We thought we'd stumbled upon the most scathing satire of prejudice against other cultures when we saw a Vice "documentary
" about a gay man and lesbian visiting Japan to criticize that nation's heteronormativity even as they film themselves getting married to each other in an extraordinarly welcoming Buddhist temple. "This is going too far," we gasped. "This is too sharp a commentary on gays' embarrassing desperation to be mainstreamed."
We laughed when the filmmakers decried Japan's attitude toward public displays of affection, as if being inappropriately intimate on the street is somehow a mark of societal freedom and "progress."
We presumed the piece was satire when they purported to depict a typical night in Tokyo's gay club district, when it was anything but genuine given non-hidden cameras and pre-arranged permissions for faces to be filmed (not to mention the ludicrousness of foreigners presuming to witness an underground culture when they're not part of it and when their very presence changes everything). Here's the elephant in the room: the filmmakers note that in Tokyo there's a gay club for every possible proclivity, which presumes there's at least one gay club for judgemental upstart westerners with cameras to make documentaries about how non-progressive ancient civilizations are.
We thought the piece was obviously a send-up when the newly wedded gay man and lesbian exploited a young Japanese man who was ready to tell his mother about his sexuality — they shoved their camera into the mother's face as she heard the news and then got exactly the reaction they were hoping for: she fled the room in mortification, presumably (and legitimately) insulted that her son had so little respect for her that he'd put her on the spot in front of strangers and a camera. This obviously wasn't an example of Japanese homophobia but of American-style rudeness. But here's another elephant in the room: the man ready to come out had hired someone to accompany him from a company that provides actors to fill up wedding parties, funerals, and such, so how do we know that the mother wasn't also a hired actress for the son to practice coming out? Or what if it was the mother who had hired someone to play a gay son on the verge of coming out, because that's an experience she wished to role-play? How do we know they weren't all
actors (beyond the fact that "all the world's a stage," of course) hired by said company in a paid advertisement spot? Any which way you frame it, it's unbelievable.
We laughed when the filmmakers scratched their heads over the culture of Japanese heterosexual women who read manga about male lovers (since we all know that heterosexual males are interested in lesbian lovers, so it's a direct parallel to a famous phenomenon). "Westerners aren't that clueless," we cried in indignation.
We tittered uncomfortably when the filmmakers asked a Japanese trans woman if she was offended that the people at a cross-dressing bar (featuring racks of clothes to try on) are 70% heterosexual. Why would anyone expect the Japanese to share America's bizarre attitude toward so-called cultural appropriation? The Japanese woman was delighted that people felt free to experiment with expressing themselves. Duh. (Oops ... is our attitude showing?)
Wow -- this documentary calls homophobic a nation with a wildly thriving gay literature market with customers of all sexual orientations, flamboyantly gay actors on television (just pick a show at random; enough said), an extraordinarily long history of institutionalized gay relationships (such as samurai/apprentice, sempai/kohai, Buddhist priests/acolytes [and while we're at it, Shinto sports at least four guardian deities of male-male love]), cross-dressing in both theatrical and hostess settings (kabuki, anyone?) ... and so on and on. The filmmakers decry marriages of convenience even as they get married to each other for the convenience of their documentary and to experience mainstream heteronormativity. It would be so very funny, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel, if only it were a deliberate joke.