Category Archives: UCLA

The Cove-A Real Life Heist Movie

In the 2009 documentary film, The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos analyzes, questions, and exposes Japan’s dolphin hunting culture. The film serves as a call to action to bring an end to mass dolphin slaughter, to change Japanese fishing practices, and to inform the general public of the atrocities being committed to these animals and the health risks (particularly the increased hazard of mercury poising) associated with consuming dolphin meat. The filmmakers emphasized the secrecy involved in capturing the footage to establish a “spy movie” quality to the movie and, as a result, draw in a wider audience than the typical documentary film fan. However, this secret filming, in combination with the portrayal of the Japanese people, elicited great controversy surrounding The Cove’s release.

Louie Psihoyos undercover

Louie Psihoyos undercover

In the opening scene of the film (featured above) the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, is featured in the passenger seat of a car driving through Japan. He is shown with a medical mask covering a good portion of his face. He then introduces the audience to the secrecy involved in dolphin hunting in Japan and that exposing the industry is illegal. In this way, a sense of civil-duty and urgency is established and Louie Psihoyos places himself and the crew in a position of importance and power. It is also important that Psihoyos addresses the illegal aspect of their mission in this light because it justifies their illegal actions and argues that illegal actions must be taken if the laws being broken are unjust. However, the opening scene is ironic because of the facemask covering Louie’s face; in attempting to expose the dolphin hunting industry, the filmmakers have to cover and hide themselves. The secrecy also establishes a “spy-like” quality to the documentary. The spy movie feeling is further pushed when the footage is presented in green light for night filming, negative effect, and secret-taping footage. This employment of spy genre movie techniques is vital to the success of the documentary because it is able to appeal to a wider audience and makes the dolphin slaughter appear even more corrupt through the establishing of the “forces of good vs. evil.” However, the film techniques used in the making of this movie, such as secret filming, led to much of the controversy that surrounded its release.

Ric O'Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Ric O’Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Another important aspect that led to the success of the film was the personal relationship established between dolphins and humans. The film’s main social actor, Ric O’Barry, discusses his experience with dolphins through his involvement with the Flipper television show. He states that he knows that dolphins are self-aware. This idea is crucial in separating dolphins from other animals like pigs and cows that are also slaughtered for food production. If dolphins are aware of themselves and their surroundings, then they can be viewed as more similar to humans than to other animals and it is then inhumane to slaughter them for meat. This idea is essential in drawing sympathy and compassion on behalf of the dolphins from the film’s audience. The above image of Ric O’Barry in loving embrace with a dolphin epitomizes this concept.

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

This image is taken from perhaps the most important moment in the film. In this screenshot the blood from the slaughter of dolphins is revealed for the first time. The dark red of the blood is significant because it is a visual reminder of just how many dolphins must have been slaughtered and because it is seen in direct contrast with the tranquil blue of the surrounding ocean. This serves as a metaphor that stresses that dolphin slaughter is in direct conflict with nature. It is also important because the presence of dolphin slaughter can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. From this point forward, the audience is forced to decide to answer the film’s call for action and the Japanese people must face this aspect of their culture out in the open. In this way, consumers must consider what they are willing to look past or abandon morally in order to maintain a diet they are accustomed to.

In the creation of a modern day, real life “heist” film, director Louie Psihoyos turns The Cove into one of the most viewed documentary films released in the past 10 years. As a result, a wide audience of once ignorant viewers has been introduced to a serious travesty plaguing the dolphin hunting industry in Japan. The issue is magnified still through the humanization of the dolphins. As a result, the audience must face the harsh realities of dolphin meat consumption and remember the images of the blood-red cove in making future food purchases. In this way, despite the controversy sparked by the questions of morality sparked by secret filming, the film is effective in bringing awareness to a serious issue in today’s food industry and force the audience to serve as the driving force in creating serious change for both the future of the dolphins and of the human race.

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An Emotional Crusade Against Dolphin Killings

The Cove takes on the task of uncovering the truth behind the thousands of dolphins being killed each year in order to feed the demand of Japanese consumers. Director Louie Psihoyos task is to convince us as viewers that these massive dolphin hunts that are being undertaken in Taiji, Japan are a massive ecological crime that the world must know about. The main protagonists throughout the film is dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry. His personal connection to the capture of dolphins for television studios and aquariums has instilled in him the view that the capture of dolphins is a reprehensible act. Not to even mention the killing of them. To support his position he does not present a rational argument stating that the capture or killing is a waste or unnecessary. No! Instead he presents the heartful story of the tragic passing of a dolphin that he had worked with on the set of the television show Flipper. Barry’s image of him describing the details that propelled this dolphin to commit suicide are purposely meant to invoke an emotional response. The image of the “smilling’ Flipper is in contrast to O’Barry’s claim that  this dolphin had decided to take its own life. (Image 1). This comparison of these two contradictory ideas gives the viewer a sense of how far from the truth is the reality of dolphins who live in captivity. This early scene in the film sets up the entire rest of the film as it shows the journey that these filmmakers have to take in order to find out the truth as to what is happening in the cove at Taiji.

One of the original 'Flipper' dolphins

 

The ultimate goal of the entire film is to end both the use of dolphins at aquariums, but more importantly end the killing of dolphins in Taiji. From the very beginning of the film O’Barry describes how the artificial environment that is an aquarium leads to a series of health problems for captive dolphins. The noise of machinery and people at these aquariums places a lot of stress on the animals. This is why twelve minutes into the film we are presented with these beautiful scenes of dolphins out in the ocean. (Image 2). Jumping in and out of the water in groups of three or four. Psihoyos wants to impress upon us how a dolphin should live according to his viewpoint. It has to be free in the ocean in order for it to roam and swim free. In captivity is not where it needs to be. While a cove in Taiji where dolphins are sent to be killed is just a crime against these amazing animals that has to end. The visual image of the free dolphins in the ocean is a stark contrast to the brutality and extent to which these dolphins are killed for consumption.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Sitting there in the meat section of a Japanese supermarket is the image of a small piece of what is implied to be dolphin meat. (Image 3) Marketed as whale meat, this piece is stated to be most likely dolphin meat that is being passed as much more appealing whale meat. This is to say that those Japanese shoppers who go into the supermarket are unaware that they are being lied upon in the name of profits. O’Barry asks what would be the reaction of the Japanese consumer to the news that what they believe to be exotic whale meat, a meat whose consumption is controversial in itself, is in reality dolphin. Psihoyos message here is that the cause of the killings at Taiji is both the decision of the Japanese consumer to eat whale, that the film also implies should not be eaten, and the deception that the food industry has undertaken in order to hide the reality of dolphin meat. It is the belief of the makers of the film that these killings would end if the general public knew what was happening in Taiji.

Whale/dolphin meat

Here it is implied that what we are seeing is dolphin being passed as whale meat.

 

The ideology behind this film is that of a moral crusade against a dark secret that this cove has hidden from prying eyes. The very beginning of the film we are presented with a character in disguise as a Japanese elderly man entering the town in where the secret resides. Cameras hidden in rocks, the use of night vision capable film equipment, and the trespassing into the area surrounding the cove all give to this sense of danger. A feeling is presented in that these activists in the film are on a moral endeavor that will place them in many dangerous situations. Though, the goal of combating that inconspicuous piece of meat (Image 3) found inside Japanese is well worth all of these obstacles. At the end of the film the viewer is expected to demonstrate anger at these fisherman who catch dolphins. The images of smiling flipper, and those of the meat in the supermarket are meant to be two contradictory images that is designed to arouse the emotions of the audience. The hope is that viewers will be outraged at the idea that is dolphin meat.

Chinese Cultural Forms in The Gourmet Club: Creating Curiosity and Pleasure From Unfamiliarity

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the description of the exotic feeling that the Chinese cuisine gives in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly make the image of Chinese cultural images more vivid, but indeed not explaining the Chinese cultural images. This way, the sense of exoticism is amplified, and the hazy aesthetics of exoticism is created.

When Count G searches for the source of the good smell he detected on the street, “a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils”. By specifically calling out shao-hsing rice wine instead of just some kind of Chinese rice wine, Tanizaki Junichiro creates the beauty of exoticism: it makes readers imagine how the wine smells like, and what makes it so interesting to Count G. Without further describing or introducing shao-hsing rice wine, a mysterious aesthetics is created. The shao-hsing rice wine is later mentioned again when Count G. was exploring inside of the CheChiang Hall, when he saw “one of the diners stood up and raised a cup of shao-hsing rice wine”. The repeated mention of shao-hsing rice wine intensifies its existence, drawing attention to it. However, Junichiro did not spend any words explaining the true identity of this mysterious supposedly delicious wine, and therefore creating a mysteriousness.

Similar methods are found throughout the passage. “Scenic beauty on the banks of Western Lake, framed in the poetry of Po Lo-t’ien and Su Tung-p’o” references to classical Chinese poets by their names without further explaining who they are or what their master works are. “Pork belly cooked in soy a la Tung-p’o” excites readers’ imagination on what “a la Tung-p’o” could possibly be, as it seems to be some kind of Chinese cooking sauce. “Tea from cups made in Ching-te-chen” reminds readers of some distinct mysterious Chinese town that makes fine china cups without visually giving readers an image to think about. All these mentions of classical Chinese cultural forms all together create a veil between readers and the Chinese culture, and therefore amplifying the sense of exoticism, creating a beauty of unfamiliarity .

Different from all other mentions of Chinese cultural forms, the mention of “Bok Choi” takes the aesthetics to another level. At first, the cabbages are falsely described as a woman’s fingers, then after erotic description of A.’s experience, the “fingers” are revealed to be Chinese cabbages. It’s not until even later that the traditional Chinese name for Chinese cabbage, “Bok Choi” is used to substitute the mere vocabulary of “Chinese cabbage”. By revealing the identity of Bok Choi gradually, the erotic pleasure of A. is intensified bit by bit, and by the time that the word “Bok Choi” is used, a vivid, eerie yet fantastic image of a normal Chinese cabbage has been established. By giving Bok Choi specifically a vivid image, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly gives readers an insight of Chinese culture. However, since the actual taste of Bok Choi is still not described in the passage, the pleasure and aesthetics of exoticism is still achieved.

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō vaguely gives out Chinese culture images without further explanation.  This creates a beauty of unfamiliarity and exoticism, and thus evokes readers’ excitement and erotic pleasure resulted from the sense of unfamiliarity and exoticism.

Tadpoles and Space Suits

In the 1950s, Japan was experiencing a rapid economic growth and the side effects that followed. Giants and Toys, a movie directed by Yasuzo Masumura in 1958, is a satirical film that criticizes the destructive force of Japan’s mass-production and the emphasis on growth and progress during the 1950s. The film achieves this purpose by juxtaposing two opposing themes such as Kyoko and Nishi, and space suit and tadpoles.

In the movie, the space suit represents progress and growth, for space exploration is an idea that looks far ahead into the future. The tadpoles also evoke a sense of progress and potential for growth, but much slower, and requiring close, personal care. Likewise, Kyoko represents the fast-growing Japanese economy fueled by big corporates and mass production, while Nishi’s character stands for the general public and the working class, struggling to keep up with the rapid developments and changes. In the movie, after Kyoko puts on a space suit and becomes a star of the World Company, two tadpoles end up dying. This dying of the tadpoles, which used to contribute to her humble image is a metaphor to how Kyoko’s naiveté and uniqueness was lost in her pursuit of success, and her joining of the corporate world.

Harukawa, the photographer, is telling the journalists Kyoko is just like any other girl, except the fact that she keeps tadpoles.

Harukawa, the photographer, is telling the journalists Kyoko is just like any other girl, except the fact that she keeps tadpoles.

Kyoko is on television in a space suit, while people comment on how she has changed.

Kyoko is on television in a space suit, while people comment on how she has changed.

Kyoko is a very dynamic character that undergoes many changes. In the beginning, she is a humble girl who is in love with Nishi and takes care of her brothers and sisters. As the plot develops, she slowly turns into one of the mass-produced stars, by imitating other stars and consciously trying to act like one of them; she is forced to read off the script that is given to her, and to lie about her sick father. Towards the end, she is very aware of what other stars do, and she actively tries to fit herself into that role of a star.

Kyoko tells Nishi that she wants to learn music and jazz like the others.

Kyoko tells Nishi that she wants to learn music and jazz like the others.

As Kyoko becomes more successful, she starts to lose her old character and her character begins to match her public image and her role as a star. She even rejects Nishi whom she loved and chooses his friend who promises her of wealth and success as a star. Her naiveté is lost, and as she adapts to the business world, she becomes just like any other mass-produced products, even like the caramels that she wanted to sell.

The CEO compares the people to caramels, the expendable, identical, mass-produced goods

The CEO compares the people to caramels, the expendable, identical, mass-produced goods

On the other hand, Nishi is a character that has just recently joined the World Company and when he becomes close to his boss Goro, there is some hope of success for him. His work constantly interferes with his personal life, however, forcing him to make love to Kyoko and costing his friendship. Unlike Kyoko, he continues to reject Kyoko and the company ends up losing her, and naively trusts his friend. At the end he tries to quit his job and turns very bitter towards the corporate life. In the ending scene, he wanders on the street wearing a space suit, trying to fit into the society and act his role as a worker. However, compared to Kyoko he does not smile, and looks very out-of-place, and people pass by laughing at him.

Both Kyoko and Nishi’s character help to illustrate how the corporate world can affect individuals in either way. Kyoko is a character that chose to conform to the demands of the society and in turn she loses her unique and humble character. Nishi chooses to reject his role and he has fallen behind, and people laugh at him wearing a spacesuit on the street. Using these two opposing characters, the director tries to demonstrate a common theme of how Japan’s growing economy and corporate culture are negatively affecting people.

Works Directly And Indirectly Referencing The Story of Momotaro: How Folk Tales Are Manipulated For Achieving Different Goals

Momotaro, the Peach Boy, is a famous traditional teenage warrior figure in Japanese culture. His story depicts Momotaro, a divine creature who jumped out from a big peach found by an old lady, goes to fight the Ogres(Oni’s) with the help of his dog, monkey and pheasant fellows that he gathered along the way. In the end of the story, Momotaro returns with victory. The story of Momotaro is ubiquitously famous in Japan, and because of the popularity of Momotaro’s story, the image of Momotaro has been integrated, directly and indirectly, into various works. By comparing the animated film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World to the national version of Momotaro’s story written by Iwaya Sazanami, we can understand how folk tales can be manipulated to serve different political purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences. Specifically, The folkloric characteristics of the story of Momotaro, such as ambiguous time period,  ambiguous identity of characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food, are important aspects for achieving this goal.

As a folkloric story, Momotaro doesn’t happen at a specific historical time; instead it is presented to happen merely “very, very long ago”. Even though this lack of specific time was certainly unintentional when the story was created, however, thanks to this ambiguity in time, later works can fit the Momotaro motif into any time period. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the story of Momotaro is fitted into the time period of World War II – more specifically, the Pearl Harbor Attack. By fitting in the Momotaro figure straightly into the animation, audience is tricked to think that since the battle of Momotaro is a glorious battle, then the battle in the animation, directly featuring Momotaro as the leader of the army, is also a glorious battle. The ambiguous identity of characters also play a role, enabling the anime makers to transform the small army into a large national army, while changing Momotaro’s image from a chunky, friendly boy to a solemn political leader. Because of the ambiguity of the characters’ identity in the original folk story, nobody would question the new enforced identities presented in the animation. Though the identity of the enemies, or the Oni’s, remain obscure, there are bold images and descriptions that indicate the enemy to be United States. For example, the enemy’s flag consists of stripes and stars on the left upper corner, which is incredibly similar to the national flag of United States; the enemy soldiers are all white figures, resembling Caucasian race; even the image of the island and the battleships are strikingly similar to Pearl Harbor and the ships there. What’s more, there are lines, such as “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”, describing the American soldiers as the evil Oni’s, while

Scene in which the background music sings the line "Blue demon, red demon, chase them all".

Scene in which the background music sings the line “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”.

promoting how righteous Momotaro and his army are. By directly putting Momotaro’s story in the World War II setting, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles serves as a propaganda, educating Japanese citizens that the attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor is a righteous act.

Minamata the documentary movie, on the other side, fits the Momotaro motif indirectly into the time period in which Minamata disease wreaked havoc. In the movie, though none of the explicit Momotaro figure, the dog, monkey and pheasant soldiers are present, the spirit of the Momotaro story is subtly integrated, as the victims of Minamata gathers and goes on a quest fighting against the Chisso Corporation, the company whose factory mercury release contaminated food. The united victims resemble Momotaro and his army, and the Chisso Corporation resembles the Oni’s. A part of the movie records how victims go on a march to where Chisso Corporation locates, protesting and fighting for a responsible solution. This march represents the journey Momotaro has, and his fighting against the Oni’s in Sazanami’s Momotaro story. In fact, the Chisso Corporation is directly associated with the Oni’s, as one speaker during the march announces: “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell”. However, in Minamata, the allusion to Momotaro is not a filming technique, nor a technique for creating political propaganda, but a real-life application of the story since the film is a documentary. By making allusion to Momotaro’s story, the victims of the Minamata gain tremendous empathy and support from bystanders who are of course very familiar with the story of Momotaro, and these bystanders then join the march, or the “army of Momotaro”, to keep on fighting. In conclusion, by fitting the motif of Momotaro into different historical time periods and onto different characters and persons, different goals can be achieved, depending on the issue in discussion.

Other than the ambiguity in time and identity of characters, the ubiquitous presence of food in stories also show how folk stories, the story of Momotaro in this case, can be manipulated. First of all, food exists in every story. No matter if it’s a folk tale, a prose, or any other genre, as long as there is a storyline, there exists food. The ubiquitous existence of food makes the impact of food tremendously important in all stories. In this case, food serves as a power that unites people in all three stories.

Food in both Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles unite people by giving them strength, faith and making them loyal to Momotaro. In both stories, the millet dumplings are the food Momotaro gives to his animal fellows. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, by sharing millet dumplings, Momotaro makes friends with dog, monkey and pheasant, and he resolves conflicts between them using millet dumplings as well. By using millet dumplings, Momotaro is able to create his small army, with his fellows respecting and admiring him, willing to fight for him. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, millet dumplings also serve similar purpose, uniting the army together as Momotaro’s soldiers.

However, the detailed indication of food is different between the Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, millet dumplings build a rather intimate connection – friendship, and loyalty due to admiration and respect. The monkey, the dog, and the pheasant and Momotaro are more like brothers than merely a political leader and followers, in the sense that they develop intimate relationship with each other, and the animals all respect Momotaro. Millet dumplings also resemble kinship in Sazanami’s story: when Momotaro is leaving home, the Old Man and the Old Woman, who take care of Momotaro as parents, carefully prepare the millet dumplings for Momotaro.This symbolistically indicates that the millet dumplings contain the power of love, and that’s why the millet dumplings can have such a cohesive force that binds the fellows together. With the power of love and kinship coming from the millet dumplings, Momotaro and the animal fellows become brothers and fight together. This brother-like relationship between the dog, the monkey and the pheasant is carried on in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, however with a new layer of meaning and indication, as the millet dumplings also posses a new layer of meaning. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the soldiers are also united by the millet dumplings like brothers, but not brothers in an intimate way, but rather in the sense that they are all sons of Japan, the motherland, and they all fight for their motherland patriotically. Instead of showing kinship and friendship, the millet dumplings in the animation represents nationalism, which is the power that ties all the soldiers of the army

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

together. What’s more, the millet dumplings shows great literal dietary support, contrasting with the terrible diets of the enemy: the army of Momotaro is energetic, passionate and brave eating the millet dumplings, while the enemies, drinking alcohol, are sluggish and cowardly, only able to run away. In one scene, a monkey soldier becomes ultra-muscular after eating millet dumplings – the allusion of Popeye the Sailor here is integrated to exaggerate the literal dietary power of millet dumplings. Meanwhile, one captain from the enemy side is

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

presented to be obese and drunk, unable to get up from the floor, with several alcohol bottles lying by him, indicating his drunkenness, and thus reflecting on the terrible diets of the enemy’s army. By giving a contrast between the diets of the two sides, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle advocates Japan as the righteous side while bashing the Oni’s – United States, in this case.

While food positively unite people together in both stories that directly reference to Momotaro, food, or contaminated food in specific, unites people negatively in Minamata: The Victims and Their World: victims suffered from Minamata disease the contaminated food unite to fight against Chisso Corporation. Even though food in Minamata is a negative factor, it still unites the protagonists in the story just like millet dumplings unite protagonists in the other two stories, and the protagonists go on a quest fighting against the “evil Ogres”.

With the national version of Momotaro’s story by Iwaya Sazanami as an original story to refer to, the animated video Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World both manipulates the story of Momotaro by playing with the ambiguity of time and characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food as a uniting power. By playing with these characteristics of the story of Momotaro, folk tales – not just the story of Momotaro, but all folk tales in general – can be manipulated to serve different purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences.

Symbolic Food

The traditional folklore of the famous “Peach-Boy” or Momotaro is wildly used in many children’s books and animation. Some of the popular anime have mini episodes where characters reenact the Momotaro story, though not very authentic reenactment. The story about Momotaro is about a boy who is born form a peach and goes off on a journey to defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, with a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant as his comrades, then goes back home to his adoptive parents, and elderly couple, after completing his quest. Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro is a re-telling of the traditional folklore, while Mitsuyo Seo’s animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is more of modernized reenactment of the battle in Ogres’ Island. Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata: The Victims and Their World shows a journey very similar to Momotaro’s journey against the ogres, and the film even makes references and the protestors wear a head band similar to Momotaro’s as well. In these three textual/visual media, food serves as a unifier to form communities of family, comradeship, and rebellion because it represents certain emotions that lead to the formation of families, comrades, and resistance. These emotions lead to the formation of communities because these are emotions that bonds people to be together.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro's Journey.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro’s Journey.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro, food represents love, affection, care, of a family because the motive in giving and preparing food lead to the formation of a family and strengths the relationship in a family. For example, when the Old Woman first sees the large peach she says “I expect it would be very sweet eating! I will go pick it up at once and give it to my Old Man as a present—that will be the thing to do.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.11) In this scene, the peach represents the Old Woman’s love and affection for her husband because her first thoughts are not to keep the peach for herself, but to give to her husband as a gift. This selfless thought of the Old Woman towards the Old Man is called love because when you love someone you will put them before yourself. This love the Old Woman has for the Old Man is precisely what forms a community called family. Also, after Momotaro’s initial meeting with the elderly couple, Sazanami writes “this child came to be brought up as their own, and as he was born from a peach, the name ‘Peach-Boy’ was given to him, and all the care which love could give was given to him.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.16) The peach is in a sense the vessel that brought the Peach-Boy and the old couple together. The peach brought these three characters together to form a family, and without the peach, which gave birth to Momotaro, there would be no son for the Old Man and Woman to love and care for. Therefore, the peach is the unifier to this family because it was the vessel that creates the meeting between Momotaro and the elderly couple. As Momotaro prepares to leave on his journey, the Old Man and Old Woman prepares a “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.21), which are millet dumplings. Though the Old Man was surprised by Peach-Boy’s request to go defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, the Old Man gives Peach-Boy his blessings and prepares food for him for the trip. The millet dumplings are the result of the Old Man and Old Woman’s hard work because to make the dumplings that had to beat the grains in a big stone mortar, like in the picture above. The Old Man and Old Woman are very old, with the woman being sixty years old, making the millet dumplings must be very difficult for them, yet they make it not for the purpose of feeding Momotaro because if they were worried about Momotaro’s hunger the elderly couple could have given Momotaro some money to buy food. The Old Man and Old Woman made the millet dumplings out of love and wanting to send off their son with a meal made with the love of a parent. Making the dumpling could be the very last thing that the elderly couple can do for Momotaro and with these dumplings are their love and hope that Momotaro will have a safe journey. These dumplings symbolizes this love and wich for Momotaro’s safe return unifies Momotaro, the Old Man, and the Old Woman as a family and solidifying their bond as a family until they meet again.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, food symbolizes emotions such as kindness and happiness which unifies a group of individuals into become comrades. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro gives the Spotted Dog “half-a-one” of the millet dumplings the elderly made for him, which he describes as “the best millet dumplings in Japan.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.25) The dumplings in this scene symbolize kindness because Momotaro gave half of a millet dumpling to the hungry Spotted Dog which attacked Momotaro in the first place. Although the Spotted Dog wanted to join Momotaro on his quest before receiving the dumpling, this dumpling solidifies the bond between Momotaro and the Spotted Dog because by sharing a meal together they become friends/comrades, instead of just acquaintances. When Momotaro meet the Monkey, Momotaro said “in consideration of your good intentions, I will give you half of one the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.28)  The dumpling again represents kindness because though the monkey came to follow Momotaro on his journey, Momotaro gives him half of a dumpling as a sign that he accepts the Monkey as a comrade before answering the Monkey’s request. Momotaro did not have to offer his dumplings to the Monkey, but he did it to show that he accepts the Monkey because you truly become friends/comrades with someone you shared a meal with. Again, Momotaro gives half a dumpling to the Pheasant when they first meet. (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.30) Though Momotaro seeked the Pheasant and made the Pheasant join him, Momotaro offered the Pheasant half of a dumpling as a sign that they are now comrades.

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

In Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, after the monkey, dog and bird came back there was a celebration for the success of the attack on Ogres’ Island. The rabbit gave the monkey a rice ball to eat during this celebration. The rice ball, or onigiri, symbolizes the happiness that the other animals feel not only for the victory but for the safe return of the monkey, dog, and bird after everyone thought they were dead. This happiness makes the bonds between comrades even stronger because this happiness proves that your comrades care about you. This celebration with food and drinks symbolizes that bond between comrades because if it was for the strong team work and trust these animals have for each other, they would not make a feast to celebrate the accomplishment and safe return of the animals in the fighter planes.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata, food symbolizes suffering which helps unify a group of individuals to become a community of resistance. Suffering is an emotion that can cause people to either crumble or rise to an occasion, in both the text and the film, Momotaro and the protestors rise to the occasion, creating a group that resists the ‘oni’ or ogre. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro asks his father, Old Man, for permission to go on a journey to Ogres’ Island to defeat the ogres that “take people and eat them!” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.18) Momotaro, who is now fifteen, feels that Japan, as a country, is suffering at the hands of the ‘oni’ or ogres because they see humans as food and seize all the humans’ treasures. In this scene the food is humans because that is what the ogres eat and what makes humans suffer because like all the animals, humans are now on the menu for ogres. This suffering causes Momotaro to want to be the hero that rescues Japan and return the treasure, so he goes off on a journey where he will meet with a Spotted Dog, a Monkey, and a Pheasant, and create a group of resistance against the ogres and fight back.  Minamata

In Tsuchimoto’s film, fish and shellfish contain mercury compounds that cause the Minamata disease cause major health issues where very few patients have a full recovery and most surviving victims suffer the basic symptoms. The fish and shellfish in this case are the food which symbolizes suffering because many fishermen and their families suffered because of these infected fishes and shellfish. The victims did not just wallow up in their suffering, but rose to the occasion and fought for what was right. They gathered a huge amount of supporters and protestors and marched their way to Osaka to prove that the Minamata disease is real. They used this suffering as a motivation to push forward just as Momotaro did. The food in both the text and the film symbolized suffering, but lead to the unification of groups that resistant to continue suffering and fought back with all their strength.

In conclusion, the foods in Sazanami’s Momotaro, Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata symbolize emotions that unify groups of individuals into a family, comrades, or a group of resistance. These emotions are love, affection, care, kindness, happiness, and suffering. Emotions of love, affection, care leads to the formation of a family because that is what a family is built on. Emotions of kindness and happiness form bonds of comradeship because these emotions are what begins and strengths the relationship between comrades. Although suffering is a negative emotion, it can be the motivation that leads to formations of a resistance group that protest and fights for what their members believe are right. Though these three media are depict and re-tell that traditional folklore Momotaro differently, they all show that food is an important unifier of communities.

 

Momotarō and Food: Unifiers of the Japanese

Although Momotarō originated as a simple folk hero in the early Edo period, he has transformed into a national symbol capable of creating strong bonds within the Japanese people. His portrayal has also changed with his evolution. The adult themes of the Edo period transformed to become more child-friendly before again morphing to a more militaristic attitude in war propaganda. However, the use of food in Momotarō stories has remained consistent: the establishing and strengthening of strong community bonds. Between media and through time, Momotarō is a national symbol and the use of food in his portrayals act as a way to cement community bonds.

In the original tale, Momotarō uses food to establish both camaraderie and loyalty among his vassals. The original story narrates how an old couple finds Momotarō in a large peach and raises him. “Peach Boy”, as Momotarō translates to, grows up and journeys to Oni Island to defeat the demons living there. On his voyage, he enlists the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant using the millet dumplings his parents prepared for him. He returns from his expedition triumphant and laden with treasures. The food in the original version is instrumental in the story. The millet dumplings Momotarō gives to the animals wins him their loyalty. While winning their support, he also establishes dominance and leadership between him and his vassals. This is especially apparent when he “[places] himself between them [the dog and the monkey] and carrying in his hand and iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days […]” (28, Iwaya). Momotarō clearly establishes himself as a strong leader and the dominant figure of his vassals. He is seen as an assertive person to be looked up to and trusted. The comparison to a high military official furthers this idea s well as hints at Momotarō’s coming military might against the demons. His leadership is also apparent when he “pushed them [the dog and monkey] both apart […]” (26, Iwaya). He is responsible enough that he stops them from fighting and even has the foresight to recruit the monkey as another one of his vassals. The millet dumpling shared between the dog and monkey establishes camaraderie between the two. The food also binds the band together on their journey to Oni Island. Not only do they no longer argue, they fight alongside each other with loyalty and bravery. The millet dumplings convey the theme of camaraderie and loyalty on their journey.

In Mitsuyo Seo’s 1943 film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō and the millet dumplings are used to mobilize the Japanese people for the war effort. In the film, Momotarō leads a “Japanese” army of dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits against the evil demons of Oni Island, representing the American and British enemies in World War II. The film’s main purpose is to promote World War II and rally the Japanese people; in contrast, the original tale is aimed to teach and entertain children. However, the propaganda film gains power from using Momotarō as a symbol because people already identify with the original folk hero as a good, strong leader. This idea is furthered with the utter defeat of the Western “demons” and the fact that the “Japanese” army is completely unharmed. This idealized view of war only serves the film’s purpose as propaganda. Millet dumplings also rally the Japanese people together. Strong community bonds and intense loyalty are the Japanese’s strengths and the key to winning the war, and the millet dumplings represent this. In the film, the food does not simply establish these bonds, but actually makes the animals physically stronger.

The monkey's muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The monkey’s muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The millet dumplings, and symbolically the camaraderie between the Japanese, give strength to Momotarō’s army. The food in the films not only encourages camaraderie but also distinguishes the good Japanese and the demonized Westerners.

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

In contrast to the strength the millet dumplings give to the Japanese, food and drink make the Westerners lazy and cowardly. This distinction further unites the Japanese. The biased portrayal dehumanizes the enemies and makes their total defeat more righteous, again typical of a propaganda film. Food in Sea Eagles helps promote enlistment in the war and draws power from the national symbol of Momotarō.

Momotarō is not used only in literature and film, but also as a real world rallying point. In Tsuchimoto’s 1971 documentary, Minamata: The Victims and their World, the citizens of Minamata suffer from mercury poisoning caused by polluted waters. A neighboring factory owned by the Chisso Corporation had been pollution the water for thirty-four years. The film documents the victims’ fight for justice. One scene portrays the march of the victims to the annual Chisso Corporation shareholder meeting in Osaka. In one particular moment, a victim alluded to Momotarō, and the folk hero becomes a rallying point. In fact, the speaker for the victims referenced the corporation as “blue and red ogres”, a clear reference to Momotarō’s Oni Island.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

Momotarō’s popularity as a defender of good and a strong leader made him an ideal symbol for the victims. His story is well known; likening the corporation to the infamous ogres serves to unite the strangers in solidarity and bring the issue closer to home. The long journey and gathering of supporters is also a parallel to Momotarō’s journey and gathering of vassals, again around food. However, the poisoned food is a weapon of the enemy rather than something to encourage camaraderie.  The reference to the familiar character of Momotarō as a defender of good also elicits sympathy for the victims, and the strangers as well as the audience join and support their cause. The ability of the victims to garner that much attention using Momotarō is a testament to the folk hero’s power. From page to screen to the real world, Momotarō retains his popularity and power.

Despite moving between media, or even because of it, Momotarō is a national symbol with a lot of influence, and he serves as a rallying point for multiple causes. Food also connects the various genres and becomes a unifier for the people involved, whether through camaraderie, or sadly, suffering. While the goal of each media was different, the three portrayals of Momotarō all shared the folk hero and food as the banners under which people came together. People tend to rally around strong leaders, and Momotarō is the ideal unifier for the Japanese people, even across time periods and media.

Minamata: No Affection Only Infection

Since food is necessary to life, it is instinctive to eat for self-preservation. Beyond this innate urge, food also holds a deeper connotation for family and society. Despite our cultural origins, the preparation and enjoyment of food is a commonality we all share. Food is much more than nourishment; it is the vehicle through which society communicates sentiments, expresses affection and creates bonds. When one thinks of life’s varied occasions, food is most likely at the epicenter. People use food to mark special occasions like birthdays, weddings, holidays, promotions and even funerals. Food is used to comfort people in times of suffering and nurse the weak in times of sickness. Through its loving preparation, the sharing of food with others is what keeps us connected.  Food plays a significant role in our daily lives, so much so, that it often defines ones identity, community, traditions, and relationships – it is the common thread that keeps us connected.

In Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, we visit a small fishing village in southwest Kyūshū sandwiched between the Kyūshū Mountains and the Yatsushiro Sea. We are exposed to a crippled community suffering the consequences of environmental pollution and stripped of their identity, compassion, livelihood and most importantly food. Through Tsuchimoto’s expert use of expository filmography, we gain an intimate glimpse at the severed relationship between food and society via a pandemic outbreak of methyl mercury poisoning.  The result is a disconcerting series of interwoven mosaics highlighting the stark reality of this disease, its impact on the residents, and how food is transformed from one of life’s greatest joys into a deadly quandary.

In this “grass is always greener” cinematic shot, we are transposed into a residents shoes. Unfortunately, our vision of prosperity soon leads to our subsequent demise.

In this “grass is always greener” cinematic shot, we are transposed into a residents shoes. Unfortunately, our vision of prosperity soon leads to our subsequent demise.

With fishing and farming as the only source of monetary income, a
fledgling Minamata revels in the idea of welcoming big industry into their small town. The Chisso Corporation is the means to transform the town into a prosperous society. Unfortunately, it tears apart their community and physically debilitates a preponderance of its residents. Divided between the union workers and the fisherman, the community is left flailing like a stricken fish on the ocean’s surface. Tsuchimoto’s distant use of observational framing allows us to maneuver amongst the chaotic town and humanizes this personal, yet shared, struggle. Through this fly-on-the-wall perspective, we intimately view Minamata’s plight and vicariously experience the intense social shame of such a conservative society. Most residents fear the disease to be contagious, while others are staunch loyalist to the Chisso Corporation through their dependency on the factory for income. The community essentially ostracizes the victims and tries to erase history, without a trace or a memory. As we look around, there is no affection only infection.

Casted out like garbage, a victim is left to learn the game of baseball alone.

Casted out like garbage, a victim is left to learn the game of baseball alone.

With complete disregard for continuity between scenes, Tsuchimoto further
juxtaposes seemingly unrelated shots together in a melodic collage of cinematic
genius. By stressing the fragile relationship between Minamata’s victims and
nature, Tsuchimoto reveals the personal struggle and subsequent destruction of
a community. Through his poetic portrayal, we witness a broad spectrum of
shared relationships –  an elderly man hunting octopus, a widow concocting bait, sardine netting, the ominous factory, concrete pipes pumping chemically laden runoff into the ocean, suffering children, and an infuriated community. This subtle, however, explicit portrayal of daily life shows the moral erosion of Minamata’s community.   Yet, the undeniable truth is that everyone is susceptible to this indistinguishable disease through their interdependency on the local fisheries for sustenance.

The hands of the victims are the same hands that provide the town with food.

The hands of the victims are the same hands that provide the town with food.

As one fisherman poignantly states, “the vital point [to kill an octopus] is between the eyes”, one cannot help but think of this statement as a metaphor for the Minamata community. Methyl mercury poisoning is a neurological syndrome affecting muscle coordination, impaired vision, paralysis, loss of speech, insanity and ultimately death. Ironically, these are the same symptoms affecting the communal bonds of Minamata. Their lack of coordination allows for the continued pollution of their food, their impaired vision promotes further neglect of the victims, and their refusal to speak against the Chisso Corporation’s atrocities eventually leads to a paralyzed town left wallowing in their own chaotic and insecure delusions.

Tsuchimoto’s documentary reminds us of the alarming importance between food and human welfare.  Food is why we gather, not just to eat, but to talk, share, and connect. It facilitates conversation and acts as the medium by which we strengthen and nurture our relationships. Without healthy food we as humans will literally die, but as a society we will perish in the social context. Tsuchimoto’s ability to cinematically capture this unfortunate disease will serve as an enduring lesson to us all, but more importantly, we are left contemplating the stark reality of foods role in the fragility of society.

Euphoria: An Analysis of Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Exotic is strictly defined as something originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country. However, to be truly exotic is not simply to have a foreign pattern or single flavor; rather, it is a symphony of different experiences and emotions evoked by the item in question. This idea of a complete exotic experience is dramatized in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Gourmet Club through the use of food.

Many people have said that the true value of something is not in the destination, but the journey; this idea is also prevalent in The Gourmet Club. The five men in the club ceaselessly search for delicious food, wandering the streets of Tokyo in search of that special, exotic meal. “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo […] like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find” (102). Their quest emphasizes the importance of what they are searching for: food. To them, food is not simply something to survive; it is their reason for living. The comparison to curio collectors also suggests an exotic element to their search and implies a sort of discovery. Both the mystery and the discovery contribute to the idea of exoticism.

Another element of exoticism is the emphasis on beauty and the euphoria of experiencing it. This is exactly what the Count encounters at Chechiang Hall. Even before entering the place, he is thrown into an ethereal reality where his senses of taste and sound combine: “[…] when suddenly the melody became full, rounded, and plaintive like a voice that is thick with tears, he thought of a rich broth of braised sea cucumbers, so full-flavored that each mouthful keeps permeating one’s taste buds to their very roots” (109). Junichirō’s use of synesthesia links the deep emotions of the music to the complexity of a delicious meal; food becomes an emotional experience for both the Count and the reader. The fact that the music alone is enough to evoke such a reaction from the Count is only a prelude to the exoticism he encounters in the Hall itself. There he finds dishes he never encountered or dreamed of before. These dishes serve as inspiration for his exotic meals that can only be truly savored using the entire body: “[…]They did not merely taste the cuisine with their tongues: they had to taste it with their eyes, their noses, their ears, and at times with their skin. […] every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Not only are the meals exotic, but also the way the men enjoy their food is completely novel. Mind and body must become completely immersed in the dining experience to fully savor the meal, suggesting euphoria in the act of eating. The emphasis on experiencing the food, rather than simply eating it, furthers the theme of exoticism. The ecstasy of food clearly demonstrates exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

The complete experience of food, both leading up to and the physical act of eating, dramatizes exoticism in The Gourmet Club. Junishirō demonstrates through emphasizing exoticism, that for the members of the club, food is something alluring, something to be coveted. He proves that food can be more than simple sustenance; it can be a euphoric, exotic experience.

An Alliance Through Food

After setting sail on the Hakkō Maru, a crab-canning ship’s crew becomes determined to stand up to their harsh supervisor because they cannot tolerate their atrocious conditions any longer. A story of dehumanization unfolds in Kobayashi Takiji’s The Factory Ship as a crew of Japanese proletariat men slowly deteriorate into “objects” due to poor treatment and abuse.  Takiji skillfully uses food to emphasize how the crew members are becoming less like humans and more like objects to their superiors. Food becomes a driving force that eventually thrusts the men into a rebellion against unfair conditions and treatment.

As the ship journeys onward, the fishermen even become the food themselves at some points when the author uses metaphors to depict the environments. The men are juxtaposed with “maggots” in a “vast cesspool.” The significance of this comparison is that the crew members are reduced to beings less than humans and that maggots are usually associated with rotten food. This association might even imply that the vessel as a whole is the rotten meat and the people aboard are the scum and filth that inhabit it. We can even imagine the fisherman living in their own waste.

In addition, Takiji also draws another comparison with the workers’ hands being “raw and red as crab claws” (11). This metaphor gives us a closer understanding of the mens’ transformation from humans into “things.” The raw and red that is used to describe the fishermans’ hands hints at the painful and grueling work the men deal with. The crab claws also tie in to their job of canning shellfish on the ship; therefore, the comparison probably also suggests the way the workers were seen by their supervisors: nothing more than objects for self-profit.

Likewise, another metaphor emphasizing how the supervisor’s poor treatment causes the crew to lose human qualities is the men having “no more feeling in them than giant turnips” (13). The men become so overworked that they reduced to unfeeling lumps of flesh with dangling arms and legs. It’s easy to imagine the men as turnips and their limbs as the shriveled roots of the turnips. The fishermen are more and more like emotionless objects as they stay onboard the factory ship. Several of these associations with food often cause a numbing of the human characteristics in the ship’s crew.

Although food is not necessarily the central theme in the story, it is an extremely powerful influence in the eventual rebellion of the crew against their leaders. In fact, because the men are “obsessed with food,” the lack of any decent food inevitably leads to conflict. The author uses food as metaphor for the crew to stress the impact that food actually has on them. The quality of the food they are given reflects how human they are. Thus, objectification of the proletarians is connected to the food they eat. Because of contrast in living quality, the foundation for revolt is set. Even though the crew is “made up of such a motley, diverse bunch” (9), they are able to unite because of food.