Featuring Kyoko Wakao & Teruyuki "Mocky" Saito
Written, Produced & Directed by Ivy Yukiko Ishihara Oldford
Original Music by Riaz Hassan
I loved this video the moment I watched it, and yet even now I hesitate to post it. When I was first sent the link, the summary that accompanied it said it was about a Tokyo salaryman returning a bag to a high school girl at a subway station - and then I suppose sort of randomly taken to dancing Argentine tango in the middle of that transaction. When I watched the video, I could see quite a lot more going on, though I didn't know the complete story until I read the blog post by filmmaker, Ivy Oldford, here.
If you'd like to see it before learning any details about it, simply watch it embedded below:
What I loved immediately:
- The music moves me. It's so beautiful that I immediately went looking for the artist and the song. Both of which you can find here.
- The camera spends a lot of time focused on the dancers' embrace. I wish more tango videos would spend the time focused there, than on the dancers' feet (of course this video has quite a lot of footwork focus as well.) Their embrace is appropriate to the music and to the story they're telling and it's nice to actually be able to see that.
- The way Kyoko Wakao can dance in loafers. I can't even walk gracefully in loafers, let alone dance. The shoes, by the way, were new, and had not even been broken in. (See tango instructor, Kyoko Wakao, dancing in more traditional tango attire with her partner Ezequial Gomez.)
Themes and Context
Like anything else in life (and art), context is everything. As soon as I saw the female lead in a schoolgirl uniform, I recognized the Lolicon theme (named for "Lolita complex" and describing the attraction of older Japanese men to young women, typically wearing school uniforms) which is quite prevalent in Japanese pop culture. What I didn't see immediately, but wondered about, was the appearance at the end of the video that the dance was a compensated transaction. When I read Ivy Oldford's blog post, I got confirmation that was the intention.
Enjo-kosai, or compensated dating, while it has been occurring for quite a long time in Japan, is starting to alarm even the Japanese media. In Japan, prostitution is a very tangled issue with nebulous laws and it doesn't have the same stigma that it has in the United States. In a few important ways (that would take too long to address here) I think Japan is somewhat more realistic in its views on sex. Yet no one can deny that several factors in the culture are creating a generation of "young girls who view sex as a clear form of acceptable capitalism." (1)
That is when I wondered whether I should post video.
While the music and the dancing are compelling, the context of the situation is very controversial. Should I try to separate the dance from the story? Of course not. How could anyone? I've read manga and watched anime for over two decades, so these themes hardly stun me. Yet I wondered (and still wonder) who I will offend. However, if I never learn anything else from my tango journey, I have learned this - the dance always tells a story - intentional ones and unintentional ones.
So watch video. Take or leave as much of the context as you like. Let me know what you think. Does it bother you to see tango viewed as in some way transactional? Does it call on tango's own supposed historical themes and connections to prostitution? How does knowing the more complete story change how you look at their dance? Or does it?
More articles on "compensated dating" in Japan can be found here:
(1) Prostitution in Japan: A Young Body Worth a Profit: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~rhetoric/105H17/nnguyen/cof.html
Japan for the Uninvited: http://www.japanfortheuninvited.com/articles/enjo-kosai.html
(not tango-related, so feel free to skip this if the topic holds no interest)
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
I should have expected that comments would come via email, rather than get posted on the blog post itself - but I didn't expect this many emails so soon.
I'd like to address some of the questions here, rather than answering the same questions over and over via email. The topics of underage sex and prostitution are well outside the scope of this blog and so I'm hesitant to launch into essays on the subjects, but I do have a couple of "short" (well, short-ish. Shorter than dissertations, anyway) answers for the questions that came up most often.
"Aren't you offended by men being attracted to women in school girl uniforms?"
Well, how about cheerleader uniforms, as is more the case over here? Should I be offended by women being attracted to men in UPS uniforms? Or firefighter uniforms? Let's drop the uniform question, because I think we can agree that isn't really the issue. The age, or the perceived age gap, is the issue. I address that later in these comments.
"So what is your position on Enjo-kosai? You never really say in your post."
There was a reason for that. My position will likely change depending on when you ask me and the context within which we are discussing it. I do have a few thoughts about it though.
First, if the prevailing attitude (worldwide) tells young women (and young men) that they are only valuable, attractive and accepted if they have money and material goods - and that obtaining those things is more important than showing good judgment regarding their physical, mental and emotional health, how could you expect to avoid this scenario?
Second, if you think the "my body is my currency" attitude only prevails in Japan, which was the attitude in a few of the emails I received, you should work in a women's health clinic on any major college campus in the US (and increasingly, sad to say, high school health clinics.) Or turn on the TV for that matter. The attitude, in various forms and to various degrees, is everywhere.
Third, if the legal system charges only the sellers and not the buyers in the sex trade, as in Japan, the system is broken and the laws will never stop the trade.
"Do you think prostitution should be legal?"
If we lived in an ideal world, filled with ideal people all living in ideal circumstances, than perhaps prostitution could be a victimless "crime". Or even better, prostitution would find no market. But the world being what it is, and people being what they are - prostitution has quite a market and it certainly has victims. Most importantly, it has victims before money ever changes hands. So my answer is hypothetically maybe, realistically, no. The letter of the law versus how the law is actually enforced however, is a whole other issue, and again, well outside the scope of this blog.
If the issue, as one email suggested, is with the "appropriateness" of the May-December romance, I would sugggest focusing on what makes you personally happy and fulfilled, rather than judging what makes others happy. I know several loving, devoted couples, both where the man is older, and where the woman is older. Love and attraction are rarely predictable or convenient and frankly, if both people are adults, what makes them happy is their own affair. Who can say what body one's soul mate should arrive?