“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Last year in French Cinema, we watched Hiroshima Mon Amour a 1959 Alain Resnais film and one of the early French New Wave movies. The movie takes place in Hiroshima and is about a French actress who has come to the city to make a movie about the bombings. While there, she starts a relationship with a Japanese man. The movie begins with the two in bed discussing Hiroshima and what she saw there. I’ve included the opening below. It should start at the beginning of the movie, but if not, skip to 3:39. The scene continues a bit into a next part, which you can find here.

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I think the repetition of the line “You saw nothing in Hiroshima” is very interesting in light of what we discussed today in class about perceptions of silence. For Obasan and Uncle, silence in relationship to the past is a good thing. I think in their minds it’s more respectful. When Naomi and Uncle go on their yearly trip, he never explains why. My (totally uninformed speculation, as I haven’t finished the book yet) is that he feels that he can’t comment on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he did not truly experience it. Like the woman in the film, he only knows of the aftereffects of the bombing, not the actual moment. The film, like Obasan, says that experience is very subjective. Not even the official history put into museums or books can be true (something that Aunt Emily would probably jump to agree with.) So much of Naomi’s experience is defined by her role as an observer and I think that might be part of the reason she has so little agency when telling her story. Though she has experienced a lot in her life, she is also entrusted as narrator with the stories of other family members, which limits how she can tell their story. I think it’s similar to what we discussed in class about the narrator of The Gangster We Are All Looking For.

(To add a fun cross-cultural tidbit, I found out that this film was an inspiration for  many Fifth Generation Chinese directors. The bulk of their films were historical epics and a lot of their later work confronted issues of experience and subjectivity.)

Inter-racial Relationships in Hong Kong, 1949

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Over the summer I watched “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” which was made in 1955.  It’s set in Hong Kong in 1949 when it was a British colony, and deals with the relationship between an American Correspondent and a Eurasian woman who works as a doctor.  There are other complications in the plot, of course, but the point of conflict between their inter-racial relationship came back to me as we started reading Ting.  Though she is not Asian-American, I think there is a very similar conflict.  She’s a widow (her husband was Chinese) and knows that she’s undesirable because of her mixed blood, and so she has decided to put her duty to her Chinese people first and foremost.  Here, we see the loyalty to the perhaps “inferior” race, and authenticity when she wears Chinese clothing.  Later in the movie, she reunites with another Eurasian woman from school who passes herself off as European, because she can have an affair with a European man without complication.

In this movie, these women are the example of inter-racial product, and continue to be the shunned when the idea of inter-racial relationships comes up.  The  Eurasian women are played by American actresses.  This movie is an American film, which must of course present a ton of generalities from the 1950s.  Both tall and thin, one of them is blonde.  They look more European than Asian, and represent the ideal that Americans would want to see on the screen.  None of the main characters are full Chinese.  There are some who play bit parts, but everything else is very idealized as the movie plays to its American audience.

Here’s a link to the movie trailer on YouTube.  It concerns itself greatly with the sort of Romeo & Juliet situation they’re in.

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