Author Archives: lindaqian

Wal-Mart

In My Years of Meat by Ruth Ozeki, segmented episodes where Jane Takagi penetrates into the lives of various “american wives” function together to construct one coherently distressful message of the mass producing, profit oriented, mask wearing image of capitalist America. Between these bursts of plot, the one underlying theme of consumption, packaging, and mass distribution in the name of prosperity is represented by a single entity – Wal-Mart; its ugly identity remains static and transcends through each episode of the close inspections. Wal-Mart is shown to be the perfect representation of a falsified face of American culture, both in its shimmering image and its hidden despicable flaws, and in how it corrupts homeland America, as well as deceive Japan.

In America, Wal-Mart is like a disease-filled, brainwashing corporate machine. People are described as zombie like and “spent all their days off at Wal-Mart” (Location 540). Towns are sterilized and equalized into copies of each other, as if Wal-Mart’s giant gloved right hand stamps on the mark of advancement while its rotten black left hand crushes and brushes away the traditional Main street Mom n’ Pop shops. Wal-Mart has the ability to wipe clean any character, there is no race, sexuality, or disability in its eyes, and with the same welcoming embrace it accepts all and contaminates all; it is there that Susie buys her Pepsi, Gracie buys the toys, and Suzuki finds his porn. Ruth also describes the twisted values of the corporation in the case of the Bukowsky family, where “Wal-Mart did the right thing and paid a handsome settlement” (Location 2122). To the cold faced manager who refuses to admit liability, amendments for his mistake did not involve any remorse or humanly emotions. Instead of fixing their wrongs from the root of the problem, Wal-Mart’s attitude of corrective action is simply monetary repayment.

Yet such a flawed creature is glorified in Japan as the “awesome, capitalist equivalent of the wide open spaces and endless horizons of the American geographical frontier.”(Location 559). In reality Wal-Mart is more like a pretty curtain drop in front of a vulgar mess of disturbing meat production and processing; it serves as a filter between the ugly truth, and the dressed up version presented to the masses. However to Ueno, the image casted onto the curtain is precisely what he wishes to broadcast to the people of Japan, both as a means to satisfy their hunger for western understanding, and for his own selfish incentive of promoting beef. Since the Japanese crew’s very initial contact with Jane, “Waru-Maato wa doko?”(Location 538) already sounds like a desperate cry in the pursuit of a falsely constructed wholesomeness.

In My Years of Meat, Wal-Mart is singled out as a symbolism for the foulness within American culture. On one hand it corrodes individualism within the U.S. and uses mass production as a means of creating the frenzy that lies in the source of unethical meat production. On the other hand to the viewers in Japan, only a craftily manipulated image of western power is put forth.  By planting this central argument within the familiar image of Wal-Mart, Ruth urges us to see beyond what is fed to us, and find courage to peer behind the curtain and see the unpleasant truth.

Food as the Holy Grail, and a Utopia That Doesn’t Exist

In order to dramatize the idea of exoticism in ‘The Gourmet Club’, food is presented in the form of a desirable object of pursuit that is attained through a quest-like journey, yet the story also hints that in reality such a Utopian state doesn’t actually exist.

Food is heightened to the level of ultimate desire in parallel with the theme of exoticism. Exoticism was originally an art form birthed to illustrate earthly fantasies with oriental pleasures, and of a primitive curiosity to experience items of other cultures. Right from the beginning, the narrator describes the gentlemen as idlers with no occupation, and seemingly plentiful of money. This in effect singles out eating as their only definitive pursuit, and therefore highlights the intensity of their quest for good food as the only ‘fulfillment’ left in their lives. In constructing such a quest which places food as the ending holy-grail, the process of searching for food is therefore in effect very forward-moving. Gentlemen of the gourmet club are never seen relishing on wonderful meals they have previously enjoyed, nor do they ever savor a certain cuisine twice. This underlying progressive mentality is crucial in outlining the same incentives for mankind to always seek out new pleasures, and is what keeps the gentlemen’s journey moving.  The members of the gourmet club hence never stop to appreciate existing flavors, but instead desire the charm of the unfamiliar, in their attempt to construct a Utopian of food

Food in many ways is utilized in shaping a mysterious state of perfect being for the gentlemen of the gourmet club. There are two important characteristics of this state, namely that it excites all of the senses, and also ironically, that it only exist in the mind and not in reality. Food, for the most part, is largely associated with taste and smell. In stretching this conventional set of sensory boundaries, the author expands Count G’s interaction with food so that he is stimulated in all aspects. In discovering the Chinese gathering, the Count is first drawn by the darkness of the ally, led by curiosity of sight. He is then attracted to the smell of rice wine, which stirs his appetite by pinpointing the presence of Chinese cuisine. Finally he catches the music of Chinese violins, which then elicits a torrent of imagery involving food. The Count takes sharp notes as the strong flavors of dragon fish, whereas richer tones are compared to thick broth. As a result seeking food enlarges to encompass all forms of sensory interaction, which is a defining quality of any utopia. Yet as exciting as this indulgence seems to be, this happy state doesn’t seem to actually exist. Much of the Count’s opinions are very subjective and not rooted in factual information. He judges Chechiang is an area with the richest ingredients without having ever been there. Also he readily admits that it is only according to people who had traveled there before that he understands Chinese cuisine in Japan to be of a different order altogether. None of these opinions which distinguishes Chechiang’s cuisine as superior is backed up by concrete proof. Which consequently implies that none of the Gourmet Club’s fantasies are indeed as magical as they are described. And that these men are in fact, mostly living in the high of their own imagination.

In conclusion, food in “The Gourmet Club” is structured as the reward at the end of a quest, which couples well with the idea of pleasure and desire in exoticism. On other hand, it is painted as a utopia which stimulates multiple senses, yet ultimately is one that is not believed to exist.

Meat and its Negativities

In Spirited Away, Miyazaki uses various devices to illustrate vices of human nature as well as virtues; specifically, he often uses foods as part of his design in constructing these narratives. However, not only does Miyazaki simply employ food in general to elicit different responses in his viewers, he also choicely selects what types of foods best matches with his intended plot lines. In fact, meat is only used in instances characterized by negative vices like gluttony or greed, while meat free diets are used in scenes depicting gentler qualities like healing, or regeneration. Through analysis of this technique that Miyazaki utilizes, we can draw broad generalizations of his attitude towards food consumption, and of the subtle nuances he is able to employ through careful selection of different types of foods.

Chihiro’s parents takes food with no consideration for who they could be for

Chihiro’s parents takes food with no consideration for who they could be for

Miyazaki couldn’t be more obvious in portraying ugliness than during the beginning scenes where Chihiro’s parents are gobbling down on the street food they came across. In that scene, the meal was indeed predominately made up of beef, chicken, and fish. In order to amplify the effect that Chihiro’s parents are stuffing themselves without any appreciation for what the act of “eating” actually means, the food is drawn in a rather abstract manner; they take on a rounded form and do not actually resemble real life food. At the same time, instead of biting and chewing, the fact that Chihiro’s parents are more close to “slurping” down their meals is used to dramatize their disrespect for resources and their conspicuous consumption. Miyazaki could very well have shown the parents to be binging on rice or noodles, but choosing meat instead, especially in a spiritual realm for setting, further stresses the negativities of their act of eating another live being.

No Face looking utterly repulsive after devouring everything in sight

No Face looking utterly repulsive after devouring everything in sight

Similarly, during No Face’s wild rampage, there was the ubiquitous presence of meat. No Face stumbles around the bathhouse, with a bottomless desire to devour everything in sight. As he eats, his physical form contorts as well; he swells significantly in size and loses his original shape. This symbolizes how gluttony, or an excessive hunger for substances, essentially corrupts his self-image and distorts his morality. Especially in the context of a spiritual world, to be unable to contain oneself (in the literal sense), or to lose balance (in bodily proportions), signifies disturbance within a person’s spiritual wellbeing. In both cases characters are eating some form of meat, which carries an extra element of distress because it essentially came from another animal, and is hence a more “vulgar” form of sustenance.  It is clear that in Miyazaki’s opinion, consumerism involved meat eating behavior, which could be due to the fact that widespread meat eating culture was first introduced into Japan more as a luxury than a staple food. And has since then carried with it the image of modern indulgence.

On the other hand, while meat serves as a representation of contortion and excessive consumption, the opposite, namely, simple and meat free diets are used to illustrate virtuous qualities of human nature. Miyazaki is optimistic towards seemingly banal foods taken in reasonable proportions and also properly appreciated when eaten.

Chihiro accepts a plain onigiri from Haku, which is suppose to help her regain energy

Chihiro accepts a plain onigiri from Haku, which is suppose to help her regain energy

Of all the forms of nutrients, a plain onigiri is chosen to have regenerative powers in the film. Haku gives Chihiro only a small amount of food, but just enough for it to take effect in helping her regain energy. Onigiri carries with it the long tradition of Japanese culture before the introduction of western consumerism, and with it, the nostalgia frugalness for many older Japanese people. It would definitely resonant with these folks well to only eat just enough food for functionality, and not in surplus. In this way people can continue to live harmoniously with nature, and find a proper equilibrium within themselves.

A simple looking pill is used to heal Haku

A simple looking pill is used to heal Haku

This idea of simple foods as being “better” than meat carries throughout the film. When Chihiro returns Haku the favor and saves his life, it was with a plain colored small round pill. Contrary to the flamboyance of European royalties, the Japanese people have always valued humbleness and modesty. This is exemplified in religions like Buddhism or other traditional events like tea ceremonies. They like to believe that powerful forces can lie within simple and ordinary objects; and have a great appreciation for unostentatious beauty. This cultural consensus is well represented in Spirited away, as both of the most powerful pieces of food are both quite basic and ordinary externally.
In conclusion, while modern science affirms the nutritious values of meat as a great provider of proteins, in a symbolic sense they are not the most elegant form of sustenance. Within a spirit world Chihiro stumbles into, eating the life of another animal seems to carry a complete different set of consequences. Because for duration in Japanese history, meat was only for the rich, it still retained that image of excessive desire, and indulgence in a very ugly sense of the word. Thus in Spirited Away, meat appears in the two scenes where the characters are clearly submitting towards their very worst natures. In effect, meat free meals, and especially the seemingly unsophisticated ones, can carry great value and power. Though these contrasts, Miyazaki animatedly illustrates the pitfalls of modern society, and urges for a return to simpler values.

Food and Sex and Fun

Image

I was really intending to upload what comes after this, but I wasn’t brave enough. Here an extravagant meal is being wheeled into a western styled hotel room.

In this scene, reproduction and food as a form of sustenance are choicely placed in juxtaposition; both as factors of primary survival instincts of the human race…But let’s be real, that’s not why this scene caught every one’s attention in class.

We could definitely go down the classical studies route, where deities of love, lust, fortune, and beauty are largely goddesses in every branch of mythology, but I am no expert, so let’s not. Regardless, Itami paints a clear picture that eating shouldn’t be a serious affair. There was a ton of biting and licking involved in the scene, and not all of them are for food. But the subtle reference to similar human gestures for both activities probably isn’t an accident. He emphasizes that eating should be an interactive experience; pointing out the fact that good food should stimulate all of the senses. The presentation, smell, and taste should all be carefully considered for a well put together meal, most definitely for western cuisines, but even more so for good ol’ Ramen. Remember the old man stroking his three pieces of pork at the beginning of the film? Well who knows what interesting things are going on in his mind then? Itami also restates the social aspect of food eating, and of the intimacy prevalent between people who share a meal together, both among families, and apparently lovers too. In regards of filming techniques, the exaggerated camera close-ups are really as intimate as it gets. Nothing like great food to bring people together right?

Although the movie embodies the general theme of promoting appreciation of “traditional comfort food” as opposed to blindly following the fad, it is by no means bashing on western culture or western food. Itami selectively appropriates scenes of modernity, obviously celebrating the young entrepreneurial spirits of post-war Japan, while highlighting that western cuisine (and room service for that matter), is still largely endorsed by progressive yuppies as opposed to older nostalgic folks. In effect he is also depicting the animal like craze behind globalization in Japan, and the untamed nature of modernization and technological advancements driven by a new generation. Which isn’t all that bad, I mean look at how much fun the two of them are having. But of course everything is better in moderation (some parts were going a bit too far in my opinion).

A genuine playfulness carries itself throughout the entire film, and this scene in particular, but if I’d say if there is anything we can be positively sure of, it is that there is nothing more effective in capturing the attention of the audience during a two-hour movie than with a sex scene, and Itami sure knows that well.

Image

Lastly I leave you with a question to ponder; what the heck is going on here? Is this actually something people do for fun? By the way, where did the word “food orgasm” even come from?