Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sure, A Magical-girl Anime and the Japanese Far-right May SEEM Like an Odd Combintaion. . .

Reasons Why I Should Write the Sailor Moon Movie #5: Rei Hino

There are two things I need to say before beginning this next part of my Sailor Moon series.

First, I have to confess that of all the main characters of Sailor Moon, Rei Hino is the only one that I don't really "get." I have a sort of intuition about what fundamentally comprises the other characters, and all the revisions I have mentioned and will mention in future installments are based on that. For example, turning Ami Mizuno into a 8-10 year old prodigy who has skipped ahead into junior high was meant to highlight both her intellect and her personal reservation-- age and a few details aside, she is mostly the same character she always has been. Rei, however, is different. At a fundamental level, I just don't know what the hell Rei is. I realize that this is not exactly a good thing to admit in a series called "Reasons Why I SHOULD Write The Sailor Moon Movie," but in fairness to me, Sailor Moon can't seem to decide just what the hell Rei is, either. In the manga, she is both elegant and ethereal, so much so that Usagi and Luna consider whether she might be the Moon Princess, or an enemy. In the anime, she's temperamental and, frankly, kind of a bitch sometimes. In PGSM, she's a jaded realist, someone who has been hurt far too many times to entertain any sentimentality concerning friendship or love. This inconsistency does not exactly make things easy for the prospective writer trying to adapt the character to the motion picture screen. As a result, my approach to Rei will likely be the most radically different from previous incarnations of all of the senshi, save for one which I'll discuss later.

As for my second point. . . I mentioned that some of the revisions I would make to Sailor Moon are political in nature. I thought I should explain where this all comes from. I first saw the Sailor Moon anime during its initial Canadian run on YTV, and I can safely say that it was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise very dismal part of my life. In 2006, something prompted me to look up info on Sailor Moon on the web. This was how I discovered the live action series, and as a result got back into Sailor Moon. Thanks to YouTube, I watched every single episode of PGSM, as well as the two specials. At first, I watched both for the nostalgia factor and the pure hilarity of it all. But somehow, as the show went on it managed to dig its way into my psyche in ways that few other series have. I'm still not entirely sure what it is about this show that affected me so much, but I think part of it was just the sheer Japaneseness of it all-- the show was effectively my first real exposure to unfiltered Japanese pop culture.

The timing of when I started to watch PGSM, moreover, was impeccable. In the fall of 2006 I took a course in short fiction. One of the stories we studied was Yukio Mishima's "Patriotism," about the ritual suicide of a Japanese soldier and his wife set during the "February 26 Incident" in 1936. It's a chilling story on its own, and moreso when you consider that Mishima himself later committed a similar act of ritual suicide at the Japanese Self-Defence Force headquarters in 1970, his last protest of what he saw as Japan's retreat from imperial and militarist values. Later, in the winter of 2007, I took a political science course, titled "Democracy and Dictatorship." My final essay was focussed on how certain policies of the Allied Occupation forces in Japan following WWII helped contribute to the counrty's present-day denial of war-crimes. Through my research on the topic, I was introduced to the strange world of the Japan's political right. I could go on for a whole post on that topic (actually, I already blogged on this subject once, though looking back on it, it's quite ranty), but what matters as far as this post is concerned is that my fascination with these two disparate things-- a magical-shojo story and a disturbingly influential part of the Japanese sociopolitical spectrum-- developed simultaneously, and as a result one bled into the other. This may have been somewhat apparent in Part #1, but it's here where the influence really becomes clear.

With that out of the way, let's begin.

Rei Hino

As I said in Part #1, my version of Sailor Moon is in large part a story of a teenage girl trying to make her way in a foreign culture. Therefore, one of the roles of Rei Hino should be to epitomize and embody that culture. No surprise there: in the Tradition vs. Modernity debate that seems to dominate much of anime, Rei has always taken the tradition side, even if she indulges in a few modern pleasures. But when I say she should epitomize the culture, I mean that she epitomize all of it, the good and the bad.

Remember that Rei's father is a politician. In previous incarnations, this fact was used merely as an explanation for what a deadbeat he is, and that's still all good. But the thing about politicians? They have politics. As you may have guessed from my introduction, my version of Papa Hino is a member of the right-most edge of the center-right Liberal Democratic Party, the type who thinks Article 9 is for pussies, who thinks all Koreans have cooties, who makes claims about extra-long Japanese intestines to argue against increased food imports, who has unsavoury connections to Uyoku Dantai groups and organized crime, and who wants all Japanese history textbooks to contain the words "Nanking? What Nanking?" And his politics will have rubbed off onto Rei, adding a shade of xenophobia to her traditionalism.

"Great," someone out there is saying. "Jerkface here has turned Sailor Mars into a racist. Next he'll tell us that there won't be any Queen Beryl in his movie, and that the senshi will be fighting Dr. Tomoe!" Not so fast. Yes, Rei will have a distrust of foreigners, and this is something that Usagi will experience firsthand. But Rei will also know at some level that her particular distrust of foreigners is irrational. While she may have been politically indoctrinated by her father, you have to remember that much of Rei's psyche is framed by her pure contempt for the man. It was her father's absence, as well as his willingness to exploit his daughter for political purposes (like in episode 8 of PGSM), that led Rei to give up on men. It's like what Dr. Manhattan said: "When you left me, I left Earth. Does that not show you I care?" (Yes, I have made references to both Watchmen and Yukio Mishima in giving my pitch for a Sailor Moon movie.) This contempt will lead Rei to have at least started to question her political assumptions by the time she meets Usagi. As I said, Rei epitomizes Japanese culture, and a big part of that culture is the aforementioned Tradition vs. Modernity debate. Rei plays out this debate every day of her life. Even though she favours tradition, she is still fascinated by modern life: she shops, she listens to J-pop, she goes to the arcade, she parties (I envision just a tiny bit of the Bush Twins/Paris Hilton in her). As a child, she even went so far as wanting to be "a singer-songwriter, a model, a wonderful voice actress," though her father quickly shamed her out of that notion. This debate will come to a head in the movie.

But Rei is more than just a set of conflicting abstract principles trapped in the body of a schoolgirl. She's a character, a human being. It's in this respect that my portrayal of Rei differs from previous ones more radically than my portrayal of the other Senshi so far. I mentioned in part #4 that the personalities of the guardian Senshi are modelled on the Chinese elements. For example, the element of water is associated with the colour blue, the season of winter, the planet Mercury, and the emotion of fear. Hence, Sailor Mercury. Likewise, the planet Mars is associated with the element of fire and the color red, which are both seen in Sailor Mars. Yet the emotion associated with Mars, happiness, is not what comes to mind when one sees Rei Hino, especially in the anime. What to make of this? Well, the simple answer is that the writers of Sailor Moon didn't take the Chinese astrological meanings all that literally, and that's understandable-- partly because of the Greco-Roman influences on Sailor Moon, and partly because the writers didn't want to limit themselves by being overly literal.

Still, when thinking about writing Sailor Mars, I tried to keep the Chinese elemental meanings in mind. To do this, I asked myself, what happens when you try to make Rei Hino "happy?" Even forgetting all of the political baggage I've heaped onto her, the fact of the matter is that her mother is dead, her father is such an asshole that she ended up unable to relate to men of any kind, and she's so isolated that before she meets Usagi her best friends are pair of crows who communicate with her psychically. What in the hell does she have to be happy about? Don't ask me how -- it would take too long to explain-- but this is the answer I came up with. (note: if what follows comes off as pretentious, it's because it is ;P)

It's sometimes been said that to live in Japan, one must wear a mask. This is true to an extent everywhere in the world but, perhaps because of the prevalence of masks in Japanese No theatre, this metaphor has taken hold in Japan. Rei Hino, being the daughter of a politician, serves as a sort of public representative. As such, she spends quite a bit of her time wearing the proverbial mask, be that at public events, the exclusive catholic school she attends, or elsewhere. Depending on the context, Rei Hino presents certain alternate versions of herself. At public functions, under the eye of her father, she's smiling and vacuous. In front of others her age, she feigns slightly arrogant aloofness, an almost detached amusement at others. This is not the temperamental Rei of the anime-- movie Rei is far too cool for that shit. As part of her "mask," she even enters into a rather detached relationship with a boy, a cynical parody of love. Yet ironically, this boy is one of the few true friends she has (just who this boy is, and why they can connect with one another, shall remain a secret for now). True happiness mostly eludes Rei, but in the halls of the Hikawa Shinto shrine, she finds a certain peace that comes close to it. She has to concentrate in order to attain this peace, but ultimately it comes. With it come psychic visions, a sense of a growing evil, and a strange affinity for fire. . .

This post has a lot of things to take in, so I'll leave Rei for now. Besides, to further explain Rei's role I first need to discuss a couple of other characters.

Next time, the flip-side of Rei: Makoto.


Cait said...

I like your version of Rei, or at lease the character sketch you've made here. I was never a fan of Rei in the anime or PGSM (though I did feel sorry for her in the live action, of course). She's mean and pretty annoying in the anime. It seems like your vision of Rei will be a lot deeper and more "real" than any of the other Reis we've seen on television. (I have only read part of the manga so I can't judge.)

Also, a side note: You mentioned you originally watched PGSM for nostalgia and hilarity. That was how I got into it, too. I think I watched half the first episode and could not take it seriously, so I turned it off. But I went back, for some reason, and this time it just hit me differently. I zoomed through the series over two weeks like a crazy girl. lol. I burned it to DVD and I watch it when I'm bored sometimes. :P

Jeremy K. said...

I nearly gave up PGSM after episode 5. I was episode 6, the one that introduced Sailor Jupiter, that convinced me to keep going with it.

I was never that fond of Rei either. In fact-- and I know this is a bit sacreligious-- I've always been a bit baffled by the adulation Keiko Kitagawa received for her work in that role. She's a good actress (as her post-PGSM career will attest) but I never thought she was given that much to work with as Rei Hino. Her character seemed to exist in one of two states, stoic and sobbing, with only a few precious glimpses of any other emotions.

But Miyuu Sawai. . . now there's someone who never once acted badly in her life! :P

Naomi said...

Rei was always a jerk in the anime.

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