JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes (continued)

[37] It is also worth considering Miike’s sober philosophy on filming violence:

“Violent scenes require a great deal of kindness for the actor as well as yourself. You don’t want to let the other person down. You want to make it look good. It’s full of love. Otherwise, violent scenes are hard to create. You need to trust each other” (“I am” 17:15-17:42).

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[38] Apart from Rashomon, another counterpoint for Komomo’s torture is the confronting surgery scene in Kurosawa’s Red Beard, which shows a bound naked woman undergoing an operation without anaesthetics. Although nonsexual and un-gratuitous, the scene is still phallocentric because its main purpose for displaying the woman’s nakedness and suffering is to make the male doctor/hero (played by Toshiro Mifune) look skillful and professional.

[39] Cf. Iwai’s thoughts on playing Komomo’s torturer:

“When I heard that my role was that of a sadistic older prostitute who tortures the younger ones I thought perfect, it’s scary. I think she’s the scariest character in the story. But I wonder about her past. She’s interesting” (“Imprinting” 29:23-29:41).

[40] Undoubtedly one of the most misogynistic types of manga/anime is the hentai (literally “aberrant”) genre pioneered by manga artist Toshio Maeda. The two best-known hentai anime titles — Hideki Takayama’s Urotsukidooji: Legend of the Overfiend series (1987-2004) and Kan Fukumoto’s La Blue Girl series (1992-2002) — are OVA (“original video animation”) adaptations of Maeda comics. Both series infamously feature lengthy, graphic and violent rape sequences involving nubile schoolgirls and salivating tentacle-endowed monsters. Maeda’s po-faced explanation that he invented the “tentacle rape” genre to overcome Japanese censorship on male genitalia (Captain Japan par. 17) illustrates another grotesque aspect about Japanese censorship. Japanese censors apparently considered it more acceptable to show violent bestiality sex involving teenage girls than it is to show male nudity and pubic hair. For further discussions of sexual violence in manga and anime, see Pointon 2-13; Allison 51-79; Kinsella 143-46; Newitz 9-10; Buckley 184-89.

[41] Iwai:

“[The costumes] are strong and often historically impossible. Outside of the period. But somehow it does not feel out of place. It was fantastic. As far as the wardrobe of the world, [costume designer Michiko] Kitamura-san understood better than I did. I am very grateful to her” (“Imprinting” 22:43-23:03).

[42] A revised version of this essay also appears in Kamir’s full-length study Framed: Women in Law and Film 43-72.

[43] This is the overt moral of the source story from Konjaku Monogatari. See above n 14.

[44] Interestingly, the medieval text Konjaku appears to offer a more liberal code of sexual ethics than the twentieth-century texts “In a Bamboo Grove” and Rashomon. The woman in Konjaku is depicted as helpless during the rape and angry after the rape. Nowhere is rape presented as an issue about female dishonor and male perception of female dishonor. See above n 14.

[45a] Even though Woman’s only sin is that she’s had an unfortunate life, she tells Christopher: “I am the last woman to judge any man” (Tengan 10).  By contrast, Rashomon would seem to suggest that a thief who has raped a woman is still entitled to judge the woman. [return to page five of illustrated version]

[45] Cf. Desser: “[I]n Japanese high and popular culture one sees images of women ranging from outright worship to hatred and fear” (Eros 108).

An example of a film which epitomizes this male desire and anxiety about women is Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s cult anime Yoojuu Toshi (Wicked City) (1987). All the women in Wicked City are figments of male fantasies: demons, angels, sex maniacs and sex objects. On one end of the spectrum are the “evil” powerful demons, which include a dominatrix jorogumo (“lady spider”) with a vagina dentata, and two other succubi whose bodies are literally their vaginas.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “good” human-shape demon, Makie, who seems to be androgynous at first but is subsequently exposed as female by being repeatedly and violently raped by both humans and tentacle monsters. The macho male hero, Taki, gets to play knight errant to Makie’s damsel in distress, until finally, she is impregnated by him and has her magical power restored as a result of her impregnation. Although the story constructs the signing of a new peace treaty as a source of hope for the future, that this so-called “new” world order is really a retreat to the old world of traditional patriarchy is confirmed by the ending. Taki and Makie consummate their relationship as Adam and Eve in a Catholic church, and Makie’s destiny is to become Taki’s wife and the mother of his child. This classic anime is typical of hentai in that it empowers its male audiences to relish sexual violence at the same time as allowing them to believe that they are firmly on the side on “good guys” saving the world from perverts and deviants. See Napier, “Frenzy” 342-65.

[46] Female rivalry is a familiar theme in Japanese literature. In Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, for example, the jealousies of Genji’s lovers would often turn into “bad spirits” to haunt other rivals and cause them to fall ill or even die. Some critics have argued that this is a “dramatic means of expressing a woman’s repressed or unconscious emotions” (Shirane, Bridge 114); see also Bargen. Yet female rivalry is also a staple in many male narratives about women: e.g. in Nagai Kafu’s novel Geisha in Rivalry (1918), and in Seijun Suzuki’s films Gates of Flesh (1964) and Story of a Prostitute (1965), based on the novels by Taijiro Tamura. See Slaymaker 43-70.

[47] Cf.

  • Linda Williams: “The destruction of the monster that concludes so many horror films could ... be interpreted as yet another way of disavowing and mastering the castration [the woman’s] body represents” (“When” 88-89);
  • Hand: “Examples of the monstrous-feminine ... abound in classical Japanese theatre, and the demonic woman in the Noh kyojo-mono [“mad woman plays”] or shunen-mono [“revenge plays”] subcategories, or the akuba or akujo (evil women) or dokufo (poison ladies) in Kabuki, are great icons of their respective forms” (24).

Although Imprint’s Woman/Sister is probably not as dramatically effective as Ringu’s Sadako and Ju-on’s Kayako, one should not thereby conclude that Miike is a lesser filmmaker than Nakata or Shimizu. On the contrary, while Nakata and Shimizu’s recent efforts suggest that they may be running out of tricks, three recent horror films should leave audiences with no doubt about Miike’s range, ideas and technique. In One Missed Call (2003), Miike shows that he can do commercial J-horror using teenage heroines and sneak-up-and-cry-boo tactics as well as Nakata and Shimizu. In The Great Yokai War (2005), he shows that he can lighten horror into a children’s adventure fantasy in the manner of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) and Wolfgang Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story (1984) (although Miike’s monsters are distinctly Japanese).

In Box, a 40-minute short film for the Hong Kong-Japanese-Korean joint-production Three … Extremes (2004), he shows that he can use J-horror seriously to explore the psychosexual struggle of a physically handicap young woman. “Box” symbolizes selfhood and entrapment, and the dream of the heroine, a writer named Kyoko, can be interpreted as her macabre meditation on normality. Presented in cyclical sequences that alternate between dream, memory and routine, Kyoko’s dream reflects her repressed anger, desires and frustrations about being a conjoined twin. The circus symbolizes Kyoko’s perception that her life is a freak show; contortionism symbolizes her yearning for agility and contrasts with the reality of her physical immobility. The colleague/editor with whom she is in love is cast in her fantasy as an abusive father in order to represent the social taboo that still overhangs sex and disability (how do conjoined twins develop sexual relationships with other people without involving some level of incest?). The plot involving the murder of her sister Shoko symbolizes Kyoko’s repressed longing for independence. And the narrative reiteration that Kyoko’s dream “always ends” with the beginning of a new day signals the reality that her identity can never be separated from Shoko’s. The understated approach taken by Miike does complete justice to the seriousness and sensitivity of the subject. The film challenges audiences to rethink what it means to be normal by making them participate in the heroine’s nightmarish fantasy.

[48] Cf. Richie: “[I]n none of his pictures is Kurosawa even slightly interested in the why of a matter. Instead, always, how” (Rashomon 10-11).

[49] Komomo’s innocent claim that she would have been “a princess in another age” could be a reference to the golden age of Japan’s history which constituted one of Akutagawa’s favorite literary subjects. The reference is a reminder that even the remarkable noblewomen of the Heian court, among whom lived two of history’s greatest writers — Murasaki Shikibu, author of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), and Sei Shonagon, author of Makura no soshi (The Pillow Book) — would have been “whores” had they been born in the wrong time and place.

[50] It is interesting to contrast Imprint’s sympathy for Mother with In the Realm of the Senses' lack of sympathy for anyone besides Sada and Kichizo. The two unglamorous older women who appear in the film — the proprietress of the inn and the middle-aged geisha — are both violated in different ways. One is raped by Kichi; the other is left for dead after having sex with him. It is troublesome that In the Realm’s objectification of these women has attracted hardly any critical disapproval. On the contrary, some Western critics' determination to lionize Oshima may have even led them to excuse the more questionable elements of his agenda. Thus Mellen observes (with no apparent irony) that the raped young geisha’s “consent is of less concern to Oshima than her achievement of sexual maturity” (In the Realm 46) and that the raped proprietress' “sexual pleasure accompanies her pain and humiliation” (In the Realm 57).

[51] Cf. Buruma:

“There is a special genre in the Japanese cinema dedicated to maternal suffering, the so-called hahamono, literally ‘mother things.’ In these ostensible celebrations of the sacrificing, always sacrificing mother, feelings of guilt and hidden aggression are exploited with a ruthlessness that could only spring from complete innocence, or utter cynicism” (24).

In the hahamono told by Woman, however, there is nothing at all sentimental about the violence. Another Miike film which explores domestic violence is the controversial Visitor Q. According to Tom Mes, this film is about a dysfunctional family breaking out of their “duties” to regain their “natural” roles within the family unit (Agitator 207-15). However, I am uneasy with Mes' literal reading because there is such a huge gap between the reality of the social problems and the absurdism of the comic solutions that the film may as well be offering no solution at all. To summarize the film’s grotesque solutions:

  • if the only way a man can reclaim his manhood is by strangling his more successful female colleague and then raping her corpse;
  • if the only way a woman can reclaim her womanhood is by lactating enough breast milk to overflow a kitchen;
  • if the only way a boy can grow up is by having his parents murder his school bullies and swimming in his mother’s breast milk;
  • if the only way a girl can grow up is by reverting to infancy and sucking on her mother’s breast,

then the maladies of modern Japan are probably beyond remedy. Against Mes' reading, I tend towards the view that the achievement of Visitor Q lies in its audacity to expose the taboo issues that conservative Japan would rather ignore. After exposing these issues, the film then uses comic grotesquery to avoid answering them, thereby acknowledging that no easy solution is possible and shifting the responsibility back on the viewers. Notably, “Q” is a letter that cannot be rendered precisely into Japanese (it falls outside the syllabaries hiragana and katakana), and this anomaly may signal the film’s status as both social commentary and social fantasy: a fantasy which tells audiences that unless you can find a magic “Q” (puns with “cure”) to fix the problems, you must fix the problems yourself.

To illustrate the extent that domestic violence remains a serious social concern in Japan, see the remarks quoted by Norrie:

  • “Instances of ‘violence’ that aren’t serious in nature, but basic and isolated, are natural among married couples” (par. 3);
  • “Since old times in Japan, it has not mattered if a husband hit his wife. This is a cultural difference” (par. 12).

Against such attitudes, the suggestion that women can combat domestic violence merely by reclaiming their “nature” is almost offensive since “nature” has long been used by violent men to justify their violent behavior. See also Kawai 297-306.

[52] Even though Rashomon appears to present a more historically accurate portrait of pre-modern Japan than Imprint, it is Kinoshita’s inarticulate drunkard rather than Mifune’s hyperliterate noble savage who presents a more historically accurate portrait of a rural beggar. Against the tide of Western critics who were swept away by Mifune’s performance as Tajomaru, it took a Japanese critic, Tatsuhiko Shigeno, to quibble that no robber would ever use words as big as those used by Mifune’s Tajomaru (Richie, Rashomon 20).

[53a] It is relevant to understand the chase scene in Rashomon in light of a famous episode in Akutagawa’s Kappa.  In Kappaland, the females are sexually aggressive and would “us[e] every trick of the trade” (Akutagawa, Kappa 70) to catch the males.  Often, a female would seduce a male and then pretend to flee from him. The narrator describes: “I remember watching once a male Kappa, almost crazed with lust, was giving chase to a she-Kappa.  She was a crafty little bitch, she was; for, while making it appear, to all intents and purposes, as if she was fleeing for her dear life, she would quite deliberately stop in her tracks from time to time, or try crawling along on all fours.  After a good deal of this sort of play, she allowed herself to be caught.  The timing and the acting was quite perfect—for though the act of capture was comparatively easy, she made it seem as if it was utter exhaustion that had made her give herself up” (Akutagawa, Kappa 71-72).  This episode is said by Akutagawa’s close friend Ryuichi Koana to “reflect [Akutagawa’s] own view of the relations between men and women” (Akutagawa, Kappa 41).

[53] Significantly, it was the Meiji government that introduced the first penal code on abortion:

“The emperor issued a decree in 1868 banning midwives, the primary practitioners of abortion, from performing abortions. The government then codified as a crime under Japan’s first modern penal code, which was enacted in 1880. When the penal code was revised in 1907, the punishments for abortion were made more severe” (Norgren 23).

However, domestic violence never was recognized as a crime in the penal code of Meiji:

“The term ‘domestic violence’ only entered the media in 1998, and the first law to deal with spousal abuse was not introduced until late 2001” (Norrie par. 6).

This means that, in the eyes of the law, Mother is a criminal but Father is not.

[54] Besides “Rashomon” and “In a Bamboo Grove,” there is a contemporaneous short story by Akutagawa which, in terms of its macabre fascination with misogynistic violence, is highly relevant to the polemical concerns of “Bokkee, Kyotee” and Imprint. This story is "Jigokuhen" (“Hell Screen”) (1918).

The story is set in the Heian period and is about an ingenious eccentric artist, Yoshihide, who has been commissioned by his patron, the Great Lord of Horikawa, to paint a massive decorative screen depicting the eight levels of Buddhist hell. The method-obsessed Yoshihide finds that the only way he can feel inspired to paint is by physically enacting the hellish scenes of pain and cruelty on his studio assistants. To help Yoshihide paint the centerpiece of the screen, which purports to show the decadent scene of a sinful woman being consumed by the flames of hell while riding inside a magnificent carriage, his Lordship secretly chains Yoshihide’s beloved daughter inside a carriage, sets the carriage on fire, and invites Yoshihide to watch the girl being burnt to death. When Yoshihide realizes that he has been set up, he responds in an unexpected way: he is completely entranced by the spectacle. His face lights up with the “radiance of religious ecstasy” as if “the sight of a woman suffering … were giving him joy beyond measure” (Akutagawa 71). After witnessing this vision of “hell,” Yoshihide can finally finish the painting; and upon finishing the painting, he hangs himself. Widely hailed by critics as Akutagawa’s masterpiece, “Hell Screen” has been interpreted as Akutagawa’s devastating commentary on his own art: Akutagawa killed himself in 1927. The theme of “Hell Screen” is in keeping with the masculinist Romantic belief that in order for a man to achieve greatness, he must be prepared to sacrifice everything he holds dear, including destroying the woman who is the apple of his eye. There is a film adaptation, Jigokuhen (Portrait of Hell) (1969), by Shiro Toyoda.

[55] Notably, Madam’s instruction to her underlings is that Komomo must not die. The reason is that Komomo is just too popular with the brothel’s clients: “Don’t touch her face. Only the body, but nowhere noticeable. Don’t leave marks. She’s valuable merchandise, and my property” (Tengan 19).

Cf. also Takehiro’s description of Masago after her rape: “I had never seen her look so beautiful as she did at that moment” (Akutagawa 18), and Woman’s description of Komomo during her strangling: “Mister, her eyes were the most beautiful I’d ever seen” (Tengan 26).

[56] Akutagawa’s parable follows the simple logic: the old woman is evil; the young man uses her evil against her; so the old woman gets her just desert. For the parable to work, though, it is necessary that we do not take the inquiry further; otherwise, the moral starts to crumble. For example: Is it fair to pit a young man against an old woman? Is taking hair from a corpse morally equivalent to kicking an old woman? Is selfishness the only motive behind the old woman’s explanation, given that she was taken by surprise and made to explain herself on the spot by a menacing stranger? Although the story is framed in such a way as to elicit the readers' contempt for the old woman and their grudging respect for the young man, his action indirectly proves a reality that undermines the morality of the parable: even if a woman were morally, spiritually and intellectually superior to a man, she could still be physically beaten into submission by the man. Masculine brutality does not necessarily relate to manly logic.

[57] The scroll of hell shown by the Priest to Woman could be a reference to Akutagawa’s famous tale “The Spider Thread” (1918) as well as his masterpiece “Hell Screen.” The picture on the scroll which depicts a man being cut in half from head to groin by the demons may also be a reference to Miike’s Ichi the Killer, in which the anti-hero, Ichi, uses a similar technique to kill people. Besides being an in-joke for fans, the reference may have a more serious point: to contrast the film’s fictional/polemical “hell” with the “hell” invoked by real religious men to oppress and sexually mutilate women. According to a recent U.N. Resolution, 130 million women and girls worldwide are the victims of genital mutilation, and a further 2 million are at risk of undergoing the harmful procedure (United Nations 3).

[58] This line did not make it into the film. However, it is an almost exact translation of a line from “Bokkee” (Iwai 13).

[59] Miike’s earlier film Fudoh: the Next Generation (1996) also features a hermaphrodite character, Mika. Unfortunately, that film is a lesson in how to exploit hermaphroditism as a cheap, tawdry spectacle. Mika’s role in the film consists of: prancing around in a sexy school girl uniform, dancing in a strip joint, shooting poison darts from her vagina, being screwed by the male hero, screwing her female teacher, and being disfigured by an acid shower in her final strip act. It is inconceivable how a critic can seriously argue that Mika is an exploration of “psychological rootlessness” (Mes, Agitator 101).

[60] Cf. Mellen’s discussion of Masago:

“In the final story, that of the woodcutter, the woman is the most demonic. Laughing hysterically at her predicament, she calls both men fools, attacking their manhood in order to extricate herself from a situation in which she has lost all honor” (Waves 49).

[61] For further discussions on the Westerners' fantasies about Asian women, see Prasso.

[62] Mirroring the elaborate pattern of sexual symbolism in Rashomon (bamboos, water, sunlight, daggers), Imprint also contains an elaborate pattern of sexual symbolism. If needles, incense and guns are associated with male sexuality, then rings and ropes are associated with female sexuality. The point of this patterning is to reinforce the argument that there is really no escape for women from the burden of sexuality: they are killed by male sexuality, but they are also killed by their own sexuality.

[63] Christopher’s “mistaken” killing of Komomo replays the famous scene in Tsuruya Nanboku IV’s ghost play Yotsuya Kaidan (1825) in which the guilty Iemon mistakenly kills his new bride Oume after she appears in the image of his murdered wife Oiwa (Shirane, Early 871); see also Masaki Kobayashi’s famous film version Kwaidan (1965). Komomo’s words “I waited for you” pick up the Madame Butterfly motif as retold in Raymond Hubbell and John Golden’s popular song “Poor Butterfly” (1916), the first lines of which go:

“Poor Butterfly, ‘neath the blossoms waiting.
Poor Butterfly, how she loves him so.”

[64] The fate of Yoshihide’s daughter in Akutagawa’s “Hell Screen” provides another apt point of comparison with the fate of Komomo. The great Lord of Horikawa uses “art” as a pretext to punish Yoshihide’s daughter for resisting his sexual advances and to burn her to death as an Oriental whore of Babylon in front of her father and his lordship’s own army. Yet, the girl’s violent death is treated by the story as relevant only to the extent that it touches on Yoshihide and his art.

[65] This “prison” motif in Imprint is taken up in Big Bang Love, Juvenile A. Like Imprint, Big Bang is an example of Miike’s radical revision of his earlier films. Big Bang’s homoeroticism is reminiscent of Blues Harp (1998), a film about the unrequited love of an ambitious gangster Kenji for a drug-dealing musician Choji. Yet, whereas Blues Harp constructs Kenji’s homosexuality as a tragic monomania and invests the ultimate hope in a heterosexual relationship (the film ends with a peaceful image of Choji’s girlfriend, who is pregnant with his unborn son), Big Bang goes beyond Blues Harp’s conventional narrative to offer a more nuanced exploration of homosexuality.

Just as Imprint uses the misogynist premise of a woman’s whoredom to expose the fallacy of this premise, so Big Bang uses the homophobic premise that homosexuals are unnatural criminals who should be removed from normal society to challenge the premise of society’s normality. The film uses a Rashomon-like structure of a police investigation to reveal that the apparently-gay motivated crime committed in the prison is a corollary of the conditions of the outside world: criminality is no more attributable to homosexuality than heterosexuality, and Kazuki’s murder/suicide potentially implicates everyone: including the warden (played by Audition’s Ryo Ishibashi) who harbors a grudge against Kazuki for raping his wife; the bespectacled inmate Tsuchiya who is fraught with guilt about killing his unfaithful wife, and Kazuki’s parents who abused him as a child. The only source of redemption is the bond between Ariyoshi and Kazuki, who yearn for an existence that transcends “natural” procreative processes (as symbolized by a pyramid that leads to “heaven” and a rocket ship that leads to “outer space”). To “become an outstanding man” is something to which a gay youth can aspire. The film’s title is literally 46 okunen no koi or 4.6 Billion Years of Love, and its metaphysical presentation of homosexual love overturns the homophobic norm of equating homosexuality to illicit sex.

In theme, style and polemic, Big Bang is the antithesis of the loud and flashy Dead or Alive trilogy, whose final chapter presents homosexuality as so corrupt that even interspecies sexuality (between the female militia fighter June and the male replicant Ryo) is deemed more “natural.” Furthermore, it is worth comparing Big Bang with Nagisa Oshima’s Gohatto (1999), which features a 15-year-old Ryuhei Matsuda (who plays Ariyoshi in Big Bang) as an object of two samurais' homoerotic longing: for if the anaemic Gohatto is supposed to be a “queer” film, I suggest Master Oshima probably has a few things to learn from Miike about how to make a “queer” film. For a cogent critique of Gohatto, see Grossman. [return to page six of illustrated version]

[66] It is possible to tell the gender of the baby by studying his hairstyle, which is thin-cropped and short-cropped into a helmet-top to resemble the hairstyles found on traditional gosho dolls, which typically depict smiling, chubby, fair-skinned baby boys to symbolize good luck. But in a story like Rashomon, the use of the baby boy is problematic for reasons apart from its sentimentalism (Yoshimoto 184): besides perpetuating the phallocentric assumption that only the male gender can represent “universal humanity,” using the baby as a trump card to end the debate obfuscates the questions that most urgently need to be asked: e.g. what if a woman is impregnated by her rapist? What is her right to terminate her pregnancy? How prominently does her plight feature in the grand scheme of “universal humanity”? Audiences can ill afford to assume that gender is irrelevant in the Woodcutter’s decision to adopt the baby, given the entrenched belief in many Asian societies that girls are burdensome to the family. For a discussion of the existence of son preferences in historical Japan, see Kikuzawa (104). For a timely reminder of the practices of female infanticide in Asian societies, see BBC News (“Chinese Woman’s ‘Needle Ordeal’”). Cf. also Kamir: “Rashomon’s epilogue leaves us with a vision of a masculine Trinity: Father (woodcutter); Son (baby), and the Holy Priest” (81).

[67] Cf. Miike’s Dead or Alive 2: Birds, which ends with the image of a newborn baby boy followed by the caption: “Where are you going”? Interestingly, the aborted fetus in Imprint almost completely reverses the argument of the Dead or Alive trilogy, which presents the procreative power of heterosexual men as the ultimate precondition of being “alive” (as opposed to being “dead”). Within the paradigm of the trilogy’s exclusive focus on heterosexual manhood which the trilogy constructs as “universal,” women are relegated to subordinate, even degrading, roles: as prostitutes, strippers, rape victims, daughters, girlfriends, wives and mothers. The trilogy’s unrelenting heterosexism culminates in the third part, Dead or Alive: Final.

This film is set in the year 2346 in an apocalyptic city which is under the control of Wu, a gay evil dictator. Wu has banned the right of heterosexuals to procreate and has introduced homosexuality as a mandatory policy to control crime and overpopulation. In D/A Final’s climactic showdown, the two male protagonists Ryo and Honda are fused together into one robotic body, and their faces literally become testicles of the phallic-headed robot. Their “union” symbolizes their heterosexual brotherhood and awakens them to their higher calling to defend to death their right to procreate: the phrase “dead or alive” thereby reaches its purest physical embodiment. The robot then flies off to seek vengeance on Wu, and the film ends with a second-person view of the robot interrupting Wu’s sexual activity in a toilet. Wu’s terrified cry of “Oh my god!” pits the defeatism of his scatological homosexuality against the potency of the robot’s procreative heterosexuality.

Randolph Jordan has defended D/A Final against criticisms of anti-homosexuality:

“This is not a condemnation of homosexuality, but a celebration of [the option of heterosexual relationships and their role in keeping the life cycle moving]” (par. 29).

But in reply to Jordan: if a film constructs a homosexual as a straw-man villain, then pits this straw-man villain against a heroic band of heterosexual rebels in order to make a point about the biological necessity of heterosexuality, how can the film be not anti-homosexual? After rightly taking Tom Mes to task for whitewashing the misogyny of Ichi the Killer (par. 5), I don’t think Jordan can afford to whitewash the homophobia of D/A: Final. Still, a film is not “bad” merely because it is anti-homosexual (Gaspar Noé’s powerful Irréversible (2002) is an example of a “good” anti-homosexual film), and it is possible to acknowledge the crass homophobia of D/A: Final without needing to conclude that Miike is homophobic. Unlike a humanist master like Kurosawa whose body of work reflects more or less a consistent philosophy, Miike is a postmodern master whose genius lies in his ability to take up any argument and make the most of it. For every misogynistic like Ichi and homophobic film like D/A: Final, there is a gender-conscious film like Imprint and homoerotic films like Gozu and Big Bang Love to balance the pendulum.

In particular, Gozu deserves to be recognized as one of the most brilliant allegories of repressed homosexuality. The film charts the journey of Minami, an apprentice yakuza, who has reluctantly been assigned to kill his beloved mentor/“brother” Ozaki. Minami is spared from doing anything when Ozaki accidentally dies and the body disappears. Minami then embarks on a quest through Nagoya to find Ozaki’s body. Along the way, he encounters various bizarre characters, who may personify various aspects of Minami’s own fears and desires. When Minami finally tracks down the “body,” he finds that his mentor has reincarnated into an attractive young woman. The film tricks audiences into thinking that finding the female Ozaki is the end of Minami’s odyssey, and the final scene is set up as a standard heterosexual sex scene. But the scene proceeds only as far as seduction, foreplay and penetration: suddenly a hand reaches out of the woman’s vagina and takes hold of Minami’s penis. Minami then watches the woman give birth to an adult-sized Ozaki, who squirms his way out of the woman to greet Minami. After the birth, the female Ozaki shrivels up and is restored to life in a tub of water. The film ends with the happy ménage à trios strolling arm in arm in the city. Though easy to dismiss as just another lurid Miikesque stunt, the birth of Ozaki actually provides a cogent conclusion to Minami’s psychosexual journey: it shows that what Minami needs is not the sex of procreation but the sex that produces the object of his repressed homosexual desire.

Cf. Mes: “[Gozu] tells the simple tale of a man who wants his male companion to admit that he loves him and wants to sleep with him. It requires the illusion of heterosexuality … to get him there, but once he has owned up to his true feelings this illusion quite literally splits apart to reveal its true face” (“Gozu”).

The fact that Ozaki is played by Sho Aikawa from the Dead or Alive trilogy (“Minami Ozaki” is also the pseudonym of a famous yaoi or “boy love” manga artist) makes the film’s cross-references all the more intriguing.

[68] Besides Rashomon’s baby, I can think of two other references for the fetus. First, the fetus could be a critique of Akutagawa’s Kappa: Kappaland has a birthing ritual which involves the Kappa father shouting loudly into the Kappa mother’s birth canal to ask the Kappa fetus whether it wishes to be born; if the fetus answers "no," then the fetus is aborted (Akutagawa, Kappa 61-62). This flippant treatment of abortion differs from the unflinching way in which “Bokkee” and Imprint present abortion as a woman’s issue. Second, the fetus could be a critique of the ending of Madame Butterfly: Cho-cho’s willingness to allow Pinkerton and his American wife to adopt her son perpetuates the Orientalist myth that an Asian woman’s life is subordinate to the “greater good” of Western primogeniture.

[69] Tengan’s screenplay cleverly extracts every meaning out of the word “scare.”

E.g. Woman: “I feel closer to the dead than the living. The livings are the ones who really scare me” (Tengan 8).

Showing Woman the scroll of hell, the Priest says:

“Pretty scary, huh? … Listen to me now: if you do bad things, you’ll go to hell. If you want to go to heaven, you must do all good things” (Tengan 13-14).

[70] Richie has dismissed Audition as a “[l]ittle boy paranoia about creepy girls” (A Hundred 265) and he is not entirely wrong: Audition cannot be a “feminist” film because at a basic level it is just a male fantasy turned male nightmare. A misguided middle-aged widower tries to find himself a wife by holding a fake audition. He falls in love with one of the women, who turns the table him by exacting a punishment that far outstrips the seriousness of his crime. The film does nothing to examine, promote, empower or liberate women; it merely displaces the viewers' uneasiness about the man’s misdemeanor with their complete horror at the woman’s sadism. Tellingly, the grotesque bloodletting is interrupted by the man’s son, who kills the witch by kicking her down a flight of steps; the viewers' sense of relief thus coincides with the restoration of patriarchal order. Accordingly, Miike is right to reject a “feminist” reading of the film (Miike, “Audition Interview” 9:13-10:15). See also Hantke 54-65:

“Myself, I might be something of a feminist. Perhaps the actors also become feminists, but I don’t want to set an example. Seeing the film this way and seeing it again, the flaws of the man who appears to be the enemy gradually disappear. He is a good man, he is friendly and he doesn’t do anything bad. I didn’t want to make a film about a bad man who in the end is a reformed character.”

[71] “Cool” is a word that has often been used to describe Miike. For example, one blogger writes: “[Imprint] was cool as Hell, it freaked me out and was extremely well made, so that’s all that matters in my humble opinion” (Jsyn par. 9). Miike himself says of Django: “I want to make a film that will make audiences think ‘Japanese are cool!’” (J. M. Anderson par. 2) In contrast, Richie uses the word almost contemptuously:

“Like the rest [of Miike’s films], [Audition] ... delivers the advertised goods with a dead-faced indifference which meets all the demands of contemporary cool” (A Hundred 223).

Among U.S. filmmakers, the only person who can rival Miike in “cool” is arguably Miike’s Django collaborator, Quentin Tarantino. Yet, the valid criticism against Tarantino that he is an addict of “cool” — “Tarantino has now been the coolest filmmaker on the planet for more than 10 years. It’s time he got over it because an addiction to cool is death for an artist” (Byrnes par. 1) — cannot be made against Miike: for not only has Miike a much wider range than Tarantino, he can also subvert his own coolness to antagonize his fans in a way that the eager-to-please Tarantino seems unwilling or unable to do.

[72] Cf. Kurosawa’s working relationship with Machiko Kyo:

“She came in to where I was still sleeping in the morning and sat down with the script in her hand. ‘Please teach me what to do,’ she requested, and I lay there amazed” (Kurosawa 183).

[73] In a society which still expects many of its women to conform to the Meiji ideal of ryosai kenbo (being “good wives, wise mothers”) and whose popular media frequently portrays its women as infantile and submissive, it is worth remembering that Japan remains one of the world’s few major civilizations whose definitive cultural text — Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu — was written by a woman for a predominately female readership. On Shikibu’s equally brilliant contemporary and rival, Sei Shonagon, Keene writes:

“[Shonagon] is a woman of matchless wit who again and again demonstrates her intellectual superiority to any man who ventures to engage her in conversation …. She not only associated with them as equals, but did not hesitate to assert her superiority when a man seemed an unworthy adversary …. In later times, [her] thought would be frowned upon by the military rulers, and relations on an equal footing between men and women were definitely not advocated by the Confucian philosophers” (Seeds 413, 426).

See also Sarra 222-64; and Oba 20-23.

[74] Miike:

“To tell you the truth, I was not surprised to hear that Imprint would not air. Through the experience of directing this episode, I have discovered that while humor can have its limits, fear has no limits. I could not suppress the volume of terror that this film conveys” (Anchor Bay 2006, par. 4).

It is tempting to read between the lines and interpret this as Miike’s oblique way of telling Americans that they are short on humor and excessive in fear. Cf. Miike’s comment elsewhere:

“I felt sorry, and unhappy [that Imprint was banned from US television] …. America is the Land of the Free, isn’t it? ” (Mes and Vuckovic 18).

[75] As an Asian Australian who first saw Imprint when it premiered on Australian television on 23 May 2006 on Foxtel Australia — the cable provider which also offers me Fox News and Fox Sport — I am curious to ask Garris which “thing” in my “culture” has made it more acceptable for me to watch Imprint on TV than for the viewers in North America.

[76] For denials of the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers throughout Asia during World War II, see Higashinakano; Takemoto and Ohara; Hongo. For controversies surrounding revisionism in Japan’s history textbooks, see Steinglass. Otherwise, see Honda; Chang; Rees. If the simulated torture of an actress playing a fictional character can be described as horrific, then no adjective would be strong enough to describe the methods used by Japanese soldiers to torture and kill numerous Chinese women in Nanjing: driving pikes through the wombs of gang-raped victims; bayoneting the stomachs of pregnant women to remove their unborn fetuses: Honda 119-22, 153-58; Chang 89-99; Rees 31-34, 37-41; Tanaka, Hidden Horrors 79-80. See also Bill Guttentag’s and Dan Sturman’s documentary Nanking (2007).

[77] See, e.g., Tanaka, Comfort Women; Chan; Tabuchi; Onishi, “Japan”; Harden. See also the full-page advertisement put out by forty-four members of Japan’s parliament entitled “THE FACTS” in Washington Post on 14 June 2007.

[78] The most controversial War Shrine in Japan is undoubtedly Tokyo’s Yasukuni Jinja, which includes 14 Class-A war criminals among the 2.46 million war dead whose souls the Shrine claims to commemorate. Every visit to Yasukuni by a Japanese prime minister is bound to become an international diplomatic incident. See, e.g., Brasor; Kamiya. For a shrewd discussion of Yasukuni’s passive-aggressive glorification of militant nationalism under the pretext of spiritualism, see Nelson. As a pacifist film, Imprint challenges the belief that crimes against humanity can be purged away so easily. The status of Woman and Komomo as victims of male violence is symbolized by the paper pinwheels they hold at various moments in the film. When Christopher curses himself for making the mistake of coming to this “infernal” island, Woman corrects him: “It doesn’t matter where you go. Your hell follows you” (Tengan 38).

[79] We can only speculate what political views Kurosawa had, and Akutagawa would have had, about their nation’s role in World War II. Akutagawa died more than a decade before the war broke out; but as a member of the Taisho literati, his disgust at Japan’s turn towards militarism was evident in his short story “Shogun” (“The General”) (1924), a caustic satire on the Russo-Japanese war “hero” Maresuke Nogi. The story contains a shocking scene in which the General gleefully watches a Chinese spy being decapitated. Yet, if Rhapsody in August (1991) is any indication of Kurosawa’s political views, then the Emperor of Celluloid would appear to belong to the significant portion of Japan’s population who regard themselves as innocent victims of foreign aggressions during World War II. Yomota Inuhiko writes:

“Many critics, myself included, thought Kurosawa chauvinistic in his portrayal of the Japanese as victims of the war, while ignoring the brutal actions of the Japanese and whitewashing them with cheap humanist sentiment” (quoted in Prince 322).

See also Ehrlich. Significantly, Kurosawa also co-wrote the screenplay Escape at Dawn (Akatsuki no dasso, 1950): a love story about a sensuous Manchurian comfort woman and a Japanese soldier. Donald Keene has also raised an interesting point about Rashomon:

“The film, produced in Japan while the war crime trials were still fresh in people’s memories, suggested the difficulty of ever establishing from the testimony of witnesses what really had taken place” (Dawn 572).

If this is right, one may interpret Rashomon’s negative portrayal of Masago as a conservative male attack on the credibility of the rape allegations made during the military trials.

Cf. Richie: “Once asked why he thought Rashomon had become so popular, both in Japan and abroad, [Kurosawa] answered: ‘Well, you see … it’s about this rape.’ Everyone laughed” (Rashomon 11).

[80] For a sample of fan’s reactions to the banning of Imprint, see the discussion string on HorrorWatch.com.

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