Monday, October 24, 2016

What Movie Caricatures Say About South Korea & Christianity

When I was young my dad was enthusiastic for Japanese movies, an enthusiasm which I inherited. I think it would be accurate to say that the most respected actor in our house during my teenage years was Toshiro Mifune. To this day I have a fondness for the aesthetic of Japanese movies, regardless of their pretensions; I enjoy the cotton candy films as much as the filet mignon flicks.

One of the most impressive things about Japanese movies is their utter heathenism. They are cleanly and stoically pagan. One of the most memorable movie scenes of my teenage years, and jarring to this day when I watch it, is the scene in Kurosawa's medievally-set Kagemusha in which Roman Catholic priests are seen. The world in Japanese films is utterly heathen, and anything that breaks that spell is noticeable.

Japan has between one and two million Christians. That's 1% of the population.

In 1950 South Korea was already an amazing 5% Christian according to censuses. Today, even more amazingly, it is 30% Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic). And the fastest-declining "religion" there is not Buddhism. It's people who respond "no religion". In the 70s that was 57%, well over half the country. Today that number sits at 47%, and should continue to trend down, although not as precipitously.

Only 23% of South Koreans are Buddhists. Christianity is the largest religion in South Korea. Since half of South Koreans claim to have no faith at all, Christian churches and Christian faith and culture by no means dominate the nation. Nonetheless, a third of the nation becoming Christian over a fifty-year period can't help but have an impact.

One of the places you see this is in Korean films. It's normal behavior in movies to be seen praying, or for women to wear little gold crosses, like many American women do. What's most amazing about this is that it's simply a part of the background, of the fabric of life as portrayed in secular South Korean films. When I noticed this I was impressed by this evidence of how truly pervasive Christianity has become in South Korea. One hears stories, reads articles, etc., but seeing Christianity casually and naturally portrayed on screen in an Eastern setting is jarring.

Actually, it would be jarring on Western screens too.

Anyone familiar with South Korean art and pop culture will know that I'm not saying that South Korean art is Christian or God-honoring, but that when it portrays South Korean people it has to portray lots of Christians and Christianity.

So, like I said, I've been impressed by this. But last week, while watching a Japanese show on Netflix, I was really struck by the profundity of the change that must have come over South Korea in this historical blink of an eye. The show is Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. It's a sort of floating sequel to previous Japanese seasons of Midnight Diner (which I haven't seen), and a movie of the same name (which I have). It's reminiscent of movies like The Ramen Girl or Tampopo, all about lonely people connecting over food (I like modern Japanese movies because they're all lonely). If you love Waffle House or late night diners, you'll dig this. Each episode is a vignette with a resolution, which makes for pleasant, relaxed viewing.

The show is full of the usual Japanese tropes, Mysterious Master, Wise Clown Transvestite, Restless Ghost, Buxom Ingenue, and Porn Addict. But the caricature used in portraying one particular character, a South Korean escort who wants to return to her family in Korea, I found absolutely fascinating.

Since the show works in distinct vignettes, the feature characters of each episode have to be sketched out using symbols, so we can get to know them more quickly. The regulars we know, but the episodes are never about the regulars.

Apparently, when the Japanese writers of the show got together and said, "Let's have a young lower-middle-class South Korean woman in the next episode", they thought that making her a Christian would communicate Koreanness.

So not only do South Koreans portray themselves wearing crosses and praying, but foreigners portray them wearing crosses and praying.

This is the sort of thing that makes me believe that the Gospel will triumph.

The Japanese man is praying with Buddhist beads, the Korean woman with
Roman Catholic. They're burying her pet fish.

A King-James-Only Parable

The Master went into a town which was near unto a Bible college.

And early in the morning he came again into a coffee shop whilst wearing a clerical collar, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

And the scribes and Fundamentalists brought unto him a Bible translated in the 20th century; and when they had set it in the midst,

They say unto him, Master, this Bible was seen being translated from The Critical Text, in the very act.

Now Peter Ruckman's law commanded us, that such should be burned: but what sayest thou?

This they said, trying him, that they might get him to condemn the KJV as out-of-date and irrelevant and have with which to accuse him. But the Master openeth the Splenda packets upon the table, as though he heard them not.

So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself up, and in the dust of the Splenda were arranged the words of the tenor's first part in Handel's Messiah. And he sayeth unto them, He that hath actually listened to Handel's Messiah may have an opinion about the KJV, and unto him I will hearken and actually debate.

And again he sat down, and sipped his coffee.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own hatred of beauty, went back one by one to their Bible college, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and the Master was left alone, and the modern Bible left on the table.

And the Master openeth his backpack and pulleth out his KJV, which is his favorite translation, and resumeth his reading.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Poem: Curse of Womb

Curse of Womb
Hosea 9

Our friends' necks
Are outstretched,
Our neighbors
Plot against us.
They have served
Their belly-
God of fire,
Coming down
From killing
Their babies.
They tip off
Kindly seize
Our children.
Where is he.
Thunder is
His voice but
Where is he?
Of horses.

Their dust shall
Cover us.
Our walls shake
At the noise
Of horsemen,
Of chariots.
I make thee
He said that.
Is smitten,
From the birth,
From the womb,
Even from
Like a bird
Our glory
Flies away.

To Baal-Peor
Wanton rites,
To Moloch.
We bring up
Our children,
But it's he
Bereaves us.

We bring forth
Our children,
Planted in
Pleasant place,
To murders.
Give us, Lord.
What wilst give?
Womb, dry breasts.
Root's dried up,
Bear not fruit.
We bring forth,
He will slay.
Even fruit,
Fruit of womb.

Kindly seize
Our children,
Voice is heard
In Ramah,
Belly god
Consumes them
Because us,
Because we
Climbed the heights,
Sacred trees,
And played whore.

Our friends' necks
Plot against us.
We shall be
Among them
The nations
Till he save
Till he save
Till he save
And saves us.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Byzantine England? Yes, Please. Also, Bows & Arrows


Byzantine Anglo-Saxon England? Maybe. Let's imagine it for just a second... Britain, the Byzantine Empire, and the concept of an Anglo-Saxon 'Heptarchy': Harun ibn Yahya's ninth-century Arabic description of Britain.

Also, apropos of nothing, did you know that when Sir Francis Drake raided the Spanish colonial town of Nombre de Dios, some of his men were armed with bows and used them? Yes, dude. Yes. Drake planned on having his men use them before he left England, ordering "fine, roving shafts, very carefully reserved for the service".

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Best Kind of Pipe For Your Walk to Work

Lunting is one thing, walking to and from work with a pipe clenched between your teeth is another. You got places to go and people to see, and your pipe should expedite that process...