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"If I commit suicide with someone, I'd like it to be you" - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:11 am
"If I commit suicide with someone, I'd like it to be you"

1. This is the trailer for a new Japanese romcom coming out in April, My Darling is a Foreigner. It looks harmless enough:



2. The trailer made me think back to the very different -- and much less positive -- way Japanese-Westerner relationships are represented in a french film made forty years ago, Domicile Conjugal (Bed and Board), the fourth in François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series, released in 1970.



3. The film is up on YouTube in its entirety, so I watched it again. The relevant part of the plot begins at the end of the fifth slice, when Antoine (played by the beautiful, mime-like Jean-Pierre Léaud) is visited at his absurd job (directing model ships around a pond by remote control) by a rich Japanese family; a burly businessman and his wife and daughter (both dressed in kimonos). Antoine is given the job of accompanying Kyoko, the daughter, to the bathroom. They fall -- silently, like two mimes -- for each other, and Kyoko drops her bracelet into the pond deliberately, so that Antoine will have to return it in person.



4. Now, Domicile Conjugal is a great film -- I love Truffaut's lightness of touch, his combination of charm and realism -- but Kyoko is not a great character. As far as representations of Japanese women on the screen go, she actually makes Kissy Suzuki, the double agent in the 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice, look well-rounded. Kyoko (played by the slightly-too-old Hiroko Berghauer, announced in the titles as "Mademoiselle Hiroko", and never seen on movie screens again) is, frankly, bizarre, a bore and a bitch; both stereotypical and weird, gracious and rude.



5. This is a romantic comedy, so stereotypes are forgivable, especially in the secondary characters. Kyoko draws on the 19th century imagery of Madame Butterfly, of course -- Antoine's wife Christine calls her that at one point, and even dresses up in a Butterfly-ish Japanese costume when she finds out about the affair. But could she also draw on the late-1960s stereotypology of Yoko Ono?



6. There are parallels. Released a year after The Beatles released their breakup single The Ballad of John and Yoko, Domicile Conjugal shows Kyoko breaking up Antoine and Christine. Christine finds out about the affair when some paper phrases -- half-Fluxus, half-Shinto -- pop out of a bouquet of flowers Kyoko has given Antoine. KYOKO LOVES ANTOINE, SHE IS CALLED KYOKO AND SHE LOVES YOU, COME WHEN YOU CAN BUT CAN SOON, SHE SAYS GOOD NIGHT AND THINKS OF ANTOINE, they say. Later, when Antoine's disinterest in Kyoko becomes too obvious, Kyoko also uses a note to tell Doinel to go fuck himself. It's written in Japanese on a piece of coloured paper, for all the world like a Yoko Ono instruction painting. ("Make three phonecalls to your wife. Return to your table. Examine my empty chair. Go fuck yourself.")



7. Kyoko is kooky, obsessional, determined, bitchy, rich, spoiled, aesthetic. She's living in France, but stays locked within her own culture, alternating kimonos with sexy black leather mini-skirts. She shares her apartment with Maki, a Japanese roommate Kyoko pretty much throws out onto the street when she wants to seduce Antoine over dinner. Sexually predatory, she lunges (amidst spooky pseudo-oriental music by Antoine Duhamel) to kiss Doinel when he delivers her lost bracelet.



8. Kyoko's Japanese lifestyle presents little interest or pleasure to Antoine. Although we see him lying in bed with Christine reading a tome entitled Japanese Women, Kyoko's apartment -- scattered with floor cushions, decorated with wind-chimes, ukiyo-e prints, a huge low-hanging paper lantern, and a groovy1970-style kotatsu table -- presents him only with discomfort (he keeps his shoes on and can't find a comfortable sitting position), and the Japanese food she serves seems to hold more horror than delight for him.



9. Kyoko soon begins to frighten Antoine with weird, fanatical utterances: "If I commit suicide with someone," she tells him, "I'd like it to be you" (this statement is followed by a dramatic chord on the soundtrack, part samurai movie, part horror film). When she isn't suggesting self-harm, Kyoko is boring Antoine to death by sitting silently, spinning meals out longer than he can bear, making him smile silently so long he gets lockjaw. Soon he escapes back to his wife.



10. Now, I very much doubt that My Darling is a Foreigner will trade in imagery anywhere near as negative and xenophobic as this. Imagine the Japanese film showing its American character as a kooky, unscrupulous fanatic, and the trans-cultural relationship as boring and doomed! From the trailer, it seems that the script of My Darling is a Foreigner concentrates, instead, on the happy couple's righteous struggle to overcome the prejudices of elderly family members.



11. My Darling is a Foreigner is clearly a nicer film, gentler in its treatment of its characters, and much more like the kind of scenario we'd all like to be living out in our cross-cultural relationships. I very much doubt, however, whether it's a better film; despite its unkindness to Kyoko and its very old-fashioned pessimism about cross-cultural relationships, Truffaut's film is artistically very strong indeed.



12. But Truffaut, with his portrayal of Kyoko, may have muddied his image in Japan. All the Japanese people I know love Godard; now I think about it, I've never heard one mention Truffaut. If they talk about Jean-Pierre Léaud, it's for his role in La Chinoise, or the darker, more complex, more obscure films of Jean Eustache.

60CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 09:25 am (UTC)

Cooky, as in very into cooking? Or is kooky the word you're looking for?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 09:50 am (UTC)

gaijin are loud and frantic! lolz


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:02 am (UTC)

Momus, you are a douchebag and an asshole.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:09 am (UTC)

If I commit suicide with someone, I'd like it to be you, internet!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:26 am (UTC)

Momus, who is your all-time favourite French homosexual Jew?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:37 am (UTC)

That's easy.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:32 am (UTC)

I would love to roll your large uncut penis around in my mouth. I don't care if you're old, I think your ageing warhouse would eventually respond to my lingual caresses, stiffening until full penetration was a possibility. Please do not leave the blogging world Momus, but if you do, I will look forward to whatever you do, and I will fantasise about your prodigious engine, seeping its white stains.

love & lingual kisses
Mitsuko Saito


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:43 am (UTC)

Jeez, do you Japanese Viagra spammers never give up?


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realrealgone
realrealgone
realrealgone
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:52 am (UTC)

where are all the movies about Japanese men with Western women?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 11:06 am (UTC)

We looked at that question (via some YouTube videos on the subject) here.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)

One major difference between the two films is the time gap of forty years.

Subtle and unsubtle prejudices exist in all cultures, and it might be hard to take the prejudice of a Japanese film with the title, "I Married a Foreigner!!!!!!!" seriously in some ways, because it's all very kawaii, etc., but speaking personally, I do at least find it annoying.

Having said that, the Western media still manages to get away with stereotypes of the Japanese that would be considered outrageous in relation to other races.

(PS. I'm not reacting purely to the title of the film. I've read some of the original comic strips that it's based on, and they revolved around cute petite Japanese girl whining that her boyfriend doesn't understand Japanese things, and that it's so hard when your daarin is a foreigner. Not exactly ultra right wing nationalism, but, still, irritating.)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Doubutsu?

He's a big ole bear!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 01:14 pm (UTC)

By the way, the book Antoine is seen reading in bed, Les Femmes Japonaises, is fictional. It's by one Elizabeth B. Dufourcq. Since this is a made-up name, and made-up names often contain in-jokes or clues (even outside Chris Morris productions), I wonder if we can tease some meaning from the name. I can suggest two possible patterns:

1. "Fourcq" suggests "fork" (fourche, fourchette), which summons a whole imagery of red forked tongues and devil's forks. The book's colour scheme is also red and white. So Japanese women are being seen as evil temptresses.

2. "B du fourcq" could also read as "option B at the fork", or Plan B. The Japanese woman is an alternative route Antoine can take at this important fork in his life, and the plot.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)

If the book and author are fictional, Amazon doesn't seem to be in on the joke, nor does Wikipedia:

http://www.amazon.fr/Elisabeth-B-Dufourcq-Femmes-japonaises/dp/B0014X466G/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1265205448&sr=1-3

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lisabeth_Dufourcq


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)

Some recent British references have been interesting. Mr Amis, who fears a world where men have to do 50% of the housework, according to Newsnight. (Hasn't it happened already?) The patriarchal and favouritist Waugh family. Still a generation where female = domestic = surrogate mums. Still shocking when it comes from educated people. Perhaps cultural references swing around neonatal positions. The comedy of difference between classes and cultures might boil down to “do foreign women make Good Mum or Bad Mum? Let's decide..”


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)

Well, it goes without saying that if I mention an Amis or a Waugh or even a Larkin here or there, I'm not necessarily endorsing their views or positions. They're all deeply conservative figures.

Amis calls himself a feminist, by the way, and says Gloria Steinem converted him to the cause "in a single day":

"I've been a passionate feminist since the mid-80s," he says. "It was Gloria Steinem who converted me in a single day in New York. It's the rhetorical device she uses throughout, and it's very effective: she just reverses the sexes – what if men menstruated, what if men had babies? It's unanswerable."


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
L'Amour en fuite

Loved Les 400 Coups. Loved Baisers volés probably even more. Liked Domicile conjugal, but nowhere near as much as the first two Doinel features.

Is the final one (L'Amour en fuite) worth a look?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: L'Amour en fuite

I haven't seen it, but it's all up on YouTube too.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)

Truffaut has, by increments, slipped in my estimation over the past few years.
His tendency to over-simplify, present slightly ridiculous situations as 'cinematic realism' and a curiously consistent inability to create believable female characters get my goat - Domicile Conjugal and Jules et Jim both being cases in point.
The character of Kyoko is as you say "Frankly bizarre, a bore and a bitch; both stereotypical and weird, gracious and rude."
Meanwhile the character of Catherine in Jules et Jim fails to evince the enigma which she is purported to possess, certainly not to the degree to provoke that level of juvenile obsession in two grown men
Finally many of Truffaut's films tend to pride technique over narrative, I couldn't care less about wipes, dolly-shots or nods-to-cinematic-heritage if the film is being posited as narrative-driven and fails to deliver an engaging story.
I still very much like Les Quatre Cent Coups however, whilst La Nuit Américane is my favourite from his filmography.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Feb. 7th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)

"Finally many of Truffaut's films tend to pride technique over narrative, I couldn't care less about wipes, dolly-shots or nods-to-cinematic-heritage"

Then go read.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)

Momus, since we are coming to the end of our time together, could I ask you some questions that I have always meant to ask, but never did? None are important or vital, actually they are all rather banal, being random thoughts I have had over the years while reading Click Opera.

1) Your abhorrence of automobiles has been well documented in these pages, but I've always wondered, what kind of car would a momus drive if a momus would drive car?


2) could you give us some examples of the images you use for your desktop pictures?

3) When you begin to search for something on the internet, do you just google and follow the links where they lead? For instance, let's say Cy Twombly was an artist that you weren't familiar with and you wanted info on him, how would you proceed?

4) Did you ever play ping pong when you were growing up?

5) what kind of music did your brother and sister listen to when you were kids?

6) Would you give me your critique of this song (album version). Frank tiger please. They were one of my favorites when I was in my 20s, but you won't hurt my feelings if you despise it.

7) you once mentioned an album by a Japanese artist that consisted entirely of the sound of raindrops falling into water bottles. I can't find the link now, could you give me more info?

8) Often I will come across something and think to myself, this is totally momus. I realize that CO is a constant (amazing) stream of recommended artists, writers musicians, but in as much as you have "known" me through my comments etc..., could you recommend say 2 books, 2 albums, and 2 movies that you think would be for me? right up my alley as they say.




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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)

1.

2.

3. Yes, I just google. For a visual artist I might also check Artfacts.net, image search, look on ubu.com, search video, etc.

4. In fact 1997 was a big Ping Pong year for me; I had a table in my London flat, as well as having an album titled after the game. Later, in 2005, I used lots of ping pong sounds in this remix.

5. My sister: Grease soundtrack and Kim Wilde. My brother: Peter Frampton and Status Quo. I tried, with some success, to change their tastes, inculcating in my brother a love of Talking Heads and Elvis Costello.

6. I'll quote Paul Westerberg himself here: "You can't come in and just let your first impressions lead you. Because your first impression will be of a band that doesn't play real well, is very loud, and might be drunk."

7. Toshiya Tsunoda.

8. Well, you have pretty great taste already, I'd say -- you've introduced me to some amazing things via the videos you've posted! But just based on the Replacements song, you might like The Only Ones:


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
you really do sound 50

the japanese character is "a bore and a bitch"? i guess because she doesn't suit your tastes for the ditzy, infantile, pouty, peace-sign throwing lolita japanese girls...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: you really do sound 50

No, because Truffaut's script establishes her as those things by showing her boring Antoine in the restaurant and chucking Maki out of the flat. Her harsh words to Maki are clearly intended to establish her as unsympathetic in the eyes of the audience, rather as your harsh words here would if you were a character in a film.


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)

hmm,m,

well, who else gets such bad treatment?
This might be the most evil sterotyped drama to burn a vibrant full spectrum image on the silverscreen.... but what do you think about Avatar... just another thin veil shrouding the 'other' with mystic fluff... (and what happens? the white man saves the day ..AGIAN? give me a break) I'm not even going to see it... sorry. Titanic.... (one word)
seriously 3D can go fuck itsself.... I'll wait.

so movies drawn on personal experiences and culture's ah, statiques that exist at the moment... more then we like to think.
Perhaps he had a bad experience with one of those oh so pretty but 'imposible' Japanese girls...
more then likely part of the simple answer.

Godard is amazing. Thats why they like him... He was one of the main jumping off points for Japanese 'modern' newwave cinema... woo hoo!!!!


Momus... I have a question for you as well.... do you think the next time you are in America... We could hang out...
get a few drinks and then [you] blow a wad of your best stuff deep in my arse... siphon it out with a straw (or what ever, you know?) and make me eat it from your mouth?
then cuddle for a bit?


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)

I don't know if you meant that as a reply to me or not milky eyes, but ewww gross... you kiss your mother with that mouth?


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kuporo_s
kuporo_s
Eugene
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC)

Jean-Pierre Léaud is my all-time favourite actor. have you got Facebook?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)

hello momus
what are your favorite books about japan? i ask because i really like your perspective on japan vs people like marxy or people whose only point of reference comes from a very limited scope like otaku culture. i only know you like mishima yukio


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 08:05 am (UTC)

of course he likes mishima; he was a woman-hating, right-wing nutjob.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
death of butterfly


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ohayo_sakura
ohayo_sakura
sleepy chan
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 02:06 am (UTC)

hahah great post.

please don't stop blogging!


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mrobot
mrobot
Ben
Thu, Feb. 4th, 2010 04:45 am (UTC)

murakami mentions truffaut in 'kafka on the shore' so, i assume that's at least one japanese person with a boner for truffaut


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