Tag Archives: culture

Seven Social Classes

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I’m a little late to the game but the other day I stumbled on the Daily Mail Class Check system which allows you to check which of Britain’s seven (yes SEVEN) social classes you belong to. There’s also one of these on the BBC website and many others I’m sure.

The test can be found in this article here along with simplistic definitions of each class, a news paper page asking “SO WHICH ONE ARE YOU IN?” and a video of Mike Savage from the London School of Economics explaining in yet more simple terms how we define these new classes. The video is intercut with a famous comedy sketch from the 1960s featuring John Cleese and the Two Ronnies about social class.

It’s all made out to be a big ol’ game really: Have fun with social disparity! But actually I didn’t really find it all that much fun really. I felt that was all a bit meaningless…

Here’s why; The entire test takes about 10 seconds and is made up of 3 tabs; Economic, Social and Cultural. After selecting from a couple of options this system easily works out where in society you stand. So, a quick, uninterested test informed me that I am part of the Precariat class because at the moment I have very little income, I have a lot of friends and I enjoy hip-hop… Interestingly, I decided to come back to the test and adjust my hobbies a bit and found out that if I say that I go to the theatre occasionally I actually raise up a class in Great British Society to Emergent Service Sector without any change to my income or social tabs. I also found out that someone can raise from Precariat to Emergent Service Sector simply by listening to a bit of jazz and watching some sports.

So it seems that the difference between at least these two classes is based on our social leanings rather than any real economic value. On the other hand, some of the upper classes rely on money only and the fact you have no friends and never leave the house don’t have anything to do with it. So somebody could inherit a house, give up work, and exist only on pot noodles and World of Warcraft and they’re still considered part of the Traditional Working Class. Someone in the exact same situation who rents out a room or two and so has a yearly income of roughly £25 – 50k jumps all the way up to Technical Middle Class skipping one class altogether, again without ever having to speak to another human being.

So I’m thinking the system here is kind of broken. I understand what it’s trying to do by saying that people from a poorer area are more likely to game and listen to hip hop than in richer areas where everyone goes out to ballet and listens to classical music, but frankly, I think that’s bullshit.

No matter how you look at it the class system is purely based on economic value, so at least one of these classes (Emergent Service Sector) is already redundant. But the reason I wanted to write this isn’t just to pull apart the Daily Mail’s little game, I’d actually like to make a comment on the whole idea of our seven class systems as a whole.

I’m open to the idea that there may have been a time where having distinct social classes had some practical application, but right now it seems to serve no purpose other than to drive divides between people. The reason I think the above system is broken is because class systems are like a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. The fact that there are now seven classes which are kind of hard to tell apart at times shows that there isn’t actually that much of a difference between people and that the classes are becoming more diverse and vague. But the fact that we have these classes creates this difference. As I said, there is no practical application to this any more, it’s not as if I can walk into a benefits office, show them a card stating that I’m Emergent Service Sector and they can instantly tell me why I’m entitled to less than the Precariat guy two booths over.

Instead, things like benefits, jobseekers allowance, etc, are all dealt with now on a case by case basis according to an individuals unique income and assets, and of course this is exactly the way it should be. It’s also completely likely that nowadays somebody could rise from a low class to a high one easily, such as landing a good job or inheriting some money/a house. It’s got much less to do with our upbringing now, although of course that is still a big factor for a lot of people.

All this begs the question then why we would continue to divide ourselves into these different groups.


Now the money side of things; as I said, I’m well educated and have worked all my life. The reason my income is so low and sporadic is that companies seem so reluctant to hire new people at the moment. Every job I’ve worked in for the last few years have been on zero hour contracts which often vanish with no warning. I’ve also been to several interviews and induction days (especially in London) for jobs which are either 100% commission based or almost 100% with a base rate way way lower than the national minimum wage. In fact the job I’m working now is the first full time, reasonably paid, stable work I’ve had for years and I had to move to Spain for it!

I’ve never once been asked about my education or social leanings when at an interview so I can only assume that these factors don’t actually affect my class level or employability. It’s also damn hard to make money as a contemporary artist right now with many arts council funding cuts, and other concerns (which I suppose is ironic as it seems the audience for the arts are better respected than the people producing it).

But whatever the reasoning, the simple fact is; I make very little money and the fact I might like theatre and jazz doesn’t change that. It definitely doesn’t make me better than the guy next door and the fact he likes games and hip hop doesn’t make him worse than me. We really are in the same boat and should respect each other as such.

The worst thing about pretending that social class has anything to do with our hobbies or whatever is that it splits people into the respectable and unrespectable poor. For the upper classes it doesn’t matter a lick what music, sports or social activities they undergo, they are still rich regardless, and the poor are still poor. 

Another reason the social and cultural tabs are completely useless are because they sort of ellude to a different world to the one in which we live. Nowadays, in the internet age, the fact that someone doesn’t go out much can mean very little. Someone who spends 8-12 hours a day on the internet could well be watching youtube vids, or they might be planning a social revolution, or both.

As an artist I myself know that the contemporary art scene extends much further than the theatres and galleries you visit nowadays. I watch the work of various theatre companies from all over the world, communicate with them and even devise my own material with a few companies, all through Facebook and other social media. I think this test has a dated, or at least simplistic view of the internet, society and ‘culture’ in general.

The worst thing about having all these different classes is that it just gives us more ways to label and judge people, and I think that is something we really don’t need in the UK right now as we’re all having quite a hard time getting along as it is. It basically just comes down to being able to look at someone and feel superior to them. I feel better than this guy because I am cultured and he is not. We both spend our evening going through the dumpsters outside tescos, but at least he doesn’t know who Dostoyewski was.

What’s also funny is that if we look at the accumulated debt of individuals I’m actually a hell of a lot richer than some working professionals who own their own homes but who are also £120,000 in debt, so surely I should be in a higher class than them?

Obviously its all very, very complicated, there’s a lot of opinion and subjectivity involved so I’m not going to carry on too much, but the point is I wholeheartedly believe that unless this information is used to improve the living circumstances of people and to even out the massive social disparity in this country (which I also wholeheartedly believe it will not be) then splitting us again into more social groups does nothing but hinder us and breed unacceptence and even hate, as is being proved by the horrendous way our lower classes are being publicly shamed, and the way the upper classes are so despised on street level.

The Winter’s Tale – Re-imagined for everyone ages six and over

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imagesThe Winter’s Tale is an odd play at the best of times, what with its sixteen year gap and massive shift in tone between acts. It can only get odder if you imagine it through the eyes of a child. And that’s exactly what you can find at the Regent’s Park Open air Theatre right now.

Re-imagined for people ages 6 and up, The Winter’s Tale is a real treat for families. The play is, of course, cut down and simplified for kids, but that’s not to say the play is just simple and nor does it speak down to its audience. Shakespeare’s rich language is still present as is the jealousy, cruelty and death of the first act. The magic and festivities of the second are also handled with aplomb. What this production does wonderfully is hit the middle ground between being silly and serious.

As I said, the play is a bit problematic itself in the way that the first act is generally much more somber than the second, and especially with this production I found that it wasn’t until the second act that it really hit its stride. There were hints of the madness to come right from the outset, with happy-go-lucky dance moves, pop-culture references and a great visual gag involving a boat, but it really isn’t until the second act that it all comes together.

Beginning with the bizarre sheep shearing contest which was, in this case, realised quite magnificently, the second act seems to relish in the sheer absurdity of it all and is much stronger for it. The visual gags really come into their own and the performances also take off.

For me, the highlight though, was the audience! Kids absolutely loved this show and their reactions and interactions were just as entertaining as the show itself. It’s just excellent hearing some of the stuff that kids come out with. At one point, just as the notorious bear attack is looming near, one kid near us ominously said ‘He’s gunna die…’ and then burst into laughter when the fated attack happened! At another point we were all encouraged to call out ‘Sheer the sheep! Sheer the sheep!’ but some mischievous children behind us were instead shouting ‘Eat the sheep!’ and there was even one rather macabre little boy calling out ‘SKIN THE SHEEP!’ One final moment of note was watching an entire block of tiny children reenacting the Gangnam Style dance routine.

The performances are fun and easy, with a stand out performance by Dean Nolan. In general they handle the Shakespeare in a clear and concise way and switch nicely but simply between multiple characters. The show never really hits any of the play’s emotional highs, but instead is a wonderfully fun and rather silly afternoons entertainment. I’d highly recommend seeing it, if not just to enjoy the children’s reactions to the insanity on stage.

The show is on until the 20th of July and more info can be found here.

LEVEL UP! +10 INTEGRITY TO PLAYER 1

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Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.

Sandwiches and cigarettes with Hayao Miyazaki

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post detailing my first few days in Tokyo, with the promise that I’d follow it up with more details at a later point. A promise that I abruptly failed to deliver on. So, now I’ll try to fill in a bit on something cool which happened.

After our first show in the AiiA Theatre, we had a small meet and greet with members of our sponsors and other interested parties. During the night, we were told that our schedule was being suspended on a certain day because we were to be taken to the actual Studio Ghibli for a small tour. Now this, it may not be commonly known, is relatively rare. Rare enough that they have resorted to placing a very obvious piece of paper on the front door which states; ‘Studio Ghibli is a closed studio. We do not offer tours’.197758_10200499802631282_529193703_n

The studio is a collection of buildings in Koganei, Tokyo. It’s a lovely area and pretty perfect for the studio. It’s very green, very peaceful and very pretty. Jeff (who was showing us around and also happens to be the producer of the English dub of the upcoming From Up On Poppy Hill) told us that for some reason the local area was really badly planned, resulting in oddly laid out properties and lots of space in between them, filled with trees and other greenery. It really is the perfect place for the studio and gives the impression that these people are living the ideal ‘artist’ lifestyles.

It might also be interesting to note that Gainax have their studios there too. Unfortunately despite desperately wanting to meet Hiroyuki Yamaga (director of Wings of Honneamise (which I wrote a blog about here) and writer of Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket) I didn’t get the chance to see them.

On the way to the studio we were shown a beautiful building which was designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself and where all the Ghibli employee’s children stay during the day. As soon as they saw us, all the kids began running wild, shouting and jumping around, whilst their poor carer chased them desperately trying to calm them down. Next we walked passed, if I remember correctly, Studio 5, which is where the background art is done. And a few other studio buildings, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what happened where.

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Studio 5

The one place I do remember pretty well, is Miyazaki-san’s private studio. Stopping outside the building, we were shown where Miyazaki’s car was parked and told how he spends his day before being invited inside. After an appropriate period of suspense had played out, the man himself appeared in all his prolific, fantastically bearded glory.

I guess it comes with being one of the most important artists currently working, but when such a man enters the room, the effect is profound. An excited (and almost fearful) hush falls over the room and you can almost hear the collective hearts in the room skip a beat. I must admit, I’m not the sort of person to get star struck and I had to laugh a bit looking around the room at all the faces filled with so much admiration that they’d lost all control. It was a beautiful moment which I’m so glad I could be a part of.

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That is me in the stripy shirt and spotty trousers.

After he kindly signed and personalised pictures for us all, he thanked us for all our work and cracked out some sandwiches. Saying; ‘please smoke if you like – I’m going to’, he sparked up and we all dug in.

And let me tell you, these sandwiches were completely excellent! I took the box mine came in, but I think it got lost in transit. It’s a shame, that was a memory I’d cherish.

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Cast and crew of Princess Mononoke with Miyazaki and Suzuki.

We had a lovely time speaking to various people around the room and basking in the glory of the situation. Our Asitaka (the lead in the show) showed off riding Yakul (his trusty elk, played by another actor) and we all mingled most effectively.

After a wonderful time we were all hustled out and Toshio Suzuki took us into one of the other studios and showed us around a bit. Unfortunately I have to be a bit secretive about anything we may or may not have seen inside the studio, so I’ll stop there.

It was a wonderful, dreamlike time. We were told that we had somehow reminded Miyazaki and Suzuki of their younger selves and we had inspired them, just as they had us. Hearing that from some of our most respected figures was amazing and people cried and I laughed at them and a great time was had by all.

The next evening Suzuki took us all to dinner and I spent the evening talking about Ultraman G with Seiji Okuda, the executive producer of Death Note.

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My autograph. The umbrella was added because the character I play carries one around in both our show and in the film.

This day really made me reflect on the last few years. I’ve done some amazing things in the past year or two, and this was just one of many. I’ve trained under Gennady Bogdanov, heir to the Meyerhold legacy. I’ve made a show with Andrzej and Teresa Welminski, lead actors from Tadeusz Kantor’s Cricot2 company and wonderful artists in their own right. I’ve performed at a whole bunch of international venues including the legendary Moscow Arts Theatre. And now I’ve met Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki.

All these things attribute to a rather bizarre feeling; the feeling that I actually exist. I’m not getting weird here, I’ve not had some grand existential breakthrough, but it is a real feeling. Not that I exist on a molecular level and not even that I’m someone worth knowing about. But, just that I’m managing to exist in this world that I’ve chosen to be a part of. When I decided that I would be an artist, I sort of meant I’d write in my room and perform to my friends and family. But now, I feel like slowly, slowly I’m actually beginning to exist within the art world.

Obviously it doesn’t actually make a difference to my art no matter who I might have shared sandwiches with. But it does encourage me that I’m on the right track, that I really do exist in the same world as these great things and people, and that I might actually consider myself a real artist sometime soon…As opposed to a pretend one, that it.

Acceptance of my Liebster Award

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liebster-award“Ever heard of the Liebster Award Jack? If not, you’re about to because I just nominated you for one.”

What a very exciting comment for somebody to leave on one’s blog! This is what I woke up to this morning, and in my bleary eyed, half asleep state I felt incredibly humbled without even knowing what a Liebster Award was. I’m the sort of man who gets extremely over excited if anybody so much as hits the ‘like’ button on my blog. If a post gets more than one like, I am overcome with pride, and if anybody follows me I’m as giddy as a child on Christmas. So, to realise that somebody likes my blog enough to give me an award is absolutely grand. Although, I must admit it did make me feel slightly guilty about my lack of activity recently!

I have the lovely Linda Torlakson over at Thoughts and fears about dying (and living!) to thank for my Liebster so, thank you Linda!

I first came across Linda during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where she provided much support and encouragement. Her blog is a lovely collection of posts and articles on writing and blogging, occasionally delving into questions of human nature and psychology. It’s a really nice, heartfelt blog which I highly recommend.

Now that I have been nominated for a Liebster Award, it’s probably a good idea to work out what that is, right?

Liebster is a German word meaning ‘dearest’ or ‘cherished’. Linda says that it has nothing to do with how many readers or likes you have, but simply shows that somebody out there is reading and enjoying your work.

The idea is that someone nominates a certain number of people for an award, and then each of them nominate their own people and so on and so forth. It’s been compared to those chain mails we’re all far too familiar with, but the difference is; Liebster Awards are nice, not annoying.

The person nominating you will ask 5 questions and then, you’ll ask your people 5 questions also.

So, here are my questions from Linda and my answers:

1. Why did you initially launch your blog?

I initially launched it as a way to research for my children’s novel Sketch. Each post was related to something I was writing about and gave me the opportunity to learn about it through writing about it. It was also a way for me to practice writing in general and to sneakily promote my acting work.
2. Is that still its primary purpose or has it evolved into something else?

Yes, and yes… That is still the primary purpose however Sketch has been on the back burner recently. The blog became more a place for me to speak my mind and ponder over subjects I found generally interesting. That was never my intention but I’m glad it has become this.
3. How does your blog reflect who you are (or who you wish you were)?

I think it shows off a less scruffy version of myself. A place where I can actually sort through my thoughts and think about what I’m saying, rather than just rambling as I do in person.
4. What do you hope to offer readers through your blog?

I just hope people find some sort of interest through it.
5. What are your five favorite blogs to read and why? (I’m giving you a head start on the nomination process should you decide to accept)

Well, I feel like this question is cheating! So I’m going to list my 5 nominations underneath:

1. Unbound Boxes Limping Gods – From writer Cheryl Moore this blog is a collection of shorts based on characters from her story Unbound Boxes Limping Gods. Cheryl describes her writing as ‘experimental feminist fiction and poetry’. This is deep, involving stuff illustrated by the author. I highly recommend it to any writers, or those who enjoy stories.

2. Brains are cool – This blog belongs to my friends boyfriend Barney Low. It’s a collection of  ‘ruminations about consciousness’ which although complex have been made accessible and easy to read by Barney.

3. HarsH ReaLiTy – From Opinionated Man. A blog about the harshness of reality (obviously) with scatterings of his own writing and poetry.

4. Otherwhere – News and film reviews from around the world, specifically looking at Japanese and Korean cinema.

5. Alastair Savage – Another writer blogging about his thoughts on poetry, fiction and pretty much everything else. Also placed throughout are extracts from his own fiction. Alastair has some very cool and interesting views on the world. Well worth checking out.

And now my questions to thou humble few:

1. Are you happy?

2. Does your blog help you fulfill your creative needs?

3. Do you write for you readers or for yourself?

4. What is your favourite city in the world?

5. Do you think that internet distribution of art (blogging, myspace, etc) and the fact that it is easier than ever for people to get their work seen by others, could eventually do away with the idea of commercial success for the arts (that’s nothing to do with artistic or creative success, just numbers on an atm)? Do you think that’s a good or bad thing?

Once again. Thanks very much Linda!leibster

Hello Japan

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DSC_0033As a kid I always wanted to visit Tokyo. It seemed like an amazing place, filled with cats and robots and anime-a-plenty. Well, yesterday I arrived in Tokyo where I’ll be performing Princess Mononoke with Wholehog Theatre! To come here for a work reason, and to perform in the theatre no less, feels amazing!

As first impressions go, this is a pretty crazy and exciting place to be! The funny thing is; it at once feels extremely foreign and strangely familiar. I think in this internet age, we have access to so much information, images and movies that we have a good sense of what a great deal of places are like before we actually see them in person, so we don’t find it so surprising when we actually arrive – wandering around the amazingly eclectic Shinjuku area of Tokyo was a lot like this. Things like the way the buildings are laid out, the songs the traffic lights play and things like that are exactly as I pictured them to be.

Upon arrival, we were taken straight to our hotel; The Listel Hotel in Shinjuku. It’s a lovely little place with fantastically 70’s style rooms. The best thing, was walking in and finding a complimentary cotton kimono laid out on my bed! Wasting no time, every male member of the cast donned these and met in the hallway whilst the women looked on and shook their heads at us. In our excitement at least four of us (spread over two rooms) forgot our keycards and locked ourselves out, wearing nothing but our new found kimonos.

Some great features of the room are a built in radio which plays obscure Japanese talk shows and a decent sized tv with some Japanese channels. Usually, the last thing I want to do in a hotel is watch tv or listen to the radio, but it’s just so interesting to see it here. Another enjoyable, if not rather surprising feature is the bathroom, and more specifically the toilet. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say; it’s all a bit much for my English sensitivities!

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Shinjuku, my temporary home

Wandering around Shinjuku is like a childhood dream come true. Everywhere you look, there are flashing lights and massive cartoon-esque signs. Pop music seems to linger in the very air and beautiful people on 20ft billboards are forever looking down at you.

There  are just so many exciting bizarre things to see at every moment. At one point, me and a few of my buddies; Adam and Andy, were walking down the street when a truck drove past dragging a trailer with two giant bikini clad robot anime girls singing pop music. Andy has since told me that they had chairs built into their groins…maybe they’re part of some sort of theme park ride? Who knows. Since then, we’ve seen this Giant Robot Truck (GRuck) several times.

The GRuck

The GRuck

Soon after this, we decided to pop into an arcade. Now, one thing to know about Tokyo, is that one does not just ‘pop into’ an arcade! It was five floors high (actually there was a sixth, but we dared not go in, on account of how pink it was and how many pretty girls there were in there). Still, me and Andy ran around the place with childlike grins on our faces watching the various pros playing on dance machines and other gadgets which defy comprehension.

Another thing me and Andy got over excited about was a Cat Cafe! Unfortunately, it was all booked up, so all we saw of it was the reception, which looked conspicuously like a vet. Still, we’ll be booking a place for next week at some point.

We also wandered into the Shinjuku red light district which is a fantastic blaze of lights, music and colorful dress senses. A really exciting, lively place to be, and I imagine the night life is amazing.

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Between all of this craziness are the temples. These are beautiful classic Japanese houses with lovely gardens and miniature shrines. In one, we drank water from a pool decorated with a dragon, in another, we played with Coy fish, making them swim circles around our hands. I found it really interesting watching people come and pray or make wishes at the shrines. I didn’t realise this was still such a large part of Japanese culture. I think it’s a shame we don’t have things like this in London. There’s something very peaceful, spiritual if you like, about it. I think from a purely practical point of view it would be wonderful to have somewhere to stop off at on the way to work, where we have a moment to reflect on the day, what we’d like to achieve from it, make a wish, etc. Obviously these shrines mean more than this to these people, but still, it would be nice.

Another very cool feature is of course the food! Noodles are pretty much my favorite thing ever, so to eat real, proper, genuine, yummy noodles is ace! Everywhere you go there are noodle and rice bars. Genuine Onigiri is also excellent – so, very excellent!

Partially related to food is the excessive amount of vending machines we see everywhere. A very exciting feature of these is the ability to get a can of hot coffee out of them for 100YEN, that’s about 67p. These are so obviously and incredibly useful that I find myself wondering why we don’t have many move vending machines in London… Oh yeah, it might have something to do with the fact that they’d most definitely get cracked open by someone a week after being installed. I’m told that Tokyo is the safest city in the world, and on the face of it, it looks likely. There’s no obvious signs of vandalism anywhere, bikes are left unchained in the street and walls of washing machines are left outside (possibly due to teeny, tiny houses) and nothing gets stolen. The whole bike thing took a while for me to get my head around. No one steals the bikes? What do you mean no one steals the bikes? But…They’re bikes…? I think everyone I know in England has had a bike stolen. I sort of thought bikes were supposed to be stolen. But hey. It’s very nice to know people are considerate and decent here, but it’s just a bit…weird…

On the way to work

On the way to work

All these things are mixed up within a beautifully maintained city. It’s very open and there are parks and trees everywhere! It makes such a huge difference, making everything feel that much more welcoming and pleasant. The whole city is very friendly and as I said, apparently the safest city in the world. An interesting personal observation; I remember going to Moscow and feeling sort of intimidated by the lack of English (etc) at first. But here, there is no more English, yet I feel super confident and street-wise. I’d have no qualms hopping on the metro and recon I could find my way around easily enough, or just wandering the streets. I now know this is purely psychological! When I went to Moscow the most useful piece of advice I was given was; ‘You will probably die’. Here, on the other hand, People have said; ‘You defiantly won’t die’. I thought I was relativity strong willed and open minded and I hadn’t realised how much these things effected my point of view right from the outset, but apparently, they really have. Obvious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

Last night a few of us went out into Shibuya, a hugely busy and popular area of Tokyo, where we met a nice guy who has been living here for a year who was able to tell us some very interesting things about Japan, Tokyo and the quality of life here, outside of our fairy tale vision of the city. I was very glad of this and he told me that he’s been blogging about life in Japan, so it’ll be interesting to have a look at his stuff at some point.

And of course, one very important thing we did was check out the theatre that we’ll be performing in! It’s the AiiA Theater in Shibuya. The theatre is rather large and rather respectable, so it will be extremely exciting to get inside of it! Of course it’s worlds away from the New Diorama in London, dwarfing it in size, so it’ll certainly be tricky adapting to such a large space…and such a large audience!

DSC_0031It’ll be great to see even more of the city if I can, but so far, my biggest impression of Tokyo is that it’s very green, very shiny and very wonderful. I hope I’ve given an idea of what it’s been like so far. I always find these travel blogs so hard to write, because I’m trying to give a sense of something which is also completely new to me!

I’ll do a separate post on our work in the theatre and any other exciting things we do throughout the next few weeks. But for now; Sayonara.

The Wings of Honneamise and THAT scene

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honneamise-726389Being involved with the first ever stage adaptation of a Studio Ghibli film, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m surrounded by other Ghibli enthusiasts and general anime fans. Of course, when surrounded by these sort of people and these subjects, one will undoubtedly find their interest in such things re-ignited with more fire than before. This is certainly how I am feeling at the moment and because of this I have been watching a number of anime titles I have up to this point never seen before.

Last night, I watched a fantastic little film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

Wings of Honneamise was released in 1987 and is the first and only full length feature film produced by animation studio Gainax. The film takes place in an alternate version of Earth in which an industrial revolution is flourishing despite the impending war between two nations (Honneamise and ‘The Republic’). At this time, the Space force is working (much to the amusement of the ‘real’ military) towards putting the first man in space. That man is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, who only joined the space program because he didn’t qualify to join the more reputable air force. Lhadatt is a bit of a slacker, only continuing his work with the space program as a way to ensure he can continue to live comfortably compared to the many homeless and jobless of Honneamise.

Whilst wandering the streets one night he meets Riquinni Nonderaiko, a kind hearted religious girl who is preaching against the many injustices and sins of the world. The two become friends and Riquinni’s enthusiasm about what the space program symbolises rekindles Lhadatt’s pride in the program. This is why he volunteers to take the role of first astronaut, despite the obvious danger to himself.

And this is pretty much the basis of the film. From here on we learn about the characters, we see the effect the space program has on both the people and the governing body of  Honneamise, we watch the conflict between the two nations build, using the space program as a catalyst to wage their inevitable war, and we see the growth of our main characters.images

Wings of Honneamise is generally considered one of the finest examples of Japanese adult animation. However, most reviews are often worded something like this:

‘One scene short of a masterpiece.’

‘One of the best animes I’ve ever seen, despite ‘that’ scene.’

‘A beautiful film ruined by one ugly scene.’

Many, many people agree that there is a single scene in the film, often referred to as ‘that scene’, which soils the overall experience the film offers. If you have seen the film, you will instantly know which scene I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should know that I’m about to start giving away spoilers for the film, so if you intend to watch it, you might not want to read on.

The scene in question comes about two thirds into the film, when Lhadatt attempts to rape Riquinni in her home. The scene is very coldly realised and unrelenting in its portrayal of the act. Lhadatt attacks Riquinni as she is undressing, pinning her to the floor before he realises what it is he’s doing and stops himself. At this point Riquinni gives him a well deserved braining with a candlestick, knocking him unconscious. The next morning, as Riquinni is leaving home, Lhadatt runs after her to apologise but instead she insists that she be the one to apologise for hitting him. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ she says, ‘You’re a wonderful person and I shouldn’t have hit you. Please forgive me or I shall never forgive myself.’ Well, that all sounds pretty awful and misogynistic now doesn’t it? But  y’know…I’m  not so sure.honneamise3

Now, before I go any further, allow me to explain myself. I despise the way rape is used in media nowadays. It seems to me that whenever a story requires a female character to be hurt, traumatised or damaged in any way, rape is the first port of call. Whenever a man has to be shown as being evil, he’ll rape, or threaten to rape someone. Websites such as Women in Refrigerators exist as a reminder of our frighting and frankly disgusting preoccupation with rape. However, when I was reading reviews of Wings of Honneamise after having seen it, I found myself disagreeing with people’s disgust at this scene. I felt that a lot of people didn’t understand why the scene was in the film at all, and many think the film would be better without the scene. So, I’d like to offer my point of view, what I think the scene’s function is and why I think it is important that it remains.

Right, so, from the outset I am very very surprised how few people mention the scene which comes before ‘that scene’. Some background first: When Lhadatt first comes into contact with Riquinni she is living in a small house outside of the city. Throughout the film we see her life systematically destroyed by the commercialist world they live in; first her electricity is shut off, then her house is demolished to make room for a power plant. She moves into a seemingly unused church after this, which is where ‘the scene’ takes place.

Just before, the two of them meet outside in the rain and rush home together. When they get inside Riquinni takes off her wet boots and some money falls out of them which she shamefully picks up, whilst Lhadatt and Manna (a little girl living with Riquinni) pretend not to notice. For the rest of the evening Lhadatt ignores Riquinni, refusing to look at her until he begins watching her legs from beneath the table. Now, for me, the whole money in the shoe thing was an obvious sign that Riquinni had been prostituting herself to make ends meet. This is reinforced later when Lhadatt mentions that Riquinni ‘must be at…work…’. I’m very surprised that so few people seem to have picked this up.

This fact sort of changes everything. For a start, it goes towards explaining why Lhadatt is so angry with her, and why he allows his frustration to take control. Whether or not Lhadatt is in love with Riquinni is up for interpretation, but it is plainly obvious that he cares for her and that he is attracted to her. The fact that he tries to befriend Manna and offers to give Riquinni the money for a solicitor after her home is destroyed shows that the attraction is not purely physical. So when he learns that she is whoring herself, but still will not consent to anything other than a platonic relationship with him, he is deeply hurt. His anger at her for selling other men the sort of attention that he would have cherished from her sparks his anger and he takes on a certain ‘if they can have you, so should I’ mentality.

But this is not all. Riquinni acts as a pillar of strength for Lhadatt. She renews his pride in his mission, and that what he is doing is right, that he isn’t simply part of what she considers a sinful, unjust world. This is extremely important given that before he goes to visit Riquinni he undergoes a press release in which someone tells him to make up something about why the space program is important and what it symbolises for mankind. By his reaction it’s plainly obvious he is loosing any faith in ‘why’ he’s doing it. Directly after this a news reporter tells him that 30,000 people could be re-homed if the space program cut its funding by half. The reason he goes to Riquinni after this is for some kind of support and reassurance. Instead, he finds out that the purest, most innocent and righteous person he has ever met is prostituting herself. This feels like a betrayal to Lhadatt who is not smart enough to notice the necessity of her actions. He simply feels like she is making a ‘compromise with God’ which is exactly what he suggests earlier when asking why she wont be with him. She replies by saying ‘it’s that sort of compromise that made the world what it is today!’, so it hurts Lhadatt to find her making exactly that sort of compromise. I also wonder, even though it’s never said, that Lhadatt might be able to provide for her if she let him. The main problem of course, is that Riquinni sees no romantic future with Lhadatt whatsoever.

Earlier in the film, Riquinni gave Lhadatt a holy book which he has been reading, trying to understand her point of view. When he finds out she has given into the harsh, sinful side of reality, he looses all will to be anything else and so too gives into his temptation.

During the attack he pauses. As he lies on top of her he suddenly realises what he is doing and stops himself. This moment acts as a symbol as well as a literal event. Lhadatt’s realisation is not just the realisation that he is capable of raping a woman, but that he is part of the military driven society which has forced her into prostitution. It’s only at this moment that he really hears the words of the news reporter. Well over 30,000 people, like Riquinni, cannot afford homes, and are being forced to find ulterior methods of securing income simply to survive because of large scale projects such as the space program. In many ways, the rape of Riquinni has already been carried out, and she had already been defiled by the society they live in, a society which Lhadatt plays a lead role.

None of the above defends Lhadatt’s actions, and in fact shows that he is no better than anyone in the film. He does an awful thing which shocks both the audience and himself. Many reviews I’ve read criticise this scene for destroying a character who had up to this point been rather likeable. I would argue that this is the point of the scene, in which we are shown that nobody, not Lhadatt nor Riquinni are without sin, and are affected by the state of their society.

The later scene, in which Riquinni apologises for hitting Lhadatt backs this up as soon as we realise that Riquinni is not really saying sorry for clocking Lhadatt over the head with a candlestick, but that she is saying sorry for giving into sin. Just as Lhadatt cannot see the necessity of Riquinni’s work, she can not see the righteousness in it. She understands she must do it to provide for herself and Manna, but she sees herself as sinful and wrong. There’s also the possibility that Riquinni is in complete denial about the whole thing. This leads on to something else people have criticised.

Lhadatt doesn’t seem to feel much remorse about the whole thing. It’s never mentioned again, he doesn’t seem to brood over it. In fact, it seems to be almost entirely swept under the carpet. This is generally considered to be bad taste on the part of director and writer Hiroyuki Yamaga, and a sign that the scene served to real purpose other than to shock. I think it’s something else though, I think it’s firstly another example of one of the films main themes; denial (the denial of sin, the denial of being a part of a corrupt government, etc) Lhadatt is denying the event just as much as Riquinni is. It’s also a cold reminder of human nature. I suppose in Lhadatt’s head it is easier to pretend it never happened than to face up to the fact, especially if Riquinni seems content to do so.

These are the films darkest moments, and show our characters in the most negative light. It also comes just in time for the final part of the film in which the action really picks up. Lhadatt is pursued by an assassin in a somewhat rather absurd chase scene, and then we’re onto the final stint in which the rocket is finally launched into space. Then effect it has though, is that we can never really shake the feeling that the scene has left us with. Our connection with Lhadatt has weakened and we cannot wholly root for him any more. This, being the desired effect. Once Lhadatt has reached space, we are left wondering if it was really worth it. If Lhadatt is the kind of man who should be named a hero and an innovator, which is likely to happen, and we wonder if the space program was worth the poverty and conflict that it caused. It’s actually quite hard to feel good for the people of Honneamise.

This is really important given the final prayer of the film.

Just a quick note – I watched the film subtitled, and have realised that it differs a fair bit from the dub. So my understanding of the end is based on the sub translation.tumblr_mbehctdXq51qj7fjto1_1280

‘Is anybody down there listening to this broadcast? This is mankind’s first astronaut. The human race has just taken its first step into the world of the stars. Like the oceans and the mountains before, space too was once just God’s domain. As it becomes a familiar place for us, it’ll probably end up as bad as everywhere else we’ve meddled. We’ve spoiled the land, We’ve fouled the air. Yet we still seek new places to live, and so now we journey out to space. There’s probably no limit to how far we can spread.

Please. Whoever is listening to me. How you do it doesn’t matter, just please; give some thanks to man’s arrival here.

Please, show us mercy and forgive us. Don’t let the way ahead be one of darkness. As we stumble down the path of our sinful history, let there be always one shining star to show the way.’

This is a great achievement from a flawed species. It could spell new hope, or new disaster. Is it a good thing Lhadatt finally reached space? The answer is simply yes, because it shows that through everything, human perseverance has won through. It is also positive because the men and women of the space program were working towards the betterment of mankind, not a political leg up. However, it is what comes next which would tell.  Reaching space may fill many with hope of a bright new era of innovation and perhaps peace, or, as is suggested earlier in the film, if taken into the wrong hands it may spell new and inventive ways for the two nations to bomb each other.

It is neither an optimistic nor pessimistic end to the film, and this is important. I think if the film and the characters had not reached the lows that they had, then the ending would not have been so poignant.

One final note:

I found an article here that describes the scene and says that anyone who defends it is ‘intellectually dishonest or just human filth’. Well, I guess I fall into this bracket, so, human filth it is. But, the writer did include a few things that made me raise my eyebrows:

Apparently, in the commentary track the assistant director, Takami Akai, says that ‘Riquinni reveals herself as a “strong woman” by completely forgiving Shiro and saying that it was her fault’. Well…I don’t really know what to say about that. Obviously I’d argue that it suggests the exact opposite, and that she, like Lhadatt is in fact shown to be very weak. This doesn’t change my analysis of the film, but it does make me wonder just what were the original intentions of the film makers, and if they were consciously aware of all these interpretations people now make.

Another thing that really shocked me was that Akai apparently mentions that he wanted to use animation rcels from the attack as promotion material. Fortunately, people hid all of the production materials from him. Obviously, this can in no way be justified and that all this paints Takami Akai in a very bad light, but I haven’t listened to the whole commentary track myself, so I can’t say anything for sure.

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And so there you have my 2 pennies worth! Whatever the film makers intentions may have been, the fact is that ‘that scene’ is not merely one scene among many, but feeds into the whole rest of the film, and I think it has to be viewed this way. To many people seem to take the scene on it’s own, as a horrible and shocking piece, which it is, but when taken as a part of the whole it is not completely gratuitous or unnecessary. Are there other ways the film makers could have portrayed this? Probably. But they chose this way, and instead of just booing it, it’s important to see why it’s there.