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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #541  (Vol. 11, No. 32)  This edition is for the week of August 2--8, 2010.

MOVIE REVIEW
"The Other Guys" †by Mike Smith
RETRORAMA
Happy Together Tour 2010 †by ED Tucker
FANGRRL
Summer Vacation Cinema Therapy:Ten Movies That Make You Happy To Stay Home This Summer †by Lisa Scherer
THE ASIAN APERTURE
Where Are The Victors? †by Jason Fetters
MIKE'S RANT
8/8/2010 - Updated - Patricia Neal Passes Away! .... Question Answered .... Movie Notes .... Q-bert Was Robbed .... Passing On .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Where Are The Victors?


Donald Richieís first published novel called This Scorching Earth, underwent a tile change to Where Are The Victors? and tells the story of the American Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952.

Richie does a great job of mixing pure narrative description of Tokyo with the lives of Americans and Japanese seen through the eyes of the characters, each with his or her own unique personality and perspective. In this way the Occupation becomes alive and real to the reader.

Donald Richie was a typist stationed in Tokyo and later he became a film critic for Pacific Stars and Stripes. During the Occupation, Richie wrote numerous journals entries and this served as the perfect background setting for his first novel. Where Are The Victors? which was written while Richie was living through the Occupation and was completed just a year after the Occupation ended in 1953.

This was a time when Tokyo was in ruins. Burned rotted out buildings stood crumbling, prices were so high that most had to turn to black markets to buy basic goods, and General MacArthur was in charge and was treated like a God by the defeated Japanese.

The main strength in Where Are The Victors? is how each character reacts and thinks about being in Tokyo at this particular time.

The novel starts out with Sonoko the naÔve yet hardworking cleaning lady who idolizes Miss Wilson, who Sonoko cleans for and gives aspirin to for all those weekend morning headaches. Sonoko wants to pay back Miss Wilson for all her kindness by inviting her to her house for a real traditional Japanese party.

Miss Wilson is Gloria Wilson who is a secretary for the Special Services and spends her Weekends pursuing various American men and over indulging in the usual all night drinking and bed hopping that goes on.

Gloria is very typical of many first timers to Japan. She is from a boring midwestern city that has the small town vibe. Everyone knows everyone and attends Church each Sunday. If you step out of line, the awful gossip would start up to put you in your place. Gloria escapes all this and somehow joins the military and is in Japan where the old rules no longer apply. Here in Tokyo there is no one you grew up with who will gossip about you, so you can finally be free to indulge in all that was previously forbidden. It is this mindset that has kept so many foreigners in Japan.

My favorite type, and the one that I was most like while living in Osaka, is Private Michael Richardson. The young man filled with ideals as he enthusiastically pursues studying Japanese and gets involved with Japanese culture such as Ikebana, flowering arranging and where he met the beautiful and mysterious Haruko. Richardson no longer desires other American women stationed in Tokyo because they are so easy to understand and there is no great mystery to solve. He could have someone like Gloria, who went from bed to bed, with no problem at all. However, he could not have Haruko so easily and that is what keeps him so intrigued with her. It is this desire to encounter someone so alien and different and be forced to use all your resources to understand her, in order to be accepted, and most importantly, loved that compels you to keep trying. Richardson first became infatuated with Haruko and then fell in love. This is interesting because so many G.I.s would simply pick up a prostitute or find a Japanese lady for the evening and then move on to someone else the next night.

Then there were the upper level servicemen who had wives and would have affairs with other American women on the side. These upper servicemen, best represented by Major Calloway, looked down on the Japanese and wanted to force democracy down their throats. They ignored all the beautiful culture surrounding them and tried to turn Tokyo into another Houston, Chicago, or New York City and thus missed the point.

Other interesting characters are the husband and wife team, the Swensons who both write for the Tribune. Mr. Swenson is the self proclaimed Japanese expert who can be boring at parties with a glass of red wine in one hand and his mouth opened to start yet another academic rant about Japan and the Japanese. To which the other partygoers try to inject opinions to steer him away and argue back. Mrs. Swenson writes an advice column and backs up her husbandís arguments at parties. For all their efforts, the Swensons represent all the foreign academic and scholar types who go to Japan with heads filled with book knowledge and somehow missed the point when observing real Japanese life and behavior patterns. It will take years living in Japan and an intimate relationship with a Japanese family to fully understand Japan and even then does anyone non-Japanese ever understand? Not everything.

There are also the ones like Lady Briton who go to Japan to help stop animal cruelty. Once in Tokyo, Lady Briton, a wealthy Australian with a powerful husband, sets up shop to help out the animals. When Lady Briton spots a young Japanese beating a horse, she jumps out of her limousine and shouts at the confused man in English to stop it. Naturally the man does not understand and continues to which Lady Briton takes the stick from him and breaks it in half. Lady Briton is like all those who go to Japan and try to force Western values on the natives in a similar way to Major Calloway. However, unlike Calloway, Lady Briton has a greater advantage due to wealth and power.

As the Occupation is nearing its end, there is not much to do for the victorious military except to hang out at the American Club and drink. Some have a longing to return home to see loved ones and get back into American life. Others want to stay and find out what Japan has to offer.

All of the characters are types that anyone who has spent time in Japan will instantly recognize. Each character is in his or her own stage of culture shock and disillusionment of the Japanese. Where Are The Victors? should be essential reading for anyone making the trip to Japan. Hard lessons that are learned by being there can be read and thought about before going through the same experiences, however painful, only to come up with the same conclusions.

Throughout the novel, Richie does an excellent job of leaving plot points unresolved. Everything is neatly tied up at the end and it is only on the last page that all the events come together and understanding is reached.

Although out of print for years, Where Are The Victors? is easy to find at online used bookstores. The novel offers a humorous and engaging snapshot at real lives during the Occupation and is an entertaining novel that provides a way to relive that time and place in a way that no boring dry history book could ever accomplish. The book has a strong narrative drive with richly-crafted characters who live on in the imagination long after the last page has been read.



To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.