In Ema Ryan Yamazaki's film, she tries to explain why Japan is the way it is. Documentaries reveal the upsides and downsides of the country's practices.

Her latest film : '' The Making of a Japanese, '' which premiered last fall at the Tokyo International Film Festival, documents one year at an elementary school in western Tokyo, where students align their shoes ramrod straight in storage cubbies, clean their classrooms and serve lunch to their classmates.

In an early documentary, '' Koshien : Japan's Field of Dreams,'' Ms. Yamazaki showed high school baseball players pushed to physical extremes and often reduced to tears as they vied to compete in Japan's annual summer tournament.

In the schools highlighted by Ms. Yamazaki, both films show what can at times seem like an almost militaristic devotion to order, teamwork and self-sacrifice.

But the documentaries also portray teachers and coaches trying to preserve the best of Japanese culture while acknowledging that traditions might damage the participants.

'' If we can figure out what good things to keep and what should be changed - of course, that's the million dollar question,'' Ms. Yamazaki said.

'' If we don't have those what seem ' extreme ' parts of a society - or more realistically as we have less of it, as I see happening,'' wrote Ms. Yamazaki in a follow-up email, '' we might see trains in Japan be late in the future.''

Some extreme scenes show up in her films. In '' The Making of a Japanese,'' for instance, one first-grade teacher strongly chastises a first grader and makes her cry in front of her classmates.

But the film also shows the young student conquering her deficiencies to proudly perform in front of the school.

Ms. Yamazaki ''showed the reality as it is,'' said Hiroshi Sugita, a professor of education at Kokugakuin University who appears briefly in the film lecturing the school's faculty.

Having grown up in Japan and then trained as a filmmaker at New York University, Ms. Yamazaki has a one-foot-in, one foot-out perspective.

 The World Students Society thanks Motoko Rich.


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