Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'll see your Brecht, and raise you a Jidaigeki!

I just finished reading Discourses of Vanishing: Modernity, Phantasm, and Japan while on the train coming back from J-A Society Chicago. In general I liked the book, but I would say it would have been nice if the passages of clear analysis were not interrupted by jargon of dubious necessity. Perhaps the jargon is justified given the books audience and genre, but I can't criticize the author Marylin Ivy perhaps as much as I would like for using it. I will maintain that if she is able to describe more than half the book in a straightforward way it may be a fruitful exercise to try the whole book without pulling out a bag of Freud, Jung, Derrida, Foucault, Brecht, and others.

Anyways. The last section of the book (sans epilogue) is on taishu engeki (I assume the kanji for it is 大衆演劇), or 'popular theater'/'mass theater'. Don't be confused though, taishu engeki is not particularly popular or mass, it is basically cheap, participatory dance/theater reminiscent (and for some troupes still) of itinerant performance troupes. There may be a different term for it as of late but I am no expert, thus I read the book.

The movie that popped into my head while reading this chapter was a flick I had seen about a week prior called 'Hana' (Hana yori mo naho 花よりもなほ). This film is by Hirokazu Koreeda, other movies I have seen directed by Koreeda are 「誰も知らない」や「あるいても、あるいても」や「ワンダフルライフ」 Nobody Knows, Still Walking, and After Life, which are all worth watching and I think better than Hana. Nonetheless, Hana was a good watch although it walks a thin line bordering on thematically banal. The film is ostensibly of the reluctant samurai genre like Twilight Samurai or The Hidden Blade and has the obvious giri(duty)/ninjo(human emotion) dilemma. The Samurai protagonist is living in a row house in Edo in order to track down and avenge his father's murderer.

Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!

The twist is that unlike other films, Jidaigeki, etc. ninjo actually comes out on top (although this may be up to interpretation). Not to say in other works ninjo is unimportant, it is vital. Catharsis occurs because of the value of ninjo, especially in the face of a conflict with giri, but giri plays a role similar to fate in Greek plays. You can't run away from giri. In Hana, the protagonist confronts the man he has sworn to kill and instead of drawing swords he asks his father's murderer to send his son to his school. But, the clan must be appeased. The protagonist puts on a play.

The play uses the members of the row house as actors and together they dupe a clan member by enacting a dramatic scene with the freshly dispatched corpse. The play within a play was filled with the normal roles expected of a play and brings the samurai to tears. I probably do not have very good reasons for thinking of this when reading about taishu engaki other than the atmosphere of the play and the idea of a play not ending where the stage stops.

The nice thing about this film is the way it makes fun of Jidaigeki while still being one. This is embodied not only in the play, but the side-plot of the Chushingura, a group of which are living in the row houses. Without going into too much detail, the 10 or so of the 47 samurai are not portrayed as particularly capable.

Random link for the day:
Robots get it, when will we?

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