Of Ishiguro, Chivalric Romance and Oblivion


Osaka Book Club’s choice for this month was The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Here is a podcast with part of our discussion about a book that seems to belong to an old Age of knights, ogres, dragons and pixies, but that deals with the present idea of forgetting-confronting the past to move on with your life.


Anton Chekhovich Chekhov’s ‘Two’ Sisters at Microteatro


Mourning the dead and having them constantly in our memories is what makes us, among other things, different to animals. But when that peculiar human custom is just an excuse to not fully live your own life, it becomes a serious problem. That’s what Chekhov intelligently shows in his plays and what witty José Ignacio Tofé, playwright of Microteatro’s piece Las dos hermanas, parodied. We have two sisters, whose father disappeared in a snow storm months before and plan to keep the mourning until the body is found. The younger sister wants to marry, but the elder one, guardian of the archaic and atavistic practice, tries to slow down her plans forever and ever in a vicarious masochistic fashion. Because of the absurd of the plot and the hyperbolic performances, this is a comedy, and quite a funny one. Actress and scene director Silvia de Pé playing the sexually repressed and mystically sanctimonious sister, and fresh and full-of-life Ana Villa as the younger one, refer to each other with their complete unpronounceable patronymic-included names and keep a hilarious tension until the end, a foreseeable but liberating turn of the screw, exactly the opposite of the genius Russian playwright, who most times leaves the audience with a bitter emotional aftertaste, stripping characters of their concealing frustrated masks.

Japanese submarines, pigs and crab meat



In the past one of the most militaristic societies, a nation of warriors led by bushido for centuries and an aggressive Asian colonial power at the beginning of the XX century, Japan can be considered today a peaceful and non-belligerent society, at least in theory. The dealings about the Futenma base in Okinawa with their American allies and their nuclear-umbrella protection, as well as the realistic development of a euphemistically-called “self defense forces” army contrast with a population raised in the idea of peace and the evil of war.

Having suffered the bombing of their main cities and the total annihilation of 2 of them by those same allies, the new generations have chosen to forget or at least to deceive the pain and keep it tucked away in their hearts to be able to continue life. The characters in Shohei Imamura’s film 豚と軍艦 Pigs and Battlefield (1961) live in a post-war Yokosuka (small port south of Yokohama), “occupied” by the marines, whom they despise; but they need them for a living and eventually the loathing becomes admiration. The film sourly shows a defeated country with a wounded national economy and a city-port transformed into a brothel for US GIs, degradation common to other Asian cities in previous years. In the void-of-power but booming new economic society trying to do business with the winner of the War, yakuza Japanese gangsters struggle for those opportunities of making fast and easy money, the same way young Japanese girls feel attracted by a life of affluent parties, nice dresses, alcohol and music on board of the American warships.

Only a few years before, the Japanese submarines were fighting against American destroyers in the Pacific, a decisive battlefield in WWII. The more recent film 真夏のオリオン Last Operations Under The Orion (2009) shows a balance between patriotic self-sacrifice and antimilitarism. Its disapproval of the use of 回天 kaiten submarine kamikazes, manned torpedoes against the American battleships, is represented by the young Japanese captain’s refusal to use them, demanding a fair fight. And the Americans –who also entered the production of the film-, are depicted as a relentless but humanized enemy. The end of the war will be taken by the Japanese crew as a relief and the beginning of the reconciliation.

Back in time but also recent in film is 蟹工船 Kanikosen (2009), a remake of a 1953 film and based on the homonymous proletariat novella written by Takiji Kobayashi in 1929 –by coincidence translated into Spanish by my sempai Jordi Juste-, which to a bolder antimilitarism adds the denounce of social injustice. We are now in 1904 at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, and a Japanese factory-boat sails in Kamchatka’s waters to fish and process crab meat. Young actor Ryuhei Matsuda –much more virile than in his also memorable performance at 御法度 Gohatto (1999)- stands as the spontaneous leader of the uprising on board. The connivance between the military and the private company owning the factory-boat for the sake of profit and an ulterior bribe clearly relates to the exploitation suffered by the young and illiterate overworking crew. In the film, 2 workers get lost in a small boat in the sea but they are saved by the Russian “enemy”, a merchant ship whose seamen teach them a more humanized and democratic relationship between employers and employees. The awareness of their own oppression will trigger the rebellion back on their boat, with fatal but unavoidable consequences.

The 3 movies have their own love stories too: in Orion, the captain’s girlfriend –indeed his best friend’s sister- has pledged to wait for him no matter what. And he goes back, but not the brother, who dies at the bottom of the ocean after a more than implausible conversation in Morse with his friend and brother-in-law. In Kanikosen, stories of childhood girlfriends are mixed with the desire to belong to a happy and wealthy family full of harmony, the dream of the underclass, a Kimura family idyllically represented by cheerfully playing ball in white suits and hats in an Edenic garden. In Pigs and Battlefields, the young, beautiful and strong-willed Haruko is young chinpira Kinta’s motivation to improve. He dreams of becoming a big yakuza boss and looks with contempt the factory work that he is constantly offered by his girl-friend; the smuggling of pigs represents a dirtier but much more profitable activity, but to what price?

These are films that reveal a fictitious but more or less historical panorama of Japan, not so distant in time but far in quality life and freedom compared to these days. They are also an ideological lesson about what could happen again in the event of the rising of the military and/or the break of another big war.

Junichiro’s uncertainties of a lesbian love



Adapting Tanizaki Junichiro’s Manji to film is not an easy task, especially for its structure and literary nature. It has been, however, masterly achieved. Basically, the setting is a monologue by a widow, Sonoko, relating the past events to an aged writer, an almost-implied author representing own Tanizaki’s alter ego. Thus, everything starts from the end and we presence a reconstruction of the facts as seen from Sonoko’s eyes.

Of course, many of the words in the book become scenes with real characters in the film, and some others are just skipped through ellipsis, but still, widow and writer’s presence is implicitly omnipresent in the telling of the story.

I suppose that at the time of the book’s publication (first serialized in Kizo newspaper from 1928 and 1930) or even at the premiere of this first-of-four movie version in 1964 by Yasuzo Masumura, the most salient theme was to be the transgressive lesbian love between two main characters. The public’s reception of the work in both moments must have been very different since the Japanese society and morals had changed so much in those more than 30 years, partly because of the American influence after WWII, the same way Japan changed to a great degree from 1964 to 2006, when the last version to date was shot.

Indeed, more than just a homosexual story, both book and film represent the destructive dependence created around the figure of Mitsuko, the young women elevated to goddess by everyone in contact with her, and the infatuation of upper-class people with dull lives, who lose control of their feelings and actions at the hands of Mitsuko’s machinations. But not everything is so obvious: narrator Sonoko, the impulsive young housewife –not that young in the film-, looks sincere and seems to be a reliable teller, although her version of the facts must be taken carefully. The almost-mute narrator, an attentive, impartial and silent writer-counselor in the film, shows Sonoko’s words literally without judging their veracity, and presents physical evidence provided by her in the form of letters, contracts, etc., for the implicit reader-viewer to form his/her possible reconstruction of the facts based on the written-visual objective data. In that sense, Sonoko’s narration keeps the intrigue of the story, at the same time that makes guilt fly from avid-for-tragedy and dramatic Mitsuko to debious Watanuki to her intelligent but fainthearted husband Kotaro to herself.

All characters undergo a transformation of their personalities as if influencing each other and lose their innocence toward a fatal denouement. Jealousy, as related to low self-esteem and the fear of being deceived, constitutes the driving force of novel and film. The four main characters, including Kannon-like Mitsuko (Ayako Wakao is no doubt the best and most attractive actress of her generation), suffer that mixture of blind love, lust and envy to pathological levels, which paradoxically provides them with stamina for their personal fighting.

Although an apparently universal story, Tanizaki adds the Japanese peculiar theatrical nature to the narration with constant allusions to suicide, either individual or collective, as a form of sublime love; the lovers’ frequent weeping and the sexual game with the おねえちゃん oneechan older sister have also this Japanese signature.

浮気と嫉妬の修羅場 “Shuraba”, Pandemonium of jealousy and betrayal


I understand that many times a title must be translated with some freedom to get a proper appreciation of a meaning when it refers to a distant culture. But sometimes they take their liberties to an extreme, as in this case: ふゆの獣 (Winter beasts), when translated into English, surprisingly becomes Love addiction! Actually, the latter title shows the theme more accurately, although it loses the metaphoric flavor of the original one.

In a format close to a documentary and with touches of expressionism through movements of the camera and games with the images, we are shown different interrelated stories among 4 young characters, always in pairs like all possible permutations in a maths problem. They pass through fragile moments in their relationships and experience a bunch of universal feelings like love, fear, passion, dependency (addiction), vulnerability, spite, hatred…

Every sadist needs a masochist and Yukako plays that role: she is attractive and intelligent but her emotional attachment to Shigehisa makes her distort reality, as a child who thinks that negating the facts will prevent them from occurring. Shigehisa, on the other side, attractive for his strong character and contemptuous attitude, negates in front of others and justifies his actions through his own egotism. Younger colleagues Noboru and Saeko can’t avoid admiring their senior and falling for him, although for Noboru –a stereotypical character in this film’s Freudian closed world- that will be more difficult to accept.

The movie’s timeline is wisely made, starting from a critical moment at an accidental and moving encounter in the subway with interrupting flashbacks that clarify events. And the long final sequence, the proper “shuraba” with the 4 characters in a claustrophobic 6-tatami-wide room leads the plot to a final and unexpected climax.

Infidelity and the emotions that it entails happen in all cultures, many times in similar ways, although the means to deal with them are different. There is the violent reaction of the male-dominated world; the legal action and the consequent divorce; and the friendly discussion –Tanizaki Junichiro style– to look for ways to solve a deeper problem. Men and women’s views as for cheating are different, the same way their approach to sex –whether marital or not- is not the same. Although cheating is not just about sex. It’s also about novelty, curiosity and play. Collateral feelings and states of mind like low self-esteem, negation and desire for revenge also come together in the pack and affect both the cheater and the cheated one.

This unpretentious movie by director and scriptwriter Nobuteru Uchida masterly shows a compendium of all those feelings and reactions, and constitutes a simple encyclopedia of the cheating and its psychological implications in the present young Japanese society.

Miracle in Kyushu, family disintegration



「家族より音楽と世界を選んだ」“Before family I chose music and life”, a young divorced Japanese father tells his eldest son Koichi on the phone when the latter begs him to come back home. Each brother –they are also related in real life, Koki and Oshiro Maeda- lives with a different parent hundreds of miles away from each other, but somehow they struggle to keep their family-status relationship through constant telephone calls. Both have different personalities that seem to fit their respective custodian: Koichi, 12, lives with his mother and grandparents in Kagoshima and is mature, self-contained and laconic; Ryunosuke, in Fukuoka, 2 years his junior, is like the father, expansive, carefree and full of life.

Director and scriptwriter Hirokazu Koreda, a XXI century’s brilliant eyewitness of the traditional Japanese family’s disintegration, already shocked worldwide audiences in 2004 with a painful story of children abandonment, 誰も知らない Nobody knows, and only 2 years ago explained to us the role of Japanese women in society, with the allegorical 空気人形 Air doll. This time, in 奇跡 Kiseki (Miracle), without the gruesome details of his previous films, reflects mildly but consistently about both worlds of adults’ and children’s, their similarities, differences and their interrelations.

One of the many things that startles Westerners who start a life in Japan -I haven’t got used to it myself yet, even after 5 years- is the way mothers talk to their kids, simulating they are children themselves too, and creating an atmosphere of naïveté with quite strange results, which seem to promote more childish behavior in a spiral of mutual stupidity. I remember dating a few years ago a Japanese woman in her late twenties who used to talk to me that way too, maybe condescending my lack of Japanese proficiency or simply deducing that my condition of foreigner made me a child, unable to understand basic situations or implicit social rules; maybe she just wanted to look 優しい affectionate. The fact is that even at the time my Japanese was good enough to understand and notice her tone and always made me feel like an idiot, especially with people around. I wonder if Japanese kids feel the same way.

Related to this, I happen to be reading a book about Tanizaki Junichiro by American feminist scholar Margherita Long and she cites Tomiko Yoda, who confronts “claims that Japanese society promotes cozy mother-child dynamics such as intimacy, indulgence, and protection with claims that the same dynamics make Japanese society infantile, suffocating and pathological”. I also think that a society that promotes childish behavior even in teenagers fails to understand how mature and able to understand complex matters a 10 or 12-year old person can be, as the movie shows. In Kiseki, children’s behavior and conversations –even the superstitious thinking about the occurrence of miracles and coincidences- is not that far from the adults’. Male characters, the father, the teacher and the grandfather, seem to understand that and promote in the children independence and maturity, while the mother keeps on playing the game of having a 12-year-old baby at home.

My friend Luisa, Japanese-Brazilian third generation herself, came to Japan at 18 and now she has 2 kids of around Koichi and Ryunosuke’s age. She used to tell me how different Japanese children are compared to Brazilian ones due to the different upbringing, how her kids are completely naïve while the ones overseas are witty and resourceful; but she is fine with that: “children must be children, they don’t need to know too early about the bad things of life”. I disagree with her: the sooner they know about life, the less traumatic it will be later when they fully become part of society. It’s not necessary, though, to reach extremes like the dreadful lives of explored children from movies I’ve recently seen –Anjos do sol (Brazil), Holly (Cambodia)-, both from 2006, good films but not recommended for too sensitive people.

Sometimes the pattern is the opposite. In some cases, especially in Japan, with age there is a regression in terms of responsibility and maturity, like for example, when at the university. All the pressure is just to enter, to pass the entrance exams; once you are inside, you can go back to your good old days, dust your childhood and forget about life duties. And if you are lucky enough to enter a prestigious private university from elementary or middle school, then you can afford to play the child longer. A college student about to graduate told me the other day when having lunch together on campus: “The last time I studied hard, I was 10!”. I just couldn’t believe it.

Another interesting point in the movie is the clash of lifestyles and values between a traditional Japanese society based on a hierarchical family with tight and well-defined ways, roles and duties, and a more modern free-thinking one based on individuality and personal development; the former secures conventional values and social harmony, the latter aspires to happiness. And the young characters here, in spite of the respect they feel for their elders, seem to be willing to follow the second path.

The success of this movie is based on the fact that, far from an easy happy ending, it chooses to face up to actual life accepting reality the way it is and teaching us to cope with that. After all, having divorced parents is not such a bad thing if we are properly taught to deal with it. And everybody has the right to choose music and life.

Andarushia, James Bond and The Vascongadas


Japan has been successful imitating and even improving West technology, architecture, fashion, etc., but when it comes to commercial cinema, she needs to reconsider and start from the beginning again.

In アンダルシア、女神の報復 Andalucia, the Goddess’ Revenge, the last blockbuster for the national market, we have the obligatory car and motorcycle chase, breathtaking sceneries, fights hand to hand, shootings and a conspiracy with embassy secret agents, double secret agents and a beautiful female spy. But, in the end, in spite of an impeccable technical filming and production, it doesn’t convince. I think that the problem is in the script, every good story’s foundation. If there is not an original script with intelligent and sharp dialogues and a logical story line, the movie, as in this case, fails. Here we must attend long, slow and boring speeches explaining everything as if it were a foreign language grammar class. The scriptwriters -if there are any- should not underestimate the audience and leave some ambiguity shortening the dialogues; in the end, giving too many details creates more confusion and what is worse, tediousness. Besides, same as in literature: “Don’t tell it, show it”. They could learn a few lessons from Ocean’s eleven or even Memento.

In Andalucia it seems that someone wanted to film Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and a few dramatic aerial images of Malaga’s Ronda, and adjusted the plot for the stills to fit in the movie; the G20 summit and the skiing resort are just concessions to become a 007-like film.

As for the acting, applause to the beautiful and expressive Meisa Kuroki, a Japanese young woman from Okinawa who happens to be one fourth Brazilian. Juji Oda, the main actor, is not too bad, although it’s not justified either to have him pose in front of the camera for such long shots as if he were Marlon Brando. His character is the epitome of self-control, paternalism, self-denial and unimpeachable morality, like a cliché of a modern day bushido-practitioner; and the opposite of his Western counterpart, my worshipped James Bond: a sarcastic, playful and dipsomaniac womanizer and gambler but still faithful to his principles. I got acquainted to the immortal British character through my father’s addiction to his adventures. In my teens, the living room at home looked like a James Bond’s museum with all Ian Fleming’s novels and 007 movies in any possible format. If one day my progenitor had brought a real-size wax doll of his hero and set it next to the TV, nobody would have been surprised. Now, I doubt anybody would be willing to set a replica of Kosaku Kuroda on his tatami room.

As for the Spaniards’ depiction, what can I say? Apart from the careless Interpol officer who makes sexual advances on the protected witness in front of a Japanese top diplomat, there is not even one Spanish character whose personality be even minimally shown. They are just wandering beings, full of impulses like the aggressive taxi driver, drinking and eating tapas in bars, dancing flamenco or training as bullfighters. If the director wanted to really show the “miserable irresponsibility” of our police forces, he could at least have created a mean and corrupt character in the line of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, and not a caricature of a neighborhood policeman with an English even crapper than that of the Japanese.

To top the lack of verisimilitude, a young Japanese man with a teenage-idol hairstyle becomes the Interpol agent in charge of the operation in Spain, without speaking a word of Spanish! At least, they didn’t make the female character do ぶりっ子 burikko (pretending to be stupid and/or childish), like in Princess Toyotomi.

To finish, a hilarious note: as Abel, my colleague and extra in the movie tells me, the map of Spain that they are using on their web page represents the Spanish regions with names from before democracy, i.e., the 70’s. Las Vascongadas, Castilla la Vieja and Castilla la Nueva! How tactless!

Hankyu Densha: an universe of struggling women on a Kansai railway



Hankyu Densha, based on the homonymous novel by Hiro Arikawa, is a story about solitude, about deceived characters themselves who can’t find a way out of their problems but struggle to get rid of them. Paradoxically, an old and crowded Japanese train marching from Takarazuka to Nishinomiya Kitaguchi station is the setting for the intertwining solitary lives of a thirty-something bride-to-be, just abandoned by her boyfriend; of a school girl who suffers from isolation and incessant bullying by her classmates; of an obaachan (granma) who lives on remembrances from immemorial times; of a college student, victim of her boyfriend’s choleric fits of rage and jealousy; of a pusillanimous housewife trapped in a world of hypocrisy and sense of obligation; of two “otaku” Kwansei Gakuin students completely out of the fashionable and intolerant trend of the Japanese youth’s clothes and sheepish behavior; and of a high-school girl who sees her longed-for dream vanishing and feels guilty.

They all have things in common: they feel lonely, deluded and betrayed. Maybe the most stunning character is the one played by the once-awarded and many times nominated to best actress by the Japanese Academy Miki Nakatani, whose boyfriend justifies his leaving her for another woman –her 後輩! (her more junior colleague)- because she is strong enough to take care of herself but the new (and pregnant) one really needs him; although revenge is best served cold and she forgives them on the condition that she is invited to the wedding.

But this is also a story of solidarity, about people who see themselves in another person’s sufferings. It’s what we call empathy, that concept so well explained by modern neuroscientists through the construct of “mirror neurons”.
Those who are not capable of experiencing empathy are either stupid, or autistic or pathologically selfish and egomaniac.

The characters, one after the other, advice and interfere positively in one another’s lives. And through this process, each of them becomes aware of their own issues.

The message is clear at the end of the movie: as Shoko claims, “世界でいい部分もある”, in the world there are also good things. Let’s go and take them, no worries about impossible dreams and social conventions.

Japanese Halloween, Spanish Conferences and Student Theatre Festivals



Life in Japan might sometimes look a little bit dull but there are moments when there are so many options where to choose from that it’s exactly the opposite, and you feel that your schedule becomes an elastic cord that is going to break sooner or later.

For the Japanese, as well as for the Spanish –I just learnt about the Celtic and Christian origins of the celebration-, Halloween is nothing else than a date in the calendar when they can put on a costume and go out crazy, like in Carnival. In Kyoto, a foreign and local mixed crowd of youngsters and not so young ones go to the Kamo River, to one of the three Irish pubs downtown or to more or less private parties. There are also the big clubs’ parties –World and Metro- and the healthy ones like the salsa-dancing Rumbita, where birthday parties are celebrated with a non-stop-dancing-in-costume ritual for the honoured person.

Last weekend too, the Halloween-celebrating one, the yearly Hispania Gakkai’s Spanish Language, Literature and Culture Conferences was held in Osaka, and there I went, to the University of Kansai, to listen to 20-minute presentations about Don Quijote, Pedro Páramo, Carmen Martín Gaite, Cortázar, surrealism, etc. and to enjoy a banquet with colleagues whom I only meet once or twice a year.

And Sunday was also the starting point for the three-day Student Festival at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, with super entertaining theatre plays. At 10:30, the German club presented Die Bremer Stadtmusukanten, with an almost professional staging and very clear dialogues; and at 13:30, the Spanish club performed El país de las maravillas, a funny and creative mixture of Alice in Wonderland, Red Riding Little Hood, Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote, with some of my former students in the cast and the advice of Isabel la Católica from Palencia. Most of those students have spent the last 3 months meeting and rehearsing daily for the play and a few of them, like Rie and Eriko, cannot avoid crying of emotion and sadness now that everything is over.




Hoy hemos tenido en Kyoto Gaidai al tremendo escritor, profesor de filosofía de instituto de barrio y comunicador nato Eliacer Cansino, que además acaba de ganar el Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil con su última novela “Una habitación en Babel”. Afable, siempre con la sonrisa en los labios y mostrando un interés casi juvenil por todas las cosas suyas y ajenas, en un español clarito y despacito para que se enteraran los estudiantes japoneses, nos ha contado acerca de sus creaciones literarias y su manera de ver el mundo.
Para Eliacer Cansino, la infancia es un momento especial porque en él se puede vivir el presente de forma más plena sin preocupaciones sobre el pasado o el futuro. Además, es cuando se percibe de forma más pura el mensaje de los primeros libros, sin la mirada crítica del lector adulto, que tiende a proyectar su propia vida, imagen y experiencias en ellos. La filosofía y su trabajo de profesor de adolescentes en un instituto de un barrio obrero de Sevilla le han proporcionado material o al menos la inspiración para el libro que le ha valido el prestigioso premio la semana pasada, y que trata sobre la relación entre un profesor y un joven estudiante inmigrante africano en España. Y ese es su actual método de trabajo –responde Eliacer a la pregunta de mi estudiante Satoru-: a partir de un ejemplo concreto o de una anécdota, le sale un libro, con el que intenta transmitir su propuesta moral que supone el valor de la dignidad humana y una cierta esperanza para el futuro; porque los jóvenes deben tener esperanza. Con ello, este filósofo escritor parece huir de los relativismos excesivos y del nihilismo de la sociedad actual.
Pero donde el escritor se ha extendido más ha sido al hablar sobre su obra “El misterio Velázquez”, por el que ya obtuviera el Premio Lazarillo en 1997: ahí se mezclan el trabajo de investigación sobre la época más la libertad del autor para completar los rincones oscuros que los historiadores no han logrado iluminar. Y Cansino le da protagonismo a un personaje ignorado en su tiempo, y lo rescata del olvido mediante la literatura, ya que para él, ésa es una de sus funciones (y con esto el escritor responde a Kumiko).
Su traductora al japonés, Kazumi Uno, traductora también de “Soldados de Salamina” de Javier Cercas, me comenta al final de la conferencia los retos que se ha encontrado para traducir sus libros, especialmente cuestiones de tipo cultural, ya que el público objetivo japonés que leerá esas traducciones necesitará aclaraciones acerca de nuestra sociedad e historia, aclaraciones que Uno prefiere incluir de forma natural en el texto, ya que las notas distraerían al joven lector y no le permitirían sumergirse de lleno en la historia del libro.
Un verdadero placer tener eventos como este en la universidad y poder conocer a personas tan interesantes que te hacen reflexionar sobre las cosas con la mirada de aquel niño que eras hace 25 ó 30 años.

Ihara Saikaku, Ohoku and nowadays’ youngsters



Ihara Saikaku wrote in 1682 what would later become the epitome of the first modern Japanese donjuan, The Life of an Amorous Man (好色一代男 Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko).
At that time, the beginning of the relatively peaceful Tokugawa period, merchants started being more and more influential in the society and Saikaku depicts a flourishing one. But what makes this Japanese literary donjuan called Yonosuke different compared to his Spanish counterparts is precisely his lack of “manliness”, willing to accomplish his sexual desires through male and female prostitutes and the payment of money, and not risking his life for that; in one occasion he even shares a woman one night with another man –a menage a trois!- just to avoid fighting. Can you imagine a Western donjuan acting like that? The openly tolerated bisexuality of the time is depicted perfectly in the book when the narrator gives quantitative data about Yonosuke’s sexual conquests: until the age of 54, he had had respectively 3.742 and 725 female and male lovers.

Ohoku, the movie now showing in main movie theaters in Japan is a history-science-fiction story in a similar historical time (the beginning of the XVIII century) with a promising although not a really verisimilar plot: there is an epidemic in Japan that affects only men, and women end up becoming the ones in control of the military, etc. The female shogun keeps a harem from which she must chose the most beautiful and powerful man to become the father of her heiress. Well, the movie is basically about this sword and manners training harem and the homosexual relations among the beautiful samurais themselves, who look more like frivolous ladyboys than samurais, fighting with each other to be the cutest one, like in a hosto san TV drama. Of course, in the end the chosen one is the baby-face Mizuno –the actor’s name is Kazunari Ninomiya, alias Nino chan, who happens to be a celebrity in Japan in spite of his incompetence as for acting-, the only one who rejects the homosexual advances, not without a little bit of ambiguity. I think that this movie will disgust young Japanese female groupies at the same degree as it will also inspire still-in-the-closet Japanese males. But for sure, it will become a cult movie for the Gay world.

Apart from science-history-fiction movies, the bisexuality of samurais in that time is a historical fact not really known or accepted by the present and openly homophobic Japanese society. In the movie theater, a young crowd started emitting strange sounds of disappointment at the most explicit scenes, although since It’s Japan and not Brazil –I love Brazil, by the way-, nobody whistled. I wonder what will they answer when they be asked about the movie –I’ll try in class tomorrow.

Although movies are movies, and real life is a different thing, when I enter a restroom and find a queue of university male students standing in front of the mirror setting up their hair in public for more that 5 minutes before going back to class, I cannot avoid thinking that the world of frivolity depicted in the movie is not as far as many of those students might think.

Slumdog Millionaire at Ritsumeikan University



A man with a fast and precise talk, the diplomat and eventually writer Vikas Swarup came to Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, on Monday at the request of the tireless and persevering English teacher Andrew Dowling. In spite of the unusual of the occasion, very few Japanese professors and/or administrators attended Mr. Swarup’s lecture about his book –turned into a Hollywood-awarded movie- and India (maybe they were at one of those long meetings they like to celebrate in the evenings). But, anyway, around one hundred and fifty students were able to listen to and meet the celebrity. I’m not sure how much of the diplomat’s polished English did they even understand, but for sure it must have been a good experience for them.
He talked about the process of writing –supported by an “absent wife”- when in London in an astonishing short two-month period; about the publishing; and about the adaptation into a successful movie (even before the book had been for sale).
The questions about his own life –not belonging to the slums but depicting them in his novel- as a middle class educated Indian man, and about the use of English to show characters who speak in different Indian languages and dialects were answered by him with frankness and humility: his objective is not to explain complex Indian society but just to tell a story and entertain the readers.
The part of the lecture when he addressed India’s economy, culture and growing political weight in the world sounded more of a boring diplomat’s politically-correct speech than an intellectual’s opinion, but even though, when he talked about the novel, its characters and the movie themselves, it was well worth it. Thanks, Andrew, and happy birthday.

Blog at WordPress.com.


Just another WordPress.com site


Literatura, opinión y otros habaneceres, porque habanecer es una perspectiva, un estado de ánimo, un vicio de la memoria