Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Only Been Two Months. .

Since the next part of my Sailor Moon Movie series is Rei-centric, I thought I'd point you to my latest Facebook album, wherein I visit one of Tokyo's three real-life Hikawa Shrines. I'll update the blog as photos come in of the other two shrines.

If I Wrote the Sailor Moon Movie #18: Things I've Noticed About Japan, and how they relate to Rei Hino.

The last piece of the Sailor Moon script, as you may remember, was very Rei-centric. It is for that reason, as well as the fact that Rei is the most "Japanese" of Sailor Moon's characters, that when I consider how my experiences in Japan so far will affect the screenplay, my thoughts most often have turned to Rei.


For instance, what of the racist, ultra-rightist ideology in which she was raised (in my story, not the original-- see here if you're new to all this and just had a "what the fuck?!" moment)? What have been my experiences with Japan's racism, if any? How do these affect my portrayal of Rei, or Usagi, or Japan in general?

Getting slightly off topic for a moment, the first thing I can tell you is that Rei's bigoted little temper tantrum toward Usagi from the previous part of the script will likely be omitted. If my own experiences so far mean anything, it's that this sort of thing simply wouldn't happen with a character like Rei. In polite Japanese society, anger is not something that explodes under pressure (true in polite Western society as well) but neither is it something that can be forced out in a controlled but direct way, except perhaps in very specific circumstances. Rather, emotions like anger and contempt. . . leak. Like a poisonous gas. If the metaphor seems vague, trust me when I say that it becomes much more tangible when standing in front of a clerk glaring intently at the corner of her desk because she would rather look at that than you. It's for this reason, as well, that I'll likely remove the scene where Papa Hino berates Rei in public. In all other versions of Sailor Moon, Papa Hino is distant, more passively and subtly abusive. This will not only make him truer to the original (and to Japanese culture in general), but also more threatening. After all, what's scarier-- an old man screaming at a teenage girl, or an unseen man whose public face consists of tattooed thugs in suits driving BMW's.

But back to the first main point: how does racism in Japan manifest itself? Some of the most commonly discussed ways are institutional: for instance, restaurants that refuse entry to non-Japanese; restrictive immigration policy that makes naturalization nearly impossible; or, to cite my own experience, banks that refuse to give accounts to those who have not been in the country for less than six months. In these situations and others, it could be argued that there are other factors involved besides xenophobia-- the restaurants in question are very traditional, and the skills needed to attend such places without making an ass of yourself can only be acquired by being raised from childhood in Japanese culture; a country as crowded as Japan can't afford to open its doors to new citizens in the same way as a country like Canada; there could be legitimate security concerns behind the six-month rule for banks. But in addition to these institutional factors there are, of course, the ultra-rightists, who fetishize WWII and love to brag about the length of their intestines. I myself have yet to experience that side of Japanese society personally, apart from my little informal photo-op with an Uyoku Dantai group.

My own experience with racism-- or at least something likely to be racially motivated-- pretty much begins and ends with the infamous "Stare", the intent gaze that certain Japanese, of all genders and ages, give to foreigners, and which is not broken even after said foreigners clearly know they're being watched. It's happened to me so many times that it doesn't even bother me anymore, even in those cases where it's pretty blatant, such as when a Japanese woman cranked her neck back to look at me as she walked past. For this reason, I thought it would be fitting for Usagi's first encounter with Rei to involve the Stare: Usagi, running to school, stops to take a breather, while Rei, walking past, gives her the Stare. She'll likewise give the Stare to other minorities, like the Jain Indian on the bus-- it's better than that stupid "back of the bus" joke.

(As yet another aside-- I'm beginning to realize that I have a lot to get off my chest-- I've decided that the "cultural festival" from Part #4 of the script needs to go. I knew even as I wrote it that it's a contrivance, and I've only grown more uncomfortable with it. Thus, I'll have to think of a new way to get Usagi and Rei to meet.)

As a final note on this topic, I will say that I'll probably become more aware of racism as I get better at Japanese. The foreigners I've met so far have mentioned that they grew "annoyed" with some Japanese as they learned to understand more and more of the language. In a way, my ignorance may have been shielding me.

Losing Her Religion, i.e. Rei's Powers, and How These Connect with Her Beliefs

Something else I've neglected is the question of Rei's powers. Yes, the last part of the script showed that she does have psychic powers but it didn't show her dealing with the fact that she has these abilities. The main focus of Rei's introduction was that she (alone among the Senshi) had developed special powers before becoming a Senshi. These powers lead to Rei being generally feared by the community, with only Usagi willing to befriend her.

The explanation for her powers given in all Sailor Moon incarnations is that she's very deeply into the Shinto. This explanation seemed to satisfy people, and yet it always bothered me. For one, it negates her uniqueness as a reborn magical warrior by suggesting that anyone who puts in equal time and effort studying the rituals of Shinto could acquire the same powers she has. For another, it involves a pretty weird mixing of theologies, not to mention personal beliefs.

On the one hand, you have the "Sailor Moon" theology: ancient kingdoms, magic crystals, alien worlds, superpowers, reincarnation, and even a "Messiah" (their words, not mine!). This theology is, within the context of this fictional universe, very obviously "real". On the other hand, you have an animist religion exclusive to a small archipelago nation, and yet, in the context of Rei's abilities, this belief system is also clearly considered "real". Things only get more muddled in PGSM, whens it's revealed that Rei (as well as Minako) are Christians. Thus, Rei believes that the Judeo-Christian God is the Creator and Lord of the universe and Jesus Christ is the saviour of her soul, and yet she knows that she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior sworn to defend the human reincarnation of a potentially god-like figure. One could make the argument that these beliefs are compatible, but it would be a real stretch. One could also make the argument that this is a show about superpowered girls in sailor suits and I need to chill out, but I think we're WAY past that point now.

My approach to this is tentative. . . there's a lot that I still need to learn about Shinto, and its approaches to other belief systems. Also, one of the few things I do know is that Shinto has long had to accommodate Buddhism, so the questions I'm dealing with are hardly new. My idea will require some more thought, and some more research, and will definitely ruffle a few feathers. It may even seem to contradict the core idea behind Rei. (BTW, if you're only interested in the "Japan Trip" part of this, and don't care about the story, I'll highlight in bold the part of this next segment that's based on my own experiences.) All that said, for your consideration. . .

Every day after school, Rei Hino ran as fast as she could to Hikawa Shrine so she could visit her mother. Despite a congenital heart disease, Rei's mother always managed to put in some work at the shrine. After all, it was a family tradition. On one of these days, Rei happened to spot a pair of ravens sitting on the fence just outside the shrine. The strange thing was, she knew these ravens, though she didn't know how. They were named Phobos and Deimos. Running into the shrine, Rei dragged her mother out to the fence. "Mama," Rei said, gesturing to the birds, "these are my old friends, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos, Deimos, this is my. . ."

She would never finish the introduction. Rei's mother lay on the ground, stricken by a heart attack. She died a few hours later. Rei never left the hospital-- that's how she knew her father never came by to visit. Over time, her father's absence would cause her to resent him, but at the time, her strongest emotion was not anger, or grief, but guilt. At some level, Rei truly believed that she should have seen her mother's death coming. She was told that feeling was normal. . . but no-one else really understood just how deeply serious she was in this belief.

Rei could never imagine that in the following years, she would take her mother's place at the shrine. Following the death, Rei was only just barely able to even live on the same shrine grounds where her mother had died. . . and the suspicions of some of the more superstitious members of the community did little to help. But in time, the grief, as it must, subsided, and guilt was put in its proper place. With her father almost always absent for career reason and her grandfather's mind slowly deteriorating, it was clear she would have to take a more active role in maintaining her family's heritage. And besides, it was tradition.

Tradition. That was the most convenient explanation for Rei's growing devotion to the shrine. It sounded dutiful, appropriately Japanese-- her father would have approved. But in truth, the reason Rei devoted so much of her time to religious duties was because she was good at it. For all her noble qualities, there was always a bit of vanity in Rei, a part of her that needed to feel superior in some way. Her ever growing aptitude in spiritual matters-- an aptitude that seemed, well, unearthly-- certainly fulfilled this need. She absorbed herself in the rituals and duties of a miko, far more so than the typical afterschool volunteers who put in an hour or two of work a day so they could have something nice to put on their college application. No-one was surprised by this-- she was her mother's daughter. Even her father approved; having a devoted miko for a daughter was politically safe (certainly preferable to a daughter who partied every night at Roppongi) and it kept her busy.

Indeed, this period saw a brief reconciliation between father and daughter. As they continued to bond, Rei's father decided that it was time for her to learn the truth about Japan's place in the world, and the various foreign influences who sought to undermine and corrupt the nation he loved. Rei was made to understand that as a miko, she was a guardian of Japan's cultural heritage, responsible for keeping out the barbarians. There were all kinds of inconsistencies in his supposed stance against the evils of Western modernization, but being of the tender age of twelve, she was well able to ignore them, or rationalize them, as need be. Besides, her beloved mother had always seemed ill at ease with those foreigners when she was alive-- now, at last, Rei knew why.

Rei did not remain in her father's favour for long. By the time Rei entered adolescence, she had decided that she would become head priestess of her shrine, a decision she believed her father would approve of. But adolescence changes a father's view of a daughter. Rei was now becoming a woman-- a woman who needed a husband, preferably one of influence. Thus, to her shock, Rei's father enrolled her in a Catholic school, ostensibly so that she could "weigh her options". He also provided her with a proper male in her life, someone "safe"-- after all, it was not healthy for a girl of her age not to be interested in men. Hence, Mamoru, the adopted son of a woman made modestly wealthy by certain unspecified royalty payments-- one who almost seemed like a son of his own-- became her "boyfriend", with the implicit understanding that he was to later become her "husband".

Rei hated her father for this. But, just as she was her mother's daughter, so too was she her father's daughter. She had learned by now the advantages of lying and manipulation, even though she despised it. In fact, as much as she despised it, it contributed in a perverse way to her own sense of superiority. Besides, it's not like her cynical truth telling about men, friendship, and love ever brought her anything worthwhile. Within a short time, she was the "Princess" of TA Academy. Idolized by the girls, ogled by the boys, and in a relationship with a boy who, while a bit bland, at least seemed decent enough (despite her father's endorsement of him), Rei's situation was. . . livable.

But the, one day, something changed, something that shook her out of her sense of arrogant complacency. Two things, actually. The first was the disappearance of a teacher from her school. Unlike with her mother, Rei was actually able to focus her intuition and help find her, if only in a slight way. The second was her attack on a young American girl named "Usagi", who she thought was an evil entity (other than being a foreigner). Not only was she wrong, but her attack, a Shinto enchantment utilizing an Ofuda, was utterly useless; Usagi just batted the Ofuda away like the harmless piece of paper it was.

It was stange. . . seeking her teacher, Rei once again felt spiritually connected, but putting her beliefs into practice later on proved useless. What when wrong. . . for that matter, what went right? In her confusion, Rei went to Ginza one evening. There, dozens of desperate fortunetellers and palmreaders line the sidewalks, sitting at their small candle-lit fold up tables, nodding off in the late night hours, wearing humiliating signs around their necks as they wait in vain for someone to seek their help, hoping against hope to make some money off of their one dubious skill in the midst of a horrible recession. Rei sat with one of these fortunetellers, and had the very beginnings of an epiphany. . .


Naomi said...

So are you saying that in a confused state you went to a fortune teller in Ginza?

Jeremy K. said...

Not quite. I did go to Ginza to find the theatre where Miyuu Sawai's 9/11 play is performing, and there I saw the fortune tellers. They were charging 1500 yen a pop, though, and I figured that money was better spent on ramen. I will say this for the fortune tellers, however-- they were far less pushy than the prostitutes.

Naomi said...

Were they less expensive than the prostitutes?

Jeremy K. said...

I didn't ask, unfortunately. I don't know why, but asking that somehow seems impolite, or at least unwise.

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