Monkeys of Mayhem

In March we saw a big brawl between two rival gangs of monkeys in Lop Buri, Thailand, and then their  final take over of the town. Then, in June, came a life sentence for Kalua, the alcoholic Indian monkey who terrorized  over 250 pedestrians and will be spending the rest of his days in solitary confinement. According to the reports:

Local authorities said Kalua was formerly owned by an “occultist” who routinely supplied him liquor to drink, which turned him into an alcoholic. They said the monkey became very aggressive three years ago when his owner died and left him no avenue to acquire more alcohol.

Can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, and wonder why he didn’t join a monkey gang if he wanted to raise so much hell? The Lop Buri story reminds me of that Strugatsky novel “Doomed City”, where:
Could it be another portent of some kind?


Article from Tor by Tochi Onyebuchi

“At some point on the night of November 24, 2015, the Foodtown grocery at 148th and St. Nicholas caught fire.

In the spring of that year, I had graduated from Columbia Law School and was, that fall, living in Harlem and working as a Volunteer Assistant Attorney General and Civil Rights Fellow with the Office of the New York State Attorney General. Twice-daily, five days a week, I would pass that Foodtown grocery store, heading to and from a job where I and fewer than a dozen others were tasked with enforcing federal and local civil rights laws for the State of New York. By the time I had passed that intersection the morning after the fire, the front window was gone and inside was nothing but bitumen….”

Stray thoughts on contemporary anti-“wokeness” rhetoric

When, during one of her concerts, Taylor Swift encouraged her fellow Tennesseeans and fans to vote for democrats in the 2016 elections, she reaped the whirlwind of US conservative wrath and was accused of practicing a kind of “competitive wokeness” that has allowed her to “calculatedly climb the cultural ladder.” “Wokeness” really is a rhetorical battle-axe of the right, something that contemporary conservatives can wield against anyone who is aware of problems of social justice and dares to speak out about them. As a Comp Lit person in Asia, however, I often think of this adjective in just the opposite terms, as a concerned “wakefulness” about social problems, that comes to mind whenever waking up is invoked, i.e., Lu Xun’s famous anecdote of the “iron house”:

“Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to wake a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?…But if a few awake, you can’t say there is no hope of destroying the iron house.” – Lu Xun, Preface to Outcry, 1922

A hundred years after he wrote this, the modernist ambivalence of Lu Xun’s thought experiment with “waking up” has become one of the paradigmatic dilemmas of our age. There are some important differences between China in the 1920s and the US in the 2020s, however. In Lu Xun’s case we have to keep alive the hope of overthrowing social injustice, and therefore we should feel the need to help others get “woke;” by contrast, with the conservative rhetoric against the sort of “wokeness” we see in Taylor Swift, merely stating you are committed to progressive values is an avowal of demagoguery.

Such an attitude should not be scandalous: when Lu Xun was writing Chinese history was moving rapidly toward a catastrophic civil war and far right nationalists like Adolf Hitler, General Francisco Franco, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek were consolidating their power around the world. Indeed, just five years after he published the above lines, many of Lu Xun’s friends and students would be executed or imprisoned by Generalissimo Chiang, in the notorious Shanghai Massacre of 1927. The stories in his next anthology, Wandering, would be much different and have strangely ambiguous endings.

What concerns me most about the contemporary rhetoric of “wokeness” is how it never really seems to become a part of a debate about earlier, even more fundamental, uses of “enlightenment” and “awakened consciousness.” I suspect this is because what conservatives really want is the opposite: for everyone to go back asleep, to drown in the iron house, or at least to remain silent, alienated and suffocating quietly in its cracks. Moreover, their cynical suggestion that celebrities and public figures are trying to cash in on victimhood” issue of “competitive wokeness” is bullshit:

[As a rich elite liberal] “You’d be foolish not to emulate the highest-status people you could find. Thanks to social media, you can access their opinions on all and sundry in an instant. The result is a kind of swarm effect in which high-status moral entrepreneurs declare the right position to take on a given issue, and then, within minutes, hordes of epigones scramble to adopt and enforce the new orthodoxy.

The author outdoes himself here, showing us how progressives and liberals are cynical “moral entrepreneurs” enabled by rabid leftists who use social media to issue-swarm like angry hornets. Smearing the left as a bunch of mindless liberals competing to out-liberal their peers is probably convincing to people who read The Atlantic, but most thoughtful people would probably agree that being open about your politics (even if they center on the doings of entertainment celebrities) is a good thing for society. However, they may not know that “liberals” on social media are nothing like a homogeneous hornets’ nest of “SJWs” (who don’t actually exist but are yet another urban legend weaponized by the right). What one finds instead is a diverse group of people who are fragmented, confused, who may or may not be high on some form of identity politics. I’m willing to grant that much, but, to follow Lu Xun, if a few can be awakened to our unjust social system then the future of the iron house is not as certain as it sometimes seems these days.

Let us Militantly Loiter on the fringe of nowhere

Hanging around, not doing anything except, like a droog, hanging around. Strange how what is still the most threatening thing imaginable for urban governments is just people loitering, occupying, striking, or just hanging around aimlessly on the streets. An essay along these lines by Susan Buck-Morss, a brilliant scholar of the writings of Frankfurt School and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, points to this problem/opportunity in interesting ways:

The Flaneur, the Sandwich Man, and the Whore: the Politics of Loitering.” New German Critique, No. 39 (Autumn 1986): 99-140.


Asian “sexploitation” Cinema and Vengeance…

Discussing with my No. 1 the merits of various Asian “sexploitation” movies I’ve seen and came to the issue of what qualifies as “sexploitation” in the first place. Let me begin with the overview I had in mind as “sexploitation”: those Pinky violence films like Female Prisoner 701 (1972) in Japan, those Hong Kong movies like Naked Killer (1992) or Sex and Zen (1991), and to some extent the Korean new wave classic Lady Vengeance (2005). Save that they don’t challenge racial as well as gender boundaries, most of these movies would be roughly analogous to Pam Grier movies like Black Mama, White Mama (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). What seems to be common to most of these films are strong female characters who, like Beatrice in Kill Bill (2003), seeks revenge for the pain and injustice the patriarchy has visited on them. So aren’t these basically celluloid Revenge Tragedies on postmodern themes?

Hikikomori Blues

Finished re-watching the Japanese anime series, Welcome to the N.H.K (歡迎加入NHK!). Eccentric, charming characters, and an interesting storyline, the show follows the (mis)adventures of a young NEET, Sato Tatsuhiro, as he tries to cope with an life of no friends, no job, no girlfriend, and no prospects for the future. Living alone in a tiny 套房 apartment, Satou-san meets a mysterious girl who tricks him into enrolling in a plan to cure him of his hikikomori (隱蔽青年) lifestyle. This is happening while the young man and his friend try to develop a sellable erotic video game, a plot angle that shows, in brilliant clarity, the “political unconscious” of stressed-out, repressed young students.

The show is a lot different from past popular anime like Naruto (火影忍者), Inuyasha (犬夜叉) and Bleach (死神) that I’m semi-familiar with in that it focuses mainly on social awkwardness and the erotic fantasies of these guys . This, coupled with the fact that it has no supernatural elements or superhero themes, makes it a much more “mature” show (whatever that means). Also, for me it was also a lot more poignant in its funny depictions of NEETs and hikikomori as people with problems just like everyone else. This would probably earn it nothing less than an R rating if it were ever released in the USA or some parts of SE Asia, but that’s one of the things I find so interesting about the series–it deals with real (and quite new) social problems in a thoughtful and darkly humorous way that rewards repeated watching. Executive summary: this work further convinces me the Japanese lead the world in tackling “difficult” sexual/erotic topics (adolescent erotic gaming) in original, philosophical ways.

Obviously 5 ★s

Tokyo Family (2013)

– review of the film Tokyo Family (2013)
Tokyo Family (東京家族) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese movies I’ve seen in the last few months. The film is director Yamada Yoji’s (山田洋次) re-telling of and tribute to an earlier world cinema masterpiece, Yasujirō Ozu’s (小津安二郎) 1953 classic Tokyo Story (東京物語). Like it’s predecessor, it is the story that makes this such an incredible film. Hirayama, a retired school teacher and his playful but proper Japanese wife, Tomiko, visit their adult children in Tokyo. The couple first visit their eldest son, Koichi, at his clinic in suburban Tokyo. As a doctor he has to go on house-calls and spends very little time with his parents, and after an aborted trip to Yokohama, Hirayama and Tomiko go to visit their daughter, Shigeko, who is busy running a thriving beauty salon in the city. Meanwhile, Shuji, the youngest son, drives around in his beat up old Fiat doing odd jobs and freelancing.

Since they are very busy, Shigeko and Koichi agree to pitch in and send their parents to a fancy hotel in Yokohama for a few days. This turns out to be quite dull and the couple return a day early, only to be turned out by their daughter who is hosting a civic party of some kind. It’s at this point that Hirayama and Tomiko split up for a day, with Hirayama going to visit the deceased friend and Tomiko spending the night with their youngest son, Shuji, at his apartment. Hirayama winds up getting drunk with an old classmate (even though he’s sworn off alcohol for some time) and Tomiko is pleasantly surprised when she gets to meet Shuji’s fiancee, Noriko. As the youngest son, and something of a free spirit, Shuji’s siblings often complain that he has “been nothing but worry to us.” He is invariably late, holds no stable job, and can never manage his money properly. Still, when Shuji and his mother are together it’s clear that they share a deep bond and real companionship, something the other children clearly lack. However, Tomiko still makes Shuji promise to tell his father about Noriko, saying that “if he disapproves I will intervene and all will be well.”

The next day, back at Koichi’s house, Tomiko collapses on the stairs and falls unconscious. She is sent to the hospital where the whole family gathers, but she never wakes up. Hirayama and the whole family are crushed, but they all pull together and return to Hiroshima for their mother’s funeral. After one night the eternally busy Koichi and Shigeko need to depart for Tokyo, but Shuji and his girlfriend, Noriko, stay behind for a few days to keep Hirayama company. Finally, the day they are set to leave, the father takes Noriko aside and thanks her for taking care of his son, saying that he his grateful to her since he can now die knowing that she will be there for his son. He then gives her Tomiko’s wristwatch, which she wore and cherished for 30 years. On the ferry, having left their father behind on the island Noriko shows the watch to Shuji and tells him what his father said. Utter disbelief registers on his face, he gets excited, and keeps asking her, “my father? He said that?” Then finally a brief smile as he looks back at the island. THE END.

The above summary is too long, but I feel it’s necessary to retrace the steps of this touching film from beginning to end. It’s as if the narrative is deeply imbedded in the actors’ voices, gestures, and mannerisms and retelling it brings it all back. Also, many of the sets and interiors that the in the film have an emotional depth you rarely encounter in films these days–the apartments that Shigeko and Shuji live in really look like that person’s home and no one else’s. As a remake, Tokyo Family may fall short of its predecessor, Tokyo Monogatari, but Ozu’s film is a masterpiece that would be hard to improve on in any case. What’s most impressive is the brilliant acting, especially Kazuko Yoshiyuki in the loveable role of Tomiko and Satoshi Tsumabuki as the romantic loser Shuji.

Ssu-ma Kuang













–司馬光, <資治通鑑>