The Voyeur’s Motel in Osaka

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The Voyeur’s Motel: A non-fictional novel about the work of a self-made sex researcher?  The chronicle of a deranged egomaniac’s lucubrations? Gay Talese presents us this peculiar character, Gerald Foos, who spent more than two decades peeping into his various guests’ sexual lives. Last Sunday we discussed about the veracity of the stories  throughout the book; about the moral implications of Foos’ behavior and our complicity as voyeur-readers; about Talese’s role as Foos’ diary’s editor; and about many more things included in this podcast:

 

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KOREAN DETECTIVE STORIES AND MADRID IN THE 80’S

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Americans have their Philip Marlowe; Spaniards, Pepe Carvalho; Italians, Salvo Montalbano; Brazilians, Remo Bellini; Mexicans, Héctor Belascoarán Shayne; Japanese, Imanishi; Greeks, Kostas Jaritos; Chileans, Heredia; and Koreans, since 2008’s movie The Chaser, have Jung-Ho, an ex-police officer turned into a pimp investigating the vanishing of three of “his girls”. A psychopath kidnaps prostitutes, kills and buries them in a garden. This is not a spoiler: from almost the beginning of the film, we know the assassin; so do the police and Jung-Ho, and even have him under arrest. They are just looking for the corpses and the last kidnapped call-girl who could still be alive. There is a mixture of extreme violence and melodrama in this Korean action movie, both condiments so appreciated by East-Asian audiences. The aggressive detective swings between his dark side as a professional extortioner and his more caring face taking care of an orphan child. Behind all that is his feeling of guilt for exploiting the young women. But there are no limits –either moral or legal- for him in this politically incorrect movie. In the background of an exciting suspense there is a story of redemption and a mental fight inside Jung-Ho’s ethical consciousness: who is worse, the assassin who dismembers the girls or the pimp who exploits them to death? Doesn’t he see himself in the young psychopath’s behavior?

Other interesting aspects of Korean society are also shown here, such as gender relations, organized crime, the reaction of the police and even politics: everything happening in a gray and impersonal Seoul.

Last night, El crack 2 (1982) was shown on the Spanish TV, and its detective Germán Areta (interpreted by the popular until-then comedian Alfredo Landa but after the two films, the toughest actor in Spanish cinema) shares with Jung-Ho his self-confidence in front of young thugs and his intelligence, although his style is more contained, compared to the Korean detective’s excessive and gratuitous violence. It’s been only 30 years since Garci’s movie but the Madrid that is depicted there as another character, looks centuries old: billiards in Atocha, black and red taxis, Galerias Preciados, old-fashioned apartment houses, panoramic views of a city always changing, including the Gran Via, especially the Gran Via.

“Thanks for sharing”: compulsive behavior and sex-addiction

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Most diagnosis manuals of psychopathology consider a mental disease as such when it interferes seriously with the person’s normal life and subjectively causes him/her problems; however, when it comes to sex, there is more controversy in the psychiatric bibles. In the case of the film Thanks for sharing, Neil’s sex-addiction sends him to court for rubbing himself against a woman’s buttocks in New York city’s subway before losing his job in a hospital for filming his female boss’s legs with a hidden camera and getting caught; for not to mention his compulsive masturbation and his lack of ‘conventional’ social life. I guess we can consider that a pretty good life-interfering. Most psychology manuals of behavior modification for addicts also put emphases on prevention and avoidance of tempting stimulus, so in his sex-addict group meetings, this self-cheating character is recommended not to use Internet or even take the subway. I would definitely recommend this guy –if he existed outside of a film- not to go to Japan, where miniskirts and pornography are ubiquitous and where chikan salarymen (痴漢サラリーメン) or even reputed professors also lose their jobs because of groping or mirror-panty-peeping in the subway.

In the movie, there is also the softer case of a successful high executive in his early 40’s, Adam, who finds difficult to establish a healthy relationship (with Gwyneth Paltrow!) after a 5-year soberness from a problematic womanizing behavior and an addictive prostitute-hiring: whatever form of sex reminds him of his previous uncontrolled life and he fears that an intense sexual sensation might trigger his falling again into the abyss of desire. In his case, he even avoids TV and laptops to keep his addiction under control. These characters are not far from real life, affecting even –and especially- famous people: when I knew of David Duchovny’s sex addiction, I realized how much he was himself in the funny TV-series Kalifornication.

It is unavoidable that Thanks for sharing –creatively translated into Spanish as Amor sin Control, no comments- brings to mind the celebrated 1998’s Happiness, a masterpiece showing the uncomfortable North America’s dark side of sexual life. However, this recent one is a bit more optimistic and closer to a Hollywood romantic comedy with funny buddies. Tim Robins, with a magnetic and verisimilar acting as usual, in the role of a failed father and ex-addict, gives the movie a more serious touch and his character puts it this way: “To quit this is like quitting crack with a pipe attached to your body”. Dede, a female minor character, also unable to relate with men without having sex with them, explains her point: “I have sex when I’m sad; or bored; or tired”.

HER: In love with an OS

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Evolutionary biologists tend to think of human feelings as a complex and evolved elaboration of animal instincts. Our powerful brains would have given us the possibility of developing cognitive nuances for specific physical and neurological activations shot by hormones; we just create a cultural narrative for those feelings, the same way we do with art, literature, religion…The romantic view of the human being as a semi-god of supernatural inspiration and genius, same as our capacity to love, is erased by neurologists who claim that almost everything in the brain is programmed in our genes somehow well before birth in order to survive to be able procreate. That includes feeling the way we do, even if we believe to be voluntarily in control of our behavior and destiny (see Gazzaniga 1998).

Spike Jonze’s film Her, recently released in Brazil as Ela, deals with a near future when computers’ and cell-phones’ Operative Systems are able to have understand feelings and learn from experience, adopting a specific personality and interacting in a natural way with human beings. His view is an aseptic dystopia where people stop having direct relationships with one another to find in digital mechanisms the solution to their emotional needs. A world with an ubiquitous presence of technology make up for an extremely individualistic society with everybody only interested in talking and not listening, egocentric personality traits recognizable nowadays and often strengthened due to social network websites, etc.

Other films such as Simone (2002) and Splice (2009) had already treated the theme of Pygmalion from a futuristic point of view, but they hadn’t gone so far as Her to go and dig into our deepest and most personal emotions related to loneliness and wish. Samantha, the OS bought by personal-letter writer Theodore, gets adapted to him in no time, creating strong bonds between themselves. An initially unbalanced relationship –she fulfilling all her needs, whether professional, intellectual, emotional or sexual- follows the pattern of a more ordinary one, with both of them alternatively suffering from jealousy and low self-esteem. The OS system wonders what is like to have a physical body, being mortal, grow, fall in love…and tries to compensate it finding another person who will become a corporeal intermediary between her and Theodore, starting a creative mute menage à trois mediated by earpieces controlled by the OS.

In one of the most thoughtful dialogues in the movie, which recalls Kubrick’s 2001, Samantha discusses with Theodore what’s the difference between her feelings and his, since she has been programmed for that the same way nature programmed him. The conversation goes even beyond when she states that every 2 seconds human beings as well as OSs become different entities, emerging the idea of the unstable identity of an individual along time.

Many philosophical and scientific issues to reflect about present in this “romantic” SF film (in the line of Mr. Nobody), with an impeccable and unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role and Scarlett Johansson’s voice as intelligent OS Samantha.

Sex, Québécois truths and Brazilian love comedies

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From misogynistic sex to a politically-correct idea of love in the context of family: Three male friends from Rio de Janeiro in their mid-thirties get together every night in a bar to drink beer and talk about sex, women and their frustrated relationships with them. That’s why the most usual sentence among them is E ai…Comeu? (So…did you get laid?). Fernando’s girlfriend just abandoned him leaving behind only 31 pairs of shoes, and he starts feeling tempted by his attractive neighbor, a 17-year-old college student. Honorio has a routine family life with three children and feels distanced from his wife but he becomes obsessed with the idea that she is being unfaithful to him. Fonsinho is a failed writer and a rich daddy’s son whose relationships with women are always monetary. A comedy with no pretensions that has been adapted from the theater.

Much deeper and more interesting is this 1986’s Québécois movie showed the other day in La 2 Spanish TV about a group of intellectuals and the conversations concerning their sexual life:  Le déclin de l’empire américain, by Denys Arcand. A group of middle-age men and women recall in a festive atmosphere and with an attitude of revival their opinions and frustrations related to love and sex, showing alternatively emotional helplessness and the joy of life.

Corazza and his boys: psychodrama and massage at Conde Duque Cultural Center

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A pleasant and revealing but at the same time exhausting three-hour experience: to attend a class by reputed and controversial theatre director Juan Carlos Corazza. The bare-foot male and female students receive us emitting nasal and guttural sounds with the sight lost in the infinite, like sect members meditating in a never-ending introspection. Once the mystical music is over, 20 youngsters dreaming to become theater and movie stars come back to life and Corazza explains to the audience the meaning of this open exhibition of his school’s 4th year student’s training session.

They start performing Lorca’s Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) in pairs. He interrupts them, correcting here and there, questions them, massages their shoulders, puts a hand on I-don’t-know-which chakra, places someone from outside of the scene in front of a promising actress to make her feel something, so that she can project her own excitement into the scene and repeat it ad nauseam. Further on, with Chekhov’s Seagull, he will confront and embrace an actor for half a minute to extract tears from his touched face.

Corazza applies Stanislavsky’s method to his own style and personality, most times flooding the stage with his huge and eager-to-be-worshipped ego, but undoubtedly getting unprecedented performances from the student actors and actresses. He makes them explore the dramatic texts’ hermeneutical nuances using their own intern conflicts, as a form of reverse psychodrama. As an expected Argentinian theater man, Adler and Gestalt practical psychology mixed with Freudian psychoanalytical delirious ideas about the trauma theory enters his professorial speech, and, the same way homeopathic medicaments cure without having been empirically proven or Scientology blends subjective science and SF to save people’s souls in the Earth, he actually improves his students’ performing quality.

From the outside, someone could argue that he plays favorites, disregarding the average and unattractive ones and promoting nasty competition, as in a theater Spanish version of Fame, but, in the end, that’s the way the world works, isn’t it?

ORANUS, the new Russia

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Does advertisement work the same way in all countries? Do publicity messages reach people regardless of nationality and culture? Are we just puppets in the hands of publicists? Victor Pelevin’s hilarious novel Homo Zapiens (Generation п) deals with the matter in a creative way: a post-Communist Russia is entering the Western world of consumism through TV commercials that must be adjusted to the Russian zeitgeist, as a way of approaching Uncle Sam to Lenin. Babylen Tatarsky, the protagonist, coming from the Institute of Literature and with the help of hallucinogenic fly-agaric mushrooms and a Ouija board, becomes an advertising creative and discovers a world where “Identification of the self is only possible through the compilation of a list of goods consumed, and transformation is only possible by means of a change in the list”, ORANUS, and where nothing or nobody is what/who looks like, especially on TV.

There is also a recent film adaptation and here is the trailer.

Amour

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“C’est beau la vie, si long temps, la longe vie”, Anne says when looking at the photo album of her childhood and youth. By that moment, her illness is already a gradual inescapable reality; she has lost mobility in the right side of her body and tried, with not much decision, to kill herself. But Georges, the other hero in this film, the one who caresses and takes care of her, even fighting himself against his own debilitating age, scolds her and asks her what she would do in case she were in his situation. The painful drama of illness and deterioration in old age is aggravated when we are aware of the intellectual level of the couple, she a former piano teacher, maybe a soloist herself, he a well-educated and lettered intelligent man. Georges, with his nightmares and his visions in the form of flashbacks though the listening of the music, plus the obvious deterioration of the old woman, show in the film the passing of time, with which the old couple has lost total contact. He feels secure in his routines with her and her ups and downs, until he has to confront reality and decides to act in consequence.

Haneke’s mastery at expressing feelings with long sequence-scenes, conversations and noises out of the range of the camera, and above all, silences –as in his previous and applauded Caché-, creates an emotional universe which belongs to the couple, locked in the old but luxurious apartment in Paris and only disrupted by the sporadic visits of the daughter –gorgeous as always Isabelle Huppert as the distant and emotionally weak daughter-, other friends of the family and the inevitable nurses, one of them rude and abusive.

This movie is a reflection about aging, illness and about how difficult is to accept one’s or the beloved ones’ physical decline. It is also a complaint about the role of the elderly in a society which neglects them, and a proposal to launch a debate about euthanasia as a way of a dignified death.

Junichiro’s uncertainties of a lesbian love

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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.

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING A HOUSEWIFE A.K.A. BETTER A PROSTITUTE THAN A SUBMISSIVE SHUFU

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Or, at least, that’s the message that director Shion Sono seems to be sending to the audience in his previous to last film 恋の罪 Guilty of romance, recently at Japanese movie theaters and which was presented in Cannes last May. This time, too, we get the usual share of sex and violence, which his filmography overflows with, apart from some more notes of the bizarre, including Clockwork-Orange aesthetics, balloons of pink ink exploding against naked bodies performing sex, an insane, ceremonious and coarse おばあちゃん grandma, and school-girl mannequins hiding a dismembered human body.

But the really interesting thing about this movie is the depiction of an extreme master-slave relationship in the form of a marriage: former idol Megumi Kagurazaka turned Shion Sono’s iconic actress performs the housewife’s everyday perfect routine of preparing tea with pathological precision, placing the husband’s slippers at the entrance at the millimeter, waiting mutely and frozen next to him for his next order while he is reading, candidly soliciting from him permission to execute oral sex when he pleases so, and so on; everything with the fear of making one day a mistake and suffering a psychological punishment by the egocentric and authoritarian writer that Izumi has for a husband. All this might seem completely unreal but I couldn’t avoid thinking about a young co-worker of mine, who quit her job at 26 to become the 主婦 shufu homemaker of a man she hardly knew in Tokyo, and whose main duty became to prepare 3 different お弁当 box lunches for her strict husband’s day and to make sure that everything at home suited his short-tempered personal taste. That’s why I felt a strange feeling of déjà vu when seeing those scenes.

Going back to the movie, in a surprising but unavoidable turning point of the story, it comes what wouldn’t have an easy justification by any feminist theory but which seems to be a revealing lesson for housewife Izumi: the rediscovery of her own body as a sexual magnet for men, not as a symbol of masculine depravity and female degradation but, on the contrary, as one of psychological liberation from her oppressive marriage. It’s especially memorable her scene in front of the mirror practicing naked the offer of sausage free samples to imaginary clients for her part-time job at the supermarket: いらっしゃいませ。試食いかがですか?美味しいですよ!

The next step into prostitution for Izumi will come from the hand of a female university professor, Makoto, with a multiple-personality disorder due to a too predictable childhood trauma which seems a too literal reading from out-of-fashion Freud. She introduces Izumi to the flourishing world of デリヘル delivery health in the Shibuya district of the 1990’s and lectures her with a particular motto: “恋がなければセックスをしたらお金を取れ If you have sex without love, ask for money”.

The triple theme of the film -marriage, sex and infidelity- is rounded, as in a Natsuo Kirino’s novel, by a third character, Kazuko, a police-woman who brings suspense to the film in the form of a third-person limited narrator. Schizophrenically tough at work and affectionate at home, she keeps a secret third life herself, too.

The world of Japanese housewives is an endless source of ideas for this director but it also prompts social debates in Japanese society about the convenience of this institution, close to extinction due to the economic situation –fewer and fewer families can economically afford to have a no-money-making spouse-. Housewives portray the most traditional Japan –some would call it backward- and they can give rise to harmony and happiness in a family or to a repression magazine about to explode. Shion Sono shows us that second possibility.

Recently, I had dinner in Osaka with a young couple soon to be husband and wife. They told me about the 結納 yuino or engagement ceremony that had taken place the previous month at the bride’s home. Apart from a diamond engagement ring costing as much as 750.000 yen, the groom had to give her future wife 1 million yen as a symbol of the pass of the woman from one family to the other, as if a purchase would be taking place. Astonished as I was, they claimed the celebration to be a custom still popular in Japan, and carried out in at least one third of nowadays’ weddings. Her sister would later tell me how much she wished the couple happiness forever and ever, although she also contemplated the possibility that the bride would end up bored of a monotonous life indoors. At one point, alone with the groom for a few minutes, half-jokingly and with a considerable lack of tact from my part, I told him that after the diamond, the 結納金 betrothal money and the apartment he had just started paying, getting divorced would be out of the question. Trying not to show his evident discomfort, he answered dryly: “僕は離婚しない I won’t get divorced”. Good for him. I just hope his young and lovely wife doesn’t become one of Shion Sono’s characters.

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