Saturday, December 13, 2008

I guess I have an impersonator; I've been wearing a black fedora, slacks, and long sleeved button down shirt for years, all black except for a couple red shirts. Now my mother and sister have reported seeing another guy dressed the same way at the mall, sitting on a bench reading Neil Gaiman. At the mall on a bench is where I read most of the Sandman series, actually, so this guy really does sound like a younger version of me.

I had to go to the mall to-day, which I didn't mind, since I actually kind of enjoy the amazing clump of humanity in one place. I like the subtle, close, dizzy feeling it gives me. I might actually be afraid of crowds, but I'm so used to enjoying my fears when I can find them.

I still have a lot of Christmas shopping to do. The past couple days I've been forced to lose sleep, which means I haven't been able to work on my comic. So this has been the first real opportunity I've had to do Christmas shopping.

I've been working on my comic so constantly lately that I actually didn't know what to do with myself last night. I read a lot more of War and Peace, played some Jedi Academy, and watched Hideaki Anno's Love & Pop.

Anno was creator and director of Gunbuster and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Love & Pop was his first live action film. It's a good movie, but not quite as strong as Anno's work with animation. There are plenty of stylistic similarities, some of which don't transfer very well, especially his tendency to insert very swift exterior shots and reaction shots in clusters. These things work fine with animation, and are effective in communicating a certain mindset for the POV character, but live action places and faces aren't as stripped down and efficiently communicative as impressionistic drawings.

When thinking of another example of an animator turned live action director, the first one that comes to mind is Terry Gilliam, and actually there are a lot of similarities to Gilliam in Anno's style, like a fondness for wide angle lenses and use of extremely large foreground subjects while action takes place or begins in an extreme background. Love & Pop was filmed entirely with handheld digital cameras, which Anno endeavours to use for a physical intimacy with his characters, frequently placing cameras in shirts, up skirts, sleeves, on plates, and at the bottoms of drinking glasses.

I can't really decide whether I think this was too obtrusive or just appropriate. The movie's about a sixteen year-old high school girl named Hiromi and her experiences taking part in enjo kosai, a practice that generally consists of older men paying teenage girls large sums of money to have dinner with them, hang out, and, on some occasions, to have sex. The shooting style does create a visual focus on objects and people as objects that does seem appropriate. The film follows Hiromi over the course of a day as she tries to accumulate enough money to purchase an expensive ring, and her progression from simply having dinner or going to karaoke bars with lonely men to having sex for money.

The movie does a good job of making this progression seem logical. As a sixteen year old, Hiromi is just figuring out the intrinsic value of relationships with people and things, and cultural promotion of materialism has garbled the signal for her somewhat. The men paying for Hiromi's company are so painfully pathetic--one guy simply wants Hiromi and her friend to taste some spaghetti he's cooked. There's a sense that a vast number of men simply cannot conceive of themselves as valuable enough to spend time with for any reason other than material rewards, while the girls slowly seem to be learning that it's impractical to spend time with any guy unless there's material compensation. Hiromi's desire for the ring seems confused with her uncertainty about her direction in life. There's an amazing interplay of culturally fostered dysfunction. The man Hiromi eventually agrees to have sex with is played by Tadanobu Asano, an attractive and naturally charming actor who doesn't seem as though he should need to pay girls for sex, except he refers to himself as Captain EO and speaks to a stuffed Fuzzball doll, a character from Captain EO which Asano's character had gotten from Disney World in Florida ten years earlier when he and his parents had been there on vacation, shortly before his parents' divorce. There's a sense that this somehow damaged his ability to form and trust connections with other people, so he uses the Captain EO identity and Fuzzball as a sort of safety filter, frequently expressing his wishes to Hiromi in the third person ("Captain EO wants you to go with him to a love hotel.").

While unusual, Captain EO's problem is not truly dissimilar to, and for its exaggeration is somewhat illustrative of, the problems of most of the men Hiromi is paid to be with. In one of my favourite scenes in the film, a man pays Hiromi and three of her friends to chew slightly on some muscat grapes before spitting them out, at which point the man places each in a small, isolated container which he marks with a name given to him by each girl.

He knows they won't give him their real names, but he says, "Even if it's not your real name, if it's a name you think up, it's your name. Do you understand? It's the name of the other you inside of you." This seems to be an interestingly stylised version of girls in Japan I've heard of selling their underwear in plastic bags marked with names and some superficial pieces of information about them.

So here's another way in which people are attempting to achieve intimacy and emotional rewards through objects, or to have these things conveyed by objects. Anything to avoid interactions where one's own value on less material, more unquantifiable, levels might be critical. What material I've read about enjo kosai seems to regard it as a new phenomenon, but it seems to me it's not very different from the lives of the bar hostesses portrayed in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, only the industry is less regulated, the workers are younger, and their motives are more confused.

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