A report by Michikazu Matsune
Michikazu Matsune went to watch two films per day in the first week of
the Viennale 07. By watching documentary films, he spent time
reflecting his thoughts and every day wrote about one of the two films
in the corpus web. Viel Spaß!
23. Oct. 2007
Yokohama Mary by Takayuki Nakamura [previous] [next]
Again, the story of a former prostitute. This time in
Japan after World War II.
She was called Mary. She was called Shinny. She was
called the Ghost. No one knew her real name but everyone spoke about her. She
became a legend in the red light district in Yokohama. Kids knew her in the
neighbourhood. She always dressed herself in a pretty white dress just like a
princess from a European fairy tale. She always put on a completely white
make-up like a Geisha. She was a prostitute for American GIs. And she was
homeless. She stayed homeless and a prostitute until she was very old.
Back then some years after the war in Yokohama, there
was a famous café called Negishiya and that was where many GIs and Yakuzas (Japanese
"Mafia" members) spent their free time. American army and Japanese
Mafiosi? I would not be surprised if they were having some business agreement
there. Mafiosi, army and police, aren't they all just one organisation? Negishiya
was a café where prostitutes, too, were hanging out. They picked up customers
there – or was it the other way around?
Americans must be surrounded by prostitutes wherever
they go for wars. They like that, of course. Japan, Korea, Vietnam. Now in
Afghanistan and Irak, perhaps. There must be such cafés like Negishiya in Kabul
or Baghdad where women don't put that kind of black cloth over themselves but
are almost naked. They must be performing belly dances and snake dances, just
like Japanese Geishas performed kimono strip dances back then.
By the way, a female Japanese friend of mine who also
lives here in Vienna saw a group of Islamic women covered with their
traditional black cloth in a lingerie shop. They were discussing
enthusiastically what they liked, and recommended to each other what they
thought the other should buy. The underwear they were inspecting was fancy
stuff. G-string in red, white panties with lace, ones with flower patterns,
etc. And each one of them bought four or five goods at the end and went out. My
friend added: "You know, I don't think they're wearing this black cloth
all the time; they wear mini-skirts at home and underneath, G-strings."
"In Negishiya then", says a man, a
researcher of sexual subculture in Tokyo, "there were three kinds of women:
Mutes, women for whites, and women for blacks."
Oh yes, we shouldn't forget that this was before the
official equality of whites and blacks, and that it was unthinkable that a
white man would sleep with a Japanese woman who had already slept with a black
man. Ok – but what about the mutes? Were they also divided into two groups?
Perhaps yes. But maybe NO! And maybe it was right
there at Negishiya in Yokohama that the equality of blacks and whites began
with the support of mute (and yellow!) Japanese prostitutes. Some fifteen years
before Martin Luther King held his speech. Oh, history!
Mary had been supported by some neighbours,
intellectuals and artists. She had brought inspiration to many artists because
of her look, her outfit and most of all, her way of living. And she herself
loved stage art and went to see theatre pieces and concerts. She appeared in
one of Kurosawa's films. Yoshito Ohno, Kazuo's son, danced Ophelia from Hamlet
inspired by Mary. Ganjiro Nagata, a gay chanson singer, supported her a lot. He
says, "She never accepted bare cash. I always put money in an envelope and
wrote "Flower Money" on it. Then she accepted."
She had been in the minds of many people and everyone
talked about her in the film. The film builds up with stories of her told by
people who knew her or saw her. It comes as a surprise that she is still alive
and lives in a home for old people back in her home town. A friend of mine who
I saw the film together with was disappointed that Mary herself never spoke in
the film – after all, she's still alive. I have mixed feelings about this. On
the one hand, I want to hear her story from Mary herself. On the other hand, I
think that it is about ourselves who are touched by Mary, who are talking about
the Mary in us. At this moment, I feel I would like to leave her in peace. I
simply would like to think of her, of a woman who has been strong all her life.
Best wishes from Vienna!
25. Oct. 2007
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming [previous]
This film project started from a very personal
interest of the director, who wanted to find out about her own
great-grandfather who was called Long Tack Sam. He was a very famous
acrobat-magician who originally came from China. He staged huge magic and
acrobatic shows with his own troop in big theatres all over the world. He was
sensational, and the shows went very well. Long Tack Sam's special trick was
this: He held up a small towel and showed its front and back. Then he put the
towel on his shoulder. Then, he turned head over heels – and already he held
the towel before him again. He took the towel away – and there it was, a big
bowl with goldfish in it! (With water, of course.) The show of his troop was
highly spectacular with high rope balance acts and jumping through a circle of
inward-pointing knives. Most of them only possible with lots of physical
exercise and extreme discipline.
Long Tack Sam met an Austrian girl from Linz when he
was on a short visit in Austria, and they got soon married. Times were getting
complicated. He was Chinese, and it was not easy to be in Germany or Austria
then in the Thirties. On the other hand, they had a problem going to England
because she was from Germany-Austria. They moved to America, then to Australia
and China. At this point, Long Tack Sam's life and the film about him by his
great-granddaughter become a huge culture-historical study through the two
Chaplin, Keaton, and all the others, are remembered
because we see them in films. "Long Tack Sam probably was forgotten
because he never played in films", Ann Marie Fleming guesses. Long Tack
Sam was against the image of the Chinese transported in Hollywood films, and he
never accepted a film contract although he had many offers. Ann Marie Fleming
gathers information through old newspapers, through the archives of magic
societies and through meetings with her relatives. In her film she shows the
process of search and research for the past of her great-grandfather and
eventually, through many difficulties, manages to tell us who Long Tack Sam
was. The film partially was created using photomontage and animation in such a
fantastic and entertaining way that it's like seeing magic.
It is the true irony of history and generations that
Long Tack Sam, who refused to be in films, now is made famous (at least to me)
by his great-granddaughter's film!
By the way: Long Tack Sam and his wife's small tomb
lies in a cemetery just outside Linz. In prayer.
It has been really exciting to watch the films I
watched this week. Thanks for reading till here. See you soon and keep on
watching good films!