Emperor arrested

Gavin Rees garees
Thu Feb 3 07:54:12 EST 2005

It did. 

Yes, it sounds an interesting idea that representations were banned on the
basis that to represent would run the risk of profanation. There is a
similar thing in Islam of course with the prophet. There is  a film called
"The Message" ,  a blockbuster dramatising his life, in which strangely you
never see the prophet. Disturbingly one way they get around this problem of
not having an actor is to use Mohammed's POV shot a lot. They hide him
behind the camera in effect. The other actors then spend much of the film
turning towards the camera and looking straight at you, saying things like
"Oh great one, should we not fight them to the death." If you were feeling
fragile, it could be quite unbalancing that. It is certainly a shock when it
happens for the first time.

Anyway, I suspect the prohibition has more to do with the Meiji practice by
which people weren't allowed to look on the Emperor at all. Saying to people
that if you look at somebody or something, something terrible will happen to
you, that their power is to great to be beheld, is very common way of
sacralising objects and people. You find it all the way across Africa in
fetishes. And their are lots of Shinto shrines that you are not supposed to
look into or underneath.  Children were told to look at the ground when the
emperor passed. The little shrine images that were used in schools had
originally to be covered up by a cloth. Although I can't remember the story
the standard issue photograph of the emperor was not really the emperor at
all. It was a composite photo painting of bits of the emperor and bits of
the Italian artist who was commissioned to produce it.

All of which gets us back to the Ring, and why you are not supposed to look
at that video tape. And of course the more you want to look at it, the more
you know that you shouldn't and the greater the power of the object.

Anyway that's what an anthropologist might say.



> I bet that title got your attention!
> Well, in a bit of scandal in the Japanese film and Kabuki worlds,
> Nakumura Shichinosuke, the 21 year old kabuki actor who played the
> Meiji emperor in The Last Samurai, was arrested for punching a police
> offer. The son of the famed kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro had gotten
> into a quarrel with a taxi driver over a fare and had run away. When an
> officer tried to stop him, he punched him in the face. He was drunk at
> the time and says he doesn't remember the incident.
> One does think back to the prewar when acted representations of the
> emperor or his ancestors was largely banned. I don't recall any
> specific references, but I wonder if one possible reason was the fear
> that a scandalous actor may take up the role of a figure above scandal.
> Aaron Gerow
> KineJapan owner
> Assistant Professor
> Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
> Yale University
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