Sunday, October 09, 2011

May December romances and Loving Peter Pan tropes

I saw a japanese drama which annoyed the heck out of me. IIt was about an adulterous relationship between an older woman and a wounded younger man. He was 19 and she was maybe 34. He was very like Ben in my WIP “My Life as an Onion.” . I keep finding Ben all the time.  I think there is a kind of eternal youth that women and girls (and gay guys) like. Maybe this person has always existed or maybe it is what we all wish we were. Don’t know but it’s so common, perhaps more common than the fair young girl trope.

Interestingly most of the people commenting on the site, hated the ending where she returned to her saintly perfect boring husband. A lot of the girls were annoyed because they were tired of older women young men stories. They think such stories are icky and gross apparently. Teenagers are conservative that way. Add that to Asian conservativeness and this is pretty normal. Especially since young girls don’t want to think older women can give boys something they (younger girls) can’t.

But while watching it I realized what the problem was. Although almost EVERYONE who commented hated the ending, they couldn’t really state the reason the way a writer could. They basically said the story’s ending was sucky. But as a writer, I think the problem is that the ending  doesn't ring true. The morality seems tacked on.

I can't say where exactly the story went wrong and what the writers or as actors did or what in all the tons of tropes in the story went off the reality grid

But first here goes:

First, although it was YAMAPI who played the boy and he is one of my favorite Japanese actors, there was no chemistry. Of course, that doesn't say much. There is rarely chemistry in these stories. Especially a story of forbidden love. Because the actors all tend to incorporate the Japanese conservativeness. So either they look like they are being very brave and daring or they look uncomfortable or they look like they don’t believe in what they’re doing or they look distant from the story because they’re fighting humility and shame and propriety (even though they’re actors and should have lost themselves in the characters.) Basically, most Asian actors I’ve seen don't allow their souls to shine out in their stories as much as they should. There seems to be more of a battle (for the Asian actors than the western actors) to find and stay in the character they are playing. As a Christian writer, and a fat black woman writer, I also have the battle of really letting certain stories roam free out of me. I keep falling into self-consciousness and audience-fear/audience awareness. 

Might as well digress here and say that most Asian film main characters tend to be tropes. Recognizable characters, honorable, and by all means normal. When one finds a character who is abnormal, and who is played by a wonderful actor who has freed himself, there is a wonderful greatness in the performance. But that is all very rare.

Anyways, when a Japanese actor has to make his character laugh, it doesn't sound like real laughter. And when they cry there is a feeling that some part of the emotion is being held back. And when the women cry in these movies there is a feeling that they are to be seen as tragic “beauties” who are crying.

So we’re dealing with a culture where people hide themselves and which attempts always to put its best foot forward and to be seen in the best light. So it takes a lot for an actor to really let his/her soul fly free when acting in an unconventional role. We westerners can see this very clearly.

Then there is the basic thematic issue which is that society’s rules must be obeyed. I know Americans had the Hays Code and even now we do flinch if the bad guy gets away (if the bad guy has been too bad. For instance, we don’t mind bad guys getting away in a heist if the bad guy hasn’t shot anyone. We figure the banks are evil and the bad guy needs the money.)

We must also remember that J-dramas are done on TV for a conservative audience. And oftentimes these dramas are changed according to viewer wishes and reactions. So the ending must be approved of. So it’s expected that there will be a traditional moral conservative ending. But when the woman smiles and returns to her husband and leaves the wounded talented young Peter Pan not-quite-dying boy "dancer" who teaches dance scnool and who won the biggest championship in social dancing in England and is kinda gonna live and the woman returns to her flowershop (although she does not have a child and could have left her marriage to her sainly boring husband without too much damage) there was in this case a feeling of utter dissatisfaction.

The ending did not feel real. True, the relationship between her and the boy was weirdly maternal. I could accept that. Love is love and there are weird relationships out there. And Japanese movies have succeeded in portraying them well.

But the sudden moral ending did not work and came as a kind of horrible moral hammer.

I suspect they were saying she can’t find her youth again and I understand that the idea that one finds one's youth again when one finds a young lover…is not a good reason to give up a marriage. But… ah, I wish I could explain why this just didn’t work.

Okay, many of us want our youthful carefree days back. As a culture we like youth. As married women of a certain age we want joy and no responsibilities. But let’s get this straight. People who fall in love younger folks simply because they love youthfulness would probably not have loved a flake when they were young themselves. The question is: Would the flaky youth love boy toy person in this story have been loved by this woman when she was younger?

This is what bothers me about those tropes. I may be sounding vain here, but those who have had sad childhoods and who were flakes would be more likely lovers for these youthful Peter Pans than the saner normal older type who "suddenly" see and regain their youths with these young boys. So this is what bothers me: the normalcy of these people who find love with the abnormal. It just isn't something i can buy. And when the woman returns to her husband, there is the question: Is she returning to her age (because she feels she should)? Or is she going away from her real self? And this is why the ending is so sucky. There is this feeling that she may think she is happy to return to her husband, but the audience feels she might be returning to the hiding of her self, that she might have found her flaky self again (age not important) but now she has left her true self behind.

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