18. Paprika, Yasutaka Tsutsui (July 8)
This book was given to me by my friend Ivanny, who sent it along with my signed copy of Trigger Warning earlier this year. I’d never heard of the author or the story, although there is apparently an anime based on the book. I’ll be coming back to that later.
Ivanny said after the fact, and after I told him how I felt about the book, that he had wanted to hear what I thought about it for a very specific reason. We’re about to have an entire blog post about that.
But first, I need to preface my views with a little bit about my job. Most of my readers will know that I’m teaching English here in Tokyo. I try not to talk about work that often because I work with some amazingly petty people who may or may not know I have a blog, but also because we’ve signed some serious confidentiality agreements, so I pretty much have to keep my mouth shut, in general. I don’t really mind.
But my job directly affects how I read and understood parts of this book, so I need to talk about it now.
I work in an Ekaiwa in the heart of the Tokyo business and financial district. Most of my students are ‘salarymen’, and their average age runs between 30 and 45. I see many who are older, I see a few who are younger. It’s an exciting day if I get to see a woman (and a calendar-marking day if I get to see 2!). My clients are all in a very specific demographic, one that I wouldn’t know much about if I were working in any other office. My clients ARE the Patriarchy.
For those of you who are not aware, and Ekaiwa is a ‘conversation school’. The people who work here don’t have to be trained professional teachers, although my company might like our students to think they are. The reasons people take English lessons vary widely, but there is something specific to keep in mind: we cost less than a host/hostess club.
I won’t go into that too much, but I will say that having worked here in this specific office, I’ve come to understand exactly how Japanese men feel and think about women (and foreign women, for that matter) quite well. As a raging feminist, I often find myself biting my tongue, or politely telling students that they should do better or treat the women in their lives better. I will say that the younger guys, around the Millenial/end of Gen-X age seem to be changing their minds and able to see women as equals.
But I digress.
Paprika was written in 1993, and actually holds up very well 22 years later. The inventions in this book fall right in line with things we could probably expect to see sometime in the near future. It takes place in Tokyo and the story centers around a main protagonist, Atsuko, whose alter-ego is Paprika. I won’t get into what happens in the story too much, in case anyone is planning on reading it, so instead I’ll talk about the major issue that bothered me while reading the story, and is still bothering me as I write this.
Although there is the idea that the story itself might fall under some idea of dream-logic, and depending on how you interpret the ending, might have all been just a dream anyway, the way the men in this story feel and think about women is just about deplorable.
Ivanny and I talked about this: is this because the story is:
a~ trying to present an accurate description of how men see and think of women? It is, in fact, written by a man. We’ve recently seen what Joss Whedon thinks of women in the new Avengers: Age of Ultron: basically, if a woman can’t have children, she’s a monster.
b~ using the idea of dream-logic to let the men (and 2 female characters) fall into easy archetypes?
c~ calling to attention and criticizing/satirizing how the men in the story let a woman bother them so much? Calling to attention and criticizing how men *actually* think of women?
There’s an intelligent, driven woman (a scientist who has used her lady brain to be nominated for a Pulitzer prize!) at the center of the story, and literally EVERY man she comes into contact with either wants to fuck her, kill her, or both. At the end of the book, there were either 3 or 4 men who were in love with Atsuko (or Paprika).
The two who wanted to kill her were insane misogynists, one of which was ALSO in love with Atsuko. At one point, after his inner monologue goes over how since she’s a woman she could never actually have faith (in anything other than science), he thinks that as soon as he confesses his love to her, she’ll immediately want to strip her clothes off and make love to him. Later in the book, the two bad guys decide that they should just rape her, since that’s the best way to take control of a woman.
These were new levels of crazy for me, the type that I try not to bother reading or hearing, since it generally makes me want to break things. And apparently, NONE of this shows up in the anime, which I have yet to see. I’ll be watching that later. Later.
But the issue remains: which way was the author even trying to go with this? I can’t decide if this is satire or authentic, and that’s the scary part for me. I’m hoping it can be satire. But the sad fact is, the things that have been said to me during my lessons this year alone make me think that Tsutsui was just writing what he knew.
And that, ladies, is why you don’t want to live in Japan. Because it’s like being a woman in an episode of Mad Men.