Wednesday, May 17, 2017

i have some concerns

Speaking of different cultures and different viewpoints, according to Brian Ashcraft at Kotaku, before Big Hero 6 even came out, some South Koreans were upset over "alleged Rising Sun imagery" in the film. One movie, one story, many interpretations and interpolations.

For example, Sharon H Chang, whose blog I cited yesterday, goes beyond just the racial makeup of Hiro and Tadashi (and the Japanese imagery throughout San Fransokyo). She writes:

The film also plays sardonically with racial stereotypes in a manner much appreciated. Of course Hiro is Asian and super smart, but he's also hip, trendy and the hero. Fred, the not so sharp science groupie who just hangs around turns out to be extraordinarily and inexplicably rich; hilarious fun-poking at unearned white privilege/wealth. Meanwhile, Wasabi, cautious, smart and orderly, is thankfully far from typical depictions of large Black men as 'dangerous' and 'threatening.' (Admittedly the female characters could use a little help but that's another blog post).

In the comics, Fred, aka Fredzilla, can actually transform into a Kaiju; he doesn't just dress as one. Of course, he's also descended from the indigenous Ainu of Japan. So, he has been turned white and had his power set drastically reduced. Which could actually be a good commentary on white privilege... Whether or not it was done for that reason, I suppose. (The comic's Hiro is closer to the film's Fred in that he grew up with wealth.)

The comic's Wasabi-No-Ginger is a chef and swordsman (who can also manifest his Qi-Energy as blades). He seems to be modeled physically after a samurai. He is not black. The film's Wasabi

(Which isn't even his name, but rather a nickname given by Fred after he "spilled wasabi one time". Similarly, Go Go and Honey Lemon seem to be nicknames given by Fred in the film as well. There is no suggestion that Tadashi ever had such a nickname.)

is an interesting character for the reasons Chang offers: he is a big black man, but his personality is far from the usual personality that Hollywood might put upon such a man. In live action, think Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, except I wonder if this gentle giant archetype has been done enough that it is also now as much a cliche as the big, dangerous, black man. Inevitably, so many film characterizations will be cliched, based on (or deliberately upending) stereotypes because Hollywood rarely knows how to give every character in a particular film much depth. (To be fair, Baymax is also a bit of a gentle giant archetype.)

As for the female characters, Chang suggests they could use a little help. Relative to the comics, Go Go may actually be an improvement. While Hiro is the one who finalizes her wheels and costume (as she does for Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred, as well) when they set out to stop Callaghan. Instead of a convict who makes a deal with Japan's Ministry of Defense to test an experimental exosuit, the film's Go Go is intelligent and has her own thing going on with her magnetically mounted wheels on bikes. Her initial introduction culminates, of course, in her doffing her helmet and blowing a bubble with her gum, shorthand for a sort of retro tough girl image. In the comics, she was involved with a motorcycle gang, but here her attitude is less... criminal.


Where Go Go is the tough one, Honey Lemon is the more stereotypically girly one. In both the comic and the film, her "powers" involve a purse out of which she can pull useful objects. The comic version is more outlandish; it involves pocket dimensions, wormholes, and Pym Particles. The film version, at least initially, is almost realistic. But, aside from being girly and having an immediate attachment to Hiro (apparently, in the comic, she was attracted to him and vice versa).

There is also room to discuss Aunt Cass. On the one hand, her very existence echoes the tendency in kids' films (especially those from Disney) to use absent parents as a shorthand excuse for young characters to have to take on great responsibility in their lives, to effectively grow up. (Her presence as lone 'parent' also makes the film feel like an echo of The Iron Giant.) Hiro has parents in the comic, his father a wealthy industrialist. Aunt Cass is a stand in for the deceased father and mother. She is a single parent, taking care of her two nephews while also running a diner. She is capable and independent, but also caring and nurturing. With very little screentime, she manages to be a character with some depth, and it is easy to imagine that she is still living her life when she's not on screen. I'm not sure I can say the same for Fred, Wasabi, Go Go, or Honey Lemon.

But, the absent parents concern me. They make the film feel a little more American to me than Japanese. Their absence sets Callaghan, even as brief as his introductory scenes are, as a pseudo father figure for Hiro. And, the hero having to defeat his 'father' is quite the Hollywood-as-usual Oedipal cliche. That isn't, strictly speaking, an American ideal, but is definitely a Western one, and Hollywood has definitely embraced it.

No comments:

Post a Comment