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3 entries from October 2006

A great big hunky gay joke terrorises Japan

Some time ago, a blogger named Dagon and I stumbled onto each other, cyberspatially speaking. He'd written a thoughtful post about the Japanese comedy sensation, Razor Ramon HG, better known as Hard Gay. The schtick goes something like this.

"Dressing in a tight black leather outfit reminiscent of the stylings of the Village People, he goes around performing acts of charity (yonaoshi, or “social improvement”) for unsuspecting bystanders while performing trademark pelvic thrusts and vocalisations, often accompanied by Livin' La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin."

That comes from the Wikipedia article on Masaaki Sumitami (note the spelling, you Wiki-writers), Ramon's real-life alter-ego.

The ego is definitely an alternative one. Sumitami is straight and married to actress-stroke-swimsuit model Anna Suzuki, who starred in some popular web-cast films we produced for a client while I was working in Tokyo. Sumitami, himself, was born not far from where Master Right grew up in Kobe. The world is a village, no?

Watching the videos, Dagon was amazed that Sumitami could get away with such sexual suggestiveness in the street with strangers, including kids in the playground. The following clip is classic Hard Gay: performing courtesies, playing with kids, embarassing adults, and the running gag about him being able to read with his dick.




In fact, kids are his biggest fans: Hard Gay is loud, rude, naughty and physical. Everything you are taught NOT to become as you make your way through Japan's stifling school system. He once filmed a segment at the headquarters of TOMY--best known for putting a plastic Thomas the Tank Engine into your infant son's hands. In response, their designers created a Hard Gay version of the famous Kiki Ippatsu children's toy (see below).

Humourless gay activists (Japan has them, too) condemned Sumitami for all kinds of perverse reasons.
  • He makes fun of gay people--yet they seem not to complain about the many effeminate drag queens who milk yuks from TV audiences across Japan.

  • He's not gay so he shouldn't profit from pretending to be something he's not--neither should any actor of any kind, I guess.

  • The Kiki Ippatsu toy advocates violence against gays. Huh?

  • Master Right hates him. My beloved is such a snob!
Why are they so sensitive? The humour of the Hard Gay character isn't about sex--god knows there are enough sexual weirdnesses in Japan for a leather daddy doing pelvic thrusts in public to be positively ho-hum. In a culture known for unisex mixed public bathing, your private parts really aren't all that private. Sex in marriage, the old Japanese saying goes, is half-business.
No, the humour is about something far more important; it's about etiquette.

He goes around helping people; kindness and co-operation are the bedrock on which Japanese society is built, so there's no faulting him on that score. But he's loud, draws attention to himself, and reveals something personal, such as his tastes in the bedroom.

Everyone feels uncomfortable, because they're taught that drawing attention to yourself is selfish. An unresolvable, embarassing dilemma for the people he accosts. They can't fault him on his manners, so they have to react back. You'll see them being polite, but incredibly uncomfortable.

Here's some (by the sound of it, American) comics trying to give the Hard Gay treatment to Londoners--mainly expat Japanese Londoners, it seems. They just don't get it.




Almost rubbing elbows with the famous.

Arizaphale writes that she sees no need to make a return visit to New York, since almost very other movie at your local multiplex brings New York to her.

It turns out that my neighbourhood (Turtle Bay in Manhattan, tucked between Grand Central and the UN) plays a key role in this celluloid hegemony. The streets are a mixture of brownstones and modern skyscrapers, which looks very New Yorkish without being identifiable as any place in particular. That means in addition to garbage trucks, ambulances, fire engines and random violence keeping me awake, we often hear film crews clanging about at dawn and dusk, waiting to shout action when the light is just so. A veritable Hollywood East.

The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting makes sure that New York remains etched in people's heads. The best tourism advertising money can buy.


We often see these officious yellow posters on the street, reserving vast tracts of east 40's kerb space for the fleet of trucks which location shooting requires. So do we Turtle Bayers run into stars on the street? Do we get a sneak preview?

Portable dressing rooms.

Tha answer is no. They're pretty coy about what they're up to, these film people. You can guarantee, for example, that the movie to which the yellow poster above refers, almost certainly will not be called I Think I Love My Wife. That's just a ruse*. Especially since one of the props was a futuristic motorcycle which looked more at home in a post-industrial apocalyptic sci-fi blockbuster than a light romantic comedy.

Star-spotting is pretty, well, spotty. I saw Luke Wilson shooting a dog-walking scene in front of a Starbucks in Sutton Place. That's about it.

The good folk of Turtle Bay are too cool to be impressed by celebrity, anyhow. If they want to spot the rich and famous, many need only look in a mirror. Walter Cronkite lives in a building on UN Plaza; Johnny Carson and Truman Capote were neighbours. The Turtle Bay Association celebrates the birthday of late, long-time resident Katharine Hepburn every February. The east 40s ere always popular with literary types--Alexander Woollcott, John Steinbeck, and even Poe in his day.

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut is said to live** in the neighbourhood. I saw an elderly gentleman who resembled his book-jacket photo the other day on Second Avenue. I was tempted to collar him and ask, "Is Kilgore Trout really just Phillip K. Dick writing under a nom de plume?"

Of course, that's one of the nice things about living in New York (Shock! The Honurable Husband has found something he LIKES about living in New York.) The rich and famous rub shoulders with the humble and ordinary. They just don't talk very much.

*Update: I'm wrong. Chris Rock directs.
**Update: Sadly, Kurt Vonnegut passed away in early 2007. The Turtle Bay resident's association posted a short memorial on the neighbourhood notice board.


These little town blues...

When my employers sent me to New York, they hired an estate agent to find me an apartment. She was a woman in her thirties, the daughter of an expat Hong Kong family who were unwilling to take a chance on the place after 1997. They longed to breathe the pure air of freedom, the freest of which fills our lungs in the USA. By the looks of it, she used this hard-won freedom to shop rather a lot.

"How about New Jersey?" I asked. "I understand there are some new developments on the shore of the Hudson, that give you a great view of Manhattan. And it's only a few minutes to midtown on the ferry. "

"I beg your pardon?" she interrupted as her brow knitted into a tight V. "New Jersey?"

"Well, it seems cheaper. And rather nice."

"Hull-lo. This is New York. Cheap and nice don't live in the same sentence."

"But, I was looking on the internet and..."

Her pupils shrunk to tiny pinpricks of rage. "You are speaking to one of the most successful real estate brokers in Mahattan. But if you prefer craigslist, be my guest."

I thought it best to return to the subject. "Well, I don't really need to be that close to the action. My idea of a good evening is to close the door, put on some jazz, pour a glass of wine, and curl up with a good book. Where's the best place to do that in New York?"

"The best place in New York to find that kind of stuff is Florida." she harrumphed. "This city is all about feeling the energy. It hums like a dynamo. It spins like a top. It screams like a Siren. Seeing, beeing seen, and seeing who's seeing you. Don't you want to wake up in a city that doesn't sleep?"

I started to resent this little lecture. "Look, I've just come from Tokyo. Don't talk to me about the-city-that-doesn't-sleep. I want to sleep."

"So, you don't need the services of one of the most successful real estate brokers in Manhattan, because you don't actually want to live here. All you want to do is sleep here. Perhaps you should phone a Motel 6? You'll find plenty of them in..." She drew herself up to her full height, and spat the words at me with contempt, "...New Jersey!"

"Well, what can you show me in New Jersey, then?"

"You don't get it. I'm strictly Chelsea-side-of-the-Holland." She made a little gesture in the direction of the door. "I'll send your company a bill for my time."

The next day, I got a call from HR. "You have offended one of the most successful real estate brokers in Manhattan. But she'll give you one more chance." Thus, I came to live in the least baroque of the many vulgar, Trumpy places she showed me. It's only a block from the office, and as the lady from HR pointed out, "You can afford it if you live carefully."

Alas, it's not the pulsing throng of human dynamos that makes New York the city that doesn't sleep. New York is the garbage truck capital of the world. And funny, no matter how any times a New York driver has to pass a garbage truck, he always finds a reason to blow his horn.