Kabuki Theatre and Oiwa #theatre

I am a theatre junkie. Kabuki is at least as old as Shakespeare.  It’s one of THE drama traditions I heard about as soon as I decided theatre was my life. Going to a kabuki play was on my must-do list while I was in Tokyo, but it was also felt, for me, like going to a cathedral and I hadn’t been to confession.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

It was utterly amazing. It was actually four short pieces I saw, which — with intervals when you could get full meals and beer to have at your seat! — was three and half hours long. The style of acting and the men playing women (I’ll need to post about that separately—because) took some getting used to, because it’s so utterly different from any show I’ve ever seen before, and that’s part of the reason it was enthralling.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

Everything I felt seeing my first kabuki was wrapped up in what I’d felt earlier that day while trying to track down Oiwa…the main character in one of Japan’s creepiest ghost stories, most famous kabuki plays (I didn’t see that one, sadly), and many of the country’s successful horror films.

There are a few different versions of Oiwa’s story: here’s one of the shortest, yet best and scariest. Horror and/or Japanese film fans will recognise her likeness from the Ringu series.

I have presumed to put her into one of my stories…the short film I started work on in France over the summer, and the related feature-length screenplay I just drafted. They both concern domestic violence, culture clashes, racism, sexism, revenge, and guilt.

Theatre people are, put mildly, superstitious. We call it “The Scottish Play” or “McBoo”. We leave a “ghost light” on in the middle of the stage when the theatre is otherwise empty and dark. And in Japan, whenever an actor onstage, or an actress on film, takes the role of Oiwa, they go to her shrine in Tokyo and ask Oiwa’s permission to play her.

And that’s what I did too.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The trope of the Maiden Ghost, based on Oiwa, has appeared in so many incarnations now that she’s thrown the first pitch in a baseball game. Which sounds silly, but I find it actually shows that Japan takes her as seriously as kabuki; she is embedded in Japanese culture — everyone knows her, and everyone, in a strange way, loves her. She embodies something genuinely wrong — vengeance — but it’s something everyone understands and has, at some point, wanted against someone else. I’m frightened by and enthralled by her.

I hope it’s not cultural appropriation — Gore Verbinski’s remade Ringu, quite well, I thought. Yes, I went to visit Tokyo to see the city, yes I met up with an old friend who’s been in Japan 14 years. However…I also went to Tokyo specifically to visit Oiwa’s shrine and ask “is this okay?” I hope it is.

A closer look at one grave.

A closer look at one grave.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Dear @Marvel : this geek girl is angry at #GOTG. Here’s why.

Yes, I put the @ and # into the title on purpose, because when this gets posted on Twitter, I want people to see it. Discuss, troll, don’t care. Oh, and SPOILERS.

I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy on opening day. The trailers looked amazing, hilarious, and well done, so I wanted to see the film as soon as I could. Most of it I loved. What I didn’t love was a sliver….but that sliver is poisonous, it’s been getting bigger, and I’m furious that such a pernicious poison found its way into what should be simply a big, fun, movie.

It started with Peter Quill admitting he forgot not only the name, but the existence, of the lady-alien in his spaceship while he was off adventuring. Charming, handsome, Indiana-Jones-like hero…who takes after Indy in conquests too. I watched through my 3-D glasses, sighed inwardly, thought “Really?”, and decided to let it pass.

And then, near the end, Drax calls his new friend Gamora whore.

Drax is one of the heroes. We’re meant to like him. He’s been desperately, furiously missing his wife and daughter the whole story. This woman Gamora, his now friend, has proven capable of caving his head in. But when begrudgingly admitting his affection for her, the best he can come up with is the fallback sexual epithet.

In a movie for which 50% of the audience is women, and which Marvel intends for kids to see. Nice job.

So. Am I woman who’s taking this out of context, or just can’t take a joke?

When I was in junior high – 12 to 14 years old – I was a major target for abuse by the boys in my classes. Their favourite things to call me were “slut” and “whore”. It was clear that they had no clue what these words meant – only that they were nasty things one said specifically to girls. I, however, READ BOOKS, so I DID know what those words meant. And knowing that I WAS NOT what they were calling me, but also knowing that telling my teachers never stopped the names, I was forced to put up with it until I finished school.

During Guardians, once that word was said, its sliver was implanted. I did enjoy the rest of the movie…but I kept asking, “why that? why THAT?” And I’m still asking…of the screenwriters, the producers, “why did you let that happen?”

That word – and the fact that charming, funny, amazing Star-Lord is also (still) the kind of hero who’s blasé about at least seeing off home the girl he picked up for a good time… tells me that this movie was ultimately made by guys who simply don’t think what a girl would think about these things.

So: Marvel. I paid to see The Avengers in the cinema, twice. Same for Thor: The Dark World. I also own both of them. I won’t go see Guardians of the Galaxy again, and I won’t buy it. I’m going to remember the brilliant parts, and edit out THAT WORD, and THAT ATTITUDE, in my head.