Films By and About Women – analyzing the work of Kim Longinotto Hiu Tung Karen Law Tutor: Clare Johnson (Group Number: 1) Dissertation submitted for the Degree: BA (Hons) in Filmmaking and Creative Media Module title and module number: Visual Culture Level 3 Dissertation (UA1ABN-‐ 20-‐3) Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education University of the West of England (Bristol) Date of submission: 15 January 2013
History of Feminism
Documentaries I am going to discuss in this dissertation
Gender inequality/ homosexuality/ masculinity as masquerade
Who is Kim Longinotto? Observational Documentaries What images and situations of women are shown in the two films? Strong Women Image
List of Illustrations Promotional image of Kim Longinotto
Promotional image of Shinjuku Boys
Gaish (33:58), Tatsu (24:44, 33:47) in the nightclub (Shinjuku Boys)
Gaish (35:44) (Shinkuju Boys)
Promotional image of Gaea Girls
Nagoyo Chigusa (1:10) (Gaea Girls)
Satomura Meiko (1:25)(Gaea Girls)
Takeuchi Saika (1:50) (Gaea Girls)
Figures 1 and 2 – Japanese school girls
Figures 3 and 4 – Japanese street fashion
Figure 5 – Lolita style
Nagayo giving training (3:51) (Gaea Girls)
Nagayo in a bout (15:30) (Gaea Girls)
Takeuchi being scolded by Nagayo (1:23:36) (Gaea Girls)
Takeuchi’s mother (1:34:19) (Gaea Girls)
Takeuchi at the end (1:38:27) (Gaea Girls)
Gaish (0:26)(Shinkuju Boys)
Gaish walking on the street (51:48)(Shinkuju Boys)
Gaish in the nightclub (33:37)(Shinkuju Boys)
Tatsu (1:34)(Shinkuju Boys)
Tatsu and his girlfriend (20:25)(Shinkuju Boys)
Left: Tatsu in the interview (22:08)(Shinkuju Boys)
Right: Tatsu in the interview (22:13)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kazuki (0:54)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kazuki and Kumi in the interview (29:47)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kumi in the interview (30:41)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kazuki and his work colleagues (51:58)(Shinkuju Boys)
Screen shot in the film Wrestler
One girl in new recruitment (1:00:00) (Gaea Girls)
Gaish in the interview (13:12)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kumi in a nightclub (27:32)(Shinkuju Boys)
Kazuki talking to his mother (48:49)(Shinkuju Boys)
Introduction I am a media student, which is why I am particularly interested in women filmmakers. I would like to investigate more on how they make films. I chose documentary genre because I always think women filmmakers are likely to make films with provocative and controversial topics or issues within the society we are living in. Their budgets and cinematography may not be as high quality as Hollywood-‐made commercial films, but their thoughts and the matters they are showing in the film could be serious and they should be paid more attention to. In this dissertation, I am going to do a case study on Kim Longinotto. I will analyze two of her films, which reveal messages on feminism, the situation of women in society and the plight of female victims of oppression or discrimination. This dissertation also includes Longinotto’s ideas and thoughts concerning the directing and editing of the films and second-‐wave feminism in United Kingdom during the 1970s. Why do I choose Kim Longinotto for a case study? One of the things that arouses my interest most is she made quite a lot of documentaries in foreign countries. She made: •
5 films in Japan -‐ Eat the Kimono (1978), The Good Wife of Tokyo (1992), Dream Girls (1993), Shinjuku Boys (1995) and Gaea Girls (2000)
1 in Egypt -‐ Hidden Faces (1990)
2 in Iran -‐ Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Runaway (2001)
3 in Africa -‐ The Day I Will Never Forget (2002), Sisters-in-Law (2005) and Rough Aunties (2008)
1 in India -‐ Pink Saris (2010)
I am really impressed by her filmography, especially as all the films are all filmed outside England and all about women. The films cover a wide range of areas and issues about women, like feminism, femininity, fighting for rights, inequality, gender and culture. Longinotto often works with ‘co-‐directors’. In fact, they are
the people who can speak the language when Longinotto is filming abroad. It is interesting to see how she was able to get the films produced in other languages. I am from Hong Kong and I made one documentary when I was studying for my higher diploma on multimedia design. It is about the development of Hong Kong’s A Cappella groups. They shared their own personal experience and thoughts on the singing industry in Hong Kong. It was not easy to produce and direct a documentary on my own, especially as I had to follow them going to different places for performances and fit in the time for interviews. There were altogether six groups of people. It was the main challenge for me in the project. But at least I did not have any language barriers with the people I was filming. One of the most important things about making documentaries is building and maintaining good relationships with the characters in the film, so they could trust you and tell you more about themselves. Longinotto does not only have to deal with the language barriers with the characters in her film, but she also has to convey her ideas and messages through her translator to her protagonists. Even though I did not have problems communicating with my characters, explaining what I would like them to do and trying to direct them were not easy. Also, she often makes films in other countries, quite a lot of things need to be done for overseas film production, like people, equipment, transportation, passes, visas…etc. Her work is really impressive. Another thing is she is a female director, so I feel her work is more related to me. As far as I know, though there are more women in the film industry nowadays, it is still male dominant, especially those who are directors. History of feminism Walters (2005) writes a general description on feminism. In early 19th century, the idea of feminism became widely spread and there were clearer statements on women’s claims. A married woman called Marion Reid published a book called A Plea for Women in 1843. Reid (1843) brought up some issues of inequality. One is the education of girls. The girls were in no position to have any
thoughts of trying to be independent or strong, and they were barely trained by governesses or inadequate schools. Another point is doing housework. Reid said domestic work was the main part of a woman’s life at that time. But she questioned why woman had to be restricted to domesticity. She asked, ‘if woman’s rights are not the same as those of man, what are they?’ She also said, ‘woman was made for man, yet in another and higher she was also made for herself’. Basically, I think the vast majority of women during that time were not in the centre of the society, they were helping their husbands and always being so passive and accepting of prevailing thought. Walters (2005) later describes what happened in the late 19th and early 20th century. There were more campaigns organized by women. Their voices were more obvious. They asked for better education, the possibility of working outside the home, a change in the laws on marriage and they had to fight for the right to vote. Thanks to the First World War, it had allowed women to have opportunities to work. They worked in hospitals, munitions factories and engineering works, but still they did not have equal wages with men. Then in the late 20th century, which I believe was the most important era to help women to be as equal as men – the second-‐wave feminism. To me, it is hard to define exactly what feminism is. Skeggs (1997:140) quoted Alcoff (1988)’s argument. She says feminists often pretend to know what women are. Besides, Ramazanoglu (1989) argues that theory that explains women’s lives is different from the actual experience of living women’s lives. Somehow it is true, simply because every woman has her own image and identity. It seems feminism becomes a tool to help women to achieve the rights they should have had. I watched some clips on BBC Archives Feminist Collection. They are the television programmes featuring discussions and arguments about women. From there I see feminism started becoming more political as it had a clear agenda and aim, which included: equal pay for equal jobs; equal educational provision; free 24-‐hour nurseries; free contraception; abortion on demand; a woman’s right to be herself, not controlled by men. From the clips, I am wondering if there are too many distinctions made between economic groups. Or is there too much concern
with the complicated social and economic realities, while is not actually representing all women? I watched the documentary series (three episodes) Women (2010) on BBC Four. I remember the third one most, which is about activists from London Feminist Network, who are working hard on equality between men and women and they reveal there are issues that still infringe women’s rights like domestic violence, pornography and prostitution. Though in the last paragraph people argue the feminists assumes they know women well and I was wondering if feminism is too much about politics, but I think they did not do anything wrong. Not all women are activists on feminism, but I do not think they would disagree or try to stop what activists are doing. Maybe it was more about economic status in the 1970s, but now it is more about society. That is why even though I am not a feminist, I am not strong and I am not really passionate about politics, I could not disagree with them, as the social issues they highlight are really happening. Their own personal experiences are realistic and their theories of fighting have become more practical. Walters (2005) cited the explanations on feminism from United Nations’ international conferences on women’s issues between 1975 and 1985, which I think is more neutral to define what feminism is, (pp.97) …there is and must be a diversity of feminisms, responsive to the different needs and concerns of different women, and defined by them for themselves.
What does feminism mean to me? I do think feminism is about strong women. It includes the sense of resistance to abuse, being independent and being outstanding. It enhances the idea of self-‐worth. Of course not all feminists are strong women and not all strong women admit themselves as feminists. But feminism is a recognition of difference. Women try hard to achieve equality. Women want to have more control of their lives. It is true that feminism is somehow related politics. In the second-‐wave feminism, women want to have equal privileges to men.
I am going to focus on two documentaries, Shinjuku Boys (1995) and Gaea Girls (2000). They were both filmed in Japan and they discuss social issues concerning women in Japanese society. The two films relate to lesbianism, the performance of masculinity, image and identity. Who is Kim Longinotto? ‘I’m interested in underdogs.’ – Kim Longinotto (in Mubi Europe)
Promotional image of Kim Longinotto, Women Makes Movies
Kim Longinotto (born 1952) is a British independent filmmaker, who is well known for making observational documentaries. From the films she made, it is not hard to notice that she is interested in change. She likes to explore the lives of women living on the fringes of society and has made a series of similar wide-‐ ranging documentary pieces. She is looking for something cheerful and hopeful when following stories and in all different kinds of situations. She follows people living their lives, is sensitive to their emotions, and is always prepared to let the film go to the story. In the interview ‘I wept as we filmed them fight’, Longinotto describes a bit of her style on filmmaking:
‘I like to go in and not disrupt anything at all. The crew does not talk to each other, you don't make any noise, you're very passive. You don't ever tell anyone to do anything, not even to walk into the room again if you missed it.’
From her words, her style should be like ‘Direct Cinema’ that originated from North America. Direct Cinema is about having little or no involvement in the shooting. It tries to make the camera become ‘invisible’ in front of the characters (Glynne, 2008). Women’s issues run through all Longinotto’s films. She mentions in the interview with Saunders, R. (2010) that most films have men in the centre. She wants to bring women in to focus. Because of the ‘theory’ of the cinema ‘Women as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look’, and the state of the world’s sexual imbalance, the ‘active/male’ and ‘passive/female’ has become the pleasure in looking on screen (Mulvey, 1975). Everything that follows is styled accordingly. Mulvey also said traditional women on screen have two functions, which are as erotic objects for the characters in the story and for the audiences. The male protagonists often control the film fantasy and have the power to move the storyline forward. Their characteristics are molded to match what the spectators want, more perfect, more complete and more powerful. So women become ‘leaves’ and men are ‘flowers’ on the screen. Many people have said that in many circumstances being a man can make access to women is difficult. You have to be a woman in order to study women. There is a bit of truth in that. The female protagonists would feel more comfortable if they have to say or do things that would be quite embarrassing if men are there, like taking make-‐up off, talking about sexual relationships with partners (in Shinjuku Boys) or being seen punished by the mentor and hit by other senior wrestlers (in Gaea Girls). Women filmmakers always seem closer to women characters in their films and they could get more access to their world. This helps to enhance the depth of the issues they are discussing and to reveal more facts. In Smaill’s interview (2007), Longinotto described how she deals with filming in other
cultures, but at the same time, being a woman is an advantage in getting more access to the characters and building up better relationships with them, …I'm thinking very much as if I am filming for a friend. I think of the people who are going see the film as friends…and thinking in terms of us all having similar kinds of problems…I'm trying to make the audience feel that they're there where I am; they see the same things that I'm seeing.
I do not think Longinotto is a feminist. She just wants to make women the main protagonists and to enable a female gaze in the cinema. It does not matter if she is a feminist. I think female directors, especially those who were in the second-‐ wave feminism of the 1970s, would have more political awareness and thoughts about the society they are living in when they are making films. I believe feminism affects Longinotto to a certain degree, at least in constructing the storyline of the women in her films and how she would present the image of women on screen. And these political movements could actually add new and different energy to the cinema at that time, especially independent filmmaking, as it would affect female filmmakers’ direction and approach to film topics. They would be more opposed to the retreat into violence, and sympathetic to the revival of undiscovered things becoming more popular in the cinema. Longinotto said in Cochrane (2010)’s interview that she made her first documentary when she was studying in National Film and Television School. The film criticized the girls boarding school where she studied before. The school was compared to a miniature state with strange rules, indigestible food and ridiculous and unfair punishments. Her film actually led to the school’s closure. Her former headmistress even called her a ‘betrayer’. But Longinotto revealed the truth, criticized and defended women’s rights. It was the beginning of building up her ‘female gaze’ and following the path of independent filmmaking. In the 1970s, during the time she was a filmmaking student and make her first documentary, the second-‐wave feminism in London began. It was the time she was learning and developing what she wanted to be and to do.
At the moment, Longinotto has made most documentaries in Japan. She talked about her influences in Lacey’s interview (2010), …I remember seeing a Kurosawa film in which the women were sitting quietly in the background. They would kneel down and touch their fingertips together when they saw the samurai. She was this extraordinary woman, who emerged from the lowest of the low socially…had this brave, revolutionary perspective.
Observational Documentaries Bernard (2011) has a short description in her book on what documentary is (pp.1), Documentaries bring viewers into new models and experiences though the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events…portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts.
Basically, there are four functions of documentaries: democratic civics; journalistic enquiry; independent, personal and experiential; fast-‐moving coverage of incidents or situations (Saunders, 2010:26). They are ‘the creative treatment of actuality’ (Glynne, 2008:24). They portray what life is like. Of course there are controversies in documentaries, it is a tool of social awareness. They have the potential power to move and stir people and give them some motivation to get to know more about their society. It is interesting that Bernard (2011) says that not all actual affairs and images may be used in documentary. So does it mean some documentaries are ‘fake’? Documentaries adhere to express the truths of a situation. But at the same time, directors and editors are working on the creative treatment, on how they arrange the content, by what they ask the characters and what they film, shaping the story to make it more impressive and compelling. So there must be a ‘construction’ of the storyline. The ‘obligation’ of documentaries is to decide ‘where to draw the line and how to remain consistent to the contract you will set up with your audience’ (Aufderheide, 2007:3). Particularly in observational
documentaries, which often have minimal interference by the filmmakers with the subjects, it is important to keep it realistic. But the truth is there is much footage and lots of it is cut down during the editing process, so there are doubts sometimes on whether observational documentaries are more ‘objective’ or ‘truthful’ than other types of documentaries (Saunders, 2010:27). Why do I make documentaries? I like discovering things and looking into deeper issues within society, things we may not be aware of or care about. My final project is about a toilet map in Bedminster, Bristol. The main protagonist Ben hopes the map could help and encourage older people to go out on their own and to not just stay at home. Older people tend to need toilets when they are outdoors, because of their age and they would have more physical needs. I am still young and I do not really notice this problem. When I think more deeply, actually it is not just about public toilets, but also about ageing and urban planning within a city or country. We are getting older everyday. It is time to think about how we treat older people and things that we do not really pay attention to – public toilets. The idea sounds funny but there are serious issues behind. It is the same as Longinotto, she makes films about women because she is interested in women’s stories and looking into the hidden world. Her films do give more thoughts and ideas to the audiences of what is happening in the world we are living in.
Documentaries I am going to discuss in this dissertation Shinjuku Boys, 1995
Promotional image of Shinjuku Boys, Women Makes Movies From left to right: Kazuki, Tatsu and Gaish.
This film introduces and follows three onnabes (Gaish, Tatsu and Kazuki), which mean women who live as men and have girlfriends. Outcasts from mainstream society, they work in a nightclub (New Marilyn Club) in Tokyo. They serve female customers who are looking for escape from their daily lives of arrogant husbands and bosses. Shaping themselves as perfect boyfriends, the three characters are paid to drink, sing karaoke, and most importantly, pay attention to the lonely-‐hearts that come to see them, sometimes night after night. The women who go there actually see onnabes as ‘ideal men’, mostly because they find them more secure then men.
Gaish (right) is singing karaoke with his customer.
Tatsu (right) is chatting with his customer.
Tatsu (left) is singing karaoke with his customer.
Gaish (left) is flirting with one of his customers. He has a number of customers with close relationships. And he is building a ‘playboy’ and cool image, which seems attracting to some of the customers.
Gaea Girls, 2000
Promotional Image of Gaea Girls, Women Makes Movies
Gaea Girls, an exploration of female professional wrestling in Japan, is also the name of a female professional sumo wrestlers training centre. This film takes us deep inside the gruelling and often humiliating training regime of female Japanese professional wrestlers. The training is hard and the young girls sacrifice any independence, freedom and privacy. Their only quest is to practice hard and become top wrestlers. They have training all the time and they sleep in bunk beds and share limited spaces with the others.
Coach of Gaea Japan: Nagoyo Chigusa
Senior wrestler in Gaea Japan: Satomura Meiko
The trainee and the main character of the film: Takeuchi Saika
What images and situations of women are shown in the two films? Strong women image In the press kit of Longinotto’s films on Women Make Movies website, Longinotto said in an interview in ArtMatters (February 2003), ‘I like making films about strong women, and particularly women who are brave outsiders. We see them too rarely on our screens…I want the audience to feel close to the people in my films, to identify with them in some way,’
Longinotto told Bourke (2001) she was interested in these Japanese women who were so different from the traditional Japanese women, who were living apart from men, who were not really interested in getting married or going through this traditional system and who really wanted to be tough athletes and stars. In Gaea Girls, early on in the documentary we see a stomach-‐churning wrestling match in which the women fighters do not hold back – from belly-‐flopping, prostrate adversary, powerful drop kicks to the face and body, to pulling one another’s hair and to using a lit burner on the other’s face. Those scenes at the beginning shocked me. The violence is extreme and no punches are spared. It is shocking watching scenes of women with blood-‐caked hair, split lips and blood-‐ splattered faces. I agree with what Kelly said in his article Viewing Note for “Gaea Girls”, that ‘professional Western-‐style wrestling holds an analytical fascination’, as it is so ‘mysterious’ or just like what he described – ‘ambiguous’. I have never found wrestling or boxing to be compelling. It is too violent for me. So before I watched Gaea Girls, I actually doubted if the girls could do it, since the wrestling image is just so different to the Japanese teenage girls image in my mind, which is girls who like wearing beauty clothes, tights, with make-‐up and pretty poses.
Figure 1 (left) and Figure 2 (right) – Japanese school girls
Figure 3 (left) and Figure 4 (right) – Japanese street fashion
Figure 5 – Lolita style
The battle scenes in it remind me of a film, The Wrestler (2008), by Darren Aronofsky. The main character Randy is a professional wrestler and I was scared by the bouts in the film, as you would feel how cruel and bloody the fights could be. And I am surprised that even Japanese women could do it, despite the usual shy and bashful images of most Japanese women. In a country where women are still expected to become demure housewives, I think they will probably never marry or have children. Maybe they will when they retire and return to their ‘normal life’. I just wonder if people in Japan like girl wrestling. I thought this kind of sport is ‘rare’ and not popular in Japan, but in the bouts scenes in the film, I could see it was enthusiastically received in the arenas. The audiences are excited while they are watching the fights. What do they think of Japanese girl wrestling? Why do they like that? But the film never shows the thoughts of the audience or even trainees’ parents. I wish there were more interviews in Gaea Girls that would have drawn the audience even deeper into their lives, and explained some of the difficult choices they made in such a deeply patriarchal society.
(Left) Poster of the film. (Middle and right) Screen shots in the film. He is in the ring having his bouts. He is the main character Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, played by Mickey Routke.
The film focuses on the trainee Takeuchi as she is preparing to become a professional wrestler. She has to pass a series of tests so as to debut. 'They are so full of life in the ring', Takeuchi tells Longinotto in the film. And she said,’ that’s what I want to be like!' Takeuchi prepared to give her blood, sweat and tears for this aim. It was shocking to see her suffering and enduring humiliation after humiliation, but then I gradually noticed that she actually does lack the necessary strength. Takeuchi is a girl in her late 20s and seems to be shorter than most of the others. While I am watching the film, I cannot help but wonder which path would be better for her -‐ to succeed and enter the cruel, unforgiving world of wrestling, or to fail or even to give up and leave the ring? Takeuchi is repeatedly slapped and hit, verbally debased and ordered to leave, before she is finally accepted within the circle of professionals. To me, the whole scene is just like training soldiers, I could feel Takeuchi is always exhausted, and she keeps crying uncontrollably. In the film, the training boot camp is at the countryside. There are some farms near the boot camp. While farmers nearby are doing their jobs in a pretty relaxing way and people there seem to be enjoying their country side life, the atmosphere in the boot camp is so intense and people there are always stressed out and frustrated.
The coach Nagayo (with golden hair) is giving training to the trainees.
Nagoyo got hit by her competitor but she just hides the pain and wins the fight at the end, despite her blood is all over her face.
While other women are trying to leave awful situations of being beaten or abused, these wrestling girls are willing to submit to terrible humiliation and physical abuse. Takeuchi, who sees the ring as the only place where she can unload her aggression, fails her first test. Despite her frustrated feelings, she is simply not tough enough, and faces the shame and humiliation of being tortured by Nagayo for her weakness. Even in the second test, Takeuchi’s face is full of blood again before she is accepted by Nagayo. Longinotto filmed the whole scene of the debut tests. This is quite hard to be watched actually, seeing blood and screaming all over the scene.
Here Longinotto changed the content of cinematic representation, which are ‘to present realistic images of women, to record women talking about their real-‐life experiences’ (Lauretis, 1987:289). This should be what Mulvey (1975) said the aspect of pleasure looking ‘demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like.’ In the film, the women wrestlers are so different from the ‘preferred images’ of women and are not the ‘desired objects’ of the audience. They actually are very polite and gentle when they are outside the ring, from the interviews and daily activities I see in the film. But when they are in the ring ready to fight, like Takeuchi, they will wear the ‘truculent wrestler masks’. Butler (1990) proposed that identity is constructed by repeated and rehearsed acts like body gestures, movements and enactments. Besides, ‘masking is an extension of the notion of a performance…it evokes an idea of an authentic identity’ (Tseëlon, 2001:9). When Takeuchi is in the ring, she performs the masculine side and builds up the ‘power’ by her poses and actions and screaming in high notes during the whole bout. She looks quite scary at some point, as she looks like she is going to kill her competitor.
One of the girls who is new in wrestling but then is frightened by Takeuchi’s sparring and decides to give up wrestling.
Takeuchi is scolded by Nagayo who just ignores Takeuchi’s bloody face.
Not just Takeuchi is wearing a mask in the ring. Nagayo is wearing a mask when she is teaching. She said in the film that she wants to build up a strict and fierce image for herself and to provoke the killer instinct in the girls. She admits that she loves these girls as if they were her own children. The reason why Nagayo does that is because she wants the girls to be strong and tough. They could get killed if they are careless when they are having bouts in the ring. Nagayo actually wants the girls to hate her and not need her. And in the film, Nagayo reveals that she still hates her father, who was strict to her when she was small, that is how Nagayo became sturdy and powerful as men. Director Longinotto actually has some sad experience. She said in her interview ‘I wept as we filmed them fight’, the training boot camp in Gaea Girls reminds her of the time when she was in boarding school. She did not have a happy childhood at that time. Her past experience seems to be part of the reasons of why she likes making films about women, especially strong women. Moreover, Longinotto has similar experience with the coach Nagayo. Longinotto said she did not have a good relationship with her violent father, so she has to be strong, independent and with superior strength, like Nagayo. ‘I bet you're lonely now, father, because I'm better than you,’ she said.
Takeuchi’s mother, who is watching her daughter’s bout, is actually worrying about her daughter.
Takeuchi finished her debut fight beautifully.
These girls are another kind of strong women. Unlike the libbers in the 1970s, they are not businesswomen, are not economic independent and are not trying to achieve something equal in society. Maybe some traditional Japanese people may think they are not thoughtful enough and they do not execute what a ‘good women’ should do: getting married and settling into domestic subservience. But women see them in a different way. They are eager to do something for themselves, are hoping to show their own strength and power on stage, where they could not achieve when they become ‘normal girls’.
I do not think Gaea Girls is challenging socio-‐sexual politics in Japan, but ‘it is compelling human drama mixed with the kind of underdog makes good story’ (MaGee, 2010). I am glad that Longinotto made this film that shows another aspect of Japanese women. Longinotto told Morrow (2010) that there was a crew from Japanese television to do the filming together. I see how the crew trying to avoid ‘sensitive images’ on screen, because Longinotto watched the film other crew made and said, ‘it was fascinating because the violence just wasn't there. It was almost as if they didn't see it.’ Gender inequality/ homosexuality/ masculinity as masquerade (Shinjuku Boys) Though the film looks unrefined and dated, it is the strength and depth of the interviews in Shinjuku Boys that makes it an even more striking documentary. One of the most surprising things is that all three characters and their girlfriends talk about their personal lives and sexual relationships thoroughly in the interviews. This is remarkable, especially Japanese society in the 90s was still very traditional. They have slightly different stories and perform different kinds of masculinity.
Gaish in the film
Gaish strings along several women from the club, likes performing ‘playboy’ and ‘cool man’ style. Gaish admits in the film that he sleeps with some of his customers, but never takes his clothes off just because he does not want to ruin the illusion that he is a man. But in his interviews, you discover how depressed
he actually feels because of the unhappy experience with his first relationship with a teacher, he secretly has a broken heart and wishes he had never been born. The main reason of why they broke up is because the teacher thought she was getting old and had to find a husband.
Gaish confesses in the film that he knows he will never be a real man.
The masculine image of Gaish in the film, even his walking style and emotions are not feminine.
Gaish’s ‘playboy’ image in the nightclub.
In Japan, it is a kind of tradition for women to get married before 30 years old. The usual pattern of women is getting married, being housewives and being responsible for childcare, care of the elderly and doing housekeeping. Though in 1990, there were more women moved away from household-‐based employment (Wikipedia – Women in Japan), there was an increased participation of married women in the labor force. Some married women worked in professional and government jobs. Others started their own businesses or took over family businesses. But more commonly, women after marriage would be full-‐time housewives. No wonder the onnabes feel being isolated from the ‘normal’ Japanese society. Gaish’s interview gives me a feeling of this.
Tatsu in the film
Tatsu lives with his girlfriend Tomoe, whose parents want her to get married with a ‘real man’ and have children. But Tomoe said she would never get married and would not have children. She just likes to stay with Tatsu. Tatsu is the only one of the three pursuing medical sexual reassignment. Interestingly, Tatsu is also the only one of the three who feels comfortable being naked in front of his sexual partner. Tatsu even admits in the film that he wish he could do what a real man could do during sex.
Tatsu and his girlfriend Tomoe
Tatsu talks about his thoughts and feelings when he is having sex.
Nava (1992) stated that ‘all societies define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour for men and women.’ And she said lesbianism is always not within the boundaries. It is astonishing that Tatsu discusses sexual issues in front of the camera without any hesitations. If the director was a Japanese, I guess the whole scene would have been cut or left a small part only. I believe homosexual topics were still ‘forbidden’ on the screen in Japan at that time and so ‘homosexual women have been forced to conceal the fact’ (Nava, 1992:40). I believe this
interview scene would arouse many attentions during the time when the film first came out in the 90s, for Tastsu and Tomoe being so straightforward to the interviewers.
Kazuki in the film
Kazuki is in love with a male-‐to-‐female transsexual Kumi, who has undergone medical reassignment, and performs in the nightclub. Kazuki said their relationship is sexless. He used to think that if he could not have sex with Kumi, he would rather go and find someone else. But then he realized a relationship is not just about sex. It is more about the emotional aspects and respect. There is a part where Kazuki calls back home and talks to his mother who he has not spoken to for several years. He is the only one who actually discusses the matter with his family. From the short conversation they had, it is rather tentative and it brings familial relations into the complex social relationships. I believe Kazuki’s family is quite traditional, from his mother’s sense of oppression in her conversation and her voice sounds a bit frustrated when she knows Kazuki is a lesbian who has a transsexual girlfriend. But the conversation seems a relief to both of them. Doane’s description (1982) on masquerade in Tseëlon’s book (2001): The masquerade, by creating a distance between self and image, problematises comfortable assumptions of gender, sexuality and categorization as a system.
The three characters have the ability to masquerade as lesbians, but that does not mean that ‘they radically challenge the reproduction of heterosexuality’ (Skeggs, 1997:134). Skeggs believes the lesbian masquerade helps develop female friendships and women tend to get closer to each other. Lesbians there could ‘have a laugh’ easily and do not have to suffer any consequences of labeling. In the film, three onnabes work in a lesbian nightclub. Welker’s journal (2010:364) said these clubs could offer ‘a place for lesbians to meet, to form networks of friendship and support, and to gain a sense of themselves as members of a group’. This idea is close to Skeggs’s. I believe this helps the lesbians to find their ‘ego’, similar to the wrestlers girls. To a lesbian, the club is “a space where others see her as ‘one of us’, in contrast to the world outside where she is likely mistaken for ‘one of them.’” This is a shelter for them, where they could build up their identities and confidences, ‘a space where women can meet other women whom they might desire and who might desire them in return.’ Actually, Welker (2010) said the 1970s is a remarkable era for lesbian feminism and lesbian organizing. Women developed a sense of lesbian community. But Welker quoted lesbian activist Kakefuda Hiroko (2002) that ‘feminism in Japan is a very heterosexual oriented movement, and a lot of the time it doesn’t consider lesbians.’ I could see the efforts on gaining sexual equality were so insufficient.
Kazuki’s girlfriend, Kumi, is performing in a nightclub.
Kazuki and Kumi in the interview
‘He is a woman who likes women. I am a man who likes men. So we understand each other.’
Kazuki calls back home to chat with his mother. Her mother is so much open-‐minded then Kazuki’s grandmother. Even though Kazuki’s mother is a bit upset because of the truth, she let Kazuki to choose his own life. Kazuki then says it was terrifying, but wonderful.
This documentary was made in 1995. The gender inequality during that time was a concern. You could imagine how much discrimination the three onnabes suffer. They have always been isolated by other ‘normal people’, the mainstream society and even family. Women in Britain started to be aware of gender equality in the second wave feminism. But today in Japan, the gender equality sill lags behind than other developed countries. According to the Gender Gap Report 2012, Japan is ranked 101 out of 135 countries. In the subindexes, Japan has the largest difference of female-‐to-‐male ratio in political empowerment, which is ranked 110. Kitayama’s aricle (2010) mentions Secretary General Angel Gurría from the Organization for Economic Co-‐operation and Development (OECD), who said the country (Japan) is not making the most of women’s talents when it comes to the workforce. And many female workers are only part-‐time employees. ‘Japan is underutilizing the talents of its female population,’ Gurría said. He added the proportion of the female workforce between the ages of 25 and 54 is limited to 65 percent, ‘relatively low compared to other OECD countries,’ he said. These statistics give me some insight on the sexual imbalance in Japan. It does not just about the sexuality, but also in many areas especially in labor force and political
movement. These actually affect Japanese women, making them economically dependent, which somehow makes them relay on men.
Kazuki (in the middle) and his work colleagues.
Conclusion All of the women in the Gaea Girls and Shinjuku Boys defy the ‘traditional image’ of Japanese women and impressions of masculine, feminine, gay, lesbian or straight. Though Gaea Girls is less nakedly about gender and sexuality than Shinjuku Boys, both films are fascinating in what they reveal about women’s lives that are so completely different from those of mainstream Japanese women. Both Gaea Girls and Shinjuku Boys are directed by a woman director. Longinotto manages to infiltrate the environment so unobtrusively is a proof of her familiarity with Japanese culture and concern with women's issues that has already left its mark in the two films. Longinotto is adopting an ethnographer's approach. She said in Bourke’s interview (2001), …hopefully what's happening is that the audience isn't being told that these people are obviously in a different culture to us, but is finding they have the same emotions as us. A way of getting close to people is through following their stories and getting involved in their stories, and getting emotionally involved in their stories.
I do not think Longinotto wants to be assigned a feminist label, though she likes making films about women. Her work challenged the social structure and had critique of patriarchy. I think what she wants, and actually I believe most women filmmakers want, is to bring the issues and concerns up on the screen. By using film as a media, she highlights the little-‐known aspects of women to the audience. She told Cochrane (2010), ‘if women have no rights, they're the ones you want to make films about.’ Furthermore, her observational filming has the ‘power to stop and reverse time’s inexorable passage, providing a powerful tool for the obsessive investigation of the past, autobiography’s stock-‐in-‐trade’ (Revov, 2008:43). Longinotto is helping the women to seek full respect by each character’s unique stories and showing the impacts of those unfair preconceptions or traditions on these women. Rich (1986:269) gives a precise statement on how feminist cinema could help feminism, …an evolving political movement gave feminist cinema a power and direction entirely unprecedented in independent filmmaking, bringing issues of theory/practice, aesthetics/meaning, process/representation into sharp focus.
Longinotto’s work is often related to Third World, like India, Africa and Iran. I believe she will keep the path of making documentaries in foreign countries, especially where traditions are still quite important. Those traditions may show some inequalities to women, but they are still happening nowadays. She told Humphreys (2010) some feelings when she is doing camerawork, which I think this is part of the reason why she likes to make films in the ‘hidden world’, I’m really aware that I’m seeing what the audience is going to see…people are going to be here where I am and see this. Something special’s happening and I’m capturing it’ – it’s a very nice feeling.
Longinotto raises awareness of feminism be aroused globally. To most people including me, feminism seems to be something only popular in Western
countries. I believe it is because of the religious roots, changes, demonstrations and movements in the 18th to 20th centuries were all happened in Western countries. Feminists from different countries may have different explanations or arguments on what feminism is, like Brazilian women think feminism is too ‘eurocentric’, some Latin American women even reject the word ‘feminism’ (Walters, 2005:118). Anyway, feminism is to give a voice, to let women have an equal part of things, to have an equal respect and an equal power. I somehow agree with Longinotto who said feminism is kind of ‘unmodern’ (Bourke, 2001). Bourke asked Longinotto if she was criticized for not objective enough because of the feminist idea in the films and showing women’s side all the time, she said, …we're proud they say we're on the side of the women because we are really. And we don't want to be objective. We try and film things as they happen but our emotion is definitely on the side of the women.
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Websites: Mubi Europe (2013) Kim Longinotto. Available from: http://mubi.com/cast_members/25562 [Accessed 15 December 2012] IMDB, The Wrestler (2008). Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1125849/ [Accessed 5 November 2012] Women Makes Movies (2009) the films of kim longinotto, bio page. Available from: http://www.wmm.com/longinotto/about.htm [Accessed 15 December 2012] Women Makes Movies (2009) Kim Longinotto At the Museum of Modern Art (2009) [Press kit]. Available from: http://www.wmm.com/longinotto/Longinotto_PK.pdf [Accessed 5 November 2012] World Economic Forum (2012) The Global Gender Gap Report 2012. Available from: http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-‐gender-‐gap-‐report-‐2012 [Accesses 1 January 2013] Wikis: Chigusa Nagayo (2012) Wikipedia [online]. 5 November. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chigusa_Nagayo [Accessed 12 November 2012] Gaea Japan (2012) Wikipedia [online]. 14 November. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaea_Japan [Accessed 21 December 2012] Kim Longinotto (2012) Wikipedia [online]. 17 November. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Longinotto [Accessed 18 November 2012] Shinjuku Boys (2011) Wikipedia [online]. 15 December. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjuku_Boys [Accessed 21 December 2012] The Wrestler (2008 film) (2012) Wikipedia [online]. 4 November. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wrestler_(2008_film) [Accessed 12 November 2012] Illustrations: Figure 1 (2010) World Cup Blog – Teenage (girl) World Cup Finalists! BootsnAll Travel Network. Available from: http://japan.worldcupblog.org/world-‐cup-‐ 2010/teenage-‐world-‐cup-‐finalists.html [Accessed 31 December 2012] Figure 2 (2010) flickr – Japanese School Girls in Tokyo. Yahoo! UK. Available from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbarellathemadcatlady/4528958903/ [Accessed 31 December 2012]
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I am a media student, which is why I am particularly interested in women filmmakers. I would like to investigate more on how they make films...
Published on Jan 19, 2013
I am a media student, which is why I am particularly interested in women filmmakers. I would like to investigate more on how they make films...