Characters dress up as samurai warriors, kabuki actors, aliens, pieces of fruit, and mythical beings from Japanese culture — all in order to entertain the lonely child. The various costumes can be used as a starting point for discussions of various aspects of Japanese culture, and how they are interpreted in Japan today. Here, the costumes primarily function as jokes, reminiscent of late-night comedy sketches, but the class can discuss what other meanings are signified by the different costumes and why they are being used. In this way, the film can be used as an exploration of the Japanese search for identity, particularly in terms of Kitano’s use of traditional Japanese costumes and dance in the modern context. The class can be asked to discuss why Kitano uses these traditional art forms, and what effect it has on the audience’s understanding of the question of Japan’s “modern” versus “traditional” identity.
This film works extremely well, perhaps even better than Ozu or Kurosawa films, as a starting point for discussions of essentialism and Orientalist readings of Japanese culture, because Kurosawa now seems so old-fashioned to students that his films are seen as “traditional” themselves. With this contemporary film, featuring film star Kitano as the gangster, students are more able to relate to the film as just a film rather than as a “Japanese film.” First-year students in particular are more ready to discuss this film in terms of cinematic techniques and Kitano’s aims as a filmmaker — with older films they can feel intimidated and reluctant to judge the film by their own standards.
Advanced Undergraduate/Graduate Classes