"Edward was the best dope dealer I ever met. What was his product? Selling dreams. That man knew how to create a fiend. He was my pusher, my kryptonite; he wrapped me into him and made me feel like he was all I needed... He was a prophet of false hope" (36-37)."You are not crazy! You deserve to live free in your mind" (46)."What made me beautiful were my achievements. I ascribed people's accolades about my achievements as self-worth. I am valuable because I am educated, smart, and focused... I disgusted myself physically, but who cares, I'm the smart one... No one talks about when the music stops and all the goals on the list are finally checked off. We don't discuss when you rapidly accomplish everything on your short-term list and have no idea what's next. When the list was done and the running had ceased, I had nothing else to attribute my self worth to. It was now just me... I no longer felt better than someone else" (59-60)."Having success was great, but I often felt like a complete failure when I didn't have all the answers. I begin to feel unimportant and unlikeable. I attributed my likeability by others based on how knowledgeable I was. If I knew the answer than people would like me, or most importantly, love me because I was useful to them. One reason being is that I thought I was incapable of being loved outside of me knowing everything. But then, I finally woke up. I realized that I didn't have to know everything and I had to be okay with not knowing... I must be humble in knowing that thought I am unique, I'm not better than my neighbor" (61).
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Sunday, April 10, 2022
Then there's "Shepherd", where a Jamaican and Black American family welcome their erudite 30-something cousin Gloria, a sex worker and bibliophile who left Jamaica after the recent death of her baby and needs a place to recover. Gloria and Chris, the closeted teenage son of the family, connect over their respective brokenness, but (trigger warning: molestation/child sexual abuse) in an illicit and unacceptable way. And I have to say, I'm still scratching my head over that incident. To Washington's credit, he does warn readers early on in the story (through Chris's narration, looking back on it as a grown man) that the incident will be happening, referring to it in a paragraph about the unpredictability of people and how you usually can't detect the "wildness" within them until it's too late. But the mention of molestation almost seems hypothetical, like a sick joke... until you get to the end of "Shepherd" and realize it's definitely not. So on the one hand, I knew to expect it, but I just didn't understand why it occurred. For most of the story we are made to feel empathetic for Gloria, or at least that's how I felt. Life has dealt her a harsh hand, her brilliance has been overlooked by people her whole life, she knows what it's like to need care and escape... and then she does what she does to Chris. It seems like that's her twisted way of comforting her young cousin, but it still feels so abrupt and out of place to me. Like what is that moment supposed to mean? I still don't know.
The other story that still stands out to me is "Waugh", a reversal of fortune between two sex workers named Rod and Poke. Rod has formed a crew with five other male sex workers, taking them off the street and providing stable living conditions so long as they abide by his apartment rules, and he has a soft spot for Poke, his friend as well as the youngest and most recent addition to the bunch. But when the crew kicks Rod out of his own home for breaking one of his own rules (contracting HIV), Poke, who's found love with one of his wealthy clients, is in a position to help Rod for a change. Unfortunately, that doesn't go the way Poke hopes it will. As devastating as "Waugh" is on multiple levels, I appreciate its focus on sex work and homelessness, and on the idea that even if you have the sincere desire and the means to do so, sometimes you can swoop in to try and save somebody and they'll refuse to accept it due to their own sense of pride and dignity. Sometimes it's too late for the help you offer to truly solve anything.
"I'd never in my life seen an actual whore (according to Nikki), a night worker (my father), or a calf in the wilderness (who else), so I looked her in the eyes for the thing that made it so; but all I saw was just some lady" (46)."Eventually, I finally asked her what she got out of reading these books by old dead men, what the words on the page had to do with her. The kind of question an idiot asks. But she took it seriously, she pursed her lips.
It's just another way to talk to the dead, she said.
It's another way to make a way, she said" (54)."Actually, she said, no. You don't have to tell me. You tell yourself why it is that you're staying, said Ma. When you figure it out, you keep it to yourself... But it's a reason you'll have to live with, she says. Even if it's nothing. And that is something you'll have to live with, too" (215).
I've just now finished summarizing this novel, so I guess I don't have room to gush over all the ways that it melted my heart and injected hope and laughter into my spirit. (Is that gross? Maybe I'll regret writing something so mushy later, but it's true for me in this moment.) I will say that SDIJ has too many excellent one-liners to count, and they took me down every single time. Eva and Shane's first time getting it on post-reunion is technically in public, in an unlocked room of an art installation/nap station for adults, which I thought was super inventive on Tia Williams's part. And I was pretty much set on adoring SDIJ forever once I learned that Eva has had incurable chronic migraines since childhood, just like me! Perhaps it's weird to be excited about seeing myself represented in that way, but excitement is what I genuinely felt because I never expected to have something so specific in common with a romance novel heroine. Although, as I mentioned in my examination of the character Hisako in 'Fishbowl Wives', my migraines are mild and very livable, only occasionally worsening due to certain triggers like alcohol, crying too hard, going too long without eating, PMS, wearing my headscarf or sleep cap on too tight at night, and so on. In contrast, Eva has "violent" migraine attacks (just like Hisako) that are only temporarily lessened by pain relief injections and weed gummies. She frequently calls hers an invisible disability—because no one can detect it just by looking at her, and because she refuses to tell anyone about it—and she envies "normal" people whose lives aren't ruled by pain.
"Hell yes, I'm mad. 'Cause I care. It took fortunes made and lost, one tarot-card reader, and too much AA for me to be evolved enough to say those words. I care about things... Look, I'm admitting that I care about awards. What do you care about?" (42)."The world was too loud for little-boy Shane. What he didn't know was that he was training himself to be a deeply empathetic writer—understanding nuanced emotion, spying humanity in unexpected places, seeing past the obvious. He was taking notes for his future self, who would write it all down. Every fucking thing he saw" (116).
"But she'd never wanted kids. Books were her kids. They cuddled up with her at night, kept her warm, quieted her thoughts when her marriage seemed thin, her life choices felt pointless, or her job seemed stagnant... She was happy not to feel anything super deeply. The top level of life was enough for her. The beginning of the night, when there was the buzzing possibility of intrigue and drama... Long ago, she'd learned that life could be bitterly disappointing if allowed. There were blows and stumbles, but your job was to stay interested in the world" (196)."I wanna be everything. Wanna be the reason you light up. I wanna make you laugh, make you moan, make you safe. I want to be the thought that lulls you to sleep. The memory that gets you off. I wanna be where all your paths end. I wanna do everything you do to me" (241)."I thought I couldn't be a successful person if I had demons. But what fully realized person doesn't? Women are expected to absorb traumas both subtle and loud and move on. Shoulder the weight of the world. But when the world fucks with us, the worst thing we can do is bury it. Embracing it makes us strong enough to fuck the world right back" (305).
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
You know what we're here to do. It's time for part 2 of my J-drama review! (Check out part 1 if you haven't already.)
- While in Kyoto, Naho becomes entranced by the paintings of an unknown newbie who turns out to be Tatsuru, the young, mute, female apprentice of a highly-respected artist named Shozan. Shozan repeatedly blocks Naho's attempts to showcase Tatsuru's art in public, and Naho gradually discovers that Shozan is holding Tatsuru hostage and is jealous of his mentee's fresh and visionary talent. This makes Naho determined to free Tatsuru from Shozan and jumpstart Tatsuru's career.
- Meanwhile in Tokyo, Naho's husband (Kazuki) and her mother (Katsuko)
have a romantic history that briefly gets rekindled when Kazuki's gallery needs
to be saved from bankruptcy; Katsuko agrees to let Kazuki handle the
sale of a painting from Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" series—a masterpiece that Naho has treasured the most since childhood thanks to her grandfather's loving influence—on the
condition that he sleep with her. Katsuko and Kazuki then attempt to sell
more of the Ariyoshi collection when the family decides to shutter the
museum behind Naho's back, only to learn that the most rare and valuable
pieces are all in Naho's name. If they wanna cash in, they're gonna have to go through her.
I chose this drama because I enjoyed Takahata Mitsuki's previous performances in 'Mondai no Aru Restaurant' and 'Boukyaku no Sachiko', and I knew I could rely on WOWOW to deliver something dark and/or messy since it's a cable channel. Luckily for me, 'Iribito' is both dark and messy! I sensed that Naho's husband had something going on with her mom from the moment in episode 1 when Katsuko walks into his gallery and smiles at him in a "Hey babe" sort of way, and I sensed correctly!
And if that weren't enough intrigue to kick this show off, there's an ominous feeling that surrounds Naho and Tatsuru's connection from the very beginning. When Naho is first mesmerized by Tatsuru's artwork at a Kyoto gallery, neither the gallery owner nor Shozan want her to have it. As if she would be crossing a line by buying it, offending Shozan by taking more interest in his mentee's work than his own, and therefore putting herself in danger by getting on Shozan's bad side. Granted, Naho probably should be scared! Shozan was involved in the death of Tatsuru's father whose success he envied—which Tatsuru witnessed and was so traumatized by that she became mute for the next 17 years—he "adopted" Tatsuru and took over her father's house, and he trained her to be an artist just to force her to paint pieces that he can sell as he loses hand function in old age. But Naho is as stubborn as she is curious, so she buys the artwork anyway. Thus commences a battle of wills between Naho and Shozan that she's unlikely to win; the Kyoto art community is small, and Shozan's influence is wide-reaching. But Naho doesn't back down, even going so far as to give the $1 billion worth of masterpieces that she inherited from her grandfather over to a different Kyoto gallery owner in exchange for holding Tatsuru's first solo exhibition there.
Now, apparently 'Iribito' is based on a novel of the same name by Harada Maha, so I don't know if the potential lesbian vibes between Naho and Tatsuru are from the original source material or made up for the show. Either way, those vibes are clear and evident... up until the show changes its mind. Naho does seem oddly fixated on Tatsuru, and that fixation is immediate even before she knows who Tatsuru is. There's a moment in episode 1 where they lock eyes in an art museum as complete strangers, and Tatsuru becomes lodged in Naho's mind for the remainder of 'Iribito' after that. Naho's husband later has a dream about Naho sharing an intimate embrace with Tatsuru which made me think of 'Killing Eve'; you think Eve and Villanelle are drawn to each other simply because they have murder in common (Eve investigating them, Villanelle committing them), but then you realize they're actually hot for each other too! So I thought to myself, That's where we're going with this? Alright, bring it on! But the show teases the lesbian idea only to reveal in the final episode that *SPOILER* Naho and Tatsuru are sisters who didn't know of each other's existence until now. (Or at least Naho didn't.) But even if the two women weren't related and Kazuki's suspicions were correct, the bigger issue is that he doesn't truly understand Naho's gift for discovering masterpieces and the genius artists who make them. It's a gift that, as an art curator, requires profound dedication on Naho's part. So when Naho refuses to leave Kyoto and even insists on giving birth there and remaining there permanently, he accuses her of having an affair with Tatsuru because what else could make her so stuck on being in Kyoto? It couldn't possibly be Naho's appreciation for the craft, right? He couldn't possibly be projecting onto her for something he himself did WITH NAHO'S MOM, right? Right?
Believe it or not, Naho and Tatsuru being sisters isn't the only sordid family secret that gets revealed in 'Iribito', but I figure I've already spoiled enough of a show that's only five episodes long so I'll just leave it at that. On a lighter note, it's such a powerful moment when Tatsuru finally stands up to her mentor/abuser, regains her voice (literally), and escapes from him once and for all! From then on she and Naho get to live in peace, raising Naho's baby in Kyoto together, building up Tatsuru's art career, and living at a famous female calligrapher's residence that's full of other women
too. So yeah, 'Iribito' is kind of sombre and understated, but it's also a surprisingly wild ride. Come for the stunning shots of Kyoto and its traditional arts, stay for the drama between high society art folks.
then, Haruki suddenly announces in the middle of a live-streamed performance that he's going solo, and afterward he tells Junhee that he resents her talent and has been dating another woman behind her
back. All of this becomes a huge scandal, attracting extremely relentless
media attention that Junhee can't handle.
- Overwhelmed, Junhee escapes Tokyo and hides out in a seaside town, where she stays at a boarding house befriending the elderly woman who owns it and a man named Ren (the only other boarder there, who also saved Junhee from accidental
drowning when she arrived in town). She works at the local supermarket until her real identity
is outed when customers record her defending her co-worker against the store manager's sexual harassment, and the altercation shows up all over social media. Junhee then returns to Tokyo to try to pick up the pieces with her bandmates, but winds up going back and forth to the seaside town when more scandals arise that make a successful Indigo AREA comeback seem impossible.
By the end of 'Gunjou Ryouiki', the other band members decide to continue on without Junhee. Not because Indigo AREA is unsalvageable as is, or because Junhee has an outwardly-arrogant-but-fundamentally-insecure-hence-going-solo diva moment like Haruki did. Rather, it's because Junhee realizes she's always been motivated to play piano for other people's benefit, so she wants to explore playing piano for herself for once. And because her bandmates support her decision as a friend, they decide to split amicably. Everyone is beginning new journeys, which reminded me of 'Nagi no Oitoma' again (where each member of its ensemble embarked on new paths as summer came to an end). Viewers are left with the theme that the boarding house obaachan puts forward in the beginning and that other characters repeat: Life doesn't necessarily have to be grand or complicated. Just be an honest person, do the things you really want to do, and make sure to eat and sleep well. Everyone has the right to live life as they please. Literally, 「楽しく生きたってバチなんて当たらないんだから」(Tanoshiku ikitatte bachi nante ataranainda kara; "Living in a fun way isn't a sin," or, "It's not like you'll be punished for enjoying your life").
All of the four shows I watched this time around were pretty chill; none blew my mind, but none greatly disappointed me either. So as far as favorites go, I guess I'll pick 'Iribito' for going in the most unpredictable directions. It's not an "in your face" type of show, but still I was on edge the whole time and never quite knew what to expect. Now, off to watch more J-dramas I go!
Friday, March 25, 2022
Look at me taking less than four months to write a new J-drama review after my last one! I guess it helped that I chose to only watch four shows this time around. This review is comprised of my selections from the autumn 2021 broadcast season in Japan, plus two shows on Netflix that I felt like watching just because. For part 1, I'm focusing on the Netflix shows:
全裸監督2 (Zenra Kantoku 2/The Naked Director Season 2) - Netflix/2021
- season 1), Muranishi has even loftier goals than before. This includes rebranding Sapphire Pictures as Diamond Visual, getting access to satellite broadcasting rights, and massively expanding his roster of actresses and production staff so as to film and distribute new videos quickly and constantly. (Think of Berry Gordy's assembly line approach to talent development at Motown Records, except it's porn.)
- However, Diamond Visual's frantic pace of production means Muranishi's not interested in creating pornographic masterpieces anymore, and his now-girlfriend Kuroki Kaoru, the former university student whose stardom sustained Sapphire/Diamond in its early years, has been relegated to spokesperson when all she really wants is to make a new video with Muranishi again. Meanwhile, Muranishi finds another muse in one of the newer, younger, more doe-eyed actresses, and Kaoru senses she's about to be replaced. All the neglect drives her to drink. A lot.
- At the same time, the billionaire who owns the satellite channel Muranishi wants access to doesn't take Muranishi seriously and refuses to do business with him at first. Muranishi eventually gets his way, but the bubble economy in Japan bursts, resulting in massive debt that tanks Diamond Visual. (Getting scammed by two fake accountants also doesn't help.) Diamond Visual can't be salvaged, but as Muranishi crashes and burns, he risks also destroying his relationships with all of his friends/staff in the process. Oh yeah, and that same cop from last season (played by Lily Franky) is still collaborating with the yakuza to destroy Muranishi too.
金魚妻 (Kingyo Tsuma/Goldfish Wives/Fishbowl Wives) - Netflix/2022
- Otona Joshi') runs a high-profile hair salon business with her abusive husband. In their ritzy apartment building where social hierarchy is reflected by floor number, they live at the very top. Sakura used to be a gifted hairdresser, but since getting injured, she mostly just does what her husband tells her to do. This includes handling the management and PR aspects of their business, playing up their "perfect couple" image for the press, and not saying anything about him sleeping with other women (one of whom is their neighbor).
- Sakura visits a goldfish shop and becomes acquainted with Haruto (the shop owner) when he accidentally sprays water on her. He's young, kind, and passionate about nursing sick or wounded creatures back to health. Haruto is actually connected to Sakura's past injury, but neither of them realize this at first. Later, when Sakura's husband attacks her one night, she flees to Haruto's place and they carry on an affair while Sakura helps him run the goldfish shop.
- But Sakura and Haruto can't live in their own world forever. While her husband tracks her down and tries to manipulate her into coming home, Haruto's wealthy family pressures him to quit both Sakura and the goldfish shop so he can take over his father's corporation. Meanwhile, five housewives from Sakura's building start having or considering extramarital relationships of their own.
Monday, February 28, 2022
"In adulthood, the names for sexually adventurous women were worse, but I still wanted to explore the power I felt when men shook in my arms... I chose to lean in to the desires pulsing through me, and maybe that's what saved me" (15)."No, this tingling sat at the top of my spine, waiting for me to notice it, and when I did... I thought I heard a deep voice, which sounded like it was smiling at me, say 'I'm here'... I started to worry, until I realized maybe God didn't want anything from me at all. Maybe He just wanted me to know He knew who I was... it seemed like that was the answer and it was enough: I think I needed to now God knew I existed. Church made me feel lonely, but that sprinkle of the Holy Ghost let me know God knew me" (21, 23)."I made sure to rub my damp crotch all over the arms of her furniture. I hoped that whenever she napped on her sofa, she dreamed of Black women with big butts parading naked through her home" (58)."We went to high school together but didn't become close until adulthood brought us back home in ways neither one of us expected. We bonded over the special misery you're in but not allowed to complain about when your plans go to shit and you come back home... people think you have nothing to do. We were also both creative women who tried to be 'good girls' when we're really magic" (213-14).
Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters edited by Jessica P. Pryde
Another favorite is the essay Jessica wrote herself, "Interracial Romance and the Single Story". I respect the self-awareness with which she, a Black woman married to a white man, examines the predominance of Black romance characters being involved in interracial (especially Black woman/white man) relationships. She draws attention to a concerning trend where mainstream American media and their consumers would rather see "half a Black couple instead of a whole one." I've mentioned in previous reviews about how so far I've chosen to read romance novels that feature two Black people (or more than two, shout-out to Harbor) falling for each other. And being a person with no romantic experience who doesn't spend much time thinking about "Black Love" outside of the romances I read, I still haven't been able to articulate why this reading preference of mine persists. (Other than it possibly being a holdover from my attempts to limit white infiltration into my life via the media I consume as a trauma response to 45 being elected in 2016. That's another story for another day.) But since searching more earnestly for steamy reads that'll be up my alley, one thing I've noticed is that in American romance novels, most of the male love interests seem to be white men, and I can admit that this bothers me. Because it's like, why are white men the prize? Do they deserve love more than any other variation of man out there?
"I have done what people who look like me often do; I've found slivers of myself and constructed my own belonging in that mosaic, and I am better for it. But queer Black readers of romance should not have to piece themselves apart for the tiniest bit. They should be able to walk into a bookstore and be spoiled for choice. And the next time some tired student needs a release from her coursework, she should be able to find more options to build a queer Black girl TBR than she reasonably has time to read" (Nicole M. Jackson, 76-77)."How can Black Love be the entity that creates room for Black subjects to love, with all its limitations, if the Black fat is excluded? If the Black queer is reduced only to sex and not their ability to be intimate in myriad ways? If the Black trans person can only ever be a fetish one takes part in and not a living being one gives love to? What is the utility of Black Love if disabled persons are requested, or demanded, to 'cure' or hide their disabilities?" (Da'Shaun Harrison, 214)."...Black romance gets pushed out. And we're expected to accept it as representative of something it is not. I have not, am not, and will not argue against interracial relationships having their time in the sun—those relationships are just as important and valid as any other.What I don't accept, though, is being inundated with purple when I asked for blue.Purple is fine.But purples is not blue" (Christina C. Jones, 226).
"I can probably guess who I might be without you, but I don't care to ever find out if it's true" (Jessica P. Pryde, 239).