Meet Mr. Full Moon, Tokyo’s Civil Superhero

While many of my readers come here to read my opinions on things like art, architecture, the Church, society, and so on, I’m also aware that some of my most popular posts in terms of statistics are actually ones touching on the world of superheroes.  To that end, and since Fridays no one really wants to be reading the kind of involved essays I typically write, for the next few weeks I’m going to try making Fridays a superhero-themed blog day, and see what the reaction is. I haven’t thought of a clever title for this feature, so if you want to suggest one, please drop me a line using the “Contact” tab above.

Today I thought I’d highlight a real-life superhero on the streets of Tokyo.  Mangetsu-man is not a figure known to most of my readers outside of Japan, I expect.  However, when I read this story I thought, “Now that’s really what being a superhero is all about.”

Mangestu-man (“Mr. Full Moon”) has become a well-known figure on the streets of the Japanese capital over the past year, with his purple cape and giant. tennis ball-like head.  He spends most of his time tidying up litter, and encouraging the citizens of his fair city to be civil and clean.  Frankly, many Western cities have become so filthy and uncivil that they could do with an army of Mr. Full Moons.

In keeping his city clean, Mangetsu-man’s particular area of interest is the Nihonbashi Bridge.  This is partially because he is trying to draw attention to efforts for its restoration and rehabilitation.  In the 1960’s, Tokyo rather stupidly built a freeway over the most beautiful old bridge in the city.  In doing so, the authorities not only created a blighted area under the freeway, which is covered in the trash discarded by passing motorists above, but they also obscured the views of Japan’s beloved Mount Fuji.

As someone who appreciates civility, architectural restoration, and superheroes, clearly I have a warm spot in my heart for Mangestu-man.  If you can read Japanese, his Twitter account may be found here.  Keep up the good work, Mr. Full Moon!

Mangetsu-man setting a good example for a young citizen of Tokyo

Mangetsu-man setting a good example for a young citizen of Tokyo

 

>Some Lenten Friday Morsels

>Some items for you to chew on, gentle reader:

– Like the rest of the world I am following the news out of Japan and the Pacific Rim, and am hoping to have news from family and friends in Tokyo and elsewhere at some point telling us they are okay. Today would be a good time to ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Akita, whose shrine is about 100 miles from the epicenter of today’s earthquake. In 1988 then-Cardinal Ratzinger approved the apparitions at Akita.

– Have you bought your ticket to the Dominican House of Studies’ Spring Gala yet? It is coming up on March 26th, and I hope to see you there. After considering some of the very nice items up for silent auction, you may want to try some of the friars’ homemade brew.

– Congratulations to my esteemed friend Jonathan Montagu over at Nimbus Discovery, a biotech startup, which just announced that Bill Gates is going to provide their fledgling company with seed money. Makes all that shuttling back and forth from Soho to Cambridge the more worth it, doesn’t it, old bean?

– My deeply-held suspicions on Colonel Gadaffi’s use of botox were apparently confirmed by Wikileaks – admittedly not my favorite organization – earlier this year, a revelation which I missed at the time. I knew it. Apparently the dainty colonel also has his medical procedures videotaped and reviewed later by independent doctors, presumably so that if the treating doctor did something wrong he can have the fellow arrested, beaten, and have his wrists broken during a mock execution.

– Long-overdue repair and restoration work is underway on O and P Streets in Georgetown, which are still cobblestoned and have old trolley tracks in bad repair running down them. Toward the end of this article by Constance Chatfield-Taylor in The Georgetown Dish which gives an overview of some of the issues facing the project is the very interesting fact that there will be archaeologists on site in case anything noteworthy is discovered. As Georgetown approaches its 300th birthday, one wonders what they might find?

– I was intrigued to learn recently that in the comic book world, Superman had stopped wearing his familiar red, blue, and yellow suit in favor of a black and silver one. Given the views of this blog’s patron, Count Castiglione, on the virtues of wearing a palette such as black and silver over garish colors, I wondered whether the Man of Steel had been reading The Book of the Courtier recently. As I was reminded last evening in conversation with a friend who is a fellow sci-fi fan however, Marlon Brando (aka Superman’s father) wears black and silver on the Planet Krypton.

– On this day in 1513, Giovanni de Medici was proclaimed Pope, and took the name Leo X. Like most of the Renaissance popes, he was not a very saintly man; his most famous quote, allegedly said to his brother Giuliano, was: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it.” Under his watch the Reformation ignited under Martin Luther, and we all know what happened subsequently. Being a Medici of course, Leo had superb taste, and commissioned beautiful art, including pushing forward the decoration of the famous Raphael Stanze that had begun under his predecessor Pope Julius II, and commissioning the legendary Raphael Tapestries made for the Sistine Chapel.

Cartoon for “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” Tapestry by Raphael (1515)
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

>Review: Bushi no ichibun

>”Bushi no ichibun”, which translates as “Warrior’s Honor” but in the U.S. is entitled “Love and Honor”, is a 2006 Japanese film by director Yoji Yamada. It completes his “Samurai Trilogy” begun in 2004 with “Tasogare Seibei” (known as “The Twilight Samurai” in this country), and which continued with 2005’s “Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume”, released in the U.S. as “The Hidden Blade”. The latter film I had written about highly favorably in a previous post.

The movie is centered around the married life of a young samurai warrior named Shinnojo and his wife Kayo. Shinnojo’s job, in a decadent Japan as it existed prior to the advent of industrialization, is to serve as an official food taster to the local shogun. He and several other samurai head up to the castle every day, and sit in a dark room off of the kitchens, where they are brought samples of the food intended to be served to the warlord. If they eat the food and suffer no ill effects from poisoning, the meal can then be served to their master.

Shinnojo has grown tired of this lowly courtier position, and wants to open a sword-fighting academy for the boys of the town. Like most young men Shinnojo longs to make a name for himself in the world and see some action. He has a comfortable, quiet life with plenty to eat, extended family and friends for society, a dutiful servant, a charming cottage with beautiful gardens, and an even more charming and beautiful wife. Yet despite all of these apparent advantages, Shinnojo feels as though he is wasting his vital years performing a meaningless role; the elderly shogun never even sees him or the other samurai who make sure the warlord is not in danger.

One day Shinnojo heads up to the castle as usual, and after tasting some out-of-season shellfish sashimi, becomes violently ill with a high fever, and lapses into a coma. He has saved the shogun from accidental food poisoning, but at great cost to himself. After several days, he awakens from the coma only to find that he has been left permanently blinded. His days as a warrior are, apparently over.

Kato proves to be highly resourceful in trying to help her beloved husband. She naturally solicits the assistance of his family, who prove to be less than helpful and somewhat resentful of the burden that she and Shinnojo have laid at their feet due to his disability. A chance meeting with an important samurai from the shogun’s castle opens up the possibility of assistance to the young couple, but it proves to be something of a Devil’s bargain. How the plot develops from this point I will leave to my readers to discover.

Like “The Hidden Blade”, “Love and Honor” is not really about martial arts. Yes, Yamada gives us a showdown fight scene, but this is not the heart nor the real climax of the film, as it (arguably) is in other martial arts films such as American director Quentin Tarantino’s epic “Kill Bill”, or Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”. Rather, Yamada is very much interested in the interior life of the married couple, and how this tragedy impacts their relationship.

There are several scenes in the film between husband and wife that are so poignant, so beautifully and sensitively written and acted, that the hardest heart of stone would be hard-pressed to keep from weeping. As I speak virtually no Japanese, and had to watch the film with the use of subtitles, I can only imagine that the original text of the script is even more moving than the words which appeared at the bottom of the screen. Despite the strictures of the Edo society which Yamada is portraying on film, he manages to allow these characters, even when restrained by the conventions of their day, to express emotions which are timeless – feelings of helplessness, betrayal, compassion, anger, and above all, self-sacrificial love.

At the same time, Yamada does not skimp on beautiful, naturalistic detail. This is not a film of sweeping scope, with vast plains of warriors, crashing waves, and towering mountain vistas. It is a piece where the camera lingers over the seasons of the natural world and the tasks of daily life on a small scale, just enough to impart a real sense of place, but also to provide the director with an opportunity to link together nature with human emotion.

In one sequence for example, the blinded Shinnojo is sitting one evening by an open door which gives out onto the garden of the cottage. He asks Kato whether it is firefly season yet; she replies that it is, but that the fireflies have not yet emerged. He does not and of course cannot know that flickering all around him are the slow, chartreuse lights of the happy insects, and she deliberately spares his feelings by lying to him about their appearance.

The relationship of Shinnojo and Kato as it develops on screen is one marked by opposing forces, and a remarkable example of – dare I say it – Christian moral teaching. These are most definitely not Christians: they are Shintoists, and several important scenes take place at the local Shinto shrine. However there are just as definitely some interesting parallels to Christian moral teaching in the film. It is interesting that Yamada deliberately prevents either Shinnojo or Kato from killing themselves, as would have been understandable in the Japan of their day, and indeed as is the fate of several characters in the film.

As the characters move through the storyline, there is something very Christian about the development of their relationship. From a sense of taking each other for granted, to anger, sadness, and loss, to lying and concealing the truth, they take a downward spiral which is ultimately redeemed by a combination of selfless love, contrition, and forgiveness for what they have done. Even if you are not a fan of martial arts this film, which is by no means excessively gory or bloody, rises above the genre and provides a very compelling and touching story worthy of your consideration.