Book, cinema and media studies, Fiction, Film, ideology, Novel, Short Story

Meditations on Tony Takitani, The Great Gatsby, and Tears in the Presence of Materiality

I read Haruki Murakmai’s short story “Tony Takitani” in his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman when I was in college.

A couple years after I graduated college, I stopped reading Murakami’s works altogether because I found his depiction of women too painful. I could say “problematic” here but I’ll just go with my feeling rather than social commentary. It’s really a personal decision. I’m still not fond of any literary, filmic, or televisual works that use women’s bodies and psyche as playgrounds for male fantasies.

In my in-between stage between college and “the world,” I was living in Seoul. A childhood friend of mine asked me out to a movie at an art house cinema located in a basement somewhere. I remember seeing the poster for the film The Vegetarian, which is a film based on the book that won the Man Booker Prize for Han Kang a few years ago. The film was out way before Han Kang gained international recognition for her book.

There was just one film playing at this art house cinema, and it was Tony Takitani—Jun Ichikawa’s adaptation of Murakami’s short story.

Ichikawa had just passed away a year prior to when I saw this film at this theater. The theater didn’t have theater seating. They were just a couple of chairs. My friend and I were the only audience members. The film played on a projection screen. The theater wasn’t even really a theater. It was more of a small art gallery space. The room we were in was about the size of a small studio apartment.

I recall liking the film very much. I found the aesthetics of the film very pleasing. I liked the soundtrack, too, which was by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The choices that Ichikawa made for the film like letting the voiceover narration transmute into the actor’s line-delivery to blur diagetic and non-diegetic narration, and the staging for each shot were so lovely. They stimulated artistic pleasure for me. The friend I went to see this film with—also an artist, and now a creative director at a luxury sunglasses company—also commented on these stylistic and directional choices.

As soon as the film ended, another film began to play. It was a documentary on the making of Tony Takitani. I learned that all of the sets were created in an isolated urban space outdoors so that Ichikawa could make use of the city lights glimmering or blinking in the backdrop. This adds a great deal of mood to each scene in the film, and a sophisticated aesthetic to the picture that matches the high-end luxury clothes that Eiko was obsessed with.

Tony Takitani is about a man born to a jazz musician—trombone player—who was nearly killed as a POW during WWII. Tony was named after an American soldier that his father had met. Tony’s mother died 3 days after his birth. Tony became an illustrator, but his works were often critiqued for lacking a human touch or warmth. Tony is a loner. He is used to being alone all the time. He is so alone that he doesn’t even register his own loneliness. He meets a younger woman named Eiko, falls in love, and proposes. She rejects him initially but he explains how he feels—that he might not be able to live with his loneliness without her. She marries him, and their married life is blissful, but Tony eventually takes note of Eiko’s shopping addiction. She cannot stop. Eiko one day dies in a car accident. Tony is back to being alone again. He cannot withstand the isolation so he hires a woman who has the exact measurements as his late wife, and asks her to wear his wife’s clothes whenever she comes to do housework as a uniform.

There’s a scene in the film when this hired woman goes into the room where all of Eiko’s clothes are. She looks at them and breaks down into tears saying she’s never seen so many beautiful clothes all at once.

This scene reminds me of the scene in The Great Gatsby—both the Jack Clayton version and Baz Luhrmann version, and of course, the line in the original book by F. Scott Fitzgerald when Jay starts throwing his shirts into the air overwhelming Daisy who starts crying, saying she’s never seen such beautiful shirts before.

This made me wonder—what is it with men imagining women crying at the sight of clothes? Is it like men celebrating themselves when a woman cries during sex thinking that she came, and crediting himself?

I’ll say that both filmic interpretations of The Great Gatsby and Tony Takitani were all directed by men. Both the novel and the short story were written by men.

Do men think women cry when they shop? Do men think that women are crazed by clothing? Do men really think that women fill their “emptiness” with clothes and accessories?

In Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, she calls out the patriarch’s hypocrisy when they criticize women for being materially occupied. Woolf points to parishioners and priests–men–who wear ornate garments in the church—gown, hat and all—to impress who? god? Is god a materially-occupied being? According to that logic, god really is a woman….

In the modern era, women’s material occupation was shaped and constructed especially after WWII in America and moralized. The woman’s place was the home—back in the domestic sphere. Forget about the fact that she worked while the men were gone. She ought to do nothing but sit at home and purchase what radio, television and magazines tell her to purchase, and she ought to be the most right and responsible household manager, and the only way to do that is to buy the best stuff on the market for if she did not, she would be letting down her entire family, and there is no greater shame than that.

And who were the people in charge of these material goods at ad agencies and corporations? We’ve all seen the show Mad Men, so we know who they were.

But I think Tony Takitani and The Great Gatsby also point to the male protagonists’ sense of emptiness without a female presence in their lives, too. So for these men, they need to fill their emptiness with another person—a person who is not right for them or good for them. They feel that they can do this because the woman they admire is beautiful, and knows how to doll herself up through beautiful materials such as clothes, accessories, shoes, etc.

So these works are pointing to the cycle of material despair, and how none of us can fill this void with any noun—a person or thing.

I was thinking about Jay Gatsby, and wondering why the title of that book calls him “great.”

Jay Gatsby is far from “great,” really. He’s a liar and a crook, but most of all, a stalker. Wait, what? He saved clippings of Daisy for 5 years? He kept throwing huge lavish parties hoping she’d show up? He told people that he went to Oxford and inherited his wealth from his family before they died when those things aren’t exactly true? He says he’s a business man when he’s actually running business from the underground?

I just feel like the word “great” here is used in a confused way. Jay Gatsby isn’t that different from the characters that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book appears to be critiquing (at least in high school standards); if people like Daisy, Tom, George, and Myrtle appear immoral because of their life choices, Gatsby is just as easy to judge. But Nick regards all of them as victims of desire, then the playing field is level. They are all lost souls trapped in longing and wanting. “Desire leads to suffering.”

I question Nick’s character, too, because he sees only Gatsby as the victim in all of this. Gatsby was a nut. He was out of his wack and obsessed with a married woman. There’s nothing great about him. Fitzgerald was right to punish him. I question Fitzgerald in letting Tom and Daisy off scott-free though. Perhaps this where the expression “scott-free” comes from. From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s questionable plot choices where the poor and destitute are punished for being poor and destitute, and the lives of the rich remain uninterrupted no matter what immoral act they commit.

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Book, korea, Korean-American, philosophy, translation

hippie thoughts on Peruvian migrants in South Korea, spirituality, capitalism, shamans and forgetting.

The pastors at Korean churches are the first-contacts with the globe, in a way.

It makes sense.

How did Korea become this bizarre portal country that mixes up and alters established or existing politico-economic expectations (and yet, the country is, ironically, extremely obsessed with conformity)?

I was at a UC Berkeley event where Professor Erica Vogel discussed her book Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections between Peru and South Korea.

Dr. Vogel spent many years in South Korea documenting the migrant experiences of Peruvians who immigrated there in search of capital gain.

Quite a few of her subjects wound up in Korean protestant churches, found salvation, and spiritual freedom.

Right there. Can we stop for a second there?

Peru (formerly the Inca Empire) was first invaded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Peru’s indigenous spirituality and religion was suppressed and Christian coloniality began to wipe out ancient modes of spirituality.

South Korea (formerly known as just Korea) first encountered Christianity in the late 19th century, then a little more impactfully during the Korean War in mid-20th century. Even prior to that, during Japanese colonization, there were short stories written about shamanism in Korea. Shamans were accused of greed from the community because they charge money for their services (which isn’t immoral but a basic necessity since that is their occupation) but this disdain for shamans did not emerge UNTIL the white Christians came to Korea. White Christian missionaries brought free food and medicine for free. On the Lord’s dime! And made shamans look completely absurd.

As Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship brought on South Korea’s economic transformation, a part of him also waged a battle against Korean indigenous religion/spirituality for fear of it making Koreans appear wayward and uncivilized (again, compared to how WASPs would conduct themselves in a church). Literally, watch how a mudang conducts a ritual versus how a Catholic priest conducts a service…and THEN watch how a protestant Korean pastor conducts a sermon during a “revival” retreat).

Korean shamanism and indigenous spirituality isn’t gone. It’s just flocked over to other parts of the cultural realm.

South Korea now has Peruvian migrants who enter the country—this country that was once in the position of being a labor-export has now recently transformed into labor-import; “allelujah amen” cry the Korean church congregation.

As Christianity keeps gaining power and spreading (through its evangelical methods), South Korea keeps on dying; keeps on confusing; keeps on abusing; keeps on suffering.

Buddhism is still prominent but Christianity has successfully taken on its hegemonic position in the nation.

Indigenous spirituality is increasingly going forgotten, hidden, erased, lost, removed, smudged, mixed up, tossed into a pile somewhere then dragged out onto the street for the garbage truck to pick up (and where does that garbage then go?! Lord, help us. Buddha, guide us. to what “underdeveloped” country that suffers the consequences of the material greed and waste of a “developing/developed” nation completely obsessed with trends, e.g., fashion, cosmetics, media, etc.)

Korean pastors in South Korea are some of the first people who encounter migrants from other countries.

Pastors are spiritual leaders. They meet and convert the folks who come to them seeking monetary salvation.


Just as the white missionaries did for indigenous/pre-Christian Korea, present-day Koreans do onto the migrating Peruvians seeking greater financial gain/relief/stability in Korea the land of…rice? and red peppers? (placeholders until I can think of a more clever way to adapt “milk and honey”). 

Peruvian migrants find salvation in the Korean church. Some get community funding to help with their daughter’s heart surgery back in their motherland.

They attribute this to god’s work. But the fact is, wherever there is a community, there is god regardless of religious boundaries.  

Meanwhile, Koreans continue to die. They continue to suffer the plague of “first world” nations; the mental/emotional/spiritual barrenness that drive them to their own demise at their own hands. Drive them to drink. Drive them to abusing others and themselves.

Meanwhile, the country that is mostly responsible for South Korea’s Jesus-freaked state has some of its most wealthy members taking their own trips (micro-migrations/temporary retreats) to Peru in search of—get this—PERUVIAN INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY in the form of shamans and their psychedelic medicines.

Political scientists and economists point to the 1970s as South Korea’s economic “miracle.” I wonder what spiritual awakening was taking place during this time as well. Did any South Korean influencers/leaders take psychedelics during their travels around the world? I mean, they MUST have.

When a South Korean corporate friend of mine told me that she and her design company attended Burning Man one year for “research,” I asked if she or any of her colleagues took any psychedelics. She said, “No.” I said, “What was the point of your trip? You guys did zero research. What a waste of money.”

It’s so interesting how Peruvian migrants in South Korea look to South Korea for Christian salvation and associate it with goodness when Peruvians were already colonized by Spanish Christianity centuries before Korea was.  

South Koreans are down with trends and image (hence Park Chung-hee’s suppression of shamans in the country… and what a detriment that was…! think of the money you’re missing out on with spiritual tourism from WASPy nations, Chung-hee!).

The WASP nations and their people are now turning their gaze towards the East for its spirituality, and Latin America for its spiritual medicines. In the meantime, governments of the “global South” are always striving for its economic status to mirror that of the white countries.

Don’t you see the message? There is nothing there. Economic stability = spiritual barrenness and therefore greater chaos, disillusion, confusion, sadness, emotional and mental instability, and death. South Korea should already know this. (It already knows it—just forgot it); these bodies are temporary vessels that we shed; in the end, all we have is consciousness and a desire to connect and make something new that is good and fair.

Even SK’s hang up on Confucian hierarchies. Man! There is no hierarchy! There is no taller than or shorter than, bigger than or smaller than, greater than or lesser than! There is nothing. There is nothing.

But there is something in the colors that you see at your temples. There is something in the thousand year trees in your land. There is something in the records left behind at your temples by those deep meditators—your ancestors and teachers.

And there is something beautiful in the way that Korean spiritual leaders meet these Peruvian migrant workers. Both of them need something from each other and find it. And in that sense, the Christian dogma becomes, almost, irrelevant. They are just finding each other naturally like a mother would find its child or a child would find its father. They just find each other. Across the seas and lands. Past the gates and borders. The way they find each other and meld these histories or dissolve them like sugar in warm water. Like honey in jasmine tea. I find that righteous. That is something to witness (with gratitude).

But I now want for Peruvians to re-enter their own spiritual spheres of history and find that COSMOPOLITAN GLITZY STATUS that they really truly are seeking. Man. It’s right there! You didn’t need to go anywhere! It was right there! You’re the one with all the good shit! These white spiritually lost souls are paying GOOD MONEY to go to your land! Chasing money takes us nowhere! Chasing love, life and light take us everywhere.

I want for Koreans to re-enter their own spiritual hemispheres of ancient wonder, ritual and connecting. Man. It’s RIGHT fucking there. Whenever we chase money, we only always find death, chaos and confusion. Look at us now. After accepting the…I dunno, was it Tylenol? Was it a piece of bread?…look at us after accepting those substances. What is Tylenol and a free piece of bread compared to the prayer of a shaman mother for her shaman daughter and the dreams you have of your great grandmother? What is that compared to you as parents NOT condemning or demonizing your daughter when she gets marked with her spiritual calling to be a mudang?

Why does everything need to get reduced to Jesus or Satan? What good does that ridiculous binary do in our ability to understand the ancient spiritual teachings that were already given to us a millennia ago?

It just blinds us to those words. Just covers up our ears. Turns them into a loud rumbling noise like the sound of a plane engine going off right inside your ear drum—a sound I hear sometimes as I fall asleep at night sometimes, and a sensation that I do not fear, but a sensation that Western medicine pathologizes and reduces to a “seizure” and which Christianity reduces to Satan.

Hey man! We already know what these things are. We’re already connected to the eons that our flesh and blood relatives lived. They’re all in us. Their information and memories and joys and traumas are in us. Live in us. We live them out.  

We have the knowledge. It’s just about accessing them.

We do not need to cross land and sea to get to them. They are in our skin, hair, memory, dream, chair, window, across the street at your neighbor’s house, in the sunset you look at around 5:30PM in the mountains in the late winter/early spring in the hills of wherever you are.  

It’s all there, man. It’s just about accessing it with the right keys.

The right keys are in you. They are in the whispers down below where status/image obsessed dictators drove them to. They are in the Amazonian treasures that Peruvians have known for eons already. It’s there. Just seek them out. Just like those WASPy people are just starting to discover them now, even though we ourselves have forgotten our own indigeneity.

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aapi, asian american, Book, deli ideology, ideology, Korean-American, Literature, Novel

goodbye to your deli ideologues

one of the sad things about flying home this year was seeing a lot of closures of time-old establishments. one of these includes A&H (also known as Applebaum) deli across the street from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. i worked here on the weekends as a cashier back in 2010 & stood by the register with cutouts of cigarette cartons which i wrote my book on. i loved this place for the people i stood alongside and the other employees on the same block of fast food restaurants and bookstores.

in remembrance of them here’s a link to my book again. hope you enjoy ♥️♥️♥️

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aapi, asian american, Book, eBook, Fiction, korea, Literature, Short Story, translation

Asymptote Journal’s review of SWEET POTATO by Kim Tongin, translated by yours truly.

check out their review of Sweet Potato–a collection of select short stories by Korean modernist Kim Tongin (1900-1951), translated by me.

also, Sweet Potato is now available on Amazon for Kindle readers. hard copies of the book are still available via Honford Star!

sweet potato_img

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Art, Book, Fiction, ideology, korea, Literature, Short Story, translation

The Future of Silence: Fiction by Korean Women

Folks–The Future of Silence: Fiction by Korean Women is now out on Amazon!

I did the cover art for the book. It’s an acrylic painting. I’m quite proud of it.

It’s the dream I had just prior to moving to LA from New York. It’s a good dream. I’m willing to sell both the dream and the painting for $54K.

Please do read the book. The collection includes modern Korean authors’ short stories–all written by women–ranging from decades ago to most recent years. The amount of talent contained in this book is astounding.

The book was translated and edited by my friends/mentors Bruce and Chan Fulton. They are really quite something.

I’ll be posting an interview I did with them soon. Stay tuned.

 

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