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[QUOTE]As Maou fell asleep, he tried to forget about her. [/QUOTE] But sleep is a facetious god, and rarely gives what one expects from it. Or maybe it is so that the dreamer really is a different person from the one that is awake, and these two alien souls only temporarily share a mind as if by accident. So while Maou was trying to drift away from her memory, the steady stream of dreams brought her closer to his grasp, closer than she would ever be, before ravishing her again, like a cruel child. There he was, climbing through metallic stairs that stretched around and through a gargantuan iron structure cast over the sky. Smells of freshly cut grass. Songs of birds. Fresh breath of the winds of late spring. Rancid smell of urine. Loud humming of countless cars. Occasional colourful swearword tearing through the noise, all the way up these unnatural heights. Far below, a narrow river, draining itself half-asleep between rows of old-fashion buildings. Ah, Paris. The stairs reached a large observation platform, surprisingly empty of a single tourist. “If I didn’t already know it was a dream, I would know now”, he thought to himself, and started to climb down the stairs, hoping they would lead him back to his bed. But then, of course, there she was, and of course he stopped. She was leaning against the railing, a sublime shape of white, black and sharp angles, her back defiantly turned at him. He knew it was her, with that natural certainty that dreams give freely and lucid hours stubbornly refuse. And so he walked up to her, like a robot to his maker, like an inmate to the electric chair, like any man would have jumped down a cliff if she simply sighted, he walked, and his hand fell on that glowingly white jacket of hers. She turned. And then it wasn’t her any more. “You’re late”, said a joyful baritone voice coming out inexplicably from the grotesque head that stood above her shoulders. Two globulous eyes, humid and dumb, were staring down into his own. White and black short hair covered its skin. The apparition tried to lick Maou face-to-toe with the huge, obscenely pink tongue hanging down from its gaping maw, but a quick invincible backdash allowed him to narrowly escape a colossal dry cleaning bill. The smell of rotten meat and coffee filled the air. “Now, where was I. Ah, yes! We were discussing farce in Japanese and western narratives, weren’t we?”. “Don’t do that face. You know, we were talking about burlesque moments in MGS, RGG or One Punch Man, and then I wondered why we so often separate “fun for the sake of fun” and “serious and drab fun”. Why is, more often than not, the later regarded more highly than the former? Why are Shakespeare’s tragedies considered better than his comedies (or at least have been until recently), or, on the other side of the spectrum, why are some people obsessed with [URL=http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2015/09/factor_5s_lost_wii_kid_icarus_boasted_a_dark_hero_with_60fps_airborne_action]grittily rebooting everything[/URL]? Then you wondered whether that could be a cultural difference. For example there could be something in Japanese culture that doesn’t view silly fun as inferior to self-righteous fun. Of course, Japan didn’t wait for Tezuka Osamu to have fun. Court entertainment during the Heian period was plentiful, though courtly intrigues could turn the most harmless joke into the most poisonous dagger. At a time when most European nobles didn’t know how to read and whose idea of a fun afternoon was limited to hunting, heavy drinking, and hitting each other to death, the Heian court had refined poetry and introspective diary to an unprecedented level, and it would be over a millennia until any European would write a novel that could equal the Tale of the Genji’s psychological depth. Poetry was at the same time a form of expression of self, celebration of complex emotions, and a way to advance your career. Countless festivals were the occasion to show your fashion taste, or risk shame and lose your career if you chose an undertone colour that would clash with the tone of the person immediately above you. If you were bored, you could listen to monks chanting sutras you likely didn’t understand with their mesmerizing voices. The best thing that could happen to you would be to suddenly lose all your wealth and friends, so you could create the most beautiful poetry about being awoken in the middle of the night by the moonlight coming through the whole in the roof. Of course, that had to be temporary and you would somewhat come back in power and sentence your enemies to eternal unfashionable-ness, lest someone else would make a poem about you being romantically poor, and that would really be the end of it all. So, at first glance, Heian nobles seem as fun as the cold-blooded covers of Vogue magazine. Interestingly, some diaries of more minor nobles paint a much different picture, of people making jokes that are still good a thousand years later, people with flaws and likeable characteristics, but it doesn’t seem to be the values the court put forward in their entertainment nor in their public life. It’s very difficult to know what the other 99% living in Japan used as entertainment during that period. We do know of troupes of prostitutes that were performing music, acrobatics, dances and crude theatre during public festivals and other celebrations. In many ways, it was probably very similar to our circus. Of course, nobles would sometimes come and spy on them incognito, and sometimes even invite them to perform to their friends (or “perform”). As more nobles became patrons of this exotic art, dances and music became more and more refined, and it is now impossible to know what the non-high-brow version of these performances looked like. After the Heian court got burned to the ground a couple of times and several powerful and illiterate warlords invaded the place, the first thing they did was to imitate the elegant tastes of the fallen elite. Being of a more rustic background and having the necessity to live and die by the sword instead of to live and die by the colour of their inner kimono's embroidery, the entertainment evolved. All these popular performances had been codified into something called Kyôgen (crazy speech), a form of short comedy with stock characters similar to commedia dell’arte, as well as what we know today as Nô theatre. If you’re not familiar, Nô is a combination of dance, music, and tragic one-man-show. During the Ashikaga period, Nô became the finest art available to the highest elites. A typical representation of Nô lasted one full day, and contained 5 Nô plays, each of 5 rigidly defined categories. The first play would be about a god visiting the mortals, with barely any dramaturgy. It’d be mostly an auspicious way to start the day. The second would be a tragic tale of a heroic warrior fallen in battle, and whose spirit fails to leave his regrets behind. The third would be the female version of that, a tragic tale of a woman abandoned by her lover for example. The fourth play was less strictly defined than the others: they are roughly “tales of the real world”, without much supernatural, but still quite tragic (insanity because of the death of a child, or because of jealousy, or a noble losing his title and being cast away from the court). The final play would be more rhythmical than the others, about some evil monster being fought and slain by some hero, with energetic dance and music to signal the end of the day and wake up whoever would have fallen asleep after all the drama prior. What is interesting is that a silly Kyôgen would always be played between each Nô. So a day of performance would have 5 plays of intense elegance and 4 short breaks of mundane, coarse silliness. However, as the Ashikaga family became more and more dazzled with their own cultural power, Nô evolved. Actors who were skilled in all parts focused on the most aesthetically pleasing elements, the “Flower of the art” (I believe mostly the dance at the end of the third type, the “woman’s ghost driven insane by grief” plays). The dramatic moments got longer, the dances got insufferably slower, and more aesthetically challenging. The shows got shortened to two plays and a Kyôgen. I believe ultimately the Kyôgen disappeared? Maybe after Nobunaga kicked the Ashikaga off the throne? Either way, after Wakamoto’s best role put some order into that madness, no one really cared about Nô anymore. The Tokugawa were still watching Nô because they hated fun, but the art had lost all cultural significance. In the meantime, the merchants at Ôsaka had exploded into a real bourgeois middle-class, and had their own entertainment form, again coming from prostitutes dancing and singing as ways to attract customers. This art became Kabuki, which is much closer to our idea of theatre: multiple characters, a succession of scenes, an action that has a beginning, a middle and a crescendo to the end… It also had less conventional elements: a mixture of tearjerking scenes and coarse humour moments within the same play, or interactions with the audience that were between the ones in Shakespeare’s time and the rehearsed chorus and choreography of the idols for creepy paedophiles in modern day Japan. Kabuki and Nô share a similar origin, as well as business models: both were used as advertisers for their actresses’ other activities, and, once the women were banned from performing, men took their roles both as actors and prostitutes, and were touted to be better than women at being women on stage and in the bed sheets. Yet, as far as stage performances and narrative devices, Kabuki and Nô couldn’t be more different. And while Kabuki evolved during the almost 3 centuries when it was the prevalent performing art, and all the elites were coming to the performances incognito because that’s where the fun really was, it never got picked up officially by the ruling class or the aesthetes. It remained alive and vulgar; it adapted classic tales, made heroes out of bandits with a heart of gold, even had trite gossips "inspired by a true story" plays, for example when they wrote plays after plays about young lovers choosing suicide over accepting their role in the neo-Confucian Tokugawa society. Where am I getting at, you ask. Is it where I finally go full circle and draw a line all the way up to Kiryû staring at a chicken in RGG or Snake asking Paramedic whether that vulture was edible? Unfortunately no. If Kabuki didn’t get drawn to the drab aestheticism dead-end that killed Nô, it is because the ruling class already had Nô fulfilling that role for them. Moreover, that distinction between the high-art where nobody laughs and popular art where the real life is is something that all modern societies know, at least the European and western ones. Moving forward to the contemporary landscape, it is difficult to guess which, between South Park and Terrence Malick, will be dissected by scholars in 200 years for example. In other words, I do not believe the weird quirkiness of modern Japanese narrative has anything to do with long-held cultural difference with the West. If there were one thing that could be framed as a cultural narrative specifically Japanese, in literature, Nô, Kabuki, poetry and almost everything else, it’s their almost millennia-old love for sad endings. As far as history is concerned, Japan might be the only country where the winners don’t write history: only the losers are remembered, as long as they lost with panache. Then where do we go from now? How do we solve the initial problem? I wonder whether class warfare and capitalism might not be a better device to answer the question. We’ve seen the elite were the main driving force with drawing out the life out of Nô and countless other forms of art. They were the ones pushing for the birth of tragedy in classic France, for example. In the XIXth century, the French masses fell in love with Verdi., Puccini or even Bizet while the elites preferred the insufferable Wagner. I would like to understand why the ruling classes seem to generally consider a smile the most hideous expression a face can take, or why museums are filled with paintings of pouting rich people while the only people smiling are fairies and fools. Capitalism can be another explanation. Properly labelled stories and performances are easier to sell to the masses, and maybe market research did allow them to distil emotions to their very essence. Teenagers being the group most susceptible of paying for entertainment, catering to them means catering to their view of the world, a view that rejects anything joyful and colourful as “kiddie” and “not cool because I’m a grown up, I’m 14 now”. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like with every other concept they take from abroad, Japanese people misunderstood the modern attire of capitalism, allowed it to mix with existing ideas instead of replacing them, and thus gave birth to the beautifully grotesque entertainment industry we can see now, an industry that, like Nô and Kabuki, still caters first and foremost to wealthy adults with a passion for very young prostitutes." The whole lecture was delivered in one breath. The creature, panting, stopped for a second. - What? You don’t like my conclusion? Don’t complain, at least I managed to cut the part about Aristotle and Roman theatre. Suddenly, it took a long stare at Maou’s face. The massive eye-globules narrowed sharply, and the flow of time thickened like molasses. - Wait a sec… You’re not Spoon, are you? - I… - Damn, wrong dream. I should have known! Sorry for that. Please go back to your moppy little remembrance about the sad state of your love life, or whatever that was. The creature stared down its own body, as it noticed its female curves for the first time. - Ah, of course! Nice fashion sense, I must admit. Very… Ah, how do you say? You know, that designer from… Eh, non important. Bye, pretty lady. And you…”, he said, turning back its face to Maou, “have a whatever day, I guess. Abruptly, everything went black, as if someone had cut the sun’s power. Maou opened his eyes. He was back on his bed, and the morning light was starting to drip through the curtains. 5AM, maybe 6. He pulled himself out to the bathroom and energetically rubbed his face in the shower, like he could scrub the dream away. But the monstrous dog head was stubbornly hanging on to his mind, refusing to fade away, taunting him mockingly, suddenly wearing Urien's underwears for no good reason. Suddenly, Maou remembered the day of the week. “Saturday! It’s Saturday! But of course. It makes sense now. That was a typical Saturday dream. Quite good by Saturday standards, actually”. The repetition of al things, even the gruesome and the grotesque, has always been reassuring. Almost happy, he got dressed, picked the least bad shirt from his luggage, and started thinking about breakfast. At the back of his mind, the dog face tried to express disappointment, but only managed to make itself even more wrinkly and small, until it looked like a dried prune and exploded in a puff of whatever the dreams are made of. A new day had started. It was time to solve it all.
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