Author Archives: hkwsk

Pas de Sortie: Cul-de-Sac in Japanese Business

19 years from 1954 to 1973 in Japanese History are known as ‘Japanese post-war Economic Miracle”. The rapid economic growth during this period brought Japan to the 2nd place of world GDP ranking; this growth from burnt-out country to the center of the economy was what world referred as ‘miracle’. Some argued that the Japanese ‘hard-working’ and ‘one for all’ spirits were the basis of this growth. While contributing the to the growth of the company, business, and the country Japan, there are also criticisms that such Japanese business custom, that still have a strong influence on nowadays Japan had created the habit of the company to sacrifice humanity in order to maximize profits. In the movie ‘Giants and Toys’, the director Yasuzo Masumura shows the devaluation of humanity in Japanese business culture by using the comparison between two characters Nishi and Kyôko, and also expresses that there is no way to get out of this culture if you were living in this country.

In the beginning of the film Nishi, the new employee in World Caramel, seems to fit in the business culture. For example, the scene right after the title role shows Nishi within a mass number of office workers wearing the same suits and walking in the same direction those seem like an army marching. The opening music with violent lyrics also contributes to the image of Japanese workers as unified army. Nishi shows his qualities and knowledge as a businessperson mainly by treating the newcomer in the business world, Kyôko as ignorant. While Nishi is, or at least he thinks himself is, suited in the business culture, he still has faith in his friendship with Yokoyama. They make a promise with each other to retain their friendship regardless of their rivalry between their companies. However, their friendship ends when betrays Nishi and steals Kyôko away from World Caramel. When Kyôko’s dehumanization, corruption of friendship with Yokoyama, and Gôda’s greed hematemesis all add up, and disillusion Nishi, Nishi determines to escape from the dehumanized business world. He takes off his suit, or his uniform and changes to the space suit, that shows alienation and security from the others. However, as Gôda says ‘There is nowhere you could escape; this is Japan’, Nishi’s attempt to escape from the business world ends up to be seen as a campaign for World Caramel since he is wearing the space suit with the World Caramel Flag. The creepy smile he shows perhaps implies that Nishi would go back to World Caramel after all.

On the other hand, Kyôko, who was an innocent lively girl alienated from harsh survival game in the concrete jungle, loses her humanity as she increases her populartity and become more capitalized. The decline of her humanity is shown through the death of her tadpoles, the symbol of her humanity or innocence. The first tadpole, Yûchan, dies when she first appered on magazine. At this point, Kyôko notices her tadpole’s death and cares about it. However, her last tadpole dies, which is also when she starts to star in TV commercials, only her former co-workers notice the death of the tadpole. This scene creates a strong association of Kyôko’s success with the decline of humanity by showing the TV screen with the tadpole can. The following scenes emphasize the contrast with dreamful success and harsh reality. The scene in which Gôda and Harukawa watching TV and the scene in which Nishi and the ex-star watching Kyôko both shows that there is a cruel survival race behind the capitalism success. While tadpoles show the decline of humanity, the changes of Kyôko’s clothes show her degree of capitalization. At first, she is wearing casual somewhat low-classy clothes. As she became famous, she starts to wear accessories, wears a dress when she asks Nishi to go out for shopping. After her affection, the last thing which kept her innocent, was rejected by Nishi, she metamorphose into a ‘celebrity’ by dying her hair, wearing a snobbish clothes and earrings, and smoking.

In conclusion, Masumura shows dehumanization through two perspectives Kyôko as a subject, and Nishi as an observer. Moreover, the ending scene in which Nishi also became a subject of dehumanization, Masumura creates a feeling of a Japanese business culture as a cul-de-sac one could not get out.

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Nishi as an office worker army member

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Kyôko’s last tadpole dies while her co-workers are watching her TVCM

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 Dream in the TV screen and Reality

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Shadow of the TV world

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Metamorphosis from ‘Imo’ girl to a Star

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Nishi’s Rebellion: Nowhere to go

Momotarô and Minamata -‘Same Trencher’ based camaraderie in Japan-

In Momotarô, two notable types of foods, peach and millet dumpling, work as a unifier to create communities in a different way: peach to form a family, and millet dumpling to form camaraderie. The idea of food as unifier strongly lies in the bottom of the Japanese society as there exists a proverb ‘Friends who have eaten of the same trencher (同じ釜の飯を食う)’, to refer to a strong friendship. Noriaki Tsuchimoto, the famous documentary film director, used this idea of bond created by food in his film ‘Minamata’, to emphasise the strong bond among the Minamata disease victims, in addition, using food allowed to clarify the injustice of Chisso company by showing the irony in which food that should be an energizer for people as in Momotarô, acted as a toxic substance for Minamata victims. In the following of the paper, the idea would be supported by first illustrating the role of foods in Momotarô, and then regarding the similar strategies used in Minamata films.

Peach

Peach has long been a symbol of idealness, power and immortality in Japanese culture, which was heavily influenced from China. In China, there is a word Tôgenkyô, or the Peach Blossom Spring, which means utopia. The term first appeared in Peach Blossom Spring Story by Tao Yuanming in late 4th- early 5th century (Tôkagenki), to refer to the peaceful utopia surrounded by peach forests (Tôgenkyou). The belief of Tôgenkyo later came together with Taoism, in which peach was considered to be the fruit that gives power to become Xian, and also in which peach was considered to be the miraculous medicine owned by Xi Wangmu (Seiôbo).

In the original story of the Peach Boy, which was popular before Meiji period, the aspect of peach as an energizer was more emphasized. In this story, the old man and woman are restored youth by eating peach, and they beget Momotarô.However, the sexual implication is banned from stories that became popular after the Meiji restoration. The widely known Momotarô story was formed in the government-designated textbook. Although the miraculous feature of peach became less emphasized, one could still find a notion on it from the super-human power of Momotarô who was born from the peach.

Another important part peach takes in the story is the role as a unifier. In the beginning of the story, the old man and the woman are living alone because they failed to have a child, and they ‘are both sad’ (Iwaya 16) about it. The peach and the peach boy sent from god to the old man and woman help them to reunite themselves from an old couple to parents and a child, a traditional form of family, ‘in a most remarkable manner’ (Iwaya 17).

To conclude, in older stories, the symbolic image of peach as an energizer was more emphasized, however as time goes by, the image of peach as a unifier became more important for the Momotarô story.

Millet Dumpling

The millet dumplings act as a strong symbol of unification between Momotarô and the animals. Regarding their unification, ‘sharing’ is the important aspect. By sharing the same millet dumplings with each other, Momotarô and the animals became ‘the best of friends and obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul’ (Iwaya, 32). The unification power is so strong that it overcomes the long lasted bad relationship between the dogs and the monkeys (Iwaya 26). The association of camaraderie and sharing of the food in Japan is not unique in Momotarô story, in fact, there is a proverb ‘Friends who have eaten of the same trencher’ to refer to a strong friendship. So, as these examples show, eating together was considered to be an important step in order to become comrades.

Furthermore, millet dumplings were also illustrated as a symbol of power, which one can clearly see in the Iwaya version. The Ogres, the symbol of evil and power, were ‘drowned in the sea’ and ‘dashed into pieces’ by Mmotarô and the ordinary animals. Although Momotarô is a superhuman, the animals do not have unique characteristics. Thus, it is easy to assume that they gained power from Momotarô through sharing the millet dumplings and becoming comrades.

The propaganda animation film ‘Momotarô’s Sea Eagles’, directed by Mitsuyo Seo made during the Pacific War also uses the idea of millet dumpling as an energizer. In the propaganda film, though there is no scene that directly shows the millet dumpling used to create the camaraderie, however, the emphasis of their strong bond is obvious. From the lack of the scene, one could assume that the strong image of Momotarô and their animals tied together by the millet dumpling, the symbol of camaraderie, was already rooted in Japanese culture that there were no need to show such scene.

Minamata Disaster

Food as a unifier is not a symbolism that only exists in fantasy, but there are similar symbolisms in the real world. The Minamata disaster is one example. In the case of Minamata disaster, one could find the role of food to provide unification among the people. The people from Minamata, they may not necessary shared the same ‘trencher’, nevertheless they live in the same village and thus shares a strong kinship and they have same food resources. The bond brought from sharing foods unites them to fight against the Chisso company, who did not share the same food. This notion could, for example, be found in the scene where the old man is cooking the octopus. In this scene, the old man says ‘they should drink the same water and experience the same thing’ which insists the lack of understanding of Chisso about the condition of the victims.

However, there are notable distinction between Momotarô and the Minamata victims. The unifier role of food was not so simple in the Minamata case compared to Momotaro. Noriaki Tsuchimoto, the director of the film ‘Minamata’ utilized this image of food as a ‘toxic’ unifier to draw the sympathy for the victims and anger against the company from the audience.

While Momotarô’s unification with the animals was motivated by the strong sense of hatred against the unjust Ogres, the reason that victims of Minamata unified was not merely resistance toward injustice of the Chisso company, but the sorrowness brought by Minamata disease. In their case, food, which should serve as an energizer to empower people, such as peach and the millet dumplings in Momotarô, turned out to be a toxic substance that brings fatal disease that destroys not only the patients’ mind and body, but also the unified family bond. The corruption of family led the villagers to unite together to rage against Chisso.

In conclusion, the idea of the bond created by ‘sharing’ the same food was, and still remains as an imported root of Japanese culture regarding the community. Food is not only a symbol of joy or energy, but it could also represent anger, sadness, rage and other somewhat ‘negative’ feeling. Since food is directly related to one’s life, it could be a utensil to communicate a strong message such as sense of Justice or Nationalism in Momotarô stories, or the rage against injustice and desire for Yonaoshi (世直し) or to reform the world, which Tsuchimoto tried to assert in his series of Minamata films. 

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‘They Should Drink the Same Water’

 

Food, Eroticism and Exoticism

Eroticism and exoticism have a strong relation. If eroticism was a kind of aestheticism and if the food was a subject of eroticism, why cannot one express exoticism by using aesthetic world of cuisine? Junichiro Tanizaki, well known as an aesthetic writer with a great sense of eroticism, and also famous of his epicurism, illustrated food in an aesthetic and somehow grotesque way and created a dramatic world of exoticism in his novel ‘Gourmet Club’.

In Gourmet Club, Tanizaki frequently uses the metaphor of the female body in order to illustrate food. The metaphor of female shows the strong sense of desire of the characters toward food, not merely physiological but more emotional and sexual. For both the Gourmet club members and the Chinese club members, eating is not just a physiological act; it is an artistic sacred ritual that must be accomplished with best effort of improvement. Many people enjoy food, or other arts in a similar way with the Gourmet Club members at some extent. Tanizaki uses the metaphor to realize the readers their similarities with the characters; appetite toward beauty nevertheless it might be a taboo.

The sense of taboo is essential to create a mood of exoticism. Exoticism is a feeling of ‘foreign’. In many literatures, this feeling occurs in the encounter with the other world. This encounter and obsession with the other world blurs the one’s original moral sense and creates the feeling of taboo. Since taboo is often related with sexual matters, the feeling also contributes to increase the erotic tension and make the story more dramatic.

The most notable illustration of the food as taboo could be seen in the scene of imaginary quests. The appetites of the Gourmet Club members drive them to their quest; pursuit of the encounter with other world, that enhances the exotic mood of the story. Although the physical quest of Count G to the Chinatown succeeds to increases the exotic feeling by using contrast between Chinese Club and Kudan, Tanizaki’s true worth is shown in the imaginary quest of exoticism of the characters. For example, in the scene where A “experiences” The Ham with Chinese Cabbage, one could see a strong sense of immorality in being seduced by food. However, by using the most extreme form of taboo, Cannibalism, Tanizaki completes the illustration of the immoral beauty. The imaginary quests, the cabbage scene (135) and the dream of the Count G (106) show both sides of Cannibalism, to eat or to being eaten. While the implication of Cannibalism increases the sense of immorality, showing the actual cannibal as imaginary prevents to create a wall and remains the border between exoticism and reality unclear.

In Conclusion, Tanizaki created his exotic world in ‘Gourmet Club’ by connecting food with eroticism, and by creating the feeling of immorality. Moreover, using the power of imaginary scenes enabled Tanizaki to create the ambiguous exoticism that exists nearby reality.

 

Tampopo as Modern Ubasuteyama

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Park, Modern Ubasuteyama

The scene where Tampopo meets the group of homeless represents the important theme of Tampopo; Nostalgia towards ‘Ninjyô (人情, humanity)’.

This scene starts by showing the low social status of homeless men by using a shot from Tampopo’s view, that represents the view of society, and locating the homeless men on the lower part of the screen. In addition, the dark lighting strengthen the feeling of homeless men as ‘Hikagemono (日陰者, Shade-People)’. The scene also shows the natural attitude of Japanese people toward these men by showing the facial expression of Tampopo who first hesitates getting to know them. The dimension of Tampopo as an average Japanese adult at that time also shows that Tampopo is not merely saint but a human.

Although the homeless men are written as socially lower rank, their emotional relationships are highly valued. For example, when Sensei parts from the homeless group to be a master of Tampopo, they sing the traditional Japanese graduation song. This song shows the strong bond between homless men, and possibly stimulates the audiences’ nostalgia by reminding them their schooldays. In the end of the scene, there is a transition using the swipe of the camera from the dark park to the bright tall hotel. On one hand, the contrast shows the social hierarchy of Yakuza and homeless. However, on the other hand the scene shows the reversal of ethical hierarchy between them by comparing the heartwarming homeless with the moral corruption of Yakuza in the following scene.

Furthermore, homeless have sophisticated knowledge on cuisine, which creates ambiguity on their low status. Although they might be ‘useless’ in the context of social life, as Goro rely on them, they have huge roles in local life. This usefulness of the ‘useless’ people recalls ‘Goinkyo ご隠居)’, or old man, in old Japanese literature. Since Goinkyo usually refer to retired old men, they would be regarded useless in the generation of mass production; nevertheless, they used to be respected because of their knowledge and experience. Itami utilizes the traditional image of the Goinkyo as old teacher to question the new value that disregards such people by judging them by their productivity.

In Conclusion, this scene seems to be Itami’s verison of the old fable, ‘Ubasuteyama’. Itami uses the encounter with the homless scene to emphasize his idea of nostalgia towards the old Japanese local community that entreasured humanity, respected the old, and allowed the somewhat outsiders to be included in the society, and criticize the society of mass consumption that destroyed the bond between people.