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September 9, 2005

Kamikaze Girls and The Minnie Mouse Syndrome

I had originally planned to talk about Kamikaze Girls in my summary of my trip to Fantasia in Montreal, but I got sick of talking about it, and I figured the movie would never make it to US theatres anyway. But apparently, it's opening this weekend in Manhattan, so I'm giving it a shout out.

First off, I don't like Asian cinema. At all. Kurosawa's good, I kind of like Miyazaki sometimes, and there are a few Jackie Chan pictures that I can sit through, but for the most part, I find their sense of narrative lacking, their sense of reality strange, and their sense of humor, well, bad. I realize that's a pretty sweeping generalization. But damn, I've seen a lot of Asian cinema that I don't like. From 2046 to House of Flying Daggers to Returner to the anime they have late at night on Adult Swim that merrily swings from comedy that doesn't make sense to tentacle rape porn. I'm sure there's a lot of good Asian cinema out there, but I'm set in my Western ways, and it's too much trouble sifting through the bad stuff to get to the good.

So going into Kamikaze Girls, you can imagine I wasn't that excited. There were two theatres at the festival, I guess the other theatre was playing something I thought would be worse. But much to my surprise, I actually liked the movie. I actually laughed. And not at how bad it was either, the movie was making me laugh on purpose. What was with this movie?

Let me digress for a moment. I've noticed over the years that there aren't a lot of female movie buffs. Sure, there are girls who like movies, but you don't run into a lot who are really buffs. Why? Probably a lot of reasons. But the big one, I think, is that female characters in movies are always terrible. Really, really terrible. Bland, forgettable plot devices. There are exceptions, of course. Ripley from the Alien movies for one (who was originally written as a man, incidentally), and you know, probably a couple others I can't think of right now. But what do all the bad ones have in common? I'm glad you asked. I even came up with a name for it - The Minnie Mouse Syndrome.

If you watch pretty much any cartoon with Minnie Mouse in it, you'll notice that Minnie pretty much has nothing going on in her life except for Mickey. She doesn't seem to have a job or any hobbies, or any defining personality trait other than the fact that she likes Mickey. Take off her bow and put her in a pair of red pants, and you probably couldn't tell the difference between her and her beau. Everything about her is defined by her relationship with a man. That pretty much sums up 99% of female characters in film history.

And let's get something straight, I don't have some feminist agenda here. Far from it. I've been called "a chauvinist in loafers" and been told I have the sexual politics of a fourth grader. I just don't like boring characters in movies.

The worst example of this that I can think of is the recent British caper movie, Layer Cake. There is only one female character in the whole movie. I don't remember if she was ever given a name, but my friends and I nicknamed her "The Slut" for reasons I'll make clear in a moment. Here is everything she does in the movie: She meets the main character and makes eyes at him. She dances by herself, still staring at him, while a male character, who I think is her boyfriend, spouts some exposition. Later, she calls up the main character and claims to rub the phone on her "fanny" (she's British, keep in mind), and then shows up at his house in a sexy outfit, only to quickly change out of it into some lingerie. At this point, she says something to further the plot along. She doesn't show up again until the end, when she and the main character walk down some stairs together and the guy gets shot. I've seen movies with inanimate objects that were better characters.

Even movies that claim to have some sort of, I don't know, girl power still suffer from the Syndrome. Thelma and Louise, sure, they're taking it to the man, but that's pretty much all they're doing. They're still defined by their relationships with them, even if they're rebelling against them. V.I. Warshawski? Same. Instead of men are all mean, it's men are all stupid, and you just need to show them a little leg to get your way.

That's why Kamikaze Girls is the jam. It's just about the relationship between these two girls. I will admit that one of them is a bizarre caricature of femininity, with her fainting and frilly dresses, but she's doing that stuff purely because that's who she is, not because she has any interest in any of the male characters in the movie. A romantic interest for the other girl shows up eventually, but he doesn't slow things down, and is basically about as fleshed out and important a character as a woman would be in any other movie. So anyway, go see it.

Oh, you know what else, today I saw a fat Hispanic guy walking around in a Minnie Mouse t-shirt. He may be the toughest man I've ever seen.

Posted by Will at September 9, 2005 2:07 PM