Sunday, February 2, 2014

International Ladies

Okay.  I feel like I shouldn't have to do this, but lately I've been coming across more and more articles about women in media and thought that this would be a good moment to pause a bit and take a look at some of the wonderful female voices out there.  Now, when I say women in media, I am talking not about actors, TV personalities, or even singers; what I want to talk about is all the amazing ladies doing the cool work behind the scenes writing, drawing, or directing some of my favorite books or movies I've seen over the past couple years.
On a recent episode of The Point (if you have even a passing interest in videogames or the videogame industry/ecosystem, you should be watching The Point), host Danny O'Dwyer lent some focus to women in the videogame industry, and while lamenting the state that such a male-dominated community has devolved to recently (honestly, just check out some of the comments about any game that deals with women as either characters or creators to see what I mean), he offered a lot of insight as to something that unfortunately gets shoved aside when discussing games.  Another recent article featured on The Comics Journal has pointed to a similar problem in comics, and one that though seemingly a no-brainer, obviously needed addressed (honestly, the real crazy stuff comes in some of the comments), unfortunately.  Rather than toss my own arguments into the pile, I think it's more important to use this blog to let these talented individuals' work speak for itself, though it's important to understand that I still run the risk of sounding like just another male voice championing what I find appealing; this article is in no way meant to be a point of reference for every female artist out there, and this is by no means anywhere close to a comprehensive list.  As is the nature of this blog, I also want to focus on international talent that I find appealing and that maybe a more mainstream domestic audience might not know about yet.  Enough jabbering, though (clap): let's do it!
So last article I mentioned Pink, by writer and artist Kyoko Okazaki; it was a title and artist I was previously unfamiliar with, but after making my way through the absurdly-described, sexually-infused story set during Japan's bubble economy, I am ready to blindly try anything Kyoko Okazaki has written.  Pink's smart, yet breezy approach to storytelling reminded me in some ways of the work of Taiyo Matsumoto, though Pink is reasonably lighter fair than Sunny, or even Black & White.

I read an okay amount of erotica and have even reviewed some on this blog by way of some Dark Horse rereleases of erotic work by Milo Manara, and even some of the work by Vittorio Giardino.  What made Pink so refreshing to me was to finally see (for me, at least) frank eroticism told from the perspective of a woman.  I understand that romance novels exist, and female led erotica is a thing, but in comics, I had yet to encounter much in the department of a woman giving a true female perspective of the form.  Every so often one encounters a female writer or artist on a similar project, but mostly they are paired with a male counterpart who is either leading the story with their own take on the female mindset, or indulging in their own visual fantasies, rendering the piece often times more palatable to a male readership.  With Kyoko Okazaki's work though, it's her writing paired with her drawings (reminiscent of her work as a fashion illustrator) that give me the impression that I'm seeing her own views on beauty, sexuality, and even violence (again, reminding me of Taiyo Matsumoto's personal approach to all of his work).
It seems only fitting, then, that 2012's live action film version of Okazaki's Helter Skelter would be directed by film director and fashion photographer, Mika Ninagawa, who is known for her brilliant use of vibrant colors throughout her work.  Her previous film, Sakuran, was based on the manga of the same name written by fashion writer and mangaka, Moyoko Anno (can I pause for a minute to point out that Moyoko's husband, Hideaki Anno, is responsible for some of my favorite pieces of animation?).  The film even used Ringo Sheena's Heisei Fuzoku album as the film's soundtrack, as Sheena herself served as the film's music director.

It's hard to mention women in Japanese cinema and not talk about Naomi Kawase, whose films are decidedly more acclaimed than those of the aforementioned, Mika Ninagawa.  Though she also started her education with a focus on photography, Naomi Kawase used her interest in autobiography and documentary filmmaking to make a series of short films before completing Embracing, her longest film yet, and a personal journey to find her lost biological father who had abandoned her and her family at a young age.  Her films relate to a very personal, often rural slice of Japanese society, and while Ninagawa's films follow a more mainstream, pop culture formula, that while not bad, are definitely not as focused as Kawase's in terms of execution and polish.  Naomi Kawase also has a good fifteen years of filmmaking experience behind her, coupled with a more classic education in film, so it is no wonder that her films are, well, better.  There, I said it.

While we're on the subject of film, and to bring the focus away from Japan for a moment, let's talk for a second about Claire Denis and her recent film, Bastards, which has been kind of polarizing audiences lately.  A lot of people loved it, some people thought it was hollow, I thought it was pretty good; I don't think I would be chastised for calling it unforgiving and more than a little bleak.  Eeeeeeeither way, Claire Denis is a French film director who has been making films about as long as Naomi Kawase, and like Kawase, her films are very humanistic, and it can be argued that both directors extend their reach no further than the immediate issues relating to their own countries' distinct personalities.  While Naomi's Japan is populated with a rural plight and more singularly focused local outlook, Claire's France extends beyond her borders to Africa, and it can be argued as a product of France's long history of imperialism compared to Japan's resurgence into rural isolationism after World War II; despite a rapidly growing economy decades after the war and a growing Western influence, Japan remains incredibly divided in terms of development, and can be illustrated no better than in Naomi Kawase's own film, Moe No Suzaku (萌の朱雀).  Conversely, Denis' opening salvo, Chocolat, focuses on the much more colonial lifestyle of a French family living in Cameroon.  Both films manage to feel incredibly personal, and both films are able to speak to a larger societal issue in their respective countries.  Even the neo-noir feel of Bastards manages to feel in some way very specific to France, and to the French people.

Speaking of France, I wrote last year about one of my favorite comics I had read in a while.  I am speaking, of course, about Aya Of Yop City, whose writer, Maguerite Abouet, absolutely delighted me in her close-to-home telling of a thriving economic community in 1960s Côte d'Ivoire, but since I have failed to get around to writing about it in an article of it's own, I would instead like to talk about my other favorite read from that year, Miss Don't Touch Me, by French pair Hubert and Kerascoët.  Made up of illustrators Sébastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy, Kerascoët gets their name from the village in Brittany where Marie grew up.  I honestly don't know a lot about Marie Pommepuy other than that she originally studied medical design at L’école Estienne, but the illustration work I've seen from Kerascoët is wonderful, and Miss Don't Touch Me stood out to me as a spectacular piece of graphic storytelling.  I've been looking forward to their next English translated work, Beautiful Darkness, for a while, but it got pushed back to February 2014 from October of this previous year, so hopefully I'll be able to talk about that pretty soon.

While it wasn't my intent to ramble quite so much in this article, the main thing I wanted to talk about was the silly question of female creatives working in a more male populated field.  While one could argue that I could have remained more focused in some areas, I had mentioned here before that I try to remain positive throughout this blog rather than talk about things I don't like, and I feel it to be a more positive idea to talk about some outstanding pieces of work rather than get too far down a hole of cynicism.  I encourage readers, if they haven't yet, to take the time to watch that episode of The Point, and explore the other articles mention here, as well as ones I may have missed.  The first step we can take is to keep an open dialogue between creators and fans, and for all of us to help these communities that we take part in by speaking up when we see this sort of thing happening; sometimes the biggest fault is complacency.

I want to also mention that this short list of creators and works is by no means definitive, nor is its opinions regarding sexuality to be taken as a measure for greatness.  The worth of any creator, female or otherwise, is not reliant on an openness towards sexuality or an aptitude for displaying that in their respective field.  I hope that this article helps to bring to some light both the talents of and issues being dealt with by many women in the arts.  I also understand that I have overlooked quite a few individuals in an attempt to keep the format of this blog at pace, but again, I encourage readers to follow any links on here and spend some time doing what they can to keep their eyes open in their own communities.

1 comment:

  1. Helter Skelter and Sakuran -- two movies I must see soon. Thank you for this post. Moyoco's _Sakuran_ did not strike me as that good of a manga (or even one of her better works). I suppose she has enough cred now to get her works easily adapted to film. What did you think of Sakuran?