Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Critique of Review of “Proof of a Man” by Ratgirl

In my older blogpost on mixed race Black-Japanese-themed movies, I linked and referred to the blogpost by Paghat the Ratgirl.

Although I commend the blogger for writing about a topic that is almost unheard of in the United States, I have critiques of much of the tone and critique.  Especially since it is obvious to me, that this person does not understand the diversity of elements around Amerasian experience, histories, and the ways in which people internalize, survive, resist, repress, explode, resent, formulate.

My feeling is that I hope people do not read things just as a way of ingesting a “truth” but to investigate essays such as this, on their own—especially around topics that the writer are not too familiar with, except through cursory readings and people they may know.  History and life are larger than any one particular.  My point is that calling things “stupid” and “idiotic” tends to point to some kind of show-boating and ignorance.

As a Black-Japanese Amerasian myself, I have encountered other mothers, fathers, uncles, and people linked either as Black-Japanese Amerasian (or Black-Korean or Black-Chinese) themselves or related as friend, relative, or parent/guardian, who have confessed a diversity of horrific and almost unbelievable experiences and histories. Not only are these lives varied—these histories are buried.

Firstly, it was an experimental film that proved to be too difficult for the director trying to appeal to both the Japanese audience and the American audience. The movie was done in the 1970s.  Most people born after the 1970s, cannot understand and most often do not appreciate the aesthetic of television and movies of those days and will judge from a present-day snarky-ness that I think the author of the blogpost Paghat the Ratgirl, displays.

However, I am not particularly praising the film for its excellence or artfulness. However, I recognize these elements as the 1970s television-show aesthetic and not so much of a film. It also has the sort of television police drama feel, mixed with Japanese sensibility that cannot be explained, really, to Americans. Cultures cannot be totally understood. There are incommensurable differences, no matter how some will wish it not to be so. “Total understanding” or empathy, are only partially possible, perhaps, but not total. If claiming an understanding, it is more of a will to dominance, control, and the privilege of defining and determining not of reality. This film, if placed in the context of the 1970s, is an okay feat for both Japan and the United States.

Although Ratgirl will claim to understand discrimination against Amerasians in Japan, and the realities of mothers of Amerasians resorting to oyako-shinju (parent-child murder-suicide), her comments do not display a worldly knowledge of how lives work, and that the obvious ways in which the Amerasians have been marketed and publicized through American and Japanese news sources, entertainment, books, and “research,” are at work in the determining of what is “realistic” or not. People have many manueverings, secrets, wishes, goals, dreams, and violences.

The novel that the film was based on, and the film itself, were deemed “too liberal” by the Japanese public. But the realities of the diverse lives were not documented. Not all were orphaned, or street children, or adopted to the United States. But Ratgirl proceeds to tell the reader that there was no way of telling the story in “any factual or sensible context.” Ratgirl blames it on the emotions of the times and conditions. There are stranger stories from real-life. There are stories horrific to tell. Many Black-Japanese blended into the Japanese public and changed their identities. Some wound up as murderers. And many other circumstances.

The hatred and shame by many mothers and families, against mixed-Japanese, especially mixed-BLACK, was deep and ugly. Many loved their children, but more aborted the babies, or killed them in some fashion some time during their early life.  In some cases, they abused and tortured their black-Japanese children. Scraping the black skin off of their children with a steel brush is torture. This was done by some mothers I knew myself. Later, one of these girls grew into her teens and then one day,  killed that mother. There are also other sensational news cases of Amerasian violence, never languaged as a Japanese issue, but an “Amerasian issue.” In most countries, this is how it’s done. The “issue” is not the racism and violent dominant, but the victim.

Ratgirl’s review of the work passes a critique of the film itself, in to the ridiculing of Black-Amerasian lives (but this was not necessarily an intention).  This is not a surprise.  The film points to, and is a movie, not a documentary. For many, the story line seems preposterous.  For the Japanese, since it was so popular, it was made into two or three other films and also television series. In each subsequent re-make for television or movie screen, the stories and the characters change the tone of the histories. The movie tells one kind of incident, a string of events. In some ways impossible, as a Japanese director going to New York to search for the thought-to-be culprit, the movie tells an important way in which a shame and hatred can be carried out. Humans invent ways to kill.  Even their own kind, as we know. It doesn’t matter whose “kind” a being is, a species, a race, a gender, an orientation, a socio-economic class.

I hope that the film is seen in the context of the times, as a way to emotionally reach topics that are difficult to tell.  For most people, whether Japanese or not, the forgetting of history, and the twisted manipulations of history, are at play in not enjoying a period-piece such as “Ningen no Shomei (Proof of a Man).”  Sexism aside (the term “man” as it is translated, should be “human being” if we translate the Japanese word in the title), the movie is amusing in some ways, as a study in the 1970s television drama genre in both the United States and Japan. But it is also a study of trappings and actions that humans take in unraveling a case of mixed-race secrets, Blackness, Japanese-ness, memories of the U.S. Occupation of Japan, and the remaining antagonisms thirty years after the war, based on life-experiences and racist relationships and nationalisms in uneven distributions of power. It teaches, reveals. Not stupid. Not idiotic.

Memory lives. I am happy this film exists.

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