The Arts

East Meets Mideast

Farda, the first Japanese-Iranian film, tells the story of a Japanese salesman who goes to Iran to repay a debt and discovers human warmth and tenderness. By showing the Iranian way of life, filmmaker Setsuo Nakayama has said that his film—whose title means “tomorrow” in Farsi—is intended to impart to audiences a sense of calmness and gentleness so often lost in the rat race of modern Japan.

Ironically, one of the Iranian actors in the film, Osman Mohammad-parast, has a different take on the Japanese perspective.

“I respect the Japanese because they are so eager to work. Even though they are called ‘economic animals,’ their devotion to their work is praiseworthy,” Mohammadparast said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

Be that as it may, the salesman in the movie, Izawa (Kai Shishido), is weary of his job with a motor manufacturer. One day he is dispatched by his boss to inform the owner of a factory that his company is severing its business ties with the subcontractor. Soon after, the factory owner, who had on occasion put up with Izawa’s unreasonable requests, dies of a heart attack.

At the man’s funeral, his daughter, Hiroko (Akiko Oshidari), asks Izawa to read her father’s diary. He discovers that the man had always regretted cutting off payment to an Iranian worker named Mehdi. Hiroko finally convinces Izawa to go to Iran to deliver the unpaid salary to the worker. Izawa too is burdened with a sense of guilt, having once struck the Iranian during a quarrel at the factory.

Newly arrived in the strange land, Izawa is at first confused and irritated by the Iranians’ way of thinking. But gradually the salesman comes to perceive the tenderness and affection the locals always show to the Japanese stranger.

A truck driver named Osman (Mohammadparast) gives Izawa a ride to Birjand, where Mehdi lives. The character of Osman, who is in his 70s, is based on Mohammadparast, one of the best-known dotar players in the country. The dotar is a lute-like two-stringed musical instrument with a pear-shaped body carved from a single block of mulberry wood. Its sound accompanies Izawa on his journey.

Mohammadparast, who had never acted before, received an offer for the role from Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who directed Where Is the Friend’s Home (1987) and was a supervisor on this film.

“Kiarostami made no demands on me. I didn’t have to memorize any lines. I just stood in front of the cameras as I am and said what I felt once I understood the scene. It was so exciting,” Mohammadparast recalled.

The film traces his actual volunteer activities, helping build schools with money earned from his playing. Over the past 17 years, he has helped establish 170 schools around the country.

In the film, after visiting one of these schools, Izawa hears Osman say the word “farda,” the only word he knows in the strange tongue, and realizes he will reach his destination soon.

When Izawa locates Mehdi in a small and dusty pottery workshop, the story quickly reaches its end with an abruptness that may displease some viewers.
Mohammadparast, no doubt speaking for others, said, “Personally, I want to know what happens to those two.”