Some more thoughts on the rape scene in HONNEAMISE

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HORN, D K

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May 11, 1994, 12:56:50 AM5/11/94
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(Recently, Mitch Hagmaier and I were having a discussion comparing the
"visceral impact" of Hiroyuki Yamaga's only two writing projects for
anime: THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE and GUNDAM 0080: WAR IN THE POCKET. The
correspondence turned to the rape scene in HONNEAMISE, and Mitch said he
was "repelled and confused by (it)...it acted as an alienating factor for
me...it doesn't make sense, the sequence of events." I had earlier
suggested that the scene served several purposes in the film, among them
illustrating the direct, rather than the abstract, experience of sin for
Shiro, but Mitch felt by this that I believed the scene was meant to be
merely a shocking illustration of "man's evil nature." Since this has
proven to be one of the most controversial scenes in anime, and the issue
has arisen before, I thought it would be a good idea to elaborate my
feelings on it, in a sequel of sorts to the "The Land Of Rape And
Honneamise" article I posted several months ago. Tennessee Williams, who
both wrote about rape and was a victim of it himself, said something, in
speaking of his plays, that I think is also relevant to a film like
HONNEAMISE: "In order to capture the quality of life in two and a half
hours, everything has to be concentrated, intensified. You must catch
life in moments of crisis, moments of electric confrontation."

I think that Shiro's attempted rape of Leiqunni is an incident in the
film that *both* grows out of Shiro's motivations, developed throughout
the film, *and* serves to illustrate "what we have learned" about the
characters of Shiro and Leiqunni. Shiro, of course, has wanted Leiqunni
from the beginning, and has not been reluctant to make unsolicited
physical advances towards her. They're living together in an isolated
spot. You might say that it's several steps from there to rape, but I
believe Shiro bases his decision to assault her--the trigger, as it
were--on what he has heard from her and observed immediately before the
act. He has grown to resent her--her unwillingness to stand up for
herself, her living off of other people's charity, while hoarding money
in her shoe (contrast to Shiro's throwing his money away, just before he,
basically, ran off to live with her, so he could at last "live in the
right way," after Leiqunni's fashion, removing himself from the
injustices and corruption of the world he has become aware of since his
first meeting with Leiqunni encouraged him to "open his eyes."

But Leiqunni's recital to Manna makes him feel that, after everything, he
is right back to where he started, when he was just "eating to live," and
never thinking of effecting change: "You cannot go on without your daily
bread...Your truths become lies when they leave your mouth...your good
intentions are made evil when they reach your hand...What can any of you
do, besides pray?" Since it was Leiqunni's presence and spirituality at
the beginning of the film that made Shiro decide to engage life at last
instead of just subsisting day-to-day with as little effort as possible,
this recital must have sounded like a total perversion of what Shiro had
come to regard from Leiqunni as "good." He feels, in effect, that he has
been led to this place under false pretenses--although, in truth, he is
merely seeing Leiqunni at last for what she is: a woman with perfect
faith in God, but none in herself. It is easy at this point for Shiro to
combine his disgust with his desires--from his point of view, Leiqunni
has not delivered him from evil, but rather, led him into temptation.
Well--if she actually believes that a person cannot do good through their
own actions, then what should stop him from, literally, dragging her down
to his own level?

If you're repelled by the rape scene, than so am I--one should be: it is
usually for the viewer a shocking and unexpected incident. Shiro chose to
commit an evil act of his own free will. I can agree with his attitude
towards Leiqunni, but he used that as an excuse for an unjustified
physical assault because he was frustrated at the utterly un-physical
nature of what had become the most important relationship ever in his
young life.

The morning after illustrates some important points about Shiro and
Leiqunni's character. He has learned something about his own capacity to
"rationalize" his way into sin, and evil is therefore no longer merely an
abstract issue for him. But he already regrets his action, and attempts
to apologize. Leiqunni, however, miserable and worthless as she sees
herself, is unable even to acknowledge his attack on her, turning it
around and apologizing for "assaulting" *him*--"such a fine person..."
Perhaps she understands on some level that Shiro had a high opinion of
her, that perhaps no one else ever held. This is indeed a bitter end to
their relationship which began fired in ideals--Shiro stares in impotence
at the woman who awoke his dreams, who shares his dreams, who freed him
to fly--yet whom cannot herself, trapped in a cage where she is her own
jailer.

In the end, Leiqunni's attempt to isolate herself from a world she regards as
evil is no more productive than Shiro's initial refusal to even consider
good and evil in the world (that's why I prefer to render his opening line as
"I don't know if it's good or bad" although one could say "For better or
worse"). HONNEAMISE is a film advocating anti-detatchment.

Although the rape scene serves needs of plot, it is important when one
says this to keep in mind that the plot of HONNEAMISE is largely driven
by character development. Yamaga has not merely jerked Shiro's strings to
commit this act--indeed, the act derives from choice and serves to
illustrate that Shiro *knows* he has a choice--Leiqunni believes *she has
none.* Leiqunni believes in original sin, that "all are guilty." But if
one is guilty from birth, the entire concept of "sin" as a choice becomes
meaningless, for we are evil--indeed, doomed, by nature and can do
nothing but ask for grace.

But Shiro doesn't believe this is true. His prayer at the end comes only
after a long string of conscious choices, actions, and decisions on his
part. He prays not out of a belief that God's mercy is the only thing
that can save the helplessly evil human race--on the contrary, his prayer
is based on the careful observation of humanity's historical record: full
of choices that led to slaughter. And yet, he simultaneously recognizes
that the same human race has made it here, to "God's space"--what used to
be thought of as Heaven. What he beseeches, then, is a light to
mankind--"In our despair, give us one, fixed star." A beacon of
*truth*--to remind us that we always have a *choice.*

The more I look at HONNEAMISE, the more convinced I am that Yamaga knew
what he was doing. The film holds with Gide's warning: "Do not understand
me too quickly." Whether the necessity for the viewer to go back again to
fully comprehend it, will be a liability in its release here--I don't
know--there is so much one can get from the first viewing only. But in
that endurance, the viewer discovers that which endures: the art of THE
WINGS OF HONNEAMISE. The film is Yamaga's choice--and also, still, a
light to anime--a genre that doesn't believe in itself as it should...

--Carl "I want the bomb, just like George Clinton" Horn

William Bardwell

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May 11, 1994, 11:27:30 PM5/11/94
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In article <16FB2150...@ricevm1.rice.edu>,
HORN, D K <DH...@ricevm1.rice.edu> wrote:
[...great analysis of the rape scene...]

>The morning after illustrates some important points about Shiro and
>Leiqunni's character. He has learned something about his own capacity to
>"rationalize" his way into sin, and evil is therefore no longer merely an
>abstract issue for him. But he already regrets his action, and attempts
>to apologize. Leiqunni, however, miserable and worthless as she sees
>herself, is unable even to acknowledge his attack on her, turning it
>around and apologizing for "assaulting" *him*--"such a fine person..."
>Perhaps she understands on some level that Shiro had a high opinion of
>her, that perhaps no one else ever held. This is indeed a bitter end to
>their relationship which began fired in ideals--Shiro stares in impotence
>at the woman who awoke his dreams, who shares his dreams, who freed him
>to fly--yet whom cannot herself, trapped in a cage where she is her own
>jailer.
Actually when I just re-watched this, I came away from the rape scene thinking
(and I think this explains Sillo's line that He couldn't do it) that at the
moment that he looks her full on and sees the expression on her face (which he
hadn't looked at in this scene until then), he just stops and looks stunned,
and at that point he couldn't continue his attack. Then she hits him.
although what you say about her phrases the next morning are true, I think
it isn't quite as out of place, because I think they both realize that this
was a momentary madness that he came out of just before he actually did
the dirty deed (and before she hit him).

--
William Bardwell
wbardwel+@[cs.]cmu.edu

Ken Arromdee

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May 11, 1994, 3:20:35 PM5/11/94
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If you take the attitude towards rape expected nowadays in the USA, the scene
doesn't work. It seems to me that it only works if you consider attempted
rape wrong, but not too much wronger than shoplifting, or copying computer
software, or cheating on your wife. Shiro's rape attempt is supposed to show
his insensitivity. But it's _not_ supposed to show the degree of depravity
that we, living in a society where an accusation of sexual harassment can per-
manently ruin the career of a prospective Supreme Court justice or a
president, read into it.

(What is the Japanese attitude towards sexual harassment? Towards date rape?)
--
Ken Arromdee (email: arro...@jyusenkyou.cs.jhu.edu)
ObYouKnowWho Bait: Stuffed Turkey with Gravy and Mashed Potatoes

"You, a Decider?" --Romana "I decided not to." --The Doctor

HORN, D K

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May 13, 1994, 9:50:41 PM5/13/94
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In article <Cpo6xu...@cs.cmu.edu>

wbar...@cs.cmu.edu (William Bardwell) writes:

>Actually when I just re-watched this, I came away from the rape scene thinking
>(and I think this explains Sillo's line that He couldn't do it) that at the
>moment that he looks her full on and sees the expression on her face (which he
>hadn't looked at in this scene until then), he just stops and looks stunned,
>and at that point he couldn't continue his attack. Then she hits him.
>although what you say about her phrases the next morning are true, I think
>it isn't quite as out of place, because I think they both realize that this
>was a momentary madness that he came out of just before he actually did
>the dirty deed (and before she hit him).

Yes, he did stop for a moment and seem to recognize what he was doing. As they
used to say, ira furor brevis est: Shiro is capable of self-questioning at that
moment, as he is the next morning. The pause also serves to allow Leiqunni the
chance to knock his lights out.

--Carl "Sweet Emotion" Horn

HORN, D K

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May 13, 1994, 9:56:57 PM5/13/94
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In article <2qrb63$q...@jyusenkyou.cs.jhu.edu>

arro...@jyusenkyou.cs.jhu.edu (Ken Arromdee) writes:

>
>If you take the attitude towards rape expected nowadays in the USA, the scene
>doesn't work. It seems to me that it only works if you consider attempted
>rape wrong, but not too much wronger than shoplifting, or copying computer
>software, or cheating on your wife. Shiro's rape attempt is supposed to show
>his insensitivity. But it's _not_ supposed to show the degree of depravity
>that we, living in a society where an accusation of sexual harassment can per-
>manently ruin the career of a prospective Supreme Court justice or a
>president, read into it.
>

I think it is putting it too mildly to say that the scene is meant to show his
"insensitivity." If Shiro had insulted Leiqunni, perhaps--but he physically
assaulted her, and tried to rape her, actions which I think go beyond
"insensitive." Actually, Shiro is a pretty sensitive guy, in terms of his
attempts to understand the world around him and question dogma.

--Carl "Sweet Emotion" Horn
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