Author: Rhys Testa

Main blog: https://rhystesta.wordpress.com/

I Was Just An Ordinary Hi-Score Girl: My Savage Journey Into The Heart of The Arcade Craze

Hi-Score Girl, an anime series and recent addition to Netflix Australia, did not impress me to a great extent. Perhaps my steadily declining interest in anime as a medium is to blame. Even my previously documented appreciation for video games (see post: Media Regulation In Action) has dwindled recently, either as a byproduct of natural maturation or the blinding over-saturation of the entertainment market by both industries. Nevertheless, the process of watching Hi-Score Girl awoke something primal within me, a nostalgic rush of relief and excitement that possessed me each weekend, the only time I was allowed by my parents to play computer games. Despite my lack of investment in the plot, I found that Hi-Score Girl is successful in accurately depicting the escape from the mundanity of life and the pressures of academia that video games are able to provide. Yet home plug-in-and-play systems and arcade experiences are two very different sides of the same token. The explosive popularity of quarter-swallowing fighting games in the early 1990s, from Street Fighter to Final Fight, fostered a die-hard subculture that was largely ignored by the coastal towns I had spent most of my life in. Arcade culture was practically non-existent in Australia, save for sparse interactions with family-oriented franchises such as Timezone, and the solitary Marvel vs Capcom cabinet at my local fish and chip shop some fifteen years ago. Conversely, Japanese arcade culture is famously expansive – rapidly developing from humble postwar carnival roots to a thriving multi-story, multi-location, nationwide empire today (Yuna Tanaka, 2018). Hi-Score Girl shines in its devotion to the subject matter, managing to include several references to arcade history and techniques per episode. For example, protagonist Haruo mimics the ‘one handed’ playing technique of Japanese Street Fighter champion “Kana” to show off, a reference unsurprisingly lost on an international audience (Andrew McKirdy, 2019).

What (Else) I Watched Today: High Score Girl a.k.a. Violent Gamer Girl |  Moe Sucks

An esoteric reference to a fault.

Furthermore, the series allowed me to reassess my own experience of arcade culture in Japan. I came across the opportunity to visit the renowned SEGA Two Arcade in the heart of Akihabara during a holiday several years ago, and was able to draw distinct parallels between what was depicted in Hi-School Girl and my own personal experience. I remember struggling up flights of dankly neon-red lit staircases. The mild racket of frenzied crowds, a mix of personalities from high school students to middle aged salarymen, squabbling and cheering over a tiny display, akin to the madness of Aussie footy nights I had grown accustomed to. What stood out most was the dense atmosphere, one to the uninitiated would seem impossible to wade through. The air was warm with tobacco smoke, and something innately human. Not body odor, but certainly just as suffocating. As if the manifestation of timeless conflicts still wafted throughout the floors upon floors of Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros and Tekken machines, an uncanny residue manifested by competition. As the Roman coliseum once fell, so too will this megalith. The iconic SEGA arcade has announced its closure at the end of the summer season, likely due to a lack of visitation over fears of spreading COVID-19 (Kasey Furutani, 2020). What would be lost? What legendary clashes and rivalries would be left unsung? What memories would lie dormant in many a former regular, and which of those would live on?

Arcades in Akihabara, Tokyo | Retro Video Gaming

Condemned empty rows, once the proving grounds of many a bloody battle.

 

I cannot guarantee that Hi-Score Girl will trigger a similar epiphany for you, dear reader. But for me, the series was able to contextualize my own memories and experiences of a culture that (despite appreciating immensely) I will always remain an outsider to.

 

References

Furutani, K. (2020). Sorry, gamers: Akihabara’s iconic Sega arcade will close at the end of August 2020. [online] Time Out Tokyo. Available at: https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/sorry-gamers-akihabaras-iconic-sega-arcade-will-close-at-the-end-of-august-080420 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].

‌ McKirdy, A. (2019). Game not over: Japan’s amusement arcades tap community spirit to stay relevant. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2019/08/17/general/japan-video-game-arcades-relevant/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].

Tanaka, Y (2018). Understanding the Arcade Culture in Japan. [online] Expat Bets. Available at: https://www.expatbets.com/japan/understanding-the-arcade-culture-in-japan/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].

 

Image 1 Credit: Sean (2018). What (Else) I Watched Today: High Score Girl a.k.a. Violent Gamer Girl. [online] Moe Sucks. Available at: https://moesucks.com/2018/07/16/what-else-i-watched-today-high-score-girl-a-k-a-violent-gamer-girl/ [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].

Image 2 Credit: stopXwhispering (2014). Arcades in Akihabara, Tokyo. [online] Retro Video Gaming. Available at: https://retro-video-gaming.com/2014/05/10/arcades-in-akihabara-tokyo/ [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].

Let Them Eat Feminism

This week’s film failed to compel me as strongly as the previous two films Love For Sale (2018) and Furie (2019). Perhaps this is a result of the difficulty of the live tweeting exercise, as one experiences physical strain fluctuating endlessly between subtitles and tweets whilst attempting to follow a convoluted plot with pacing issues. Maybe the cultural practices depicted in the film were too alien to my own that made me lose my focus, and engaging in my role as a “participant observer” proved difficult because of this. Or perhaps my disinterest stemmed from an overwhelming sense of fatigue, after all even an English language two hour radical genre shifting experience can leave me drained rather than elated. Assim Abassi’s Cake (2018) defies categorization, shifting between romantic comedy, thriller, drama and sprinkled with moments of romance. But perhaps this is in itself a metaphor for the inner turmoils of family; after all, the familial unit is a shared experience, bound to elicit different responses from different members as challenges arise. Despite my mixed reaction to the film itself, I yearned to learn more from what I was shown.

One concept explored to a greater extent by Cake is the destruction of accepted gender roles. Upon further research, Pakistan is clearly a patriarchal society, wherein traditional gender roles are expressly defined by cultural practice and recognized nationwide. This includes limited roles for women outside of child bearing and housekeeping, whilst men are tasked with bearing heavy labor and assuming a breadwinner position (Sayed Saleem, 2019). Naturally, my opinion is influenced by academic, political and social environments that place a great deal of emphasis on gender equality. Therefore to me, it was refreshing to see a Pakistani work of art challenge this order by placing the women in the narrative as the decision makers, bosses, and protagonists. The film’s action is almost entirely driven by female ambition vs cultural and societal expectation, wherein a ‘strong woman’ is defined not by their argumentative nature, but rather how their relationship to men and their personal love lives are secondary to their personal ambitions. The film is layered heavily with bold yet nuanced depictions of feminism that I particularly appreciated.

Cake | Netflix

Conversely, the film makes a point to highlight the femininity of men by portraying them as inherently emotional and sensitive, and as equally ineffectual when faced with conflict. The former is represented by the father Abba’s journey as he is forced to watch as his wife succumb to the unforgiving curtain of time and old age. The latter by the brother Zain, whose suggestions are constantly ignored throughout the film due to his absence and perceived lack of commitment to the family. Finally, the character of Romeo eschews the traditional female-carer role by taking the position of family nurse, a concrete and direct defiance of established gender roles. I initially believed a film as ‘radical’ as this was to be met with a mixed reception among film reviewers in Pakistan; a reaction not necessarily stemming from an Orientalist perspective, but rather a cynical one. However, I was pleased to discover that the film was received exceptionally well in it’s country of origin with many reviewers praising the “approach to realism” (Saraswarti Datar, 2019).

So perhaps this film represents a generational turning point, and the reevaluation of family and societal values in Pakistan? As within the film itself, time is a factor of utmost importance, and films in the vein of Cake should be considered important for the challenges they pose to established order.

 

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095 [Accessed 16/08/2020]

Saleem, S. (2019). Patriarchy in Pakistan – Daily Times. [online] Available at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/478561/patriarchy-in-pakistan/ [Accessed 19 Aug. 2020].

‌Abbasi, A (2018). Cake. [online] IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7715988/?ref_=tt_urv [Accessed 19 Aug. 2020].

‌Datar, S. (2019). ‘Cake’ review: This Pakistani drama slices past stereotypes to create a compelling tale. [online] Available at: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/cake-review-pakistani-drama-slices-past-stereotypes-create-compelling-tale-102767 [Accessed 19 Aug. 2020].

Image Credit: Netflix.com. (2019). Cake. [online] Available at: https://www.netflix.com/au/title/81110389 [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].

She Was Furie, She Was Wrath, She Was Vengeance

I have been passionate about martial arts for as long as I can remember. From studying Karate as a child to taking up Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu as an adult, and raiding Blockbuster for anything Bruce Lee, Tony Jaa, or Shaw Brothers related on a Friday night, the art-form has always held a great deal of importance to me. So naturally I was greatly anticipating the film we had chosen to live-tweet about this week; Furie (2019) starring Veronica Ngo as the bad ass single mother Hai in search of her daughter. And in many aspects, the film delivered in spades. The acting, script and delivery were quite strong, apparent even to a non-Vietnamese speaker such as myself. The characterization of Hai offered a fresh perspective on the female action hero, ignoring the trend of the character learning the skills necessary to take action or for the purposes of character development (as seen in Kill Bill, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Planet Terror, for example). The sets and locations were gorgeous, and I was especially impressed by the camerawork, remaining focused and controlled in the middle of intense bouts of action, even though these efforts were somewhat disrupted by the editing of certain sequences.

What impressed me the most, however, were the strong cultural ties between the genre and the overarching plot and character interactions. After all, martial arts are codified to an individual’s culture by its very nature, so it would make sense that a martial arts film would exhibit these ties using the martial arts genre as a platform. What was most evident in Furie, as with the previous film Love For Sale, was the importance of family and belonging as expressed through the notion of Heimat, a term referring to “one’s home” (Christiane Alsop, 2002). Heimat refers to both an individual’s familiar zone and as the opposition to the unknown, and this concept is explored and developed upon twofold within the film; Hai as a woman torn between the familiar (the underbelly of Saigon) and the unknown (a coastal town where she has taken residence), and the removal of her child Mai from the familiar into the unknown, mirroring Hai’s personal journey. In many ways I was able to empathize with Hai though an interest in my own ethnic background spurred on primarily by my father, whom has always been particularly fond of Malta, my family’s nation of origin. Both of his parents were born there, and he regularly visits, researches the history, architecture, food, and culture due to his own personal upbringing.

 

The Last Thing I See: 'Furie' (2019) Movie Review

Maternal protection can be deadly…

 

However, as an ‘outsider’ to Maltese culture and Australian culture alike, my experience mirrors Hai’s only in essence, nowhere near as dangerous yet spiritually similar. Australian by birth and Maltese by community, I do not feel at ‘home’ or comfortable within either culture, but rather a balance, which how I have come to terms with my existence, as Hai has come to strike a balance between her old life in Saigon and as an outsider in the coastal town. This is accentuated by the dogged persistence of Hai by the color red. Red is especially present and intrusive throughout each scene – Hai’s muted clothing, flashes of red in the extravagant clothing of her bosses, deep neon lighting in the alleyways of Saigon, the blood spilled on the path to justice. Red is danger, the color of violence and fury, entwining its way through Hai’s life as an outsider both in Saigon and her coastal community of residence. Yet red is not the only indication of the relationship of an individual to their Heimat, as the film’s deep and evocative color palate is utilized to its full potential, over-saturated on purpose for aesthetic purposes. The naturally occurring greens and yellows and shades between of the coastal town is juxtaposed expertly by the artificial fluorescence of the city, fraught with evil lurking in the pipes and drains and between the bricks of every strip club and betting office. Similarly, as if life were to imitate art, the warmer climate in Malta has often given myself the filmic illusion of richer and deeper saturation of colors as the heat rises and reflects off of every surface. Adding to this illusion is a matter of culture; the use of bright and quirky colors for modern exterior decor, such as doors and windowsills, is a flamboyant yet homely Maltese tradition (Tosh Bene, 2017).

Whilst Furie may seem like a tale-as-old-as-Taken on the surface, the film is actually quite an enthralling display of not just martial arts prowess, but also of familial love, the limits of community, and a mother’s bond to her child demonstrated through both physical and emotional strength alike.

 

References

Bene, T (2017). The Quirky And Beautiful Doors Of Malta – Where in the World is Tosh. [online] Available at: http://www.whereintheworldistosh.com/2017/03/01/the-quirky-and-beautiful-doors-of-malta/ [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].

‌Alsop, Christiane K. (2002) Home and Away: Self Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research 3:3. Available at: http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf [Accessed 11/08/2020].

Nguyen, K. (2019). Hai Phuong. [online] IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9412268/ [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].

Image credit: Premiere Picture, 2019

Love For Sale: Paid-For Dates and Heartbreak

Autoethnography is defined by Ellis et al (2011) as an approach to research and writing that “seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”. By producing a “thick description” of culture for insiders and outsiders, one can infer patterns in culture, and therefore gain an understanding of similar cultural experience.

I have found that screen media (especially cinema) is the most common and effective method of communicating one’s autoethnographic research and manifesting this concept of the “thick description”, as information is easily and widely disseminated in an entertaining manner, aiming to educate as well as humor. Recently I was able to simultaneously watch and live tweet my knee-jerk reactions to Andibachtiar Yusf’s romantic comedy Love For Sale (2013), a surprisingly touching tale on the transformative properties of love and romance in the digital age. The film presents love, relationships, marriage and family as seminal to the strength of the human spirit, and essential to a fulfilling life. As a third-generation immigrant from Malta, I was able to identify strongly with many of the values demonstrated and discussed in the film. My personal ethnic background (and family by extension) is intrinsically tied to the irreplaceable value of family and loving relationships as well, a common attitude among post-war immigrants from the Mediterranean seeking security in a foreign land.

Upon further research, however, it was clear that the concept of marriage in Indonesian culture is tied to an individual’s self-actualization – as marriage is an indication of reaching adulthood (Cultural Atlas, 2016). The slang term ‘jomblo’ – Indonesian slang for ‘single’ – holds a negative connotation, not for discriminatory purposes yet negative enough to create a distinction between single and committed individuals (Edira Putri, 2018). The film symbolizes the importance of relationships and marriage through the home of the protagonist Richard, appearing tidier and brighter as his love interest Arini weaves her influence throughout every facet of his life.

The film also benefits by portraying romance as quieter, more intimate and genuine. The “lovers” and their interactions are introspective in their clumsiness, as opposed to the Western counterpart of sweeping choral arrangements accompanying intense displays of passion between Hollywood A-listers. The struggle of lonely, desperate people is depicted and treated through a human lens; the protagonist Richard is clearly a loser enshrouded in an environment dripping with toxic masculinity, and yet the audience is allowed to empathize with him despite his faults (however, the anonymity of the actors to Western audiences does heavily contribute to the illusion of the mundane).

Furthermore, the traditional gender roles prevalent in the film (man as the breadwinner, woman as the caretaker) only reinforce the expectations of society that Richard is expected to conform to. Yet, the film also portrays these human traditions to hypothesize over the validity of such expectations in a globalized technological society. For all intents and purposes, the “love” displayed between Richard and Arini certainly is responsible for instigating change for the better, especially within Richard.  Is this real love? Does it “count”?

I believe that Love For Sale is an important film in challenging how “real love” is understood within Indonesian/Mediterranean culture and between the various generations. Whilst it appears as an above average romantic-comedy, the touching and somewhat tragic outcome of Richard’s relatable transformation allows us to question the validity of societal expectations and the institution of marriage as an expression of true love.

 

Love For Sale

“If love can change our world to be a better place – even if we need to pay for it – what’s the harm in that?”
(Reza Mardian, 2018)

 

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095. [Accessed 3/08/2020].

Putri, E. (2018). 15 Indonesian Slang Words to Help You Speak Like a Local. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/indonesia/articles/15-indonesian-slang-words-to-help-you-speak-like-a-local/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].

Cultural Atlas. (2016). Indonesian Culture – Family. [online] Available at: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/indonesian-culture/indonesian-culture-family [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].

Mardian, R. (2018). “Love for Sale”: Putting a price tag on human connection. [online] The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/04/02/love-for-sale-putting-a-price-tag-on-human-connection.html [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].

Yusuf, A. (2018). Love for Sale. [online] IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8065796/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].

Image: Visinema Pictures