nedjelja, 26. kolovoza 2012.

Shunji Iwai - Swallowtail Butterfly [Suwarôteiru] (1996)

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In some unspecified future there exists Yentown, slums that surround Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya or any large Japanese city (or all Japanese cities for that matter). It’s in these shanty towns that fortune seekers from all over Asia and some from around the world come seeking the all mighty yen. From setting up small shops and stalls to trading in grey market goods to more lucrative, but illegal and dangerous pursuits these outsiders come like the old prospectors in the days of the gold rush to make as much money as they can and then either return home or reinvent themselves in a prosperous new land. As the preamble in Shunji Iwai’s 1996 epic “Swallowtail Butterly” explains the residents of Yentown become synonymous with it, so that the Japanese refer to them as “Yentowns”. Our eyes and ears into this world is one Yentown, a nameless teenage girl who after her mother dies is left alone not only to seek out those mighty yen, but to find out who she is and what she will become.
Shunji Iwai takes us on a sweeping journey through this dream or nightmare of Japan’s possible future. In a country that has one of the lowest birth rates in the developed world, where one in three people will be over 65 by the year 2025 there is real concern that the bottom will eventually fall out of Japan’s health care system, work force and economy. Debate has been waging for the past few years as to whether the miniscule number of foreigners living in Japan (roughly 1.6% of the population) should be allowed to increase to stave off this coming crisis. The vision of an influx of foreigners chasing after a world of opportunity isn’t that far fetched. At the same time the darkness, crime, and violence that fills the world of “Swallowtail Butterfly” plays directly into the paranoia that if more “gaijin” are let into the country safety and order will disappear.
Our nameless heroine doesn’t encounter much safety or order. Gangs of homeless children, junkies, gangsters; she finds Yentown to be a truly lawless frontier; that is until our heroine falls into an unlikely family consisting of a pair of Chinese junk dealers, a punch drunk American boxer, a British music promoter and a hooker with a heart of gold and a kick ass rock voice named Glico (played by Japanese pop star Chara). It’s from this, the film’s second heroine that our girl gets her name, Ageha or “Swallowtail Butterfly”, and it’s through Glico that the whole group falls into a dangerous cat and mouse with the Hong Kong Triads over a cassette tape of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” that is cut out of a yakuza’s stomach. This tape can insure that any Yentown will be able to literally make as much money as they want.

I have to applaud Iwai for having the guts to make such a sweeping film made up of American, Hong Kong and Japanese actors. The world presented seems like a true to life Interzone. For the first half of the film I felt as if I were watching a pretty decent adaptation of a William Gibson story. There simply haven’t been many films made either in Japan or around the world that have been this ambitious, but it’s this ambition and Iwai’s background in music videos that for me threatens to derail “Swallowtail Butterfly” in its second half.
When the plot veers off from the gangsters chasing after their counterfeiting tape to a rags to riches rock and roll story I had to shake my head. What for me had been a really interesting piece of speculative filmmaking turned into an Asian version of “The Commitments”. Why do we need x-amount of musical numbers to slow things down to a halt? Also, the performances are impeded by the actors sometimes speaking in languages that they’re obviously not familiar with. If the musical sub-plot had been left on the editing room floor “Swallowtail Butterfly” could have been a truly groundbreaking film, but as it stands Iwai has given us a deeply flawed, but still compelling addition to the dystopian future science fiction genre.Chris MaGee

Shunji Iwai’s Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) is a film about foreigners (mostly Chinese, but also European and American) in Japan. Most of these foreigners communicate with one another in English, which they know better than they do Japanese. The main character, Ageha (Butterfly) is a teenage girl, daughter of a dead Chinese prostitute, but who was born in Japan and only speaks Japanese and English. In the course of the film, we also meet Japanese-born children of Americans, white and black, but whose main language is Japanese, and who don’t speak English very well, if at all.
So the film is multi-lingual and multi-ethnic (though there don’t seem to be any Koreans, Japan’s largest minority group), giving the lie to the myth of Japanese homogeneity.
Swallowtail Butterfly is about these immigrants’ hopes of making it — their successes and failures — in the Japanese bubble economy of the late 80s/early 90s (I think). At times it has an almost documentary feel, at other times it is highly stylized and anti-realistic, as it flirts with the gangster thriller and with expressionist modes, as well as referencing music video (Iwai’s background, before he moved into film). Handheld camera is used throughout, supplemented by various filters and other visual effects. The film seems edited more for rhythm than for narrative, though its various narrative strands do converge towards the end.
What’s remarkable about Swallowtail Butterfly – as well as about Iwai’s later film All About Lily Chou-Chou (which I wrote about here) – is the way it drifts in and out of various moods or affects, as well as various genres. There are horrific moments (as when racist Japanese cops beat up and kill a Chinese man), and over-the-top film fantasy moments (as when the immigrants blow up several truck-loads of gangsters with a bazooka), and moments when time seems to stop (as when Ageha overdoses on heroin), and moments when time seems to expand into eternity (as when Glico, the Chinese prostitute turned singer, delivers a stunning rock ‘n’ roll version of “My Way” – played straight, and not in the mode of the Sid Vicious critique), and moments of sheer lyrical abstraction, pain and joy passed through the sieve of Iwai’s restless camera and savvy pop soundtrack. The film begins and (almost) ends with Chinese funerals, in which money – the Japanese yen for which the immigrants have come to Japan – is burned in a potlatch that consumes both the hypocrisies and racism of Japanese society, and the grief, rage, and desperation of which the immigrants’ lives are composed.  - Steven Shaviro

I queued Swallowtail Butterfly on the strengths of Love Letter, Iwai’s first film. I don’t know anything about current events in Japan. The last topical news I knew from Japan was when they found that guy on the island who didn’t the war was over. I’m American… we don’t care about other countries. We’re politically imperialists, but pragmatically, we’re still isolationists. America. We don’t care.
Swallowtail Butterfly was made in 1996 and opens with a prologue about the high value of the Yen and a bunch of immigrants coming to Japan to profit off that high value. The Japanese don’t like these immigrants and I guessed it was situation similar to when people come over from Mexico. Whatever, right? There was nothing to suggest is was untrue–I hadn’t heard about it. Big deal. The last time Japan was in American news, it took a President vomiting on a Prime Minister. Like I said, we don’t care. Even if we care… eh, we really don’t care. Pragmatic isolationists.
I read about Swallowtail Butterfly–the description–when I rented the DVD from Nicheflix. Girl’s mother dies. Girl gets “adopted” by brassy hooker. Works for oddballs. Hey, there you go… My apprehension was mostly the running time–150 minutes. Love Letter was all right, but it was boring. On the border of good and bad boring, but boring. Swallowtail Butterfly is excruciatingly boring. The scenes are real short–maybe three or four minutes a piece–but Iwai’s a good director. His composition is nice and he understands how to use sound and music. He’s very American in a way. He’s like an American director who does small movies but they don’t look cheap. He was a music video director and the transition different from the American model. He doesn’t choppy shots–he uses handheld so there wouldn’t be point–but has the short scenes… kind of like the narrative music video, actually.
The film drags on and on for about forty minutes before anything interesting happens–the girl and hooker get together and have their relationship defined in the first twelve, thanks to those short scenes, so that question is already answered. Well, then at the forty minute mark, a john finds the girl and goes after the girl and gets punched out the window by their neighbor and gets run over by a street cleaner. But it works. The film never leaves its form. It manages to hold the form while doing something incredibly different.
Then there’s a mobster scene and the film loses it. Totally breaks that form it just held. But I stayed with it. Any hopes of it being rewarding where dashed but Iwai’s got good composition, likes nice colors, and so, visually, the film has pleasing effect. I got two hours extra sleep today and I figured I had the energy.
Then there was future stuff, so I paused the movie and Googled. Yeah… it’s a future movie.
From what I saw, it’s Strange Days, minus the virtual reality stuff.
A future movie is a future movie. A social, humanist piece is a social, humanist piece. The first forty-five minutes plays like a bad version of The Lower Depths. Maybe everyone else knew–had I known Japanese current events, I might know, but the film’s ten years old so… you know, maybe not–but in the context the film it blows up completely. It becomes absurd. It invalidated the work the film did; regardless of whether or not the film intended to do that work, it did and someone should have seen that work being done… It’s like making a great movie about someone going insane and then making it all about cryogenics.
I must have intuited it somehow, since I’ve been avoiding this film since November 2004. - The Stop Button

Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail opens with a "once upon a time" narration that seems to have come straight out of a fairy tale. The narrator explains that the yen has become the most powerful currency in the world (not a very far-fetched scenario). So powerful, in fact, that people from all over the world have gone to Japan to work for the yen, hoping to earn a fortune and return home rich. The influx of immigrants became so large that Japan would come to be called "Yentown." However, the Japanese hated that title so much that the foreigners who fill up "Yentown" would be named "Yentown" as well. This introduction sets up a grand futuristic "Yentown" epic by Shunji Iwai, whose only previous feature film at the time was the equally magical Love Letter. Taking a considerably different approach, Swallowtail is a dark, gritty, violent fantasy that is nothing short of amazing filmmaking.
     The film opens with the discovery of a dead Chinese prostitute, and we soon realize that the narrator is the prostitute's nameless daughter. With all her mother's money stolen by her Chinese colleagues, the girl is passed from one caretaker to another within the Yentown ghetto until she encounters Glico (played by pop star Chara, also the wife of Tadanobu Asano), another Chinese prostitute with a heart of gold and a hell of a singing voice. Too nice to sell the girl off to a similar sordid lifestyle, Glico not only gives her a name (Ageha), she also sends her to work at a second-hand shop, run by Fei Hung (Hiroshi Mikami) and a merry band of fellow Yentowns.
     Ageha soon learns the reality of being a Yentown with Fei Hung, as the two spend their days digging through junkyards and popping the tires of passing cars. However, everything changes when Glico encounters a particularly rough client, and a fellow Yentown named Arrow accidentally punches him out the window, followed by a fairly unpleasant crush by a passing truck. Upon burying the dead client, Fei Hung's crew finds a cassette tape containing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" inside his stomach. Little do they know that not only would the tape become their key out of Yentown, it would also put them into a deadly confrontation with Yentown's deadliest gangster, Rio Ranki (Yosuke Eguchi).
     Swallowtail's brilliance lies in the fact that it defies description; it is a coming-of-age story for Ageha, a rise-and-fall musical epic for Glico and Fei Hung, a gangster thriller for Rio Ranki, a social realist film on the consumerist culture of Japan, and a futuristic fantasy all rolled into one. Even the languages of the film are blurred, with no less than three languages (Japanese, English, and Mandarin Chinese) being used at the same time. While this may disorient some in the beginning (just as Iwai had intended), it never becomes grating nor simply a gimmick. The confusion of languages is necessary in order to portray the type of melting pot Yentown is. From Caucasian characters that speak no English ("Thanks to the Japanese education system, I cannot speak a word of English!" he says in fluent Japanese.) to characters that speak three languages in one sentence, Iwai not only aims to satirize contemporary Japanese culture's disdain of foreigners (although not necessarily foreign culture), but also present a reality of the oft-ignored ethnic minorities. It's an ambitious motif, but in the multi-layered world of Swallowtail, it's only one small detail.
     Iwai films tend to focus on characters, and despite its dense plot, Swallowtail is no exception. Adapting his own novel, Iwai has concocted a colorful cast of characters, supported by brilliant performances all around, even when they spend most of the film speaking their non-native languages. Chara is magical as she transforms from a kindhearted prostitute who just likes to sing into a pop diva with a hidden past; Hiroshi Mikami is incredible as the bumbling opportunist Fei Hung who remains defiant through his tragic end; and Ayumi Ito as Ageha is the soul of the film, as her growth process from a confused orphan to a powerful boss of the Yentown juvenile delinquents proves to be the best arc of Swallowtail. Even supporting characters get their moments in the spotlights. Sheik Mahmud-Bey has a memorable scene as Arrow the ex-boxer/protector, veteran actor Mickey Curtis steals the spotlight in an extended sequence as a doctor/tattoo artist, and Hong Kong pop star Andy Hui gets to show off his wild side as triad "cold-face killer" Mao Foo. It's rare that such as wide ensemble of actors can manage to all give great performances, and Swallowtail happens to be that instance.
     Despite its fantasy plotting, Iwai, with his usual cinematographer Noboru Shinoda, shoots the film in cinema verité style, often using multiple handheld cameras for one scene. This creates a down-to-earth futuristic world where it's not changes in technology, but societal changes that are emphasized. However, Shinoda also sticks to the plot's fable roots by importing Iwai's signature look, using soft lighting as a contrast to Yentown's rough surroundings. The result is a beautiful rendered piece of visual filmmaking that makes every frame of Swallowtail stunning to look at.
     If there is any weakness to Swallowtail, it would be Iwai's penchant for details. At 148 minutes, Swallowtail goes through a rough start, and the film does drag slightly as it approaches the climax, an extended tour through the drug-filled slums being one such sequence where the pace lags. But for the most part, Iwai, as his own editor, injects each scene with just enough of everything that it finds its pacing early on and sticks to it until the very end. Injecting a heavy dose of the usual Iwai quirky humor, including a healthy serving of dark humor during the climax in the form of several violent shootouts, Iwai still manages to comfortably juggle multiple subplots and even ties them all back together in the end. If you're looking for a definition for "brilliant filmmaking," this is it.
     After my first viewing of Swallowtail on an old Hong Kong VCD, I sat in silence through the end credits, stunned by what I had seen. There are very few films where one viewing would be enough for it to become one of my favorites. In the case of Swallowtail, it only took 148 minutes for me to become a full-fledged Iwai fan. If a lesser director had directed Swallowtail, it would've been an intriguing mess, but luckily Shunji Iwai not only managed to devise a wild ride through the gritty wasteland that is Yentown, but he also managed to construct an emotionally affecting and visually astonishing piece of cinema that would elevate his status as the premier filmmaker of his generation. Even though Swallowtail was met with critical and commercial success at the time of its release in 1996, and has since become required viewing for film classes in Asia, it's baffling that it hasn't gotten much of a reputation in the West. Its multi-ethnic settings can easily translate into a Hollywood film. Then again, if Swallowtail were remade by Hollywood, it just wouldn't be as good. - Kevin Ma

Rediscovering Sounds in Shunji Iwai’s Swallowtail Butterfly
Carissa Liro-Hudson (陳秀雲),台師大英語系博士生©版權所有

Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) is a production of ambition, which attempts to dissect the struggles of immigrants and by doing so, creates a history of the imaginary city for them. Yentown, a virtual city where quite a few illegal immigrants gather around, is designed as the background setting of this movie. This movie is furnished of a variety of sounds, such as the artfully constructed song narrative, the multi-lingual languages spoken, and the tension aroused by noises. Director Shunji Iwai is well-known for his skillful manipulation of music, and this can be traced back to his career life. Iwai started to be a director for music videos in 1988, and earned himself a title of “Iwai Aesthetics.” Swallowtail Butterfly is his second feature movie, which was awarded “Fant-Asia Film Festival Best Asian Film” in 1998.1 The film delineates how a group of Yentowns, namely the immigrants, struggle to survive in this possibly hostile society and how the dream of Japanese “Yen” proves to be a mere illusion. As a film, Swallowtail Butterfly embodies a lot of musical elements that usually applied to music videos. On the one hand, the plot narrative is built upon the money-making tape “My Way”; on the other, the Yentown band formed by a group of Yentowns is, to some extent, the symbol of Yentowns’ identity. Besides, language, as a communication tool among people, plays a rather complicated role here. The mismatch of languages and speakers creates a rapture of identity, but then it is to be discovered that more possibilities are able to spring from that rapture.
To talk about the sounds in the city is inevitably to touch upon issues of noises, languages, and music, for these are what people have contact with in everyday life. In modern cities, people are not only overwhelmed by visual experiences but also audio ones. On contrary, to talk about the sounds of the city in movies is to be provided with a more specific and centered focus on the issues of sounds. Sounds in movies are deliberately chosen, edited, manipulated, transformed, and signified beforehand. They help to examine various layers of a city in a totally different perspective from visual angles. In this regard, this paper aims to employ Swallowtail Butterfly as an example to explore the interrelationship among sounds, city and people, and seeks to reposition sounds in city in and out of the movie.
Noise and City
To begin with, it might be reasonable to exclude noises from the discussion, for noises in film are barely existent. Almost all dubbing films rid noises of their main narrative structure. However, the significance to sort out noises here lies in the connection of noises and identity. Film theorist Andre Bazin proposes that the purpose of film making is to recapture the reality with the camera. Hence, to approach reality means to reduce interference from film editing. Filming in direct sound, however, is hardly an easy task, because the noises are likely to cover up the lines of the characters. With regard to this, dubbing films intend to imitate real sounds, but meanwhile they wipe the “real sounds” from the screen. As a result, noises that are reproduced and thus remain in film possess specific functions for sure: to match a visual image (e.g. a broken window), to create an illusion of reality (e.g. suggesting a big crowd outside the frame) and so on.
In Swallowtail Butterfly, noises not only take a common role as in other movies; furthermore, they even prove to be a touchstone of identity. “Dubbing is not only a technique, it’s also an ideology.”2 If it is true, then artificial noises pasted on the images do contain another ideology. In Swallowtail Butterfly, noises from the radio and television help to build up an isolated atmosphere of Yentown. When Ageha follows a chubby Yentown woman out of the slum she used to live at the beginning of the movie, their footsteps lead the audience to have a peep at the daily life of Yentown people: hairdressing, goods-selling, clothes-washing, etc. While the woman is yelling at Ageha, broadcasts from the radio are heard. The fuzzy sounds can hardly be recognized, indicating the existing fracture between Yentown people and local Japanese. In this film, the communication between Yentowns and Japanese is always blocked with noises and misinterpretation. The noises are amplified to an extreme in another scene: Arrow is driven crazy by the noises of construction outside his apartment, and the construction workers and Arrow shout angrily at each other.
It is worth noting that impotence of languages is one of the main factors of miscommunication. As has shown, Arrow, a Yentown inhabitant, finds himself being surrounded by all kinds of noises in a city. When language itself fails to function, it loses its original significance as a communication tool and turns into noises. As Arrow says, “Damn thing! Now who? Talking to who?”3 he does not understand what the news reporter is saying, since she is speaking Japanese, but he somehow gets to know that he is not the one whom is supposed to be spoken to. Noises mark the unmooring identity of Arrow as well as that of the Yentown people. Their voices become noises to Japanese and Japanese is an overwhelming noise for them in return. Sounds that can’t be anchored become noises.
Languages and Cities
The language used by the Yentown people is apparently an accented one, combining at least three languages: Chinese (mostly Mandarin, inclusive of Cantonese), English and Japanese. This fragmented language is correspondent to the unmooring identity of Yentowns, yet it is also the bedrock of new possibilities4. As Hamid Naficy says, “it is impossible to speak without an accent;” the accented languages to some extent imply speakers’ individual / collective identities, histories, social class, gender, personalities and so on (An Accented Cinema, 23). In Swallowtail Butterfly, the accented language helps to construct a sense of history for individuals. Take Glico as an example. She plays the role of a Chinese immigrant, but she speaks Chinese with a thick Japanese accent, because she is Japanese in reality. Her lines are often mixed with both. For instance, when she talks to the prostitute who introduces Ageha, she mingles the two even in a single sentence: “他們都覺得十分鐘很短 い” (they think ten minutes are quite easy). The blended language suggests an ambiguity that refuses to yield to either side, which also results in the ambiguity of identity. The Japanese-accented Chinese indicates her own history in the film: a Shanghai girl plunged into the immigrant-unfriendly Japanese society, with her language dismembered into pieces.
One of the greatest deprivations of exile is the gradual deterioration in and potential loss of one’s original language, for language serves to shape not only individual identity but also regional and national identities prior to displacement.” (Naficy, An Accented Cinema, 24)
Indeed, how and to what degree the native tongue is “polluted” or “purified” signifies a qualitative and quantitative change in identities. It is not surprising that the languages of Yentowns are deprived under the hegemony of Japanese, and their original language, Chinese, is reduced to simple diction, accented and hardly recognizable language.
On the contrary, Glico’s Japanese-accented English may implicate a compromise: adopting a third language—English when the other two fail to maintain their unity. English claims a neutral position here, which somehow enables the Yentowns5 to communicate with each other. Based on the assumption that English is an international language, Japanese that can’t speak English are disempowered in assertion. The most easily discernable scene comes with the Japanese policeman running after Feihong outside the Yentown Club. When Fenhong asks, “Tell me just one thing. Who the fuck sold me out?” the Japanese policeman stammers out a clarification: “I can not speak English!” The clumsy expression exposes the impotence of Japanese and meanwhile the power entitles a policeman is thus diminished.
The complexity of language in this film is mainly attributed to Shunji Iwai’s choice of Japanese characters rather than Chinese ones, resulting in a displacement of nationality and identity, language and countenance. As an immigrant city, Yentown includes people from different countries; on such a transnational geography, it is language rather than countenance that can determine a person’s identity. Many examples can be found in Swallowtail Butterfly: Chinese like Feihong and Glico speak English, whereas the white and the black in Yentown band know only Japanese. The displacement builds a wall between Yentowns and local Japanese because it differentiates the two sides violently. The displacement of language thus corresponds to that of identity. Yentowns’ originally place-bound identity is uprooted after their immigration; moreover, they fail to anchor their new one on the new dreamland. The struggle of claiming their own language corresponds to their suffering from regaining identities.
The situation seems to be desperate, but later in the film, this displacement turns out to open up more possibilities: a new language is born from the complexity and multiplicity of Yentowns’ languages. Rather than being an exclusive language such as Japanese, the new language belonging to Yentowns is a combination of many, which can accept and tolerate different histories and is constantly changing its own contents. In the film, Ageha only speak Japanese at the beginning, so she can barely communicate with others in Yentown. What she says is just an answer to questions. For example, being asked what her name is, she answers, “ありません”(I don’t have a name). Ageha appears to play a passive role at first, but later she enters “Blue Sky”6 and starts to speak English. She shows curiosity over people and things around and learns to ask questions, as in the trash-collecting scene, she keeps asking questions: “What do you want me to do?” “So…you run a cycling shop?” “Anything? For money?” “Like what?” “Like Killing?” She gets to realize her own subjectivity as an agent instead of an object which is asked to react to the questions posed to her. This transition partly results from the symbolic “naming” by Glico (and thus Ageha gets an identity), and partly because she finds a new way to speak out. Her adoption of English implies that she accepts the lifestyle in “Blue Sky” and is willing to become a member of the group. Another turning point for Ageha is her Chinese-learning scene when paying a visit to Feihong in the prison. She strives to express herself and tell a story in Chinese. Instead of asking questions or being asked, she finally has something to say, something she wants to share. And this big step should be acknowledged to the ongoing evolution of the language. The language of Yentown people is ceaselessly combining new elements. This can be viewed as a compromise due to the impossibility of a single and pure language, but it can also be considered as an organism that promises a lot of possibilities and potentials.
Music and the City
In Swallowtail Butterfly, music serves as a container of cultures and an abode of identity. Music in films is basically categorized as two kinds: extradiegetic music (background music or soundtrack music) and diegetic music. The former refers to music played for the audience; in other words, the characters in the movie can not hear the music. On the contrary, diegetic music means the music actually played in the movie. It does not merely work to stir emotions, but also takes a role of signifying authenticity to some degrees as well as constructing ideology in films.7 The most extraordinary application of music in this film is the manipulation of song narrative. Pop songs of different cultural references are adopted and they assume different roles in narrative structure. Unlike the “hardware” in a city (such as buildings and streets), music claims the city in a special way: it connects itself with a sense of history and is thus able to dissect a city according to social class, gender and educational background. And that is why Jazz is often heard in a high-calss café and Rock’n’roll can scarcely be heard in a library. As Susan McClary remarks on the function of music, she argues that “music does not just passively reflect society; it also serves as a public forum within which various models of gender organization (along with many other aspects of social life) are asserted, adopted, contested, and negotiated.” (Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality, 8) Music, whether in or out of the film, involves more than just words and melodies. Rather, it is loaded with abundant cultural and social references. Seven songs8 are heard in the film, and it is worth noting that only two of them, “My Way” and “The Girl of the South China Sea” (南海姑娘), are adoptions. The following paragraphs are to lay emphasis on the relationship between lyrics and identity, and the diverse meanings of the songs.
To begin with, the songs in the film are able to indicate several important shifts of the development of Yentowns’ identities on one hand, and they echo the limitation and possibilities of Yentowns’ language on the other. As a matter of fact, all the lyrics of the songs sung in the film are hard to understand, mainly because the singer, Glico, sings with a heavy accent. The audiences might understand the two adopted songs better if they have heard them before. In fact, it is those who are already acquainted with these songs that Glico is singing to. She is actually singing to their memories, which make the songs complete when language fails. For the rest of the songs, they are simply made for this film, and thus they do not contain the cultural imagination that bestowed on the adopted ones. According to Yeh Yueh-yu, due to the long history of pop songs, the pop songs actually have their own lives beyond the frame (72). To illustrate how the songs signify the change of Yentowns’ identities, first it is necessary to put all the songs in chronological order: “The Girl in the South China Sea,” “The Girl in the South China Sea,” “Sunday Park,” “My Way,” “My Way,” “Mama’s Alright,” “She Don’t Care,” “Shanghai Baby,” “My Way,” “My Way.” It is obvious that among them only “The Girl in the South China Sea” and “My Way” are sung more than once, and the latter is even sung for four times. It suggests that these two are closely related to the theme of the film, and the lost-and-found process of identities.
First of all, Glico is humming “The Girl in the South China Sea” when she has Ageha comb her hair. This scene is a significant turning point for Ageha because she is given the name “Ageha”. However, it is worth noting that this scene also means a lot to Glico. She hums the song before she dictates her history to Ageha. She seems quite calm when she is speaking, but the lyrics sung a moment ago reveal her oppressed feelings: “thinking of this with tears swelling up my eyes, staining my red sarong and white blouse.9” The song serves as a reminder of her past and it prepares the audience with the following story, which is a sad one and quenched with tears.
Yet this song commits an important change when it recurs in Aozora; this time it shows up as a commodity but simultaneously points out the sense of belonging in the Yentown community. Adopted from Teresa Teng’s (鄧麗君), the song is rich in culture imagination: Glico’s Chineseness is hence confirmed by this song, for Teresa Teng is acknowledged to be a representative of all Chinese, including those overseas ones.10 Then the sense of history loaded in this song is transferred to Glico, and that is why when Glico sings this song among a group of Yentowns, everybody is absorbed and listens very carefully. Though some may say this song is simply used to attract “customers,” because Glico distributes the card of “Glico’s House” right after that, an underlying meaning should not be neglected. “The Girl in the South China Sea” outlines the common situation of all Yentowns. “On the golden beach / alone sits a beautiful girl”—the setting of the song is an exotic place, where girls wear “sarong” and eats “betel,” and the exotic atmosphere brought out by the song calls the audience back to their respective hometowns. They are connected through the similar but peculiar experiences as immigrants as well as outcasts. Therefore, although they probably know nothing about Chinese, they can somehow account for the nostalgia without memories. In this community, Glico is accepted as a great singer, who sings songs of the forlorn memories, and only for the Yentowns.
“My Way” first appears when an accidental homicide case casts a shadow over the Yentowns. They carry the dead body of Sudo to the remote woods and bury it there. During that period of time, a cassette is found in the body’s belly, which is “My Way.” The tape triggers them to walk on a different path, which leads to the way to money. “My Way” embodies a power reversal in the movie: it is taken out from a Japanese’s flesh and blood, and it paradoxically turns out to be a tool to suck Japanese Yen (money). “My Way” paves a new way for the Yentowns; with money they are given a second chance, to return home or to go into the city and have their dream come true. On their way back home, they sing “My Way” all together along with the music from the radio. Singing “My Way” at the back of the truck suggests the Yentowns’ common goal to cover up their past—the unspeakable murder. On the other hand, “My Way” has long been a popular song in the western culture. Adapted from a French song “Comme d'habitude”, this song is later characterized as a signiture song of Frank Sinatra. It is worth noting that “My Way” is often chosen as a funeral song11. In this scene, the song is not only a funeral song for Sudo but also a new start for Yentowns, since funerals may represent an in-between stage of life and death. From then on, the Yentowns are tightly bound together and live together like a family, and hence it is not surprising at all that the following scene is to depict their utopian lifestyle.
When it moves on to the “Sunday Park” song, an ideal lifestyle of Yentowns becomes more obvious and concrete, yet it meanwhile underlies the fragility of it. The MV-like images that coincide with the song creates a dreamy aura, and thus beautifies the characters’ heavy labor. As a matter of fact, it is not Sunday but a weekday, and they are not playing in the park but working in the dump. The beautification helps to outline a grand picture that Yentowns, though rejected by the mainstream values, still have their right and confidence to live, if not better, at least differently. However, the lyrics of “Sunday Park” suggest that this is but a dream. As the lyrics go, “In the Sunday Park / Light in the afternoon/ I listen to the sound of my dream…” and it is but a “fairy tale lullaby”.12 This kind of idealistic lifestyle is all that Yentowns can afford. In view of this, the song is more than a background song because it is meanwhile woven into the narrative structure, indicating the beautiful but fragile dream of Yentowns. However, the peaceful and dreamy life does not last long, for reality always accompanies obstacles. And the lyrics “I wish the day dream never ends” ironically implies the impossibility of a permanent utopia.
“My Way,” which is sung by Glico and the Yentown band in the newly-bought club, indicates the realization of Glico’ dream and an acceptance of her identity by the Yentowns living in the big city and, afterwards, by Japanese. It is the longest version in this film13, taking four minutes in total. The song is designated to be a symbol of Glico’s dream, which is first turned down as something out-of-dated by the others in the Yentown band. However, Glico fights with her weapon—her charming voice and finally wins her first battle. The change from refusal and despise to acceptance and admiration foresees her elevation from a prostitute to a singer in the mainstream society. In the highly-capitalized society, Glico somehow finds her identity as a professional singer, who can sing whatever she wants in her own band. Waving goodbye to her past, she finally can “say the things [s]he truly feels / And not the words of one who kneels” (lyrics from “My Way”).
The following two songs, “Mama’s Alright” and “She Don’t Care”, mark Glico’s success as becoming a singer. “Mama’s Alright” again confirms her correct choice to enter the mainstream society, for it brings her to the gate of fame and wealth. The shots accompanying this song are faces of numerous enchanted people in the Yentown Club. People of all walks and of different classes can be seen. In this song, Glico’s mama appears for the first time, in the form of a sound-image. By then, Glico’s mama is absent in her story, and she does not mention her mother at all when she dictates her past to Ageha. Judging from the repetitive lyrics of the songs, Glico’s mama is likely to be a prostitute, since the descriptions of her are all about appearance and lies. It seems that what Glico’s mama left in her brain is nothing more than bad memories. For example, in the line “she [mama] got that smile,”14 the smile of her mother seems so out-of-reach even to her own daughter, since it is “that” smile rather than “this” smile, implying that the smile is probably for somebody else, perhaps the customer. Besides, when the daughter is “in doubt” and wants to ask questions, she has to reach her mama through telephone: “But if you are in doubt / Pick up the telephone.” Even so, the answers given are always “lies,” as in “Another reason that mama lied to you.” If this song is all about Glico’s memories, then the singing itself suggests a recall of the painful old days. Mustering up courage to face the trauma of the past is the first sign of recovery. In the meantime, this song brings fame to Glico, and she is invited to be a member of Mashi Music since then.
Yet when it comes to “She Don’t Care,”15 Glico is forced to take sides between Chinese and Japanese, and in this way she has to forsake her newly-formed identity. It seems to be a necessary process for Glico to become a singer in the Japanese society. While Glico is singing “She Don’t Care” inside the Club, Feihong is being chased by the Japanese police outside. The shot of the female manager’s making comments on selling Feihong out is artfully correspondent to the repetitive lyrics—“She Don’t Care.” This song contains at least two layers of meanings here. First of all, the “She” may refer to the female manager, whose easy talk on the phone is in a strong contrast to the weight of Feihong’s unknown destiny. She does not care about others’ lives or death, to be more specific, those of the Yentowns. It proves that Japanese view Yentowns as something that can be controlled at will and manipulated to make money. On the contrary, “She Don’t Care” also refers to Glico’s sacrifice to be a star. She has to dispose of her identities as a prostitute, a carefree singer, as well as Feihong’s lover. Crying out “She Don’t Care” may signify her resolution to have her way to the Japan market. Whereas if she has to tell herself that she does not care, it implies the fact that actually she cares. The contradictory emotions are clearly expressed when she confesses her regrets to Feihong on the phone later. But her sacrifice is a must for her final revelation. Only by going through the ups and downs of her career life as a singer outside of Yentown is she able to figure out that what she loses for money is the most important.
The song “Shanghai Baby” works as a symbol of Glico’s naturalization, and insinuates that Glico’s songs are flattened to be commodities in the highly-capitalized city. It deserves attention that the language-shift is embodied in this song. By then Glico has been singing English songs and Chinese ones, but “Shanghai Baby” is definitely a Japanese song. This significant change points out Glico’s loss of identities as a Yentown. Besides, this song is presented to the audience through mass media—television. And thus Glico is squashed to be a cash cow on screen. With “Shanghai Baby” as the background music, what Glico says in the interview is all about money. The most obvious example is the phrase “Time is money.” At that time the only thing Glico can count on is money, which somehow explains a could-be-confusing subplot later in the film. Why does Glico say that music is her “everything,” but soon after that she confesses to the female reporter that she hates singing? The key to the answer is likely to be the word “everything.” In what situation would a person say that something is his or her “everything”? In Glico’s case, it is because she has nothing else. It takes her everything to be a Japanese singer, so music is the only thing left, in order to make money and regain a decent identity. In addition, Glico on screen is wearing Cheongsam16, and the contents of the interview are translated into English17. It is evident that all these superficial decorations are nothing but exotic elements to attract consumers, but the true Chineseness and Yentownness are lost as soon as Glico is denizened as Japanese.
When “My way”18 is sung for the third time, it is like an elegy for Feihong on the one hand, and shows Feihong’s determination to take his own path as a Yentown on the other. “My Way” appears to be a background song for the lynching scene, but it is also presented as Feihong’s monologue to some extent, since one of the jailers says, “I’m sure I heard him singing last night… ‘My Way’.” It is a funeral song for Feihong, which is sung by himself. It is also a complementary explanation forYentowns’ golden dream in Japan, which is absent in the first two “My Way”: “Yes there were times / I’m sure you knew / When I bit off more than I could chew / But through it all, when there was doubt / I ate it up, and spit it out.” Feihong realizes that what they have been looking for is just something unattainable, something “more than I could chew,” something that cannot fly out of the frame set up by the mainstream values. It may be impossible for them to survive in a world which is already defined by Japanese and capitalism, but it is possible for them to create another new world of their own, which is what “My Way” means in the end. Feihong refuses to confess to the police, and this is also a gesture of refusing to be evaluated and judged by Japanese. As a Yentown, Feihong does not sell Ryou Ryanki out, perhaps because Ryon Ryanki is Glico’s brother (if Feihong knows that), or because Feihong just does not want to yield to Japanese. Along with the song, Feihong reaches the end of his life as an unyielding Yentown.
Feihong’s death proves how a Yentown is treated as nothing in the Japanese society, and it helps the other Yentowns to reconsider their identities as Yentowns. While Glico is twining the flowers into garlands for Feihong at the end of the film, the setting is switched back to the outskirts, with her gently humming “My Way”. Until then, this song is added a new history, which belongs to Yetowns. It absorbs the tears and dreams of Yentowns, and its meanings are on a non-stop evolution. From up-rooted immigrants to anchored Yentowns, they seem to return to the starting point, yet their experiences and struggles have converted them into self-awared Yentowns. Their dream is absolutely no longer to snatch Yen in the Japanese society but to live strongly as Yentowns, since they realize that money can not promise everything. In the end, Ageha burns all the Yen, implying their new way of life is opened up. The song “My Way” may best be regarded as a footnote of the process in regaining identities, and the struggles they have gone through are not in vain, since “the record shows I took the blows / And did it my way.”
Sounds in a city always underlie different structures of a city, such as the relationship between sounds and people, sounds and histories. In the discussion of noises, language and music, it is proved that these three are closely related to the Yentowns as well as their identities. For noises, all that can’t be understood or anchored tend to become noises. However, the gap of communication produced by the becoming of noises is later filled up with the possibilities brought up by the new Yentown language. Though the fragmented multi-lingual Yentown language appears to be a mixture of different language and thus lacks of unity, the complexity and tolerant quality are exactly where possibilities spring from. When it comes to the music in this film, Shunji Iwai skillfully weaves songs into the narrative structure, and by means of this, the delicate changes in the process of regaining identities are embodied in the songs.
As Charles Affron claims, “Our ability to follow a narrative line and to make sense of a story is not primarily a visual process, but a verbal one. Verbality is made resonant by images that the words string together in a narrative.” (“Cinema and Sentiment: Voice and Space”, 338) In Swallowtail Butterfly, sounds play a significant and necessary role in the narrative structure as demonstrated above. The struggles and hopes of Yentowns leave their marks in sounds, and sounds, in return, provide space for the development of the lost identities. Through the illustration of how sounds work to shape and be shaped in a virtual city, a more theoretical groundwork between sounds and cities can be expected to be on launch.
Appendix 1
椰風挑動銀浪 夕陽躲雲偷看
眼睛星樣燦爛 眉似星月彎彎
她在輕嘆 嘆那無情郎
想到淚汪汪 濕了紅色紗龍白衣裳
哎呀 南海姑娘 何必太過悲傷
Appendix 2
Suday Park (Lyric by Fumiko Yoshi; Music by Takeshi Kobayashi)
In the Sunday Park
Light in the afternoon
I listen to the sound of my dream
Coming through
All the mountains of
Blueberries and greens
Fairy tale lullaby
I was down last night
Too much to handle here
I didn't know how to carry on
Still lucky
All the mess in my head, is fading now
Among the crowd on the street
I wish you'd come to my place
You would be smiling so close to me
I wish the day dream never ends
When I feel a single beat of my lonely heart
I can sing, I can cry, without telling why
Yes I tried and I tried to the way to you
Somehow life always leads through a maze
Everyday every night you live in my mind
Everyday every night still pleasure and pain
Melodies of memories will never stop
You are with me until the end of time
Just a day dream in The Sunday Park
Appendix 3
My way
And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friends I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets, I’ve had a few
And then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
Though I saw with through without exemption
I planned each chartered course
Each careful step along the by-way
And more much more than this
I did it my way
Yes there were times
I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up, and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy-way
Oh no, oh no not me
I did it my way
For what is a man
What has he got?
If not himself, then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way
Appendix 4
Mama’s alright (Lyric by Takeshi Kobayashi, Takayo Nagasawa, Bryan Burton-Lewis)
Mama’s alright
She’s got the taste you need
Mama’s alright
She’s got that smile
But if you’re in doubt, pick up the telephone
Another reason for you to cry
Another reason that mama lied to you
That little black skirt she wears
And with her thick pink lips she swears
She may not be a lady but she’s alright
Bur Mama knows her wrong from right
And she will say “so what”
And Mama Knows to be herself
so she can be with me…and now
Mama’s alright
She’s got the taste you need
Mama’s alright
She’s got that smile
But if you’re in doubt, pick up the telephone
Another reason for you to cry
Another reason that mama lied to you
I never felt the real her
I never touched the real her
She may not be alive
But she’s alright
Bur Mama knows her wrong from right
And she will say “so what”
And Mama Knows to be herself
So she can be with me…and now
Mama’s alright
She’s got the taste you need
Mama’s alright
She’s got that smile
But if you’re in doubt, pick up the telephone
Another reason for you to cry
Another reason that mama lied to you
And you should know your wrong from right
So you can say “so what”
And you should know to be yourself
So you can be with me…and now
Saw you last night
You had the taste I need
I saw you last night
But you didn’t smile
If you’re in doubt
Pick up the telephone
Now I’m alright
‘Cause I got the smile
Yeah Mama’s alright
She’s got the taste you need
Mama’s alright
She’s got that smile
Mama’s alright
She’s got the taste you need
Mama’s alright
She’s got that smile

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