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Sexuality & Gender
As a society progresses through time, so does its views on certain aspects of its culture. Sexuality and gender issues have been prominent aspects of every society, in terms of prevalence in discussion and change. While certain events, such as equal voting or equal opportunities, can make a change in a society’s views of sexuality and gender issues, it is the effects these events have on other aspects of its culture; one excellent example is art. In Japan, anime has again reflected Japanese culture in terms of its general view of sexuality and gender issues. Not only does it reflect it, the context of this genre’s narratives also mark pivotal moments in Japan’s history when its views concerning sexuality and gender issues changed. Through the use of symbolism and characters, these films portray how certain aspects of these issues in contemporary Japan views have changed.
Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira marks how women’s role in Japanese society has change since the Second World War. After the supposed atomic bomb explosion that destroyed Tokyo, the female characters in Akira have assumed more active roles in the post-war society. For example, Kei, a young woman against the government who befriends Kaneda, joins a small anti-government faction. In addition, Kiyoko, a member of the Espers, possesses telepathic and telekinetic power and is the leader of the Espers; throughout the film, she is seen making decisions and giving suggestions to the Commander, who is in charge of Neo-Tokyo’s military.
Despite these female characters taking less passive roles in the setting they are placed in, it is interesting to note that they both continue to be outnumbered by men. In Kei’s case, it is four men to one woman; for Kiyoko, she is outnumbered two to one. These two examples parallel the early steps Japan was taking to allow equal opportunities to women in the second half of the twentieth century. This is marked by Akira’s first explosion and the subsequent Third World War; they mimic the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. While Japan has given certain rights to women after World War II, they continued to not have full equality. This is reflected in Akira where the men in the aforementioned groups outnumbered the women (Shen 16).
Male to Female Ratios | Toho Company Ltd., (C) 1988
As Japanese women were beginning to gain equality, Japanese men felt a loss of power over women. Slowly and gradually, men were feeling a loss of masculinity through the opportunities that they were once solely entitled to. Ôtomo portrays this loss of masculinity through the power bikes Kaneda and his gang ride. Because of the disastrous effect of Akira’s first explosion, Kaneda and his gang have very little to hang onto. The only possessions they have and take pride in are their power bikes. Without them, they lose status in their group, and, in a somewhat humorous fashion, will become “tail-chasers out of water.” Japanese men’s sense of losing power and masculinity reflected what Kaneda and his gang face. As women gained more rights, men had very little to hold onto, similar to Kaneda and his friends only having their power bikes. In their case, the loss or destruction of their bike symbolically serves as a castration – a loss of masculinity (Shen 14).
Symbolic Castration... and the Loss of Masculinity | Toho Company Ltd., (C) 1988
Princess Mononoke parallels further progression contemporary Japan has made. One of the most obvious examples is Lady Eboshi, leader of the Irontown community and its iron mills. From giving attack orders to handling powerful guns and having a masculine fashion sense, Lady Eboshi’s appearance in the film marks how women in Japanese society have gained more equal opportunities, to an extent where they can acquire positions of power and leadership. Despite the masculine role Eboshi has inherited, her nurturing and caring personality is left untainted; depictions of her caring for Irontown’s lepers and giving former prostitutes jobs in the iron mills reflects this. Her personality addresses that, despite her taking on a masculine role, contemporary Japanese women are still women; the connotation that women are gentle and caring remains (Napier 246).
Lady Eboshi | Toho Company Ltd., (C) 1997
The same cannot be said about San, also known as Princess Mononoke. She has adopted the appearance and actions of violence, rage, and anger. During her first encounter with Ashitaka, she is seen with blood smeared across her face and possessing a fierce demeanor, as well as being covered in fur clothing. Her overall violent and animalistic appearance hints of a sexual primordial female; this is most likely due to her upbringing with wolves.
The Fierce and Violent San (Princess Mononoke) | Toho Company Ltd., (C) 1997
Throughout the film, Hayao Miyazaki undermines the numerous female stereotypes that exist in Japanese culture. Princess Mononoke serves to move away from them as well as from the early depiction of women in previous anime films and television programs. Eboshi and San, along with the women of Irontown, possess gender-neutral characterizations in the dress and behavior (Napier 238). It keeps these characters outside the masculine collectivity, which was the integral basis of pre-modern Japan. In addition, the use of female leaders in Princess Mononoke is possibly linked to Miyazaki’s intentions to create the overall theme of instability, which is prevalent in the film (Napier 239).
Taking on the Masculine Roles | Toho Company Ltd., (C) 1997
Depiction of sexuality and gender in Paprika are both prevalent and explicit. The content regarding these subjects is a significant departure from Akira and Princess Mononoke. The reason for this relates to Japanese society’s change of attitude of today. As of now, Japan has become more accepting of women in the workforce as well as having rights equals to men. In addition, expression of sexuality is no longer scrutinized as it was years earlier; a sense of sexual freedom is apparent in Japanese society.
The new found acceptance of sexual freedom has allowed the Japanese to explore. For anime artists, this accepting environment encouraged more female heroine and protagonists to appear in both film and television (Shen 4). Though the initial reaction is positive, backlash soon followed as several of these heroines had become highly sexualized; these characters were using sexuality and pleasure for power (Shen 9).
The concepts of power and sexual pleasure are now heavily tied. As men use power to gain sexual pleasure, women are now using sexual pleasure to gain power. This binary complements the endless list of binaries that set men and women apart. Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, with the aforementioned sexually explicit delivery, emphasizes this particular binary that has evolved from Japan’s progression in serving both sexes equally.
The Past...Cocooned by the Future... | Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006
The heroine of the narrative, Atsuko Chibu (whose alter ego within the DC Mini and the dreams is Paprika) uses sexual provocation in order to seek therapy and counseling for her patients. Atsuko changes her appearance signifies her attempt to seek power over her male patients; she changes from a serious personality, wearing glasses and a lab coat, to a joyful and playful girl-like alter ego. Despite Atsuko using the DC Mini and her alter ego on one client, detective Konokawa Toshimi, the use of pleasure for power and vice versa emerges several times once the stolen DC mini merges reality and fantasy.
"I guess this calls for Paprika..." | Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006
Binaries...and the Missing Spice... | Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006
In the parade sequence near the climax of the film, a scene of men and women with cell phones for heads is depicted. The men bend down and take picture under the women’s skirts, who gladly accept in joy and unison. Meanwhile, the women are taking pictures of the men seeking pleasure of taking their pictures. The binary of power for pleasure and pleasure for power is repeated. The fact that ordinary people are conducting this behavior supports the suspicion that people have hidden fantasies of implementing this binary (Shen 12).
Power for Pleasure...Pleasure for Power | Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006
The play for power is also seen in the homoerotic content of the film. Osanai and the chairman (who are Atsuko’s colleague and boss, respectfully) live in symbiosis to obtain power. While not really homosexual in nature, their agreement to work together and forge bodies is homoerotic in its physical depiction.