[Joseph Talbot and Koji Morinaga. Tokyo, Japan: Kinseido Publishing, 2017. pp. vii + 95. ¥1,900. ISBN: 978-4-7647-4044-0.]
Our Time, Our Lives, Our Movies is an EFL reading comprehension textbook consisting of essays on popular Hollywood films. 15 units introduce movies from Star Wars to The Devil Wears Prada. Each unit consists of a short vocabulary matching passage, a reading passage (around 500 words), short comprehension exercises (Read & Write, Listen & Write, Write & Speak), and a writing task for students to express their opinion on the theme of the reading passage. The end of each unit features a single page in Japanese that gives further background information and trivia about each movie. Online support for the book includes freely downloadable audio files, a handy QR code (matrix barcode), and website address. The text serves as a light introduction to Hollywood movies that would suit around 40 minutes of class time without adaptation, and with adaptation could easily fill a 90-minute class.
One of the aims of the textbook is to answer the question, “What makes Hollywood movies so enjoyable?” In answering this question, students are encouraged to reflect on their own lives in comparison with the views of the authors. Each unit asks students to think about the similarities between Hollywood movies and Japan. For example, in the unit on Star Wars students read about what made the movie a blockbuster, relating it to their existing experiences of movies in Japan. The unit on Harry Potter, for example, introduces how the movie blends reality with fantasy, and then asks students to consider the kinds of things they might improve in their daily lives with magic. Each of the units has this kind of simple, yet thoughtful, question that is appropriate for freshman university students.
It is clear that the textbook has been written with Japanese teachers in mind. From Japanese translations of each unit title to activity directions and vocabulary explanations written in Japanese, there may be too much Japanese for some teachers to consider using this text in class. Not being able to read Japanese could lead to problems for some teachers. For example, what looks like inference questions, “Hollywood didn’t always make blockbusters. Why?” (p. 9) are actually questions that require students to simply copy the part of the text that supports initial true or false responses to the question. The teacher’s manual sample also contains a translation of the main reading passage into Japanese, but lacks any English translation of the Japanese used in the book.
Overall, the aims of each unit can be enjoyably accomplished. However, one drawback is that older films such as Back to the Future, or Titanic may be relatively unknown to students. This is a minor weakness of the textbook, but could be used as an opportunity for teachers to expand on and supplement the content. Teachers could consider showing students extracts or trailers from each movie to help them visualize the content of their reading. Visualizing reading material while reading is reported as one of the least used metacognitive strategies (Magee, 2018), and this is certainly true for my students. Even with Harry Potter, students might not recall specific instances where reality and magic were blended in the movie, so showing short clips, such as when Hermione repairs Harry’s glasses using the Oculus Reparo spell, could be another way to help students appreciate the concept of magic before tackling the questions posed in the textbook.
Racial and gender representation is an underplayed aspect of the content of the book. Aside from the units on Frozen and The Devil Wears Prada, all the remaining units are examples of films dominated by men. In fact, the 15 units taken together present a view of Hollywood movies as being dominated by white men and women and this issue is not acknowledged or addressed in the book. This could be seen either as a major weakness of the textbook, or an excellent chance for teachers to draw students’ attention to the issues of racial and gender representation in Hollywood movies. In line with the critical reflective thinking students are encouraged to do throughout the textbook, teachers should critically reflect on gender (Nagatomo, 2010) in the form of unconscious bias through the images presented. Likewise, paying attention to stereotypical images can allow teachers to facilitate a deeper discussion of both racial and gender representation in their classes (Kubota & Lin, 2009).
In conclusion, this text brings some thoughtful discussion of Hollywood movie themes to students through uncomplicated reading comprehension activities. While the text is based on some of the most popular movies, teachers might also consider supplementing the text with awareness-raising activities that look at gender and race issues in Hollywood films.
Kubota, R., & Lin, A. M. (Eds.). (2009). Race, culture, and identities in second language education: Exploring critically engaged practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Magee, G. A. (2018). Metacognitive reading strategy use and reading comprehension in English of first-year students at a Japanese university. Journal of Faculty and Staff Development in Higher Education, 16, 1-8. Matsuyama, Japan: Ehime University.
Nagatomo, D. H. (2010). A critical analysis of gender representation in an EFL textbook. Journal of the Ochanomizu University English Society, 1, 53-61. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from <18.104.22.168/ocha/bitstream/10083/49643/1/06_53-61.pdf>.