Tag Archives: rape

Blaming the victim magnifies the trauma of gang rape

The first novel by Okinawan writer and activist Medoruma Shun, In the Woods of Memory (Me no okay no mori, more literally “I’m not OK, nor dead”, 2009) to be translated into English, is a masterpiece, albeit one to make Okinawan or American readers (or probably any kind!) uncomfortable. It has some resonances with Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece “Rashômon” and its source “Yabu no naka” (In a Grove) by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. (Medoruma won the 1997 Akutagawa prize, btw) in that the work centers on a rape in a woods and multiple perspectives.


Medoruma’s novel (based on a story his grandmother told him about a rape by US soldiers of an Okinawan girl in northern Okinawa) is more a mosaic with nine different protagonists (not all narrators) from 1945 and 2005, rather than the puzzle of accounts by unreliable, self-serving narrators of “Rashômon.” It also differs in that there are rapists (plural, and they also raped other villagers) and that they are alien (American). There is indirect testimony from one of the rapists, but not from the victim (the raped woman in “Rashômon” presents her account), Sayoko.

Sayoko was with some younger girls gathering food on a beach across from a recently constructed US pier. Such soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army who had not retreated to the south of Okinawa were prisoners, and there was not yet a US occupation regime in place on Yagaji Island.

Having finished their tasks, four GIs stripped down to their underwear and swam across, planning to return immediately a distance of only about a hundred yards. The terror of the girls on the beach stimulated sadism in the GIs who took the oldest girl, the village beauty, the very good-hearted Sayoko into the woods and gang-raped her.

On a later day, four GIs (it is not clear until later whether it was the same four) were again swimming over. Sayoko’s neighbor, Seiji, how had long had a crush on Sayoko and more or less lived in the water took his harpoon and swam toward the Americans (the harpoon tied to his wrist and not visible). He swam under one of the Americans and stabbed him in the gut (aiming for the liver). Two of the Americans pursued him, and Seiji stabbed one of them in the shoulder (the harpoon lodged there).


(a grove by the beach on Yagaji Island, from WIkimedia Commons)


Later, Seiji hid in a cave. The village headman, who was eager to curry favor with the occupying Americans, betrayed his whereabouts. Seiji was smoked out with tear gas and shot several times. The villagers, who had been surprised that Seiji had not been slain with poison gas, assumed he would be executed, and were eager to tell the Americans that Seiji had acted alone, though many were ashamed at their failure to do anything to protect or avenge their women who were violated.

Only three of the eleven chapters are set in 1945. The events still reverberate on the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, and the traumas (including ongoing mistreatment of Sayoko, who was unhinged in part by her father’s rejection of her following the traumas of the gang rape) linger.

Although the prime villains are obviously the four American rapists (three of whom died soon thereafter in the Battle of Okinawa without being court-martialed for the rape), the Okinawans both of the 1940s and 2000s do not come off well, bullying Seiji before and after the “incident” and Sayoko after it (including more rapes), along with a young Okinawan middle-school student (a first-person female narrator whose name is not mentioned).

Several of the characters in the 2005 chapters also recall the 1995 instance of three American servicemen raping an Okinawan elementary-school student. 9-11 also crops up. Much more than the rape and stab at revenge are remembered—and festering not only for those who were alive in 1945 but for those who were not then yet born — in Medoruma’s powerful book.

Despite the accretion of information about various individuals with a wide range of connections to the 1945 events on Yagaji Island, the book is not a difficult read, though the stream of consciousness Seiji chapters were more difficult (but not comparable in disorientation to Benjy’s in The Sound and the Fury, for instance). The original Japanese was mixed with Okinawan (the languages are not mutually intelligible and the Japanese have attempted to eliminate Okinawan (Ruykuan) since annexing the Ryuku Islands in 1879) in Medoruma’s book, a disorienting effect not available in English translation. Translator Takuma (né Paul) Sminkey (who teaches at Okinawa International University) made the reader-friendly addition of chapter titles (the name of the main character in each one) with the date (1945 or 2005) and also a preface providing context about Medoruma and the language (Japanese/Okinawan code-shifting) issue. The book was beautifully produced by Stone Bridge Press with a map, a character table, and an illuminated afterword by Kyle Ikeda.

Some of Medoruma’s short fiction has been translated into and included in anthologies. I hope that his other two (earlier) novels, The Crying Wind (2004) and The Rainbow Bird (2006) will follow in English translation.


©2017, Stephen O. Murray


Retrospect of Ôshima Nagasi films



The Japanese movies I most revere were made by Ichikawa, Kinoshita, Kobayashi, Kurosawa — the generation between the masters who were already established before the Second World War (Mizoguchi, Naruse, Ozu) and the “New Wave” (Ôshima, Imamura, Shinoda, Teshigahara) that began making movies around 1960. I put off running through the Ôshima films I’ve seen (19 of his 26 feature files, none of his 21 documentaries, three tv movies and one 13-episode tv series) because there are few that I like — maybe only one (Pleasures of the Flesh), though I find “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (which is mostly in English) very intriguing and don’t think he went off the rail to an extent close to that of Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave director to whose work Ôshima’s was compared early and often.

Ôshima was dismayed by the failure of Japanese opposition politics (the student movement) in 1960 and became increasingly alienated from his countrymen in general and Japanese cinema in particular

I know that Ôshima is historically important, in some ways the first independent Japanese filmmaker (though he began and ended his career directing for Shochiku). He was particularly critical of the discrimination those of Korean descent (many born in Japan) faced.

I also think his fascination with erotic obsession and and the recurrence of rape (often multiple rapes)  in many of his movies unhealthy, and contributing to my impatience with many of his movies. From his third movie on, they tended to drag and were often dramatically incoherent. I have already quoted the acute analysis of Donald Richie: Ôshima “rarely sees any of these issues through to any logical conclusion, maintaining that it is precisely the illogicality of the issues themselves which ought command our interest; that his is the role of social critic, calling their absurdity to our attention. Perhaps for this reason he refuses to allow any of his films an autonomous life of their own. One is always aware of the director, manipulating his material, making certain that we understand that it is his statement rather than that of the actors playing his characters. Consequently there is no indirection, no implication — we are talked at and ordered to think; we are not requested to feel.”

As with Imamura, there were lengthy stretches in which Ôshima directed no feature-length fiction films. A chronological list with my ratings on a 10-point scale of the ones that are available here (on Criterion and/or Hulu) follows


A Town of Love and Hope (1959) 7

Cruel Story of Youth/Naked Youth (1960) 6

The Sun’s Burial (1960) 2

Night and Fog in Japan (1960) 1

Pleasures of the Flesh (1965) 7

Violence at Noon (1966) 1

Sing a Song of Sex (1967) 4

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967) 4

Death by Hanging (1968) 6

3 Resurrected Drunkards (1968) 5

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969) 1

Boy (1969) 4.5

The Man Who Put His Will on Film (1970) 2

The Ceremony (1971) 5

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) 2.5

Empire of Passion (1978) 3

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) 9

Max, Mon Amour (1986) 5.5

Gohatto/Taboo (1999) 5.5


©2016, Stephen O. Murray


Oshima’s “Sing a Song of Sex”

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It’s interesting that there are four credits for the screenplay (including one for himself) in Ôshima’s “Nihon shunka-kô” (literally, “A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs,” more commercially titled “Sing a Song of Sex” in English), since there was no screenplay when shooting started and the movie was mostly improvised. (None of the four credited screenwriters were in the cast; Tamura Tsutomu would be credited in seven later Ôshima films and Shinoda’s “Yasha-ga-ike,” “Macarthur’s Children,” and “Maihimi”; Sasaki Mamoru with Tamura in six)

The movie follows four male high school seniors applying to enter Tokyo University. There are also three female students from the same outlying high school (one of them, Kaneda, is Korean [Yoshida Hideko], which those depending on the subtitled might miss realizing) and a teacher (Itami Juzo, the then-future director of “Tampopo” and “Taxing Woman”). The teacher is not a chaperone. In addition to meeting up with his Tokyo mistress, he takes the students (with snow on the ground, I doubt the school year is over!) drinking and singing bawdy songs. One running through a sequence of sexual partners is repeated throughout the movie.

In a series of attempts (ploys), the boys fail to gain admission to the girls’ room. Also in sequence, they fantasize about raping the young woman who sat in seat #469 (Tajima Kazuko).

718full-sing-a-song-of-sex-screenshot (1).jpgHaving no political consciousness, the boys don’t even realize what is being protested in a march that they precede (though briefly they could be said to “lead” it, starting chants against the revival of celebrating Kenkokubi/ “Founders Day”).

They also visit without joining a night-time protest (of the Vietnam war) hootenanny that includes many young guitarists and group singing in English of “This Land Is Your Land,” “Michael Rowed the Boast Ashore(, Hallelujah),” and “We Shall Overcome.” Ôshima works in a lecture about the Korean origins of Japan/the Japanese royal family.


The failure of the young at political protests is an Ôshima leitmotif, as is championing oppressed Koreans in Japan, and a fascination with rape. When she learns of the boys’ fantasies of raping her at the front of the classroom where the exam was administered, #469 invites them to enact it for real (without the proctor they overpowered in their fantasies and the boy who tried to come to her aid). The fantasies were rather aim-inhibited (or they fantasized cumming very, very fast with her panties still on…), and Ôshima embellishes them with strangling #469, who struggles not at all. (So this likely is also fantasy.)

Although there was some interest in an accidental death with which Nakamura (pop singer Araki Ichirô) may have been complicit (or, at least, failed to prevent), the movie runs out of energy and interest at the hootenanny (the running time is 103 minutes, but with all the songs seems to drag on a longer time, with a diatribe after the second rape sequence). The color palette is heavily black and red. It was shot by Takada Akira, who was also the cinematographer of the 1964 tv movie “Because I Love You” and the feature films “Pleasures of the Flesh” and “Violence at Noon,” but of no later Ôshima films.

BTW, there is nothing resembling a treatise, though the teacher in addition to singing bawdy songs argues that they are hidden history, hidden voicing of protests by the oppressed. His thesis borders on Völksgeist sentimentalizing.


  1. “Sing a Song of Sex” is available in the Criterion Eclipse “Ôshima’s Outlaw Sixties” set.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray


Oshima’s “The Sun’s Burial”


Ôshima’s 1960 “Taiyô no hakaba” (The Sun’s Burial, Tomb of the Sun) is a sort of sequel that ups the ante of alienation and violence from “Cruel Story of Youth”/”Naked Youth.” (also shot by Kawamata Takashi, though less elegantly).

A hooker by night, during the day Hanako (Kayoko Honoo) is involved in an illegal blood bank, luring in (mostly Korean) dockworkers to supply what sure looks like ketchup to me. As a prostitute, she works for the established Osaka crime syndicate headed by Ohama (Shimizu Gen), while the blood racket is a collaborative venture with the younger upstart would-be gang lord Shin (Tsugawa Masahiko). Shin is constantly changing hiding places to evade Ohama’s punishment.

sunsburial.jpgAgitator (Ozawa Eitarô) is constantly raising the spectre of a Soviet invasion of Japan. In one of the bizarre scenes in a movie filled with doom and gloom, Hanako asks him if there will be slums in the new world of restored Japanese imperial glory. She does not get a clear answer, though the whole movie indicates that nothing is going to get better in the Hobbesian world of the setting sun.

A bigger mystery is why Shin tolerates violations of the yakuza code from a reluctant new recruit, Takeshi (Sasaki Isao), whereas his friend Wasu (Kawazu Iusuke, the baddest boy of “Cruel Story of Youth” unable to hold his own in the rough slum company here) is beaten up with increasing severity.

I have to say that the fights and beatings are very hokey/unbelievable. The grunge of lower-depths wardrobe is also, though some have claimed that “Burial” has a quasi-documentary look.

Aside from the unrelenting ugliness (look and action) of the movie, the profusion of characters makes the storyline difficult to follow (the theme that life is nasty, brutish, and short is clear enough). Ôshima’s fascination with downtrodden Koreans in Japan was already evident in his third movie, as rape was in his second.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray


Forced to marry her rapist: Kinoshita’s 1961 “Immortal Love”


“Immortal Love” (Eien no hito, which means something more like perpetual ownership of a person, 1961; though not a translation of the title, “Bitter Spirit” is the apt British title) is for me the best Kinoshita Keisuke film (although I prefer his comedies to his grim tragedies), partly because I am such a great admirer of Nakadai Tatsuya, who plays a despicable returned, crippled veteran (from the annexation of Manchuria, to the area of Mount Aso on Kyushu in 1932) who wants Sadako (Takamine Hideko), daughter of one of Hebei’s father’s tenant, Sojiro (Katô Yoshi). He knows that she is in love with Takashi (Sada Keiji), the son of another tenant farmer who has not returned from the war and rapes her. That and economic pressure from his father on her father forces her to marry him… but not to love the son conceived from the rape that deflowered her. (She attempted to commit suicide before she could have known she was pregnant, but was fished out by Takashi’s brother.4926518_l4.jpg




Though physically (if not emotionally) faithful to the husband she hates and not acting on it, she continues to love Takashi who went off and married a woman, Tomoko (Otowa Nabuko), with whom he fathered a son. Wife and son come to the village, and Tomoko is warmer to Heibei than Sadako is, though it seems Heibei rapes Tomoko, too.

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The firstborn of Sadako and Heibei kills himself at the age of 17, when he learns that he was the product of rape. The second becomes a communist, involved in the movement to prevent the 1960 renewal of the security pact between the US and Japan. And their daughter elopes with Takashi’s son, with the connivance of Sadako, who knows Heibei would never consent to it.


The melodrama extends to 1961 with a sort of détente ending. It didn’t seem sentimental to me: too many ruined lives for a happy ending, which Kinoshita did not really supply.

The flamenco with ballad score by the brother of the writer-director, Kinoshita Chûji is unusual, but annoyed me less than some other music in Kinoshita Keisuke films (or the Bolero-like music in “Rashomon”). Kinoshita’s regular cinematographer (and brother-in-law), Kusuda Hiroshi, did outstanding work, including some foggy scenes and panoramas of fields and the volcano. There are many striking tracking shots. And despite the ballads at the junctures between the five chapters, the movie moved right along, albeit with lots of nastiness from Nakadai and lots of rolling with the punched from Takamine.

And there are multiple shots of trains (also bus interiors), always a plus for me. The film was nominated for the best foreign-language feature Oscar (losing to Bergman’s “Through a Glass Darkly”.

Takamine’s character broke the heart of Nakadai’s in Naruse’s “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960), too, mostly not noticing he was in love with her, but rejecting him when he makes a move (which does not continue on to rape). I thought she looked too old at the start and too young at the end of “Immortal,” whereas the two male leads aged.

The movie was the only Kinoshita film to be nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar (“24 Eyes” and “The Rose on His Arm” had received Golden Globe nominations in that category earlier. Japan did not win that award until 2009, for “Okuribito” (Departures). 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray