Tag Archives: Japanese

The Demon (1978)

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Hold your children tight. The Demon is pretty much one of the most disturbing movies you can imagine, and it features nary a drop of blood. Even I, a hardcore horror fan and not the greatest lover of children, was unsettled. Pregnant women, mothers, and people who are sensitive to themes of child abuse and infanticide should probably not even consider taking this on. It’s not a great film- it’s veers toward melodrama and is overacted in some places- but it achieves it’s goal- to make you nauseous and to cause you to question the essential goodness of people. Some people should never attempt to be parents, as being a mother or father requires you to care about and install your interest in something other than yourself, a high-wire act some people are apparently not capable of.

Sôkichi (Ken Ogata) is a weak, pathetic excuse for a man and father, a cheating husband to Oume (Shima Iwashita) and a inadequate lover to Kikuyo (Mayumi Ogawa.) He has three adorable children with his mistress, kids who his wife apparently doesn’t know about. There is a confrontation, to which the bawling, terrified youngsters are a witness, and the near-hysterical wife leaves Sôkichi to his lover, who owns a printing shop. The girlfriend begins to beat the children, and worse. Sôkichi turns a blind eye. He is consumed by paranoia, he believes the children are not his. But then what are they? Then the infant (Jun Iichi) ends up dead.

Oume denies all responsibility for the death, but the viewer has their doubts. Oume then grooms Sôkichi to ‘get rid’ of his remaining kids. Things would be so much better, easier, and more financially stable without them. She directs particular loathing on the boy (Hiroki Iwase,) who ‘looks like his mother.’ He’s a ‘bad boy.’ To desperate or too emasculated to argue, Sôkichi sets out to dispose of the children.

You will hate the adults in this movie. They are loathsome, evil, and cruel. A real man wouldn’t allow his woman to brutalize his children, let alone agree to kill them for her. No matter how much Sôkichi displays guilt, crying and sniveling and contemplating his dark and twisty past, I could feel no sympathy for him. I told myself he wouldn’t follow through with it. A father is bound to his children. He can’t just throw them away like garbage. Well let’s just say, withholding spoilers, that I was sadly mistaken.

The children, on the other hand, are just innocent and infinitely forgiving kids just trying to get by. The boy is described as ‘stupid,’ but he proves himself to be a remarkably self-reliant tyke, walking around town doing his own thing at the tender age of six. I was concerned for the youngest actor in this movie, the infant. Babies can’t really ‘act,’ and I was thoroughly disturbed by the scene where Oume forces soft food into the kid’s mouth out of just plain meanness while he screams and struggles, a punishment for him eating off her table. The kids aren’t the greatest actors in the world, especially during the more emotionally tense scenes. Ogata tends to overact. There’s are very little shades of grey to the characters, who range from pure and kind (the children) to sadistic and vile (the mistress) to weak and basically no less repugnant than the main antagonist (Sôkichi himself, a specimen of revolting apathy and the lack of the balls to even stand up for what’s right.)

Yet there’s something about this movie. It plays on your primal fears, the fear of being a truly inadequate parent, the fear of being endangered by someone who claims to love and protect you. It keeps your interest, albeit dishonestly (by continually showing small children in danger or being abused by their caretakers.) It smashes long-standing taboos about the sanctity of a child’s life being preserved onscreen, and appeals to our fundamental motherly instincts- these moppets ought to be loved and protected, and instead they are clenched in the hateful grasp of a twisted couple that doesn’t deserve them.  In this way it is not fair, but effective. In one scene, Sôkichi and Oume heatedly discuss the baby’s death. “You’re secretly glad the little brat’s gone,” Oume insists. They ‘resolve’ it by having abusive, passionless sex. This chilling juxtaposition- a dead, probably murdered child and a couple who think they can distract each other by fucking away the problem- is more disturbing than anything you’re likely to find in the annals of horror.

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The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

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 I have a friend, who shall remain nameless for privacy purposes, who has an adolescent son with Autism. Whenever I saw him, he seemed so consumed in his own mind that I wondered what was going on there. What was he thinking? Since then, the otherwise-nonverbal son has started to express himself through paper and pencil. His mom now knows his inner world, at least, more so than she did before. His writing and spelling skills are virtually perfect, and he has an eidetic memory. He was locked within his mind for so long that one can only imagine the pleasure she gets out of seeing him express his feelings and emotions.

Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida is a brilliant boy with Autism who offers us a rare glimpse into his private world in ‘The Reason I Jump,’ a book of questions and answers about people with Autistic Spectrum with Autism. As someone with (very mild) Asperger’s, I found myself relating to some of Higashida’s prose. My difficulties are not as challenging as someone who is severely on the spectrum (and I shouldn’t pretend like they are,) but I felt a pang of recognition at certain points; for instance, the passage about Higashida’s horrible sense of direction (when left on my own, I will get badly lost even in places I somewhat recognize.)

I found the foreword by writer and David Mitchell somewhat dry, and was offended by his  allegation that people with Autism are unable to understand what you’re saying, which is as detrimental as it is untrue. To be honest, there is an immaturity in some of Naoki Higashida’s writing, which is nearly inevitable considering the writer’s young age. When you compare him to an adult writer, it leaves you wanting a bit more from his writing style. When you match him up against his peers, however, his precociousness is impressive.

Above all, ‘The Reason I Jump’ was very eye-opening and informative. It is an explanation of everything from meltdowns, preoccupation with sameness, to extracurricular interests and the eponymous ‘reason we jump.’ Of course, Higashida’s reasons for classic Autistic behavior can seem a little too pat and cannot apply to everyone with the disorder, but it serves as a pretty good springboard for discussion about Autism and the understanding and treatment of people with disabilities in general.

At the end of the book, I was in for a treat. The final chapter, a short story written by the author titled “I’m Right Here,” showed a maturity and prowess beyond his years. Who says people on the Spectrum can’t be creative? The story, which compares Autism to being a recently dead spirit desperate to communicate with loved ones, is very touching and lovely. The writing is fluid and beautiful, and you cannot help but be moved as the main character faces an agonizing choice.

‘The Reason I Jump’ is utterly original, and will be a lifesaver for people struggling to understand their kids. I think Naoki Hagashida has a great career in front of him as a memoirist, a writer, and an advocate for the Autistic, especially those who can’t speak for themselves He is a boy of uncommon courage and candor, and what is there not to like about that? A powerful, however brief, read.

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