Room for Both: Horror and Social Commentary in 3 Japanese Classics, Part 2

This is part two of a three-part cross examination of three mid-20th century Japanese movies: Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) and Kazuo Hara’s Extreme Private Eros: Love Song (1974). Part one examined the plots and technical delivery of each. Part two will explore Love Song more closely. Read part one, here; part three, here.

Horror excels at exploring taboos—those things which disgust us. Here, the movies Woman in the Dunes, Funeral Parade of Roses and Extreme Private Eros: Love Song do just that. In particular, Love Song has Hara follow his ex, Miyuki, around, filming her as she jumps from partner to partner. From an emotional standpoint, this, right here, would make for a good horror premise, wouldn’t it?

The movie does us one better, however. It has Hara film Miyuki giving birth to Yu, her second child (not his). And when I say he films it, I don’t mean shots of her groaning stentoriously followed by an immediate cut to her magically holding the swaddled tot. Instead, I mean the actual birth, unsterilized (eat your heart out, Ridley Scott).

It’s goes beyond mere medical exhibition, though. We’re not just seeing the kid being pushed out, here, but a scandal in the making: a birth that is anything but the result of a purebred Japanese nuclear family (a native husband and wife who bears only his children). Instead, the baby is Miyuki’s second: from another man—and not just any man, but a black man! Perhaps in today’s day and age this isn’t so odd; in 1970s Japan, it would have been unimaginable.

Thus, leading up to the birth and during it, we have actually have three nightmare scenarios: male impotency, racial supplantment; and the delivery, itself. First, the abandoned lover is made redundant by another man. Second, that competitor is black. Third, the fruit of their deplorable union is exposed for all to see (when shooting it, Hara was so nervous that he failed to notice the shot wasn’t always in focus). The movie doesn’t imply these themes; it candidly narrates them.

Miyuki continues to surprise, as well. During the birth, we watch her calmly speak about how exhilarating it is as a process. There is nothing fake about any of this—especially her conviction. She squats and prods her belly before laying out the plastic sheets, the buckets of water. She knows the whole process like the back of her hand; and thus, might as well be cutting the lawn, for all the shock it poses on her system.

Indeed, she smiles and laughs all the way through, chirping happily into a microphone being held by another woman, who smiles politely and listens to everything Miyuki says as she gives a blow-by-blow commentary on and during her own pregnancy. I was hooked, all the more so because this isn’t a visual effect, but a real, undeniable event. As Kambei Shimada in Seven Samurai (1954) said, of the speared woman carrying her baby to safety from the burning mill: “What willpower!” Concerning my reaction towards Miyuki, the incredulity was no less inspired.

All the while, the baby is forced out, dangling by its umbilical cord as Mom prates nonchalantly about placentas. If that isn’t horror I don’t know what it is. Yet, Miyuki isn’t rambling. She’s lucid, putting her money where her mouth is. The movie paints a genuine picture of earnest, enthusiastic motherhood detached from men altogether. To this, the movie raises a lot of interesting points. For example, in watching Miyuki give birth, I have to wonder why men consider any resultant child to be solely theirs, the so-called “fruit” of their labor versus the mother’s. Given the choice, what man would swap places? You tell me.

Personally I think this kind of rhetoric—of men owning their children and their money—is aimed to keep women around more than convince them of anything that is actually true.

One, my own father spent as much on other women than he did Mom; instead of providing for us kids, he wooed other men’s wives (men who were his friends, who trusted him). Was it his right, simply because he worked, as a man? The only reason Mom couldn’t work was because she was pregnant, thanks to him. Yet, after the divorce, she worked and went to grad school, doing her own thing. Likewise, Miyuki decided to raise Rei and Yu on her own. In my opinion, she succeeds. Yes, she lives with men, but also women, and eventually on her own. All the while, Rei’s father misses them; Yu’s couldn’t care less. Regardless, Miyuki simply doesn’t need their money to be a mother because, like them, she’s capable of making ends meet.

Two, is men’s money actually theirs? They certainly like to say it is. To me, the whole idea of owning money seems odd (for the majority of us who don’t own banks). It’s not like most men own the place they work at, either. I mean, does the paycheck they get actually constitute as theirs when it’s signed by someone else? I wonder.

Furthermore, should they be allowed to do whatever they wish, including let their own children suffer from neglect? Whatever happened to parent responsibility? This includes managing funds and not devoting the majority of those to drugs or booty calls whilst one already has a pregnant wife and three small kids sitting at home. If one can’t handle that, then don’t have kids. Or, is that and having sex every man’s right—essentially to do whatever one pleases?

I can’t condone such heedless, flippant hedonism. So while I may be a result of my father’s errant trysts, it doesn’t mean I approve of what he did, following that. Nor do I approve of telling “lazy” women or kids to fend for themselves, while the “hard-working man” assumes total ownership over them, but doesn’t actually provide. Such a blatant double standard is having one’s cake and eating it, too; it’s convenient nonsense. There’s no reason to allow for it beyond enabling those in total control to bask in the luxurious perks.

None of this means I like Miyuki—point in fact, as a mate, I don’t; I find the idea of being with her not only unappealing but impossible (she wouldn’t allow it, for starters). At the same time, whilst giving birth to Yu, Miyuki seemed pleased, more so than she was at any other point in the movie (with the men, on-screen). And why shouldn’t she be allowed that chance, the same as everyone else?

At the same time, the men are free to complain, here. If they felt wronged, certainly they could’ve taken it up in court. None do. Let’s not forget, these men choose not to be in the picture; many simply disappear long before the woman knows she is pregnant (especially in those days, when pregnancy tests and contraceptives were far less reliable than they are now). Should Miyuki pay for it by being labeled a slut? If so, then why is the man given a pass, here? Is what happened to Miyuki just another case of the old adage, “boys will be boys; girls will be mothers”? Or, should both sides be held accountable?

What I liked about Love Song is that it gets one thinking about these questions, even if we don’t agree with the answers. For example, I initially thought Miyuki was mental; in the end, I felt her methods extreme, but not devoid of merit. At the very least, she shows us society isn’t fixed, but can change. I didn’t see this as a bad thing but that’s just me. Certainly it can always be argued that some people are happy with the way things are. However, what about the ones who aren’t? Shouldn’t they also be allowed to do as they wish? In fact, doesn’t the whole idea of individualism revolve around such entitlement? If people want to be themselves and try to change the world, in the process, more power to them. That’s what free speech is all about.

2 thoughts on “Room for Both: Horror and Social Commentary in 3 Japanese Classics, Part 2

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