by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus
Grove, 152 pp., $14.95
A year ago in Tokyo, two Japanese films achieved great success with a public consisting largely of young girls and homosexuals. This was because they had a common theme. Both films were about young women forming relationships with gay couples. One was called Okoge, meaning fag hag; the other was entitled Kira Kira Hikaru, which might be translated as Shining Brightly. In Okoge, directed by Nakajima Takehiro, a spirited young woman called Sayoko offers her bedroom to a male couple she has befriended at the beach. While the men make love upstairs, she crawls into her futon in the living room, and leafs through a book of Frida Kahlo paintings. She can only enjoy the passion of her two “lovers” vicariously, but at least she is spared the oppressiveness of more conventional arrangements.
Kira Kira Hikaru, directed by Matsuoka Joji, is a less anarchic and more ambivalent film. The story revolves around an arranged middle-class marriage, which would be conventional enough were it not for the fact that the husband is gay and the wife is alcoholic. She wants her husband’s lover to join the ménage, but she would like to have a baby, too, to please her parents. She craves freedom, but becomes confused when she achieves it, a common enough dilemma, not only in Japan. The fascination with male homosexuality among young women is not unique to Japan either, but it is nonetheless a remarkable phenomenon.
Japan can easily give the impression of a country of fag hags. Comic books for young girls feature beautiful youths falling in love with aristocratic men, or androgynous rock stars. Japanese girls like David Bowie at his most camp. The film of E.M. Forster’s Maurice played to full houses, mostly of young girls. Luchino Visconti was a teen-age idol, as was his star, Helmut Berger. The most popular theater company for young girls is the all female Takarazuka, based in a dreamlike little spa near Osaka, with pink bridges and pink houses, and a large pink theater. One of the most popular Takarazuka roles—apart from Rhett Butler and Lieutenant Pinkerton—is that of a young woman at the court of Louis XVI, who grows up as a boy named Oscar. As a dashing military officer, Oscar falls in love with a Swedish aristocrat, who is already in love with Marie-Antoinette. But Oscar in turn is adored by her/his groom, who is unaware of his master’s female identity. The play is entitled Rose of Versailles.
All this would be camp, if it were knowing. But it is not. Young Japanese girls appear to find the pink bridges, the gay romances, the rock stars in drag, the girls dressed as boys who fall in love with other boys, beautiful. Akogare, romantic longing, is the term they use for this dream world, far removed from the demands of reality. What would be the highest of camp in another context can become cute in Japan, redolent of childhood. It is …