Midquarter Eight With Feedback



Spring 2002

Jackson, Jr.




Japanese Postmodern

Spring 2002

13 May 2002

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Japan Postmodern

Midterm paper

May 13, 2002


Japan has had a terribly rigid social structure and standard for behavior
since the feudal times [Strange generalization.
And why since „feudal times“? And why presume a continuity of „Japan“?].

Your familyís [Substandard use of second-person.
I am not Japanese for example and thus this sentence is weird.]

class follows you everywhere and defines who you are and your place in
society in Japan [As it does in Britain and the
U. S. too.].
The yakuza on the other hand accepts people from
all countries and classes and offers them incredible power, money, respect
and mobility within the organization [This is
ridiculous notion, and where are your sources? You need to cite them. I’d
be interested in where you got this idea.]
. The yakuza is the
Japanese criminal organization [This sentence
belongs before the previous one if the previous one belongs any where.
You haven’t begun to describe the agenda of this paper yet and a series
of unsubstantiated generalities do not build an argument.].
plays an integral part of Japanese consciousness and its national institution
[Nonsense. And again these are things you seem
to have dreamt up at random, since you do not cite sources.]
No other crime organization has ever matched the depth of penetration into
the corporate world and enjoyed the immunity from prosecution that the
yakuza has [Ok, this will save us both time. My
limit for unsubstantiated statements is three. After that I postpone reading
the paper any further until I receive one that documents sources. Please
see me about this. I will go over the rest of the paper when I have one
that conforms to standards of academic accountability.].
yakuza is the dark foundation of every part of Japanese life. As long as
Japan remains as repressed and orderly as it traditionally has been, the
yakuza will always exist as an alternative to the tight order of ordinary
life. The yakuza takes care of the misfits of Japan. They accept the youth
abandoned by their parents, those who couldnít or didnít want to cut it
with the extraordinarily difficult and stressful high school exams, refugees
from China and Korea and other social rejects. Most significantly, the
yakuza offers people the feeling of belonging and purpose, which is often
lacking from the alienated souls of Japanese modern society („The Japanese
Yakuza“). All this is the reason that the Yakuza is such an excellent literary
tool and symbol. The yakuza is often used in films and literature commenting
on or critiquing the Japanese life, government and social order.

The yakuza started out as sort of Robin Hoods that rode on horses and
defended Japanese villages from cruel feudal lords. They developed into
an outlaw brotherhood that people respected for the protection they offered
and feared for their ruthlessness. Each gang has a godfather called an
Uyabun who holds the highest status and controls the lives and deaths of
all those under him. Yakuza now deal in prostitution, gambling and pornography,
but since the first days of the yakuza, it has spiraled into an incredibly
large network that not only has a close relationship with the political
and corporate world, but its own structure closes mirrors theirs. The yakuza
now keeps legitimate businesses as well as illegal trades. It may seem
that the only difference between the yakuza organization, the government
and legitimate corporations is that the yakuza is much more blatantly and
physically vicious („The Japanese Yakuza).

Though the yakuza romanticizes itself upon following the samurai code
and often offers a more appealing alternative to social misfits, it is
still a sad and unfortunate alternative and something that many try to
escape once theyíve established themselves, such as the protagonists of
Tokyo Drifter and Afraid To Die. This can often prove difficult.
The life of a yakuza comes with complete devotion to oneís clan and serious
risks whether they are loyal and especially if they are not. Violent death
is seen as poetic, tragic, and as an honorable fate. Tetsu, the protagonist
of Tokyo Drifter planned on getting out of the life and going legit
with some sort of shop, but old yakuza rivals steal his building, so he
kills a bunch of people and hits the road to escape these yakuza that are
after his life. One particular yakuza that comes after Tetsu is especially
devoted to killing him. The only problem is that Tetsu is hopelessly cool
and constantly manages to evade this guy through incredibly stylish means.
In one shoot-out Tetsu shoots this man, but does not kill him. The injured
man drags himself, bleeding to the place where Tetsu is staying, aims a
gun at him from the floor and demands breathlessly, „Why didnít you kill
me? Just for being kind, youíll have to go to hell.“ This hard-core yakuza
was ashamed that Tetsu had let him live, because personal sacrifice for
the sake of the group you belong to is hailed as a virtue and a concept
that is very relevant to modern Japan. He failed to do so and this was
terribly unsatisfying for him (Barrett 64). He represented how hopelessly
ingrained feudal tradition still is in Japanese culture, how impossible
it is escape and what senseless behavior it encourages. The director, Seijun
Suzuki pointed this out again and satirized the unreasonable romanticism
of this win or die-hard mentality through the over-playing of the song
The Drifter From Tokyo, which glorifies the lonely, macho life of
a drifter all throughout the film.

Hyper-masculinity is also held as a necessary trait. A yakuza must kill
without mercy or feeling, be strong and attractive talk as little as possible,
and use women only for sex and as trophies and not care for them (Standish
173). In both of these films the leading protagonists have one girlfriend
that they have strong feelings for, which most would agree is a completely
natural and acceptable reality. In the yakuza culture having strong feelings
for a woman is sort of an Achilles Heel or a weak point for rival gangs
of enemies to target. In Afraid To Die Yukio Mushimaís character,
Takeo gives in to his desire to be with his woman and this leads to his
demise. Before he does so he openly admits he is a coward and is not willing
to die for honor. He is sort of an anti-hero. He slouches, runs away, and
argues with women. He easily goes soft and is shot while in a train station
blissfully purchasing baby clothes and partaking in terribly un-yakuza-like
behaviors. The main protagonist of Tokyo Drifter on the other hand
repeatedly struggles with his love for his girlfriend, but shuns her every
time. He coolly rejects her saying, „A drifter canít have woman.“ The woman
falls to her knees weeping and he stoically lights a cigarette and walks
away into the sunset. He represses his sexual desire for the sake of masculinity
(Barrett 67). Normally is considered masculine to have sexual conquest,
but this chaste hero is so masculine that he has transcended this masculinity
into uber masculinity in which he can ignore his sexual desire. Self-restraint
is another Japanese virtue that is taken to extremes. Yakuza is not supposed
to care about anything accept for himself and his clan or in the case of
the Tokyo drifter, Tetsu sold out by his uyabun, simply himself and his
utter, ridiculous coolness. Heís been forced to create a world for himself
in which he needs no one, which may or may not have something to do with
the fact that where ever he goes he will be marked as a yakuza. Although
he is a hero, he a disrespectable yakuza after all (Barrett 68). No matter
how much one can attempt to romanticize this, it remains a lonely and somewhat
unnatural state, which Suzuki makes clear through Tetsuís exaggerated masculine
behavior. Tetsu ignores is girlfriend when they find each other in a train
station sitting in trains parallel to each other where they can see each
other through their windows. She is pleading for him and obviously has
some sort of emotional claim on him, but he chooses to stoically ignore
her even though some would see this incredible coincidence as fate. He
is macho enough to ignore fate while she comes running through the snow
after his train. Similar scenes are repeated several times. Tetsu is a
tragic character.

The violence the yakuza lifestyle brings within these films is not terribly
offensive, because itís not personal for the most part. Violence enacts
social relations. Violence is the symbolic vehicle through which power
relations are maintained and re-negotiated both within the group and greater
society (Standish 166). The Tokyo drifter is cool and the alpha male because
he kills without feeling by shooting between his legs, while smoking a
cigarette and doing back flips and especially because he does this while
getting the guys that didnít keep their word and were challenging the order
and the honor code that they lived by. This is the interesting thing about
the yakuza good guy/bad guy aesthetic: theyíre all bad guys as far as the
law goes. The morality of the yakuza, which is largely a feudal/samurai,
morality contradicts with societyís rules, yet is still celebrated. This
is made possible because of the reality that even though Japan is a large
and modern presence in the world, its fairly mainstream and common traditions
remain pre-modern. This cocktail is a recipe for trouble. Afraid To
on the other hand criticizes the yakuza as being cheating, money
mongering cowards. It claims that they no longer exist as defenders of
common people, but they sell them out and break up strikes for money. Therefore,
Takeo, being more of a bad kid than an honorable samurai type is naturally
reluctant to use violence unless itís used to brutalize defenseless women.
In that case heís all for it.

By creating a rigid social structure and rejecting the people that canít
meet its standards, they are subsequently creating a violent underworld
that wonít follow its rules. The yakuza wonít go away, until Japan changes
a few things that still remain from feudal times. This seems to be the
general idea that these films are symbolically using the yakuza to relate.


1. Barrett, Gregory Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical
and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines.
and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989.

2. Delgi-Esposti, Cristina Postmodernism in the Cinema. New York:
Berghahn Books, 1998.

3. Standish, Isolde Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema:
Towards a Political Reading of the ëTragic Hero.í
Richmond: Curzon
Press, 2000.

4. „The Japanese Yakuza“ May 10, 2002. <http://organizedcrime.about.com/cs/yakuza/>



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