Weekly Dance Break: Suki Kirai (Rin and Len)

Today we continue our theme of little children who are better at dancing than you or me.

If no part of you finds this adorable and heartwarming, I suspect you are kind of dead inside. Happy holidays! Continue reading “Weekly Dance Break: Suki Kirai (Rin and Len)”

Weekly Dance Break: Japanese Granny Pop Group KBG84!

If you’re feeling stressed, let this geriatric pop group transport you to Okinawa (the average age in the group is 84, and they are everything.) From a story by The Guardian:

“When I first heard someone call us ‘idols’ I thought an idol meant someone who had lived a long life and was at the gates of heaven,” pint-sized diva Tomi Menaka, 92, told AFP in a herb garden overlooking Kohama’s turquoise sea.

“But in Tokyo they told me it was an entertainer – which was a relief because I thought it meant I was on my way to heaven,” she added, picking up steam as her fellow group members collapsed in fits of giggles. “I hadn’t even been to Tokyo or Osaka. I wanted to go there before I went to heaven.”

The 33-strong troupe of singers and dancers has released a single called “Come on and Dance, Kohama Island”, with a heart-warming video shot on the tiny honeymoon isle, which has a population of just 600 and lies a mere 150 miles (240 kms) off Taiwan.

Okinawan islanders have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, their diet containing more vegetables and less sugar than that of mainland Japanese, the staple food the purple-fleshed local sweet potato rather than rice.

Menaka, a queen bee of the group, which has a minimum age requirement of 80, stays fit by doing housework. But she is not particularly fussy about her diet.

“I like meat and sweet things,” she cackled, flanked by the group’s eldest member, 97-year-old Haru Yamashiro, who shook her head disapprovingly.

“I look after my health by cleaning my home, wiping the floors, steaming rice. I stay in the shade when it’s too hot. I don’t want to tan. I have to take care of my skin – I’m still young at heart!”

Continue reading “Weekly Dance Break: Japanese Granny Pop Group KBG84!”


Weekly Dance Break: Keone and Mari x EN Dance Showcase

I never get tired to watching this husband and wife duo do their thing.

Weekly Dance Break: Ayabambi!!

Today: my favorite high-fashion voguing lovers (literally)! There are not enough exclamation points for Aya and Bambi. It’s slick and beautiful and pretty much everything.


Like A Prince: Revolutionary Girl Utena

One of the great pleasures of being an academic (though I won’t be for too much longer!) is revisiting stories, TV shows, and movies I loved as a child with a more knowing eye, and getting new readings/explanations of these stories from other scholars. When I went to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts this spring (with Acro Collective writers K.H., K.S., and A.C., no less!), one of my favorite papers was by scholar Kate Goddard on this weird and wonderful anime that I once picked up in my Ohio public library and was never able to forget (or…really understand). Here, Kate offers us a shorter introduction to the amazing and always-entertaining Revolutionary Girl Utena. 

            “Once upon a time, years and years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very  sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

            “Little one,” he said, “who bears up alone in such deep sorrow. Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this to remember that day.”

            “Will we meet again?”

            “This ring will lead you to me, one day.”

            “Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring. This was all well and  good, but so impressed was she by him…that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?”

            Thus begins the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, a visually stunning, densely layered, frequently surreal 39-episode series that poses the question of what it means to be a prince and whether it is possible to escape the binaries imposed by society. This opening narration frames the story in fairy tale language from the start, despite the fact that it is set in the modern day. Utena Tenjou is a student at Ohtori Academy who wears the male student uniform as a mark of her determination to become “a noble prince who saves princesses” like the mysterious, half-remembered figure who saved her from despair as a child after her parents’ deaths. Utena does not identify as male; rather, her goal is to take on the noble, dynamic, and protective role that a prince occupies in fairy-tale tradition. She is clear about her identity as a girl regardless of her choice in clothing and use of typically masculine pronouns (“boku”) in referring to herself. But as the opening narration suggest, the series continually questions whether Utena’s goal of becoming a prince is attainable — and even if it is, is it “a good idea”? On the surface, this might well seem problematic from a feminist perspective: is it only by forswearing feminine behavior and interests that a girl can lay claim to agency? Does gender essentialism mean that any attempt to challenge the prescribed norms is doomed from the start? But Revolutionary Girl Utena is more multi-layered than that, exploring the meaning of nobility and power through the trope of the prince while ultimately condemning the rigid binaries of its fairy tale framework. This series consciously undermines the societal “truths” set up by broad fairy tale traditions, first through Utena herself, as a “princess” who wants to become a prince, and eventually through Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride who is doomed to subservience to whoever wins her hand in a series of duels.

In the series, Utena inadvertently becomes caught up in a system of duels and intrigue when she challenges student council vice president Saionji for hurting her best friend Wakaba. Utena is led to a mysterious arena with an upside-down castle spinning above it, where the mysterious and quiet student Anthy Himemiya prepares her for the duel. When Utena wins the duel by knocking the rose from Saionji’s chest, she learns that as a result she is now “engaged to” Anthy, the Rose Bride who is bound to obey the victor of the duels. Utena initially wants nothing to do with the dueling system — and claims that despite what her attire may suggest, she is a “perfectly normal girl” who wants a “perfectly normal boy,” not a female fiancée (episode 2, “For Whom the Rose Smiles”), but as she gets to know Anthy she becomes increasingly resolved to protect her. Utena’s feelings for Anthy continue to grow as the anime progresses, blossoming into a devoted friendship and (while it remains understated in the series) romantic love as well. Over the course of the series Utena must duel the other members of the student council, who have the same Rose Crest ring that she does, and ultimately face the mastermind behind the dueling system, Anthy’s brother Akio, who may or may not be Utena’s childhood prince.

Utena and Anthy

Utena’s engagement to Anthy is a conscious queering of the system established by fairy-tale-style romance from the very start. However, the situation is also more complex than a princess in distress being rescued by a prince. Anthy is, in fact, effectively enslaved by the dueling system regardless of whom she is engaged to, for she is bound to obey her fiancé(e)’s every order, completely robbed of agency. This complicates Utena’s desire to “save” her through much of the series, raising questions as to whether she too is merely imposing her own wishes onto her “bride.” The Utena movie, titled Adolescence of Utena, is something of a hybrid between a reboot and a sequel (leaning more towards the reboot side), and it has become renowned among anime fans for its bizarre and surreal elements. Watching the entire series does help substantially in providing coherence on many fronts, but rest assured, plenty of spectacularly bewildering elements will remain. The English dubs of the episodes and the movie are available online, but if you have the option, definitely go for the subbed versions.

The dueling arena
The dueling arena

Revolutionary Girl Utena is visually stunning and fraught with allegory and symbolism that frequently ranges into the surreal. It is an excellent choice for those who enjoy analyzing their media and grappling with possible meanings; not as much for those who prefer their anime straightforward and easy to understand. However, there are many excellent fan analyses of various episodes and elements available online which can offer assistance to the bewildered. Potentially sensitive viewers should be warned that the series does include sexual situations of dubious consent, chiefly involving an incestuous pairing (brother/sister). No actual sex is shown on-screen and the relationship is not portrayed in a positive light, but viewers who are easily triggered should take this into consideration. Those who do elect to give this series a chance will find it a fascinating journey with marvelously developed characters and a sophisticated take on the themes of power, loss of innocence, and growing up.


Written by Kate Goddard, 

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

The Zellner Brothers’ Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a deeply somber modern-day odyssey with a host of heartbreaking episodes, softened by glimpses of droll humor. It is dark tragicomedy at its finest, and is cinematically stunning from beginning to end. The filmmakers reimagine a now-debunked urban myth involving a Japanese woman named Takako Konishi, who was found frozen in a Minnesota field. The news sensationalized her story, claiming that she died from pursuing the treasure she believed to be real in the movie, Fargo.

The Zellner Brothers’ Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a deeply somber modern-day odyssey with a host of heartbreaking episodes, softened by glimpses of droll humor. It is dark tragicomedy at its finest, and is cinematically stunning from beginning to end. The filmmakers reimagine a now-debunked urban myth involving a Japanese woman named Takako Konishi, who was found frozen in a Minnesota field. The news sensationalized her story, claiming that she died from pursuing the treasure she believed to be real in the movie, Fargo.

**major spoilers ahead**

Our fictional, oddball heroine Kumiko (award-winning Rinko Kikuchi, Babel and Pacific Rim) is an “office lady” who is fed up with her unfulfilling work life. She isolates herself from her co-workers — gossipy and appearance-obsessed young women — and detests her belittling boss. At 29, she rejects other societal expectations of women her age, to her mother’s dismay and boss’s confusion. She doesn’t have a boyfriend and refuses to move back in with her mom; she instead lives in a flat with her pet rabbit Bunzo, her only companion. Kumiko exists in a society that does not understand her differences. Her boss at one point questions her sexual orientation, implying that the only reason a 29-year-old woman can be unmarried is if she is homosexual. She also faces ageism when that boss hires a much younger woman to eventually replace her.

Photo @kumikomovie // Twitter
Photo @kumikomovie // Twitter

In her free time, Kumiko fixates on the Coen Brothers’ movie, Fargo, in which Steve Buscemi’s character buries a suitcase full of ransom money in snowy North Dakota. She watches this outdated VHS time and time again, carefully mapping out the location of the suitcase. Kumiko is a conquistador, as she proudly proclaims; it is her destiny and purpose to find this treasure. This could be an allusion to Don Quixote, another tragicomic protagonist who sets out on an unlikely quest to revive chivalry. In this world, the boundaries between the fictional and real start to blur.

In a metaphorical sense, the treasure isn’t the ransom money. It’s whatever lifelong goal, no matter how impossible, Kumiko or anyone else finds worthy of pursuing. Something existentially gratifying. In this sense, Kumiko is in fact a conquistador. The film depicts society as oppressive in such a way that the viewer can identify with the protagonist’s desire to break out. It brings to life a sort of absurd and meaningless world found in existential literature. Kumiko seeks to ascribe her own meaning by seeking to find this treasure. Her source of authenticity in this absurd world is recreating herself as a conquistador.

This makes our heroine almost antithetical to the misguided protagonist of Fargo. That character, Jerry, plans a backward scheme involving the fake kidnapping of his wife. He is driven by a need to fit this societal ideal of masculinity: being “financially independent” (not asking for money from his wife’s rich father but instead conning him) and able to provide for his family. Kumiko frees herself from societal pressures. She abandons any kind of institutionalized femininity depicted in the lives of the other “office ladies” and her friend with the child. In the end, Jerry is arrested and Kumiko succeeds in breaking free. Bunzo’s release from his cage and out into the world — one of the most heart-wrenching and adorable scenes in the film — is representative of Kumiko’s own transformative journey. Like her fluffy pet, Kumiko is afraid and unsure of how to handle her newfound freedom, but forces herself to take that leap to North Dakota.

There, several offbeat characters cross her path. They all are caricatures of uncultured Midwesterners who are unsure of how to deal with Kumiko, a lost Japanese woman who can barely utter a word of English. There is the lonely old lady who offers up anything she knows about Japan in order to identify with Kumiko, but comes across as inadvertently racist. Worse is the kindhearted but clueless police officer (David Zellner) who takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant in hopes that the Chinese owner would know a little bit of Japanese, as if the two are interchangeable. Both Kumiko and Fargo play up the pleasantly humdrum vibe of the Midwest while simultaneously portraying it as a cold, bleak and death-laden environment.

Photo @kumikomovie // Twitter
Photo @kumikomovie // Twitter

These characters try their best to guide Kumiko along but are ultimately discouraging. They tell her that what she’s setting out to find doesn’t exist. That her goal is impossible. She is confronted by this when the officer tells her that Fargo is just a “regular” movie, not a documentary, and that there is no treasure. Kumiko doesn’t believe this or let anyone deter her, showing that while she is not all there mentally, she is headstrong and knows what she wants. This leads to both her downfall and ensuing freedom from the absurd world.

When Kumiko starts spiraling into a crazed mania after escaping from a sinister cab driver and running into the woods, the movie adopts a much more surrealist tone. This is when the viewer really slips into Kumiko’s mind, feeling what she’s feeling and seeing what she’s seeing, rather than examining from an outside perspective. Kumiko loses touch with reality and so does the viewer, no longer sure of what’s real and what’s not. The sequences in the woods—when Kumiko is most desperate and unwavering—are some of the most beautifully shot and haunting scenes of the film.

While the ending initially felt like a bit of a cop out, I now realize that it’s empowering even if it results in the death of our peculiar heroine. When she emerges from the snow, in a sea of white, she is reborn. The world, for the first time, is a refreshing and joyous place. It is no longer grim and bleak. Kumiko seems hopeful, and the viewer can sense this newfound hope. She uncovers the treasure right where she expected it to be, and is reunited with Bunzo. This is her goal playing out and she laughs and celebrates. For a character that does not fit into society’s constraints, death may be the ultimate freedom, as bittersweet as that is. While not overtly her goal, this unintentional suicide could be emblematic of a seemingly impossible goal being attained. Again, beautiful but haunting.

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