The elements of postmodern cinema in a Japanese Film "Kamikaze Girls". To what extend leads spectacle and pastiche towards new forms of a cinematic narrative?
Postmodernity, despite its connotations with mostly art and architecture is also present within cinematography, revolving and changing the forms of narrative by rebuilding and restructuring onto a new form of expression. With the connotations from the past and signifiers of the future, postmodern cinematography creates a separate niche for films where pastiche and spectacle is often prioritized over the narrative.
In order to undergo the analysis of postmodern Japanese cinema and so forth "Kamikaze Girls", it is important to clarify what defines a postmodern film and what makes those films specific in its form and structure.
Postmodern style depicted in art and cinematography is often defined by urbanization, parody and neutralization of customs and traditions. The culture and the past 'historical or political" is often treated as a collection of signs and symbols, free to interpretation and recycling. It' is regarded as a play without a specific ideology or cause. "In other words, a postmodern film is aware of its being a film, of the history of films, film genres and conventions, and of the fact that films and television produce, rather than represent, reality" (Widmer, 1998). However despite the fact that a post-modern film can adopt a free way of expressing, unimpressed with traditional plot structure or character development, it still follows a certain rules and can be defined upon certain elements.
In the first instance that would be the notion of spectacle often privileged over narrative and pastiche over originality. Scott Lash argues: "My point in this context is that in films of recent years "spectacle" especially if we expand the definition of spectacle to include also images marked by the aggressive instinct does not any longer become subordinated to narrative. That is, there has been a shift from realist to postmodernist cinema, in which spectacle comes heavily to dominate the narrative" (Lash, 1990, p. 187). The narrative is still present, but the visual aspect often takes over, due to its lavishness and opulence, fast paced images with an original juxtaposition of various cinematic styles. Further on pastiche not only often pays an homage to other filmmakers styles but also revives and combines various cinematic genres, past and present fashion, often playing with quotes, references and imitation. "Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask" (Widmer, 1998). The pastiche acts in various ways, capable of recycling and copying, reviving rather than creating, taking referencing from any possible sources, paralleling and juxtaposing what’s traditional form would often reject.
Furthermore the postmodern film doesn't have to follow a generic, homogeneous structure of building a story. It is allowed to play with the structure of beginning, middle and an end, abandoning so-called "master-narrative". "Another central issue of postmodernism is the critique of master-narratives, or unified, totalizing discourses (ct.Lyotard). The structure of a postmodern film, therefore, can be expected to be fragmented rather than unified" (Widmer, 1998). Moreover the postmodern focuses on reflecting our daily lives, highlighting the failures of the society, simply by reviving past mistakes and showing how they are influencing the present. "The postmodernist gaze, as understood here arises out of theories surrounding that most characteristically contemporary of visual media, the cinema. According to Norman Denzin in "The Cinematic Society", the voyeur is the iconic, postmodern self. Denzin regards the camera as a kind of voyeuristic 'knowing eye', which exposes the illusory structures of truth fabricated by contemporary society, thus broadening the concept of illicit viewing to embrace both social criticism and a form of cultural self-reflexivity" (Menezes, 2005, p. 118). Those reflexive qualities are often visible in the postmodern film; the complexity of the characters, their surroundings and struggles, tailored accordingly to the national, cultural and social relations.
Post-modernity is a global phenomenon, and adopted in cinematography by various international directors, who use the spectacle and pastiche not only accordingly with its national connotations but also exploring different, other facets, moving beyond postmodern definition as such. In his book Markus Widmer analyzes films of David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch as being postmodern, stating: "Since the differences in class, gender and ethnicity are central to the discussion of postmodernism, one can assume that these categories are equally important for the plot of a postmodern film. However "Down and out in Beverly Hills" is a film about life in the postmodern city...and obviously far from being a postmodern film. Thus not only the subject matter, but also the audiovisual style and narrative structure of a film should display postmodern characteristics" (Widmer, What makes the films of David Lynch and Jim Jarmush postmodern?, 1998). Quentin Tarantino on the other hand, not labeled in particular as a postmodern filmmaker as such, uses pastiche and spectacle extensively, relating to American westerns, Second World War, implementing various genres, revolving around crime and drama and comedy, also implementing video clip formats, visible for example in "Inglorious Bastards"(2009), which starts with a slogan "Once upon a time", a quote used often in fairy tales. When it comes to the European cinema, Pedro Almodovar often uses homage in his films, among others by placing posters of old films on the walls. Example would be in "Kika" (1993), with Michelangelo Antonini's "Blow up" or Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom". He also often highlights the media, being an active part of our lives, by placing television screens within the action, reflecting on contemporary society. "...Kika, it's a film of many narrative components, but also one where dramatic construction has never been freer, so free it's almost baffling. The film's coherence springs from what seems a mass of incoherence, which, if one doesn't watch the film with a mind rid of pre-conceived notions of conventional narrative, might seem terribly confusing. It's almost as if the film posited a new genre" (Strauss, 1994, p. 124). Further on a German film director Tom Tykwer and his film "Run Lola Run"(1998), is a clear example of a postmodern film, choosing to implement multiple cinematic genres, including animation, and move beyond the traditional narrative form, choosing three different endings, open for audiences interpretation, which visibly has strong similarities and parallels to "Kamikaze Girls", I would like to discuss later on.
However, in order to place "Kamikaze Girls" among postmodern condition, it is important to understand how Japan revolves around postmodernism, among others embracing their own cinematic notions.
Postmodernism in Japan is largely associated on one level with the globalization and consumerism and on another level with culture, which would between other include: art, architecture and cinema. "Increased affluence, information networks and the desire to consume certainly provided both a means for exuberance, spectacle, international outlook and space for playfulness in daily life, and a market for experimental work by designers and architects" (Teasley, 2012, p. 247). Following the period of modernism and the boom years starting in 1985, Japan shifted towards successful growth not only economically but becoming a culturally significant on international level. "...postmodernism itself was a commodity to be consumed. Museums, department stores and the press provided access to the latest international design information and positioned postmodernism as a form of popular entertainment through magazines and exhibitions." (Teasley, 2012, p. 248). Consequently the postmodernism seen in art and architecture indicated a multi-leveled understanding and perceptions, sourcing multiple indications and representations. When speaking about postmodern the architect Kazuhiro Ishii; "Created an opposition between Modernism - which he described as foreign to Japan, and thus needing to be imported and learned - and postmodernism, which he understood as inherently native to Japan" (Teasley, 2012, p. 247). Ishii argued that in modern new and old coexist with one another, especially that modern was influenced by the West, yet seeing postmodern trending towards old Japanese traditions. Kenzo Tange, another architect, argues that: "The energy displayed by the Postmodernist struggles with nothing, challenges no new issues, and seems escapist" (Teasley, 2012, p. 247). This emerging new world was also visible on the cinematic screen, mixing and merging old Japanese values with the new won consciousness, mainly identified with youth and cultural shift towards more individual interpretations.
What followed was the implementation of new forms of viewing patterns, adopting international cinematic practices yet those intertwined with Japanese national identity and understanding, targeting different types of audiences. Film director Iwai argues;" We have to make movies that appeal (to younger movie-goers) and reflect the world they live in. One result is that the filmmaker becomes a "visual artist"(eizo sakka) who makes no distinction between the forms of film, television and music video, and whose "message" is the stylish nihilism which has remained a favored youth- orientated mannerism since the early days of expressionism in Japanese cinema" (Richie, 2001, p. 225). This bricolage of styles, genres and also topicality seems to mirror the society one live in, where spectacle and the visual image often overshadows the message and where pastiche replaces innovation, melting the borders of past and present. Those postmodern aspects are visible in certain films like Juzo Itami's "Tampopo"(1985), where Japanese culture and social relations - the main focal point, are often intertwined and perhaps parodied with Hollywood narrative style and genre. "Part of Itami's vision of postmodernism, and certainly part of the postmodern aesthetic in general, is the recognition of cross-cultural, pan-generic influences. In so doing, he likewise imagines a subjects who is able to "make do" in such a milieu, whose pleasure is by no means uniformly administered by the structures within which is hopelessly trapped. Consequently, Itami's film re-writes Japanese narrative, allowing subjects to speak themselves - each exhibiting his and her tactical operations in all their unlimited diversity" (Burns, 1998, p. 102). The re-writing of Japanese narrative is also visible in other postmodern Japanese films, where the implementation of spectacle and pastiche redefines the basic understanding of narrative form, facing the viewer with no longer calculative certainty of unified structure or visual representation, traveling and moving beyond what is expected.