A Tokyo Romance 8.0分
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Perhaps it was because of my childhood in a culturally mixed household, or possibly something else in my makeup, that I always felt drawn to outsiders. But outsiders, including Donald Richie's friends,form their own groups. I could pass, but I would not commit. Hovering on the fringes was where I liked to be, neither in nor out, neither one thing nor another, semidetached, a born fellow traveler, a male fag hag, an observer in the midst of sympathetic strangers. It was thrilling, but also a way of playing it safe. Perhaps that was why I was attracted to Japan, a society to which a foreigner could never belong, even if he wanted to.


He felt entirely at ease as an outsider. The great thing about Japan, he said, was that one was left alone. To be Japanese in Japan was to be caught in an almost intolerable web of rules and obligations. But he gaijin was exempt from all that. He could observe life with serene detachment, not being bound to anything or anyone. In Japan, he felt utterly, radically free.


The state of mystification during my first year in Japan, deciphering words, codes, and signs, and only half-understanding them, as I wandered through the maze of modern Tokyo, felt strangely akin to the spirit of Kara's plays, with its lost characters trying to connect in a surreal world.


I think I can explain my own infatuation with films from he Japanese golden age, running from the 1930s to the 1960s, after which television ruined the studio system and great Japanese films became ever more rare. What the movies made by Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Naruse, and many other lesser-known directors had in common was an emotional realism. They approached the darker human impulses, sexual, social, spiritual, with a rare honesty less often seen in European or American films. This was not just the result of a lucky confluence of cinematic geniuses. Japanese audiences played an important role too. They were receptive to emotional realism.


I had never lived in a country where the culture of advertising, popular media, and entertainment was as drenched in erotic fantasies as Japan. The pornographic imagination was not furtive and marginal, as in many countries, but entirely upfront.


In fact, an erotic fixation on another ethnic group cannot be cleanly separated from thinking in racial stereotypes. What I meant was an enchantment with the Other, a desire to plumb its mysteries, not just mentally, but physically. The quest is hopeless, of course. You can wake up from an enchantment, but it is in the nature of such mysteries that they elude one's grasp.


It was tempting to confuse rarity with being special, even superior.

My own attitude fluctuated, sometimes on the same day, between acceptance, even enjoyment, of my gaijin status, and irritation at being expected to conform to an ethnic type.

One of the few people I knew who had no problem with being a gaijin at all was Donald. He loved "sitting on his perch, unassailable, observing the world from a distance."


The main reason for Li Xianglan's popularity was not her acting ability, which was modest, or her singing, which was only a little better, but her exotic appearance, exotic in Japanese eyes. A small woman with large swimming eyes, a lotus flower stuck in her hair, always dressed in silk Chinese robes, Ri was not a conventional beauty. But to Japanese in the 1940s she represented continental glamour. She was the face of pan-Asian propaganda, of all the "yellow-skinned races" happy to submit to the beneficent power of he Japanese Empire. In short, Ri Koran was an erotic fantasy.

I was deeply struck by this double, or triple performance act, the Japanese woman pretending to be Chinese, acting in Japanese movies, the exotic pan-Asian and sultry geisha for, the star who invited Japanese men to imagine fucking China, and American to fuck Japan.

Li Koran spoke to me as a symbol, not so much of pan-Asianism, which obviously meant nothing to me, as of the ways we let our fantasies roam across national and racial borderlines, and of life as a continuing act.


One would like to think that operating in a different culture is enriching. And so it is. But there are moments when the performer in a foreign language feels that he is leaving something of himself behind, or, to put it differently, that the foreign language is just a mask, concealing something more real, whatever that something may be. I would sometimes resort to odd defense mechanisms. One method was to deliberately exaggerate he Japanese mannerisms, turning hem into a kind of parody. This performance could very well come across as a form of mockery. But it had a distancing effect. It gave me the illusion, at least, that I was holding on to an essential part of myself.

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