Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kill Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is a perfect example of films that straddle the lines of mediascape, globalization, and inappropriate nostalgia/homage. In the film’s representation of Tokyo we see several misappropriated tropes. The glittery signs (an airplane flies low through the electric landscape), the brightly colored clothing, the sword-wielding public, the sexualized youths (in Catholic school-girl attire, no less), and the inherent skilled violence (and proclivity towards violence, especially kung fu) that defines Asian cinema in the United States. These images pervade the movie in a way that relates directly back to the Appadurai reading.

The idea of a global village (2) that includes many locations while ignoring their specificity all the same relates to the Lucy Liu character. Her Chinese-American status is only slightly contested in her dank Japanese underworld but nonetheless, she is accepted based solely on skin color. Her legitimacy is expounded upon in the extended anime sequence that shows the murder of her parents. The Yakuza bosses say she is different but still, her swanky, animated back-story legitimizes her existence to them and the audience. There is also something antiquated about the showdown with the Crazy 88’s. We see O-Ren Ishii arrive (facilitated by fabulous slow-mo) in a traditional Japanese kimono and shoes. She is in a building modeled after “old” Japanese restaurants even though the clothing of its patrons and its glass dance floor refute the timeliness of the restaurant’s aesthetic. This instance of globalization (a Chinese-American in Japanese clothing) refers to Jameson’s “nostalgia for the present” (3). The cross-cultural affinity for American-ness is displayed as well. In Kill Bill we see a Japanese band play American songs in an almost American fetishistic locale—a “geisha” themed restaurant replete with cool pools of water and sliding paper doors. At the same time Tarantino’s film supports the idea that “the United States is no longer the puppeteer of a world system of images, but is only one node of a complex transnational construction of imaginary landscapes” (4). The imaginary is realized here. The place where O-Ren Ishii wants to eat isn’t just an American idea--it’s an idea perpetuated by the Japanese people who are dancing to the music. The restaurant supports the idea of an imagined world “that is, the multiple worlds which are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons… spread around the globe” (7). I’ve been to the actual restaurant in Tokyo. It very much exists. It’s a tourist trap and sparsely attended by Japanese people. People visiting from afar can find themselves at a restaurant of their own deterritorialized creation (11).

Tarantino’s power lies in his assumed artistic integrity. While I doubt he claims his movies are the gospel on any culture, many avid film watchers interpret his movies as truthful to the Asian experience. Tarantino fails to dissuade consumers from this mindset by appropriating imaging like the anime or producing little-known Asian cinema in America (as if he has the “right” to). “Produced by Quentin Tarantino” has a nice ring to it that, once situated above a foreign-sounding movie, seems to suggest Tarantino sped across an ocean to bring you back the best and most legitimate cinema you would not have watched otherwise. Tarantino’s participation in Asian cinema and aesthetics dilutes the purity and effect of authentic cinema but also reflects a growing transnational and globalizing modern cinema landscape.

Nick White

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