Tag Archives: identity

National Identity in The Gourmet Club

Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club depicts Count G’s quest for finer cuisine as Tokyo’s eats become increasingly mundane for him and his club of Japanese gormandizers.  Through his choice of diction, Tanizaki fills Count G’s world of cuisine with sexual flavors.  Additionally, he employs exoticism to create nationalistic overtones and critique upon how the Japanese should identify with another culture.

It becomes important to establish the erotic nature of the food in The Gourmet Club because it helps the reader understand just how far Count G and his underlings will go for gourmet cuisine.  Tanizaki explicitly makes it clear from the beginning that the members of the club truly respect and admire cooking.  For the Gourmet Club, “cooking was an art” (99) and “they took as much pride and pleasure in [discovering some novel flavor] as if they’d found a beautiful woman” (99).   The narrator’s opening commentary states that the members’ hunger for fine food matches their lust for the pleasures in the bed sheets.  Tanizaki’s selection of vocabulary also aids in making the sexual characteristics of food quite prevalent.  The narrator comments that the members seek a “blissful new experience” (104) for the taste buds on their tongues which had to “lick and slurp” (102) for any new flavor.  Later, the scene with the Chinese cabbage pushes even further the sexual tone food carries in the narrative.  The supposed woman who comes out into the darkness to play with A’s “lips, stretching and releasing them” (133) is rather erotic with her actions; her hands later become covered with A’s saliva and create a “sweetish flavor, with an aromatic, salty undertaste” (135) after the fingering of his mouth. The opening commentary and this scene under consideration allow the reader to note not only the sexual overtones but also the greater impact of the sensual experience that food elicits in the members of the Gourmet Club. 

The reader must also understand how exoticism is created in the narrative.  Tanizaki creates a sense of exoticism for China by placing discontent of Tokyo eats amongst those in the Gourmet Club. By having them be “sick to death of Japanese food” (102), he separates cuisine into Japanese self and other foreign cuisine like “Chinese food—that rich cuisine said to be the most developed and varied in the world” (102).   The commentary makes the exotic food of China seem different and more appealing.

Finally, Tanizaki establishes nationalistic overtones to the narrative with his final commentary.  Not until the end, after working up the uniqueness of Chinese cuisine, does the narrator state that the gormandizers of the Gourmet club are “consumed” (139) by the fine cuisine Count G can now make after a night of peeking upon the banquet at Chechiang hall.  Throughout the whole narrative, Chinese cuisine is seen as something lucrative and exotic.  At the banquet, “not one of them looked ill, or seedy, or shabby…” (117) and most “…were fine-looking men, well built, with healthy faces” (117) in “Western dress” (118).  These people are clearly not Japanese.  Tanizaki utilizes exoticism to critique the national identity of the Japanese by endowing the foreigners in his narrative with negative attributes.  The narrator describes those at the banquet as being “abstracted, as if some inner focus had been lost” (117), and later, he peeks in a room with a “strange odor” (127), an opium den.  Tanizaki acknowledges an alignment with the Chinese perhaps as both being oriental, but it is almost as if this alignment causes a loss of national identity amongst the Japanese.  This is a critique on Japanese national identity because the narrative targets a mainly Japanese audience.  The narrator acknowledges that he must be “strict in my choice of reader” although “it is impossible to do so” (128).  By acknowledging the reader, Tanizaki suggests to the reader (likely Japanese) to reflect upon him or herself.


Spirited Away: Where you ARE what you eat

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is an animated Japanese film that follows the adventures of Chihiro, a young girl struggling to return to her human life while entrapped in a mysterious spirit realm. When her parents are transformed into pigs for trespassing and consuming spirit food, Chihiro has no choice but to sign herself into Yubaba’s service, a witch overseeing a bathhouse for spirits, in the hopes of saving herself and rescuing them. With Haku’s assistance and help from others, Chihiro manages to maintain her identity and prove that love really does conquer all.

Miyazaki uses food in his film as a platform for discussing motifs of transformation and identity. When Chihiro’s parents voraciously devour a feast spread in an empty vendor stall, they are transformed into the animal equivalent of greed and gluttony for their lack of self-control and disrespect for a stranger’s property. Miyazaki used images of engorged pigs devouring food, without order or decorum, to exaggerate insatiable desire gone awry.

Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs because of their gluttony

Later, Haku urges Chihiro to eat so that she does not vanish in the spirit world. Her identity as a human girl fades with her transition into the new environment, so she must adopt a new identity to establish her place there. When she begrudgingly eats, her body solidifies, marking the loss of her old identity and allowing her to assume the new one. This event also signifies the loss of her naiveté, and as her journey continues, she gains the knowledge, courage, and maturity which characterize her growth into the newer and stronger Chihiro with the ability to save her parents and return home.

Haku urges Chihiro to eat spirit food so she won’t disappear

In the cases of the River God and No Face, two powerful spirits who visit the bathhouse, Miyazaki shows how food can transform our bodies and mentalities. When the River God first appears, the staff mistakes him for a Stink Spirit, but they soon discover that all the waste he has consumed from the outside world has defiled and crippled his body. This speaks of the pollution of the world, showing that what we consume affects our entire constitution; when we take in bad things, we become polluted, dirty and slow. After Chihiro saves him, Miyazaki shows the River God emerging powerful and shining radiantly like a diadem, a stark contrast to his previous form.

Similarly, No Face originally intends to aid Chihiro but becomes defiled with an insatiable lust for food, then eats people when it cannot be abated. He transforms from a lithe figure into a monstrous entity, until Chihiro uses her magic herbal ball to heal him. Like Chihiro’s parents, his gluttony shows that what we consume can change our mentalities and overconsumption may cause us to lose sight of priorities and values.

Insatiable greed and overconsumption transform spirits physically and alter their identities

Although created for young audiences, Spirited Away is a testimony for all ages to respect our bodies and nourish our spirits, taking care with what we consume and assume (otherwise we could end up pigs… or worse!).

Corporate Greed: A Loss of Identity

Yasuzo Masumura’s, Giants and Toys, is a consumerist film that satirizes the post war growth of 1950’s Japan. The film begins by introducing three rival caramel companies: World, Giant, and Apollo, all of which hope to increase their caramel sales through new promotional campaigns. As World’s executives, Nishi and Goda, discover Kyoko, an ordinary and charming girl, they believe her quirky face could strengthen their campaign and act as the impetus to their success. As Kyoko becomes a star, the competition intensifies and the three businesses invest all their time to their publicity campaigns. Throughout his film, Masumura criticizes the consumerist culture of Japan by demonstrating how corporate greed and the desire to “win” leads to personal destruction, loss of identity and uniqueness, and the abandonment of one’s morals and values.

World Caramel comparing the "masses" to caramels.

In the opening scene, World’s boss compares the “masses” of the crowd to caramels. Here, we see how even early on in the film, one’s identity is often lost in the corporate business world. The caramels themselves are all the same as they are made for the sole purpose of making a profit. This objective along with the caramel’s uniform shape, size, and taste suggest that the masses are grouped together as one rather than classifying each person as a distinct and separate individual. This comparison demonstrates how both the people and the candy lose their uniqueness. Linking the masses to caramels further explains how World believes they have the power to manipulate the crowd to desire their commodity in the same way that they have complete control over their caramel production.

Goda instructing Nishi to seduce Kyoko.

As the film continues, Goda’s unremitting desire to become the number one caramel company instigates his downfall and loss of morality. In the beginning of the film, one of World’s prominent and very involved executives suffers from a horrible cough. This scene seems to foreshadow Goda’s self-deterioration and weakening health. As Goda is promoted to the PR position, his corporate greed escalates and thus causes him to collapse. Investing all of his time to the campaign, Goda endures the same cough previously seen by the other World executive. While Goda’s health weakens and the stress of the campaign increases, he resorts to immoral and unethical acts. For instance, asking Nishi to seduce Kyoko demonstrates his corrupt judgment and his willingness to do anything that will improve World’s sales. Goda’s obsession over the campaign and hunger to achieve success drives him to insanity and causes him to lose his identity and ultimately destruct.

Goda suffering from a malignant cough.

The introduction Kyoko in the opening scene.

Similarly, as Kyoko becomes a star her identity transforms. Like Goda, she becomes too invested in the corporate and mass media world and makes stardom a priority. The opening montage symbolizes Kyoko’s complete transformation throughout the film. In this first screenshot, Kyoko’s original identity is present through her crooked teeth, uniqueness, and “the girl-next-door image.” However, as Masumura utilizes Pop Art to multiply the image, Kyoko’s picture becomes clouded in black and white, as we are unable to see her quirky qualities. Unlike the first colored screenshot that clearly represents her identity, these multiplied pictures imply a transformation. As all of the images are blown away, it symbolizes Kyoko’s loss of original identity and her transformation into an unrecognizable star.

Masumura uses Pop Art to multiply Kyoko's image.

Clearly then, the caramel production leads to the loss of identity and dehumanization of individuals. The insatiable desire to dominate the corporate market and rise up to the top produces detrimental effects that alter one’s individuality and values.