Friday, October 22, 2004

And do they have four seasons there, too?

So goes one of the stereotypical questions that teachers of English get about their hometowns, I've been told. (And the answer is... depends.)

The area where I've been living has been in the direct path of typhoons twice now within one month, to no visible damage. Where are the Army Corps of Engineers to take notes? I ask you!

In ESL instruction parlance, kishotenketsu/kishoutenketsu which describes a certain type of essay construction--or lack of construction, as far as English speakers are concerned. (The definition I link to there seems to be the most accurate: it is sometimes used to refer to a "Rashomon-style".) However, when I questioned my teacher, she told me that 起承転結 was actually a rather specific structure, and that the point introduced in the "ten" (転) section is very important. In other words, it is always connected to the previous points, usually in an opposing way (apparently similar to how in certain style of American composition one's supposed to deal with counterarguments). She did say, however, that perhaps the connection between the points might take a little training to see in some cases.

Incidentally, do people really think that, regarding Rashomon, although "[w]e see the crime repeated 4 times with subtle variations, in the end there is no clear indication of who really is the criminal, the viewer must decide"? I always thought it very clear which version of the story was the most accurate, in the movie's eyes--the last one. The fact that it's presented last, for one! Despite the fact that the witness' character is critiqued. (The short story, incidentally, is a bit different, since it ends on the evidence of the ghost of the murdered man, but I had the same conclusion.)

The way the question is phrased, I don't interpret it as "who holds the real responsibility for this having happened" (although I think that answer, with the moralism in the framing elements, is also fairly clear: society and sad circumstance and coincidence, are the root cause), but "who ultimately stuck the man." And that, I do think is fairly clear from the movie. I'm willing to be an odd person out on this one, but I never really entertained any doubt. (Nor did I doubt that every storyteller in that movie had their own reasons for believing their version was true, but that is yet another question.)


Blogger charlie don't surf said...

If you continue to study kishotenketsu, you will notice more connection between the "looping" points. IMHO, the other versions of the Rashomon story cancel each other out, making it impossible to determine the truth. If you came to the conclusion that the last version of the story was the "correct" one, then you are following Western literary styles, which presents the last point as a conclusion. My own conclusion is, out of all the potential criminals' stories, the correct one is "none of the above."
I only picked Rashomon as an example for my essay because it was so well known. And I've been amazed at other peoples' reactions and interpretations of the film, and my remarks on it, they differ from my own so radically. But this is the nature of art, and of this particular form, you must pick your own interpretation. Perhaps this film/story is a poor example. If I had to pick the best film example of kishotenketsu, it would probably be Oshima's film "Nihon no yoru to kiri" but it is rather obscure (and a terribly difficult film to sit through).

October 22, 2004 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger Houren said...

If you came to the conclusion that the last version of the story was the "correct" one, then you are following Western literary styles, which presents the last point as a conclusion.Ah, that would make sense, since I was raised to Western literary styles. Actually, that reassures me. (The way you presented it in the essay, I could not tell if the deliberate ambiguity was supposed to be the automatic reaction of the typical American or the Japanese audience, and apologize.)

I thought it was a minor point in your post, and was just commenting on my confusion. (It's always sort of startling to find out that your interpretation of a piece is different, although, as you say, that's the nature of art.)

My teacher implied, that it's less that outlining is unknown, but that it simply isn't taught. She showed me some composition guides for native speakers, and some of them did have sections on organization--however, the bulk of the guide was on how to connect one section to another, with certain grammatical expressions. (I'm afraid that I've already begun to forget what she said about composition instruction in school, unfortunately.)

October 22, 2004 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger charlie don't surf said...

Nothing to apologize for there, I'm just clarifying a bit.

You raise an interesting issue. My Japanese Film professor made a startling assertion. He claims that the film Rashomon, upon its introduction in the West, inspired a huge controversy: could these films, using distinctively Japanese literary forms, be fully comprehensible to Western audiences with no knowledge of those forms (i.e. kishotenketsu)? He asserts, from this single question, the entire field of Film Theory was born. The debate continues.

October 23, 2004 at 11:24 AM  
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