Monday, 26 February 2018

Masculinity in Toshiro Mifune movies

According to this article, famed actor Toshiro Mifune as "the ultimate representation of the heroic warrior and the most potent and dominant symbol of Japanese masculinity. ". Another describes "his masculine portrayals of powerful warlords".

Here's what Badass of the Week says about him: All you need is one look at Toshiro Mifune to know that he's fucking serious. He's coarse, he's gruff, he's confident, he doesn't take any fucking shit from anyone and he's got the sort of commanding presence that forces you to respect the fact that he could kick your ass fifteen ways from Thursday afternooon and not even break a sweat. He comes into town, he fucks up anybody who looks at him funny, he gets it on with some random babe, and then he walks off into the sunset in search of adventure and more asses that need to be kicked by him.

Honestly, masculinity is a bit of a vague concept to me. I have no idea what standards are required for being a man.

I guess people think of Yojimbo's Sanjuro Kuwabatake. He is powerful, intimidating and introverted. Unflinchingly strong and incredibly charismatic, he is the male fantasy that cinema fans everywhere look up to, and seems to represent all of the roles in his career.

Maybe masculinity is just all about being physically strong and emotionally brave.

Let's look at his other roles.

Taketoki Washizu

In Throne of Blood, Washizu is simply all bluster. Though he acts macho, and holds position of Lord, his wife has him wrapped around her little finger, and in the grand scale of things, though he is a skilled warrior, he is gullible and ineffectual. But of course, this has nothing to do with masculinity, just being a plain old human being. We appreciate Washizu as a character anyway. His strength, as you know, is in how complicated and interesting he is. And to the public, that makes him a man.

Takezo Shinmen and Kikuchiyo

Takezo from Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto and Kikuchiyo from Seven Samurai are very similar characters. They do have the fighting prowess and sexual magnetism to prove their masculinity, and they are feisty and temperamental. They like to show off and compete. And as Robert Webb puts it, "If [your emotions have] to come out at all, let it come out as anger. You’re allowed to be angry. It’s boyish and man-like to be angry.”
Indeed it's no wonder that these two are perceived as dominant symbols "of Japanese masculinity"; they are both emotionally open and emotionally honest. Of course, they don't identify their feelings verbally, but they express them in front of people. In Musashi Miyamoto, Takezo is angry, frustrated with the world, and cries about eight times, from being stuck in a difficult situation where the people from his village hunt down and kill the losers of the war he fought in (he was on the losing side), and from the shame of his foolishness hurting other people, such as his capture causing Otsu to injure her hands rescuing him.
In Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo displays his pain and grief about the peasants' plight in front of the other samurai, and even more prominently broke down when he helped to save a child who had been through the exact same thing as him.
These characters show their masculinity not just through physical strength but by having the courage to display feelings one usually fears, shame and grief, respectively.
Unfortunately, Kikuchiyo doesn't open up about his insecurity, and the weakness of pride prevails.

Yamato Takeru and Susanoo

Yamato Takeru from The Three Treasures is emotional. Like Susanoo, Kikuchiyo and Takezo, he's brave enough to display his feelings, but unlike the others he knows what they are and is unafraid to identify them. When he meets his aunt, Princess Yamato, she tells him how proud she is for defeating the Kumaso brothers and being sent to the Ainu in the East. Yamato Takeru says, "I'm sad. I can't stand this.", because he was sent with only a few men, and begins to be convinced that his father hates him.
He is admired for being in a position of power. He commands a small group of men on his journeys and is a figure of authority, and throughout he never loses this.

Susanoo is physically strong and unafraid to be emotional. When he mourns over his mother, he howls "You don't love me!", beats the ground and soaks up all the water from the Earth. Princess Yamato uses this as an example when she berates Yamato Takeru for bursting into tears in front of her, but of course, it doesn't make sense, since we know that Yamato Takeru is brave for opening up to her. Plus, Susanoo is the one who reformed and defeated Orochi, but maybe that's the point she was making after all, that Yamato Takeru is also a trouble maker capable of great heroics. Anyway, she says, "Stop being weak". Again, how does that make sense? Was she calling Susanoo weak?

Kiichi Nakajima

Less remembered but an important role, Kiichi Nakajima from I Live In Fear.

Nakajima is the elderly patriarch of a family who owns a foundry. He fears the bombs but is too proud to admit it. He's not physically strong, but has a youthful energy and appears furious at himself for being trapped in a weak and decaying body. We appreciate him as a character, like Washizu, because of the strength of his inner conflict. He's pathetic, manipulative and tragic.  But that's what's so compelling about him. It makes him a man, right?


Physically strong but emotionally weak, Tajomaru from Rashomon, again, seems to mostly be bluster. He's physically strong, of course, but he hides the truth by pretending that he's greater than he actually is. The woodcutter claims that he was a coward in battle, and if you're inclined to believe the dead husband, he's just kind of a thuggish bum. He's very complex in ways that I find difficult to describe. They certainly find him very macho. He kidnaps a man and overpowers a woman, then, according to the husband's story, refuses to kill him for her. Possibly. Who knows what the truth is?

Mataemon Araki

Inexperienced with a sword but doing fine anyway, Mataemon Araki in Vendetta for a Samurai is cool because he's the leader of a small band out for revenge, even though he's just a bodyguard and has no choice in the matter. He's a good strategist anyway.
What makes him so strong is, again, his inner turmoil about killing his friend. He's not covered in glory when he finally does, but evidently his audience doesn't mind.

On second thoughts, maybe masculinity is about emotional repression, and most of these characters re-define and re-examine masculinity...

Friday, 26 January 2018

Behaviour and Therapy in Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) is the first part of Hiroshi Inagaki's classic Samurai Trilogy. It tells the story of a man named Shinmen Takezo, played by Toshiro Mifune, a passionate young villager who goes to war for fame and fortune. Unfortunately he ends up on the losing side. He tries to go home but is faced with a travel ban. And even his best friend's family wants to kill him because he was on the losing side of the battle. So Takezo becomes an outlaw to survive. Now the priest Takuan must capture him...

Here's one scene that really sticks out.

Takuan is out to hunt Takezo, not for the bounty money but because Takezo is the descendant of a prominent line of samurai and wants to fulfil the man's potential. He sets out with Takezo's best friend's fiancee, Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa), and they set up camp in the hills. Otsu plays her flute, which lures the nervous, desperate, hungry outlaw out to the campfire.

Takezo asked why Takuan is here, and Takuan replies to capture him. Takezo tells Takuan that he will never surrender.
"Are you trying to defeat yourself, too?", asks the priest?
"I don't mind dying in a good fight. But before I die, I will have some blood!", says Takezo stubbornly.
"What about your relatives", Takuan goes on.
"What relatives? They all hate me!", Takezo rages, close to bursting into tears. "Better off dead, all of them!"
"Even the women... and their children?", are Takuan's questions.
"I don't care! Let them all..." Takezo is unable to finish sentence, and is so ashamed that breaks down into heavy, healthy sobs, which is Takuan's chance to capture him and bring him into the village.

Even though he's exaggerating, and saying cruel words about his family. we sympathise with poor Takezo's plight. He's come back from war to find that his family and friends have betrayed him. Is it no wonder he goes on the run?
If you've ever been in a therapy session like I have, you'll end up saying some irrational things, too. And you'll have the therapist asking these very simple but very powerful questions, like Takuan's. Of course, unlike Takuan, no therapist has ever beaten me, nor suspended me by my hands from a tree, but the rest of this scene is familiar to my experience of being autistic.
I, like Takezo, am stubborn and hot tempered, and I don't listen to advice easily. So I sympathise with him all the more.

Later in the film, Takezo escapes with the help of Otsu, but Otsu is captured and brought to another castle. Takezo, grateful for her rescuing him, climbs up the castle wall to do the same.

Takuan appears behind him, and tells him that Otsu is safe in the castle. He takes Takezo there, but of course it's all a trick, and locks him in a room with a bunch of books to read. Takezo collapses in tears on the floor, and that's the last we see of him as we know him.

Three years pass, and when we next see Takezo, he is calm and restrained, more like Kyuzo from Seven Samurai than Kikuchiyo.

Behaviour is a theme and a coding of the film.

Part of what Takuan was doing when he captured Takezo the first time was analysing the consequence of his behaviour, which causes Takezo to start crying in shame , and is the reason why Takezo becomes so easy to capture.

Of course, it's not quite that. Takuan uses Otsu as bait, and forcibly locks Takezo away, which may have caused poor, lovesick Takezo to lapse into a serious depression for a few days. It's not as though he changed overnight. Knowing him, logic wouldn't set in so easily, whether or nor he knew he'd be killed if he escaped.

At the same time, Otsu is suggested as positive encouragement for Takezo to change his behaviour. She's a reward for him to become more 'civilised'. "She will wait", says Takuan before leaving Takezo for the next three years. Takezo is convinced that Takuan is lying, so what made him finally believe the priest? What made him stop doubting him?

What exactly caused Takezo to stop being so emotional? Especially a man of his temperament?

In a way, his reform is for the purpose of him being more acceptable to society. Although he's calmer in later movies, the old Takezo shines through as he is forced to make difficult decisions.

Takezo's previous behaviour is seen as 'abnormal' for a man, especially a man of his class. This therapy is both helpful and harmful to him. It stifles his feelings, which are healthy and appealing, but also helps him to become more disciplined.

I'm curious about this.

In the original text, Takezo reforms of his own will after learning that he is descended from noblemen, which humbles him almost immediately and facilitates his transformation. He reads the texts and reflects on his past, and on his own behaviour, and lets out his feelings, in private, before becoming a stoic years later. Plus he was not forcibly locked away like in the film.

This would be interesting for therapists to analyse.

Friday, 13 October 2017

My Vintage Protest, Continued

In my last blog post about this I suggested people adopting 1930's, 1940's and 1950's style clothes again.

I realized that it was wrong to force this on anybody, because this is the Land of the Free, after all, but I do want properly tailored 30's and 40's clothes to become more widely available, because online they only ever seem to sell 50's stuff.

I know that the fashion world is trying to please everybody but I feel like it needs to be more diverse... and good... and if only I could get my hands on the above items...

Now, what does His Majesty Distraction Trump mean by "Make America Great Again"?

Well, it doesn't really need to be explained further. The "Again" refers to some point in the past, most likely his childhood in the 50's. He reminisces fondly of the violence towards the black people in the 1960's, calling it "the good old days", as a black protester is dragged out of his rally.
He is trying to bring back the worst aspects of the past.

Evidently, so are half his fans.

It's not just an issue of race, but of gender and class, too. The current Administration is taking away healthcare from millions of people, and taking away reproduction rights from women, which is also sending the country backwards about 65 years.

So I thought I'd keep showing off the better aspects of the past, specifically the clothes.

Yes, wanting to revive authentic 1930's fashion is part of my plan but I also think that people should have the widest choice possible in what they should wear. I don't care if Heidi Klum and Michael Kors would find it "costumey".

I've also been reading old books, watching old movies and cartoons (on a computer, which is kind of cheating), learning old dances and trying to listen to as much old music as possible.

Like Koichi Nishi from The Bad Sleep Well, one of my new favourite movies, it's difficult for me to go further, even though I want to. I would get distracted by some recent song and prefer to listen to that instead.
That will soon change, since I'm discovering more interesting old music all the time.

I hate to say it but making the country go backwards, as much as it sucks, appeals to half of my artistic tastes. So to make the journey interesting I try to make the most of it.

Watching the first eight Disney movies makes it fun, too. The first movie this year that I watched on the plane to America was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a movie I continue to have a fondness for in terms of its visual style and artistic ambition.

Plus, it's not an inflammatory Occupy Democrats type of protest which screams my thoughts and makes me look bad to everyone.

Since I have dual British/American citizenship, the Administration doesn't affect me as much, so in a way I'm kind of fortunate. I guess I'm not as angry either.
I'm only able to visit the States on vacation so I don't get as much of an opportunity to protest this way.

I did, however, attend the Women's March in London.

"Boss Baby" refers to Donald Trump, of course, as an allusion to Alec Baldwin playing two similar characters, on Saturday Night live and in the Dreamworks movie.

Friday, 6 October 2017

An Autistic Person's Review of Gwoemul

'The Host' ("Gwoemul"/"Monster") is one of my favourite movies. Often described as 'Gojira' meets 'Little Miss Sunshine', this is one of those movies that's difficult to categorize. It is completely unique. When I first saw the film, it was like nothing I had ever seen before.

In 2000, an arrogant American scientist orders his Korean assistant to dump all of the expired formaldehyde into the sewer, and all of the toxic waste goes into the river.

Six years later, the product of the chemical waste, a mutant creature the size of a bus, starts chasing and eating people. Two men arrive on the scene to help. One is Donald White (David Anselmo), an American soldier living in Seoul with a Korean girlfriend. The other man is the protagonist, Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho).

Gang-du is one of the most unique heroes in cinema. He is the clumsy, slow-witted- but not stupid- eldest son of a working class snack vendor, and he has an undisclosed neurological condition which gives him social ineptitude and mild narcolepsy.

So he's not autistic, but autistic people can relate to him. 

He also has a teenage daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung) and he only seems to be wide awake when his fatherly instincts kick in.
When Gang-du accidentally causes Hyun-seo to be carried off by the monster, he, his frazzled father (Byun Hee-bong), his alcoholic brother (Park Hae-il) and his hesitant archer sister (Bae Du-na) all believe her to be dead. But one night, Gang-du gets a call and finds that she's still alive.
Unfortunately, no one believes poor Gang-du and continuously treat him as insane, so he and his family take it into their hands to try and save her. 

Explaining the situation to doctors while you have a mouth full of phone doesn't quite help your case, salangseuloun.
Action Family Team, assemble!
Meanwhile, down in the sewer where she is trapped by the monster, Hyun-seo, growing in courage, fights to survive.

This movie has everything: action, comedy, family drama, political and social satire, and strong central characters. It's beautifully filmed, and director Bong Joon-ho really knows how to use colour in his film.
The acting is excellent. Song Kang-ho is wonderful as always in the role of Gang-du, and so are his co-stars, Byun hee-bong, Ko Ah-sung, Park Hae-il and Bae Du-na. Yoon Je-moon is near unrecognizable as a vagrant. And it's got a cute small boy, too.
Bong Joon-ho's quality as a director varies wildly, but I think this film is his best. It will make you laugh, cry, scream and cheer with delight.

If you are autistic like me or have any other special needs, you can definitely relate to Gang-du, who despite his social problems has a massive heart. He's childlike, has little sense of social awareness, he's forgetful and a klutz, he makes a lot of mistakes and has guilty meltdowns. In other words, like me.

This movie is good to watch for Autism Parents, too, who will be able to relate to Hee-bong, Gang-du's father. Unlike Autism Parents, who rightly regret nothing for how their children turned out, Hee-bong feels like it was his fault that Gang-du turned out such a mess. But an Autism Parent would know his experience. He gets frustrated with his son sometimes, but loves him, and is seen comforting him at Hyun-seo's funeral in the gymnasium, and vowing to protect him when the authorities come to take him away.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

I got interviewed in iNews!

When I made a film called 'Force of Habit', it was shortlisted for the Autism Uncut awards ceremony. I got in touch with a journalist from iNews and she interviewed me over the phone about myself and my influences.

I saw myself in the most unlikely movie character and look where it got me!

I was interviewed over the phone and I answered my questions carefully.

Funny story: the interviewer asked me a question over the phone about this picture I did of Berenger from 'Rhinoceros'.

And she asked, "Is this you?"

My answer was "Kind of", but I made the picture with the intention of autistic people relating to him.

But Tuco Ramirez was the one I saw the most of myself reflected in. My fiery temper, my unique way of doing things, my broad, shambling body language, the way I spoke and acted without thinking first; sure, I fell in love with him, but it had dawned on me that day in May 2015 that I didn't just love Tuco, I was him.

This is the interview in print.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Gender Dynamics in Disney Movies of Late

I appreciate the fact that there have been more progressive female characters in Disney movies, from the diligent, hardworking Tiana, to sheltered yet empowered Rapunzel, ambitious race car driver Vanellope von Schweetz, and now bunny policewoman Judy Hopps, as well as many others in the past eight years or so.

These women are paired, romantically or platonically, with a guy, and they go on adventures together, and that's cool.

I've been noticing a pattern in recent Disney movies.

Whenever there's a male-female dynamic, the guy is always the wisecracker, the laid-back one, the easygoing rogue.

The relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in 'Tangled' is a standard dynamic. She's perky, quirky, energetic, and cute, while he's suave, worldly and much more level-headed. We have the same thing with Princess Anna and Kristoff in 'Frozen', Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde in 'Zootopia', and Moana and Maui in, well, 'Moana'. The girl is often funny, but in a dorky way, while the guy, more often than not, always has an intelligent comeback for everything.

Dashing thief Flynn Rider and cute, sincere Rapunzel
Savvy, rough-around-the-edges Kristoff and naive, previously sheltered Princess Anna
Optimistic rookie cop Judy Hopps and streetwise hustler Nick Wilde

I think they need to create a wisecracking heroine for girls to look up to.

The reason why they don't so far may be because of a society rule that was all but spelled out in 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' episode 'Sally and the Lab Technician', the rule that men always have to be the funny ones, that a girl making wisecracks would scare a guy off. Rapunzel, Anna, Judy and Moana are all funny, but not in a way that would threaten a man's fragile ego.

Furthermore there's the other society rule of "brave boys" and "good girls". A male hero generally has a smart mouth (like Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Planet' or Hiro in 'Big Hero 6'), while with a female hero (especially Rapunzel and Princess Anna) we laugh at her expense for doing something cute or innocent. This is because the boys are charismatic troublemakers, while the girls are adorably rebellious and have good intentions.

Lindsay Ellis put it best in her video, 'Pocahontas was a mistake: Here's why!', when she sarcastically states, "Sincerity is for girls!"

These double standards may not be the reason why. It may just be that since these charming female dreamers are the emotional centres of the movies, they need a foil, who often happens to be male and more experienced, which is necessary for the protagonists' development.

A surprising inversion is 'Bolt', which has the sheltered, idealistic dog Bolt paired with the down-and-out cynic Mittens. But they're non-anthropomorphic animal characters in a film that wasn't the studio's best work so they don't leave enough of an impression to set an example.

I'd like to see them explain the pattern of the male lead often being the one who makes the funny quips.

Does the PG rating mean anything anymore?

When I saw Tangled in cinemas I was horrified by the PG rating it was issued... because there was nothing there that would give it a PG rating.

So who do Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks et al think they're fooling?