when I saw it?), “Skinny and Fatty.”

It’s about friendship, fitting in and loyalty, what Erma Bombeck used to say that defined a friend.

“A friend is somebody who sees through you, and still enjoys the show.”

Watch it (It’s only 43 minutes long.) and you see all manner of outcasts at school bonding over being mismatched, from “If…” all the way to “School Ties” and the Harry Potter pictures. It’s not so much that it influenced films that came after it as showed something universal — two Japanese kids who could have been Indian girls or Minnesota boys or Italians, what have you — thrown together, tested, failing one test but eventually passing another. “Fat shaming?” A later construct, but sure, it’s here.

I can’t say why exactly it stuck with me, but there are half a dozen scenes that I didn’t need to re-watch to remember. Movies, one eventually learns, are a visual medium. Lines of dialogue may linger on the ear, but images burn themselves onto the brain.

And cultural curiosity can be awakened at an early age — through peer group dramas like this one, anime, martial arts epics or slapstick French farces.

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1 Response to Remember your first Foreign Film? I do. Japan’s “Skinny and Fatty”

  1. Keith says:

    Wow! I wish I did. I am fairly certain it was some unnamable low-budget late night Kung-Fu movie. But pretending it isn’t, I’m guessing it was Yojimbo. The 400 Blows was the first foreign language picture that really opened my eyes a little later in life.

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