Author: Rosie Dang

A goal-oriented daydreamer. Bachelor of Communication and Media studies (Dean's Scholar). Marketing Communication and Advertising Major. Digital Media and Global Media Minor. University of Wollongong, Australia.

Akira and my autoethnography journey

Autoethnography is “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis 2011) As a method, autoethnography combines characteristics of autobiography and ethnography (Ellis 2011), which will be utilised to understand the protagonist Tetsuo in Akira film.

When writing an autobiography, an author retroactively and selectively writes about their “epiphanies” – remembered moments, crises and events with significant impact on a person’s life (Ellis 2001). 

I will begin my autoethnography journey by looking back into my past.

Japanese anime has been no stranger to me.

One of my biggest hobbies during my adolescence was reading Japanese manga and watching Japanese anime. My two favorite manga series, which both had their anime adaptations, were Inuysha and Ranma ½, all written by Japanese manga artist Rumiko Takahashi. Despite my early and extensive exposure, I have never pondered over whether there were any motifs or dominant themes in the world of Japanese anime.

Until today, I got the chance to watch Akira, a Japanese animated sci-fi cyberpunk action film depicting a dystopian version of Tokyo in the year 2019. 

The very moment when Tetsuo’s grotesque, gigantic body transformation was overflowing the screen in my class, it suddenly dawned on me that most of the Japanese anime that I enjoyed do have one thing common: Metamorphosis. 

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Tetsuo’s body metamorphosis. Source: Pinterest

Inuyasha anime features a half-demon-half-human who could turn into a ‘real human’ or a ‘full-fledged demon’ in different cases. Ranma ½ is about the protagonist Ranma who is cursed to switch between being a girl and a boy when splashed with water. Tetsuo’s body in the film ending, similarly, is also transformed. However, both Inuyasha and Ranma possess confused and comic figures, while Tetsuo’s metamorphism is confused and terrifying. These two different ways of body representations are very popular in Japanese animation, especially when it comes to the notion of the adolescent body as a site of metamorphosis (Susan 2001).

Autobiographers can make texts aesthetic and evocative by using techniques of “showing” to bring readers into the scene” – particularly into thoughts, emotions, and actions, in order to “experience an experience”.

Ethnography, as part of autobiography, studies a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture (Susan 2001). 

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A special detail that struck me was the scene of Tetsuo attempting to jump start Kaneda’s enormous red motorcycle, only to be laughed at by his stronger comrade. A feeling of resentment towards the gang and pity for Tetsuo emerged from inside me, seeing Tetsuo silently going back to his motorbike.

Throughout the film, Tetsuo gradually becomes a victim, a protester to the oppressive authority, and a criminal. However, when Tetsuo drags Kaneda into his body metamorphosis, Tetsuo is screaming, begging for help from Kaneda. Before Tatsuo disappears, he shows Kaneda his memory of when they first met and how Kaneda started protecting Tetsuo. After all, Tetsuo is still a frightened and alienated adolescent in the crisis that made him monstrous both to himself and others. 

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Tatsuo and Kaneda. Source: Pinterest

Inuyasha, as a half-demon, has always been outcast by both humans and demons. Ranma, with his gender transformation, is considered as ‘weird, abnormal’ by everyone else. Tetsuo, Inuyasha and Ranma all fit into dominant themes in Japanese cultural self-representation, which ‘have long been those of uniqueness, isolation, and victimization – hence of a lone nation struggling against all odds’ (Susan 2001). 

In conclusion, using different forms of autobiography – personal narratives, layered accounts and co-constructed narratives (the live-tweeting experience with my peers), I have broadened my understanding of the representation of Tetsuo in Akira, and on the broader scale, the Japanese anime world and the Japanese culture. 

 

References:

Ellis, C, Adams, T.E & Bochner, A.P, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, <http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095&gt;

Susan, N 2001, Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: experiencing contemporary Japanese animation, Palgrave, New York. 

The Host: Not a monster movie

The monster is not the focus of ‘The Host’, but only a tool to give narrative to the film’s structure, a surface problem leading to deeper layers of meaning.

I was born in Vietnam. An Asian in every way.

I grew up, to put it in a visualized way, ‘in the middle of Hollywood and Asian cinema’. During my childhood and adolescence, I let myself be immersed in the fantasy world of Chinese movies, such as the one and only ‘Journey to the West’. I would tune into Disney channel to go on an adventure with Ariel the Little Mermaid and Woody from Toy Story, or HBO channel where all kinds of Hollywood movies were screened. And when the night came, it was time for the Hallyu Wave, time for passionate Korean love stories and relatable, heart-warming Korean family dramas, such as Boys Over Flowers and Reply 1988.

For many years I have been exposed to a mix of genres and film nationalities. I have seen, and loved, numerous Korean films, which always profoundly talk about social phenomena and issues. 

But never in my life have I watched a Korean monster movie.

Nor a Bong Joon-ho’s production.

At first, I thought the film was going to follow the Hollywood monster-movie motif, merely focusing on the fight between heroes and a creature. The movie begins with the shockingly sudden appearance of the creature, proceeding through the innocents-in-danger scenario and the unexpected bravery from a crew of characters (Klein 2008). 

However, as it progressed, I came to realize that ‘The Host’ is much more than that. It is a departure, a divergence from the Hollywood convention. The monster is not put in the spotlight but rather used as the background to shed light on Korean realities. 

The dark sides of Korean modernization and authority are addressed by showing how the Park family gets tangled up in Seoul’s bureaucratic and capitalist modernity (Klein 2008). It was frustrating for me to see the government and the media lying about the existence of the deadly virus, the police ignoring Gang-du’s claim that he receives a phone call from his daughter, and the fumigator easily being bribed by a bucket of spare change (which is also a bit of humor and sarcasm coming from the director, and I enjoyed it).

I also came to notice that ‘The Host’ is trying to criticize Korea’s relationship with, or more specifically, Korea’s submission to the United States. I am haunted by the scene of the American mortician ordering his Korean underlying to pour hundreds of formaldehyde down the drain, the U.S official forcing the Korean doctors to drill into Gang-du’s brain, and the “Agent Yellow’ scene, which reminds me of the Agent Orange contamination during the Vietnam war. 

Besides Korean realities, The Host also highlights the beauty of family bond – father-to-daughter, father-to-son, brother-to-sister and sister-to-sister love, which is the only motivation for the characters to unhesitantly sacrifice themselves in the fight. It was outstandingly smart and subtle of Bong Joon-ho to express the characters’ longing to reunite with and take care of Huyn-seo through the eating scene, which moved me emotionally. 

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What surprised me the most is that Huyn-seo could not be saved in the end. In the scene where she is pulled out from the monster, I was expecting her to wake up as a miracle, which is very common in the Hollywood films that I have seen. But she does not. Yet, the other boy, wrapped in her arms, is still alive, thanks to Huyn-seo.

A symbol of humanity. 

I did not have the opportunity to experience live-tweeting as I was sick and could not attend the tutorial. Yet, I took notes while streaming the movie at home, jotting down all my thoughts and emotions, which made me watch the film more attentively and critically. Reading subtitles was no big deal for me since I grew up watching movies from other countries.

To conclude, ‘The Host’ is a monster movie, yet, not a monster movie.

It is so much more than that. 

References: 

Klein, C 2008, ‘Why American Studies Needs to Think about Korean Cinema, or, Transnational Genres in the Films of Bong Joon-ho’, American Quarterly, no. 60, vol. 4, pp. 871-898.