Originally Published January 27, 2014. (FYI: available din to sa Wattpad)
Note: I wrote this as an exercise of and an earlier reaction on textual/critical reading, back when I just started doing my post-graduate studies. Just so happen that Uchouten Kazoku has a theme relevant to Psychoanalysis (which as you may know, a hot topic in grad schools) which is why I chose it as a testing ground. I know a lot of these words below doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ve re-read it a couple of times and it still surprises me how much non-sense I could produce. I could make Wittgenstein proud! (Fuck, I still cringe over the last paragraph, but I won’t edit it for keks sake) (July 9, 2016)
I’ve been on this practice on seeing things not from beyond but from within the surface and context for a while now whenever I watch something. I just stopped assuming what’s beyond the narrative because it becomes ridiculous most of the time. Of course, I’m not to say that whatever my interpretation might be on a certain work is the actual meaning of it, it is only a reading, like how some academic old men would say. And, no, I didn’t grew up, I never matured, though I really hope I would, I’m just trying how these old men do things and see if I could get something out of it. You could say that I’m a very gullible child.
To start off with this practice on writing, I’ll read this series that I have recently finished.
One thing I’ve noticed on Uchoten Kazoku (Trans: The Eccentric Family) is it’s reference to the father figure in the story. The flow of the narrative itself always find its way back to the father, the affected people’s past in relation with the father’s fate, and what have they become after.
It is told thru the perspective of Yasaburo, one of the children of Shimogamo Tanuki (Raccoon Dog) family which was once a great family helmed by their father’s legacy, Souichiro, who has become legendary after he saved a Tengu (a mythical dog in Japanese legend, sometimes also considered a god) then becomes a nise-emon (head of the Tanuki population) later on before facing his fate on a hotpot one christmas party held by a group of humans called the Friday Fellows.
Everything was set as if diversity of identities were a natural state of things: Humans, Tanukis and Tengus are allowed to live together provided that they are to occupy a certain space allotted for them by some ancient law. Though, this doesn’t really prohibit them to interact with each other, as the story suggests, the world go round through these interactions. Among the three creatures co-existing, the Tanukis seems to be on the marginalized side: often saw as idiots by the mystically superior Tengus who can fly and can control elements, and was threatened to be eaten by humans during christmas or new year. It isn’t surprising that the Tanukis band up and form some sort of coalition and choose a leader to protect and mediate with these other entities.
Set in the season of the election of the new Nise-emon, we see Shimogamo’s eldest sibling face the challenge of being elected, being in constant change of words and violence between his uncle, Soun Ebisugawa, and their families. Making each other’s predicament quite chaotic as the narrative flows. What makes me interested is that, among these contant exchange of violence and words is an ongoing story-telling of what Souichiro was and what really has happened to him. Like a detective story. More accurately, he’s not present but lives within the discourse, as one of my professors would say.
Beyond entertainment, Uchoten Kazoku doesn’t really say something new, it just made class conflict more obvious, which is kind of impressive. The use of mythical creatures to make a clear (hyperreal even) distinction of the diversity of society itself and how are we really affect each other’s lives. In the mix of the Tanuki Politics, the Tengus’ pride and the greed of humans, it is only befitting that it would end in a chaotic manner. Violence seem to solve and protect what each and every one of them creatures hold dear.
Interesting turning point in the narrative is Yasaburo’s fondness of Benten (or Satomi Suzuki), a human trained to be a tengu by Professor Akadama (or Yakushibo Nyoigatake), an influential but often drunk Tengu. It might even be an infatuation. Benten also happen to be a part of the Friday fellows: this and his fondness of her affect every action and turn of course that Yasaburo has taken during each and every conflict. Yasaburo became what the father never was, someone to overcome Benten’s gaze. In this manner, each and every children of the Shimogamo tried to fill in what the father has left off.
Everything that had happen led to reliving, remembering, reconstructing, even resurrecting Souichiro. As some old pervert would say: all in the name of the father. (I’ll try not to specify any other scene as it would be criminal to spoil too much.)
Though the point of view came clearly from one of the marginalized side, the end won’t say much of who won the conflict, or who supposed to win. It stepped out of it’s mystical realm and grasped reality that it isn’t black and white, conflicts might branch out to more conflict, though the intensity differ probably, depends on the immediate root of the conflict. One thing clear here, is that Yasaburo never really wanted to solve anything, as his character suggest, he’s actually a kind of liberal who takes all sides of the game and make use of whatever each and everyone’s “good” quality. He’s one with no ideological leaning but if threatened, will stand up for the ones he protect. Kind of like the typical person, slash the Tanuki part, who just wants to live in peace. It’s actually a kind of thinking that could be deemed as dangerous in the ongoing discourse on class struggles, but aren’t the repressed class, who most of them who talk of this discourse, the same way as Yasaburo? When was the last time that I’ve read of humans being treated not as a subject, an object, or material but a human in a discourse?
Myths often represent what humans lack, but in this case, mythical creatures tried to overexpose human complexity thru their petty conflicts being solved to a showcase of their respective mythical powers. A myth which is very human in essence: eccentric, weird, violent, chaotic and at times, lovely, charming, and kind of cute. This might be why most thinkers often subject humans in a textual treatment: they’re too complex to understand; we might as well just read them and speculate. Such are the boundaries of ideology, or might just be, a manifestation of our idiot blood.