Cruel anime II: Sense vs Representation

January 22, 2009

"Petals were falling like snow, and for a moment, I could not tell where     I was."  - Koi Kaze

"Petals were falling like snow. And for a moment, I could not tell where I was." - Koi Kaze

In my previous entry on cruel anime, I talked about one particular aspect of Artaud‘s Theatre of Cruelty. I’d like to follow that up by delving into more significant aspect of Theatre of Cruelty, which can more or less be summarised by the following:

“[…]Artaud believed that text, such as dialogues used in hollywood flicks, had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language that lay halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud’s theatre is made of screamings, cuttings and squirmings.”

Shoujo Tsubaki

left: woman's eyeball about to be slit with a razor in Artaud's clip, right: a boy crushes a puppy into pulps in Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki

Please note that Artaud wasn’t proposing for more eyeballs to be slit in movies. Sadism wasn’t his intention. What’s revolutionary here was the way Artaud appealed to our primal senses through bodily expression instead of resorting to Hollywood’s over-usage of dialogues to convey meanings. We see the blade reach an eye and squirm involuntarily, and immediately perceive and feel. There is no moment to derive meaning, or ponder on its ‘symbolisms’. Only experiencing and living that pure sense of squirming. To further illustrate this point,

Berlin Jewish Museum

left: Jewish Memorial behind Notre Dame de Paris, right: Berlin Jewish Museum

Here you see two different Holocaust gallerys. Each with different approaches to memorialising Jewish suffering. On the left we have a hallway, where 200,000 stones are studded on the wall to represent 200,000 Jews deported to concentration camps. The space itself however is well-lit and has a clear visual continuity, while its human scale provides more warmth and intimacy; in other words, there is nothing here that compells us to sense anything  dreadful about Holocaust. We are compelled to feel sad after being told that each stone represents one of 200,000 lives lost in Holocaust.

The architecture on the right in contrast, is all about constructing sense of horror. You are at first confronted by intimidatingly massive container, clad in cold, metallic zinc…you walk in only to find that light is dim, empty voids cutting through your zigzagging path, only to meet a narrow dead end made up of gigantic wall of concrete. This museum didn’t hold any exhibitions for two years for people to spacially experience that claustrophobic and traumatic sense. That is essentially the difference between representation and sense. Is there a right way? Who knows.

He says he has developed a ghost. But can he walk the talk?

"I have developed a ghost (soul)" he says. But can he walk the talk?

I personally have nothing against representation in itself. But too often people (both artists and viewers) desire satisfaction through spelled-out-meanings, which they think they can possess and contain in an articulated form. In the process we forget what’s really important; making sense of the unintelligible. When the above artificial intelligence in Ghost in the Shell claims that he has “developed a ghost”, how is that I perceive not a sign of life from him? In that monotonous, emotionally dry voice, spoken with a face that is disturbingly devoid of expression, and having not once demonstrating his capacity to feel just like humans, am I suppose to swallow such a represention contrary to my perceptions? That’s when anime becomes preachy and pretentious; trying to represent something that we are not making sense of. A classic example of “show, don’t tell”.

Is it

Is it more important that we ask what these colour and positiong symbolise? Or how these colour and positioning triggers our senses and make us feel?

To bastardise borrow Deleuze, sense is a non-existent entity. It is non-existent in that it has to be produced and constructed by us. What we sense is actual, involuntary and immediate; we can’t help what we sense. And from this sense of sadness, love and other human feelings exhibited by an artificial intelligence, only then can we come to our own interpretations as to whether he really developed a “ghost” or not. Representations can aid in construction of sense, but never should it spell-out meanings to take home. Let’s no longer mediate between the actual and representation. Let’s now be immediate. Immediate with forces that are original, involuntary forces that can not be helped, unintelligble forces that exceeds the enslavement of texts and symbolisms.

Koi Kaze makes no statement. Doesn't endorse nor condemn taboo in any shape or form. There is only sense of desire and longing, and of feelings that are transcendent and temporal.

Koi Kaze makes no statement. Doesn't endorse nor condemn taboo in modern society. There is only sense of desire and longing; of feelings that are beautifully transcendent, and woefully temporal.


11 Responses to “Cruel anime II: Sense vs Representation”

  1. animekritik Says:

    Halfway through you say “Is there a right way [between representation and sense], who knows?” Yet you’ve obviously made your choice “what’s really important is making sense…”

    That last picture seems like a representation to me, just not with words (but preachy nonetheless).

    ..and here i thought i was the only one reading deleuze. darn.

  2. gaguri Says:

    That’s how I see it so far, but to be honest it’s something I don’t fully understand. I thought I understood it last semester but obviously that has changed.

    The last picture is a representation because it would be impossible to construct a sense of watching Koi Kaze without, well, showing you a clip of Koi Kaze. I didn’t mention this but Koi Kaze does show some not-so-happy points about a love between siblings in a society of prying eyes. I think it presents the situation as it is, as in, making us really feel how much they love each other, but also giving subtle hints as to its futility. Deciding whether that is right or wrong, is upto the viewer.

    And it’s strange that not too many people read Deleuze. In fact, Deleuze is the ONLY philosopher I read since in general philosophy gives me headache. Just shows how profound effect his ideas had on me 😀

  3. Sasa Says:

    Ahh, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is beautiful in the sense that this picture that you have shown really, really works. It gives exactly the type of atmosphere that the architect intended to: Creepy, scary, cold and very intense.
    I can’t believe I’ve never been at the one in Paris, and I fully agree with animekritik saying that there is no right and wrong here – both are quite great ways to deal with the topic in my book.

  4. ghostlightning Says:

    I too, enjoy it when the subject “leaves us to our own devices” – the ending of 08th MS Team (no spoilers) where we see the characters talk to each other, but are excluded from actually hearing the dialogue does a number of good things for me:

    1. It preserves the intimacy between the characters (even underscores it).
    2. We are spared from potentially very trite exchanges/dialogue.

    The important thing in the scene is the moment itself. I remember it being the same case with the final scene of “Lost in Translation”. That movie is worth checking out just for that execution alone.

  5. animekritik Says:


    you should get acquainted with the pre-socratics and plato, just for background. germans can be good too, although it’s good to have aspirin or tylenol nearby when you read them.

  6. gaguri Says:

    I wouldn’t say that memorial place in Paris is a must-visit. Well…not compared to how the one in Berlin is a MUST. So don’t feel too bad…

    I definitely agree. Not saying that dialogues have no place in cinema, because that’s certainly not true. But it’s interesting what we can achieve by what is not said, what is not shown.

    ok…I’ll just um, place those books right under Kodomo no Jikan in my “must-see” list. Not sure when I’ll get around to watching that masterpiece though.

    jokings aside, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll see if I like the kind of stuff they talk about though, since well, reading plato doesn’t exactly sound like the best way to spend your time.

  7. I don’t think artificial intelligence is possible (though I’m not clued-up on the debate about it), so its appearance in Ghost in the Shell struck me as being about as likely as a real-life Gundam. However many signs of life he’d given off, I doubt it would have made a difference, because I had a pre-existing agenda. Not that that stopped me from enjoying the movie.

    If we have to choose between representation and sense (and hopefully we don’t), I suppose I’m a ‘representationalist’. I probably find mediation more interesting than immediacy, if immediacy is even possible, and I think of texts and symbolism as relationships willingly entered into, rather than as enslavement. But this is probably a naive view, and I’m probably some kind of emotionally stunted sense-dwarf . . .

  8. gaguri Says:

    That’s interesting…I don’t have a solid opinion on whether AI is possible or not (like I know anything about that, ha!). In this case, when a non-human being claims to have developed a soul, I think showing signs of life would have helped me believe that in such a fictional world, AI is possible, and robots indeed have just as much right as humans. Ah, I also highly enjoyed GITS movie. Wonderful film.

    And in this context, I’d like to think that sense by definition is always immediate. Artaud is an extreme case where people really can’t help but involuntarily shriek at the very sight of blade cutting across an eyeball. And although not as powerful, whatever sense we get when watching characters fight (exhiliration, etc), smile (fondness, etc), the way our senses are triggered may differ, but they are all actual and immediate in that…well, our bodies sense it. O well, that’s how I see it so far ^^

    Thanks for dropping by to offer an alternate viewpoint, always appreciated.

  9. […] Ouma’s ef series, Shinbo seems to focus lot more on visceral reactions triggered through sense. His emphasis is not on hidden meanings (Maria†Holic is really, just a simple, straight-forward […]

  10. Will of the wisp Says:

    On a note on the Paris memorial though — It may represent a different idea. Perhaps the architect wish to remind the visitors that these people were warm and caring human, and now they are in good hands after their suffering. Rather than mimicing the conditions during the holocaust, the Paris one serves as a memorial for these people, recalling the best of their lives in a warm glow.

  11. gaguri Says:

    That is another way to interpret architect’s intention. In that case, that sense of warmth and intimacy would work towards recalling best of their lives rather than trying to remember the horrors of war like every other holocaust memorials.

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