MML Traffic #88 for week 3 - March

By Lawrence Lin


Table Of Contents Mailing List Stats For This Week

We looked at 48 posts by 31 different contributors.

Introduction

    Yes, I'm falling. . . and I can't get up! What do I have to show for a two-week delay? One thread. A big thread. Enjoy!

1. When Fan Service Isn't

(24 posts ): Spirited rating [was "Re: [NAUSICAA] Disney'sBottom Line"], Moshimoshi, Doktor Freud ?

One massive thread that dominated the week (and most of next week) came from a comment by Mike Arnold, "As I've mentioned here before I've read several Japanese critics who find the use of girls in Miyazaki's stories disturbing at times. A few interviews I've read with Japanese animators and producers have mentioned vague things about Miyazaki's 'interests.' One of the writers in a recent publication on Sen even called Miyazaki perverse and a pedophile. . . Sen does contain one scene that shows a bit of 'skin,' but a lot depends on how you want to interpret that. If Miyazaki does have a particular "gaze" towards girls though it probably wouldn't be limited to nude scenes."

Mike's comments caused Zurui Chibi to reply, "Wow, reviewers across the world will have a hard time searching (and finding) worse. . . There are reviewers that seek sex in everything they see, and especially the unspeakably revolting pedophilia (if you can find it, you hold the movie and the author by the throat).

About the (in)famous bath scene in Totoro... when I saw it in a theater (two years ago), of course the scene was screened, and no one said anything (there were mostly young children with their parents). So I'd like to know : did a significant percentage of reviewers worry about this scene, wether in Japan or in the rest of the world? I don't remember that (in France), anyone said anything about this, although Europe is now quite itchy about such things."

Hanno Mueller wrote, "Just my subjective view - even as a fan of his movies...

I *did* wonder in Kiki why it featured so many "wind blows up dress and reveals underwear" scenes. . . And in Nausicaa, was it necessairy to feature *this* perspective when she's flying? There's even an FAQ entry that explains that she's not naked...

I dunno. But yes, back then when I first saw these movies I did notice these things and I was mildly put off by them..."

Noah Selsby fired off, "The lesson I've learned from that (and of some people's interpretations of Miyazaki's movies) is that people see what they want to see. I can't help but thinking that those who see pedophelia in such things are somehow looking for it, or at least have it somewhere in the consciousness (not to say that they ARE pedophiles, but rather to say that they are conscious of it and perhaps fear it, be it because it attracts or repells them).

Needless to say, this sort of thing really gets my blood boiling because that the one thing that Miyazaki captures for me is a certain innocence of childhood that we loose when we become aware of such horrible things. To accuse him of such hidden meaning is a bastardization beyond words."

Michael Wojcik replied, "Are you sure you're not just seeing what you want to see?

Mike's message probably wasn't clear for people who haven't been following his recent notes. His fifth-grade class of *Japanese students in Japan* was embarassed by the bathing scene. While you could certainly argue that "cultural differences" between a group of Japanese fifth-graders today and Miyazaki's intended audience in 1988 are to blame, that makes any sort of general cultural-differences argument rather complicated and hard to sustain. Certainly the "only in America" goes out the window.

Do I think Miyazaki is a pedophile? No - but I don't have any evidence for that belief; it's just the usual assumption of goodness I grant to other people. Do I think his interest in children is worthy of comment and analysis? Sure."

David Athay wrote, "What 5th grader isn't embarassed by the human body these days? Particularly in front of peers who are also embarassed. If it had been a class room filled with college students I might give it more meaning but 5th graders?

The funny thing is that this is a scene that plays itself out nightly at my in-laws home in downtown Tokyo. My brother in-law is responsible for giving the children their nightly bath and as such is in the bath tub with them each night."

Joe Monson added, "I should also point out that families bathing together (in Japan) was much, MUCH more common in the 1950's (when Totoro is set) than it is today."

Michael sent back, "it's precisely this kind of assertion without evidence that tends to characterize this sort of discussion. David Athay just posted an anecdote arguing the other case (his brother-in-law sits with the children in the bath - not an extraordinary practice in my experience either). Which is actually "typical"?

But again this is entirely beside the point. It's not a question of what people actually do, or what they did in the period in which the film is set; it's one of whether the reactions of audiences today to a particular scene are governed by some kind of cultural generality like "Americans are hung up about sex". No one has yet produced any decent argument against Mike's claim that such generalizations are bunk."

At this point the thread is heading off in many directions. I'll quote Mike Arnold again then move to one of those "threads inside a thread" that is directly connected to Miyazaki's works. Really!

Anyhow, here's Mike, "I've seen questions about Miyazaki's children pop up a lot in other situations, in Japan, and I do not think it's safe to say it's simply a figment of Americans' overactive imagination. There is a tendency to stereotype sexuality in Japan as being something more "pure" or "open" than attitudes in the west are, and I wonder if second-guessing what we see and refusing to interpret potentially suggestive images of children as anything but natural and culturally acceptable is a part of that. . . Noah suggested that this is only an issue of seeing what you want to see, but who is looking at what, and what are they trying to see?. . .

Did I ever mention the time last summer I went out to a drinking party with about 10 of my coworkers (all middle school teachers, men and women) and they started having a conversation about which boys and girls in the school they thought were sexy? (Students are aged about 12-15.) At one point they asked me if there were any "Japanese girls" I liked. I tried to dodge the question, responding as if I thought they were asking me about a girlfriend or something, but they made it clear that they meant the students. I said, "Are you kidding? They're still children." Not to mention the fact that they were our students. The response was, "Aah, so that's how Americans think!" Obviously they were seeing some value in the kids that I was not. Now every time I read a newspaper article about a middle school teacher in Japan who got arrested and transferred (but not fired) for molesting one of his students it makes me even more upset. Incidentally I've mentioned that party to several other people I know around here and they were as shocked as I was.

The language of sex is socially educated, and during my last few years here in Japan I've definitely developed a much longer mental list of attitudes, poses, expressions and material things that are *supposed* to be seen as erotic. . . It scares me because I start to wonder if someone could just watch a film like Kubrick's to get turned on. A little girl in panties can easily become a sexually charged image in this context, and if we see that in Miyazaki's films we should try to imagine how the audience is going to interpret it (consciously or otherwise) before we simply assume its harmless."

Back to the films with Chris Kuan, "Although I can see Hanno's point as well, the invisibly-uplifted hair/cape/dress does seem to be an ever-present motif in Ghibli films, so I don't think the possible implications were ever really considered."

Brian Ruh wrote, "I think what's causing the problem are things like the fluttering skirt shots in Nausicaa and Kiki's Delivery Service. There is nothing the least bit odd about the bath scene in Totoro, whereas they didn't *have* to have such shots in Nausicaa and Kiki."

David Moisan replied, "Two things: It's very well established that Nausicaa is wearing pants, in fact she dresses quite modestly and practically.

And with Kiki, it is also established that her black dress is her uniform, and like Nausicaa, she is very modest. The dress is important to the story.

Granted, in the closing credits, she is on the roof of her house in her underwear, but I'm old enough to remember when this wasn't anything unusual; quite a few (young) kids went around my neighborhood in their skivvies on very hot days. I can't see that Miyazaki meant anything else in that scene."

Hanno jumped back in with, "All I can say is that I find the perspective/camera angle of a few scenes in Nausicaa and Kiki a bad choice. Quite obviously, there are people who object to these "peeking under a girl's dress" shots, otherwise we wouldn't have this discussion here.

Of course, these scenes are something completely different than the fan service found in an average mainstream Anime.

But still, when I saw these movies for the first time, I thought they would have been even better without these scenes. Since animation requires elaborate planning of every detail, these scenes are in these films on purpose and not by accident, and could have been avoided. And no, I don't think that I'm misguided by political correctness. (Hey, I hate the PC movement!)"

Brian mused, "I think that there *has* even been an argument is indicicative of something larger. Perhaps Miyazaki's goal was some sort of sexual ambivalence; why else include such a scene that seems to be easily open to such misinterpretation?

One could liken this to appearances in Oshii Mamoru's "Ghost in the Shell." (Well, I certainly could, as I've been writing about Oshii a lot recently.) A frequent complaint leveled against the film is that Kusanagi appears too often in the nude. However, upon close examination, one can see that she is not in fact nude in most of these scenes, but is rather wearing a skin-colored bodysuit. What is the purpose of this; why isn't the suit more obvious? I have a theory or two, but I think that such scenes in both "Nausicaa" and "Ghost" may appear to be portraying female nudity to the initial observer is a fact that cannot be easily dismissed. . .

We're presented with a number of shots of Kiki on the broom being filmed from behind. Would the audience have though something amiss had the camera angle been from the front instead? A sudden realization: "Aha! He's intentionally making it so we don't see that young girl's panties!"

Kiki's delivery service is all about adolescence and the trials one must face in growing up. Perhaps the "panty shots" do in fact serve a purpose to furthering this theme, alluding to the fact that Kiki will shortly be viewed as a sexual being by society at large."

Chris closed this portion of the thread, "Regarding Brian Ruh's comment about the sexual awakening (bad term; I think you know what I mean - ah, "maturation" I think is a better word) of Kiki, I note that we see no similar shots of San in "Mononoke Hime", possibly for a similar reason. The shots of San riding into battle are all from the front (also the side-on closeup). On the other hand, maybe hide doesn't flap as much as cotton :-)"

Yes, there's a ton more messages in the future.

Quickies

    Chris Kuan describes tripping around Japan. Marc Hairston comes up with a theory on why Miyazaki doesn't care about the non-Japanese audience.

Conclusion

    Sorry for the humongous delay, I'll try and catch up the next two weeks within a few days.

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