Satchi, the media, and the Tokyo film festival

GavinRees at GavinRees at
Thu Jul 22 00:15:50 EDT 1999

It has been interesting to read the recent thread on Satchi san. 

Julie Turnock wrote:

>What has also surprised me, since I can't read Japanese well enough to 
>follow it very well in Japanese papers myself, is how absent the issue has 
>been in the English-language press.  From TV and Japanese friends, I 
>understand how prevalent Japanese media coverage has been, but I've seen 
>almost nothing in English about it.  Granted, I primarily read the Yomiuri, 
>but why is it assumed that English-language readers will have NO interest in 
>this issue?

I have to admit that I have  been caught by surprise by the whole  issue too. 
Several months ago I disconected my tv set from the aerial and plugged it 
into my editing deck. And resultingly for that period I became blissfully  
unaware of everhthing that was going on on Japanese television. The first I 
got wind of the Satchi issue, was a month ago, talking to the regulars in a 
local bar. One woman in the bar asked me what kind of women I found 
attractive, and so I said strong women who know what they want in life. She 
looked at me slightly disapprovinly, and said that nice Japanese women don't 
ever speak their minds until they get married. The other people at the table 
also looked mildly perplexed. Then a thought occured to her: "Perhaps 
Satchi-san  is your type then." Everybody laughed, except, that is, for me. 
When I heard Satchi san, I was convinced she was actually talking about 
Margeret "Thatcher" the former,  (and in my neck of the woods),  much 
disliked UK primeminister. And so for a good 3 minutes, before the confusion 
was sorted out, I too defamed poor Satchi-san with the most virulent Japanese 
I knew how to muster. 

Obviously, as Mark wrote、the Satchi coverage points at all sorts of 
half-submerged issues connected to gender, which even after a year here I am 
still totally baffled by.  And if anybody has any thoughts on it, i would 
love to hear more. 

More importantly, I think there is a connection between Kaminsky's article on 
the Tokyo film festival, English Language Newspapers in Japan, and the 
Japanese media. They are all institutions run from the top down and the 
people working in them are primarily interested in reproducing news as a form 
of currency which represents the interests and concerns of their own dominant 
group. All the English Newspapers here, (apologies to Mark Schilling, whose 
reviews I do enjoy reading.) are absolutely awful.  News is not really about 
the outside world. Truth and analysis don't seem to be really that important; 
what matters if you are a newspaper man here is going through the motions, 
and having "copy" that you can ceremoniously circulate rather like the tribal 
exchange systems that link some pacific Islands. The act of printing seems to 
 be more important than the aim of conveying information.  I am sure that 
this is an incredibly contentious thing to say, but the more I read the 
papers here, the more I suspect that they are a very expensive form of vanity 

Anybody who needs accurate information about developments in foreign countries
、or indeed Japan itself, must be reading the Tokyo edition of the FT. And if 
anybody who doesnot read Japanese wants to know more about pop culture, well 
tough! (However, most of the gaijin here which the newspapers seem to be 
aimed at, are financial types who probably have no interest in contemporay 
Japan anyway!)

Tv here is obviously different, in that most of the wide shows, and comedy 
shows are produced by young, and often aggresively innovative  producers. 
(Mostly male of course.) And some Japanese tv, the stuff which is often 
lampooned in the West as trash, is trash of a very high degree of 
sophistication. My personal perception that disposabe Japanese tv is a lot 
better, and more interesting than disposable tv elsewhere. However, the 
bounds of what people can talk about and write about are clearly delineated 
from above. 

I spent a very depressing afternoon talking to my Japanese boss at a small 
Tokyo based production company, when he listed all the programmes he wanted 
to make when he was young that he knew he would never be able to broadcast. 
If you want to make a programme about religious spiritualists in India , 
forget it. If you want to make a programme about the prison system, forget 
that too. In fact don't even dream of making any indepth analytical programme 
about the workings of the Judiciary or the funding of political parties.  You 
can make any programme you like about prostitution, as long as you dont ask 
any questions about the working conditions of the women involved. Titillation 
is fine, but analysis is forbidden.
In other words you cant make the sorts of programmes that would constitute a 
good 30 percent or more of the current affairs / documentary output in the 

The problem with the Tokyo film festival, too, I think is that everybody is 
very "tight at the top", and it is largely about the institutions that 
sponser it then the people who want to participate. Thankfully, though, there 
are different kinds of festivals here, which  give great oppurtunities for 
young people and people living in local communities to participate in. 

I hope I am not the only person out there who holds these views. I am not 
trying to burden other list members with a solipsistic rant. 

All the best, 

Gavin Rees

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