Joseph Murphy jmurphy at
Mon Jul 26 18:49:21 EDT 1999

This will eventually get to the question of image-media.
Peter B. High wrote:
>Carole and Sharon's invocations of Akutagawa's pre-war suicide as a potential
>context/contrast for considering the significance of Eto's suicide reminds
>me that we
>can find similar  antecedants to the "Satchi affair" in that period as well.
>Three examples  spring immediately to mind (and off the top of my head, I
>add--meaning that I may have some of my details muddled). All three
>examples feature
>prominent women who were pilloried in their era's press as sexual
>adventuresses (or
>ogresses) and yet, after burning for a time in journalistic perdition,
>were then
>redeemed by having the nature of their "crimes" transformed into something

Barbara Hartley's juxtaposing the press treatment of the female defendant
in the recent "Karei jiken" to the vilification of Satchi Nomura brings to
mind another antecedent for the way the mass-media siezes on these strong,
transgressive women, and possibly for the wide-show format itself, namely
the "poison woman" genre of serial fiction popular in the 1870's when
Japan's mass journalism was just establishing itself . These stories
weren't really fiction but fictionalized accounts of actual news events
(jitsuroku shosetsu).  A single incident would kick off a rash of competing
serials in different newspapers, to be bound and sold as books afterward.
The most popular kind featured as their heroine the "dokufu" or
poison-woman, i.e. a woman who had committed a rash of sensational, usually
violent crimes.  To get an idea of the tenor, behind "Takahashi Oden yasha
monogatari" was the true story of a woman who conned her own relatives in a
land scam in the mid-1870's, wandered the Kanto plain for a while with a
man, then lured another man back to her room and killed him for his money.
She was sentenced to death January 31st, 1879. As soon as the sentence was
handed down at least fournewspapers rushed out competing serializations of
the story, mixing fictionalized accounts of her exploits as well as
transcripts of Oden's own self-defense plea, etc.  This is by no means the
most lurid.
It's not such a stretch to the current discussion both for the similarity
in mass-media format and the consistent content of the fantasies being
circulated.   The phenomenon (of the "true-account" genre) occurs during
the initial sorting out period for Japan's mass journalism.  They were
consumed in intallments each day like the wideshow, and competing versions
appeared in different newspapers (channels).  Fiction is still serialized
in Japanese newspapers today, but as newspapers gained in respectability,
the basis in factual events and unseemly scramble to get out the quickest
account was expunged, and by the 1890's newspaper serial were "pure"
fiction.  Where you have to go these days to get the jitsuroku presentation
of the latest sensational real news event is the despised genre of the
wideshow.  Its like within the phenomenon of mass-media, the general format
switched from print to visual media . Second, the hybridity and free
combination of fact and fiction in the jitsuroku shosetsu (What I know
about this I learned from the work of the early-Meiji scholar Kamei Hideo,
from his book Kansei no henkaku and from talks he has given here) was
instrumental in establishing conventions of realism, and not coincidentally
conventions for image-ing women that made possible the "birth" of the
modern novel a decade later and clearly the fantasy of the woman who "won't
give way on her desire" still circulates meaningfully today.
For those who haven't followed it (you couldn't help be exposed if you've
been in Japan anytime in the last two years), the "curry incident" was a
spectacular mass- poisoning where several people died after eating the
curry rice from a stand at a neighborhood festival in Wakayama ken (correct
me on the details, please,, those who've followed it more closely).  The
incident unraveled in a fascinating way over its first few days, beginning
with the mysterious deaths, the pinpointing of the curry-rice as the
source, the identification of quantities of arsenic in the curry, the
arsenic traced circumstantially to Hayashi Masumi, a local housewife who it
was found in the last several years had taken out large insurance policies
on other people who had "accidents" and whose husband showed clear symptoms
of long-term, low-level arsenic poisoning.  The police had no witnesses or
hard evidence linking the suspect to the poisoning, hence they had to
release Ms. Hayashi to her home, presumably waiting for her to crack under
the pressure.  We know that's what the police are doing because we've all
read Dostoyevsky and seen it a dozen times in detective novels and at the
movies.  However, Hayashi (yogisha?) did not crack, and what elevated it
from a good summer read to wide-show media frenzy seemed to be the repeated
images of her "hansei-free" comings and goings from her rather
well-appointed suburban house.
This brings up the question of whether the representation of these women is
"attractive" or not.  It seems like a presumption of the commentary that
the Japanese media presents these women as "unattractive,"   to coincide
with the moral case, but I wonder if that's how it works. Those sorts of
judgements of course involve projection on the part of the beholder, but
with the proviso that they can be organized and manipulated, insofar as the
production of Hayashi is going to follow this well-established "poison
woman" schema she has to be allowed the same kind of magnetism (of the
woman who refuses to give way on her desire, and will not back down).
Hayashi is full-figured, with a no-nonsense contemporary hairstyle and a
warm, open face, and shows remarkable composure in the face of the camera
onslaught.   One of the most repeated images on the wideshows is of Hayashi
out washing her car and then turning her garden hose on the phalanx of
photographers catcalling her, literally hosing one especially persistent
cameraman off of his perch on her fence.  Its a beautiful image (sun
shining, just a hint of a rainbow in the spray) and a truly elegant
response to the media frenzy.  Aaron's term "violent" is probably a good
description of the way the wideshow paparazzi pursue their subjects, its
too invasive to be voyeuristic, and anyone who watches the wideshows
probably experiences a sense of guilt about their complicity in these
invasions of privacy.  Yet the US testosterone-driven celebrity response of
punching the camera simply reverses the violence.  This image of Hayashi
sprinkling these intrusive photographers with a sudden shower, a gentle
baptism that ruins their cameras allows a very easy identification on the
part of the guilty viewer, and if one isn't careful this might then just
slide to some fantasies about what you'd like to do to those nosy neighbors
of yours, or how you might like to get that aging, belching beer-drinking
spouse of yours out of the way...
What is ugly about the Satchi affair is that it entirely lacks the
novelistic element of the "Wakayama Curry Incident."  It's just an ugly,
pointless story. Hence where Hayashi is shown hosing off the scum of the
earth on a sunny day, we are treated to daily, mean-spirited and very
unattractive pictures of Satchi Nomura rummaging around the trash in front
of her house, or cleaning up behind her dog on a walk.
There were personal tragedies in the Wakayama curry incident, many of the
victims who did not die are still suffering debilitating effects from the
poison, but the question is of why and how the media fixes on certain
events and not others, and the "literary" expectations the viewers bring to
these media events seems to really shape the spectacle.
J. Murphy

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