Japanese Poker Movies: Accurate Depictions Or Overzealous Dramatization?
Movies are the ultimate form of escapism. They transport viewers to mystical realms, allow them to feel the exhilaration experienced by a superhero and permit them a glimpse into the complex and captivating lives of others.
Movies though, rely on drama, ultimately there has to be something to hook the viewers’ attention. A naturally dramatic activity such as gambling is therefore a great topic to help ambitious directors weave a beguiling storyline.
Poker films are without doubt the most common in the gambling genre, but is the game ever really portrayed accurately? Or is it overly dramatized to get viewers pulses racing? Read on to find out.
How Is Poker Portrayed In Japanese Film?
Unlike in other modern countries around the world, gambling is almost completely illegal in Japan, including poker in both its online and offline forms.
That isn’t to say that poker is not played in Japan, it is, but always away from the prying eyes of the authorities. This is a fact that you need to consider when you attempt to interpret the portrayal of poker in Japanese film.
Whilst playing poker in Japan does not carry the same legal penalties as cooking meth in New Mexico, it does have a similar ability to introduce players to elements of the criminal underworld.
Which is something that countless directors have tried to exploit in their pursuit of a storyline every bit as captivating as Vince Gilligan’s portrayal of Walter White in Breaking Bad.
The illegality of poker is therefore something that is often played up to in the Japanese film industry. When the game is not been used as a portal to the underworld, it is used in an almost fable like way to teach characters invaluable moral lessons.
There are countless anime productions where gambling is initially depicted as a wonderful and exciting vehicle for characters to progress their lives. Ultimately it either proves to be devastating to the character’s life, or in productions like The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, it teaches the central character an important lesson about the value of money.
Are These Portrayals Of Poker Accurate?
As with almost everything in the world of film, the portrayal of poker is not entirely accurate. Films have to sell and in order to do that they have to be exciting, enthralling and enticing to audiences.
An eight hour game of poker played between friends that results in only small amounts of money exchanging hands is hardly going to make good viewing for a paying audience.
Having said that though, let’s take a look at the three aforementioned ways that poker is depicted in Japanese film and analyze their veracity.
Illegality – Whilst it is true that poker is illegal in Japan and that underground games do tend to be organized by criminals, in reality it is not nearly as dramatic as it is in the films.
The vast majority of illegal poker games in Japan tend to be played amongst friends in their own homes, a far cry from the dramatic world of the Yakuza. If you are intent on playing poker in Japan, your chances of falling foul of organized criminals are pretty low.
Immoral – The idea of gambling as an immoral activity in Japan is deeply ingrained in the public psyche. It is a cultural phenomenon that has its links rooted in the history of the country.
Whilst there are arguments to be made surrounding the morality of gambling in general, poker would be one of the games that ranks fairly lowly on the ‘immorality scale’.
Unlike other games like roulette, poker is a game of skill and not one of chance. Winning and losing comes down to a player’s ability rather than fate or any other intangible.
So even if directors are devoted to the idea of portraying gambling as immoral, they should perhaps focus on riskier games than poker.
Thought Provoking – The main character in an anime poker movie will probably go on a personal journey which will result in them recognizing the pitfalls of gambling and, as a result becoming a better person.
The real lessons to be learned from playing poker however are more related to human psychology and behavior. The classic card game forces players to read the reactions of their opponents.
It can teach players how to interpret the behavior of others and also of themselves. It is provides valuable lessons about risk and budgeting, all of which can be beneficial in other aspects of life.
Poker in Japanese film is often overly-dramatized which is true of almost every other topic that has been depicted on the silver screen both in Japan and other parts of the world.
The major misconception about the game however is its perceived immorality, which is more a result of cultural beliefs than individual decisions from directors and producers.
Perhaps if public views toward poker and gambling in general were to change in Japan, then its portrayal in movies would also change.