Portrait of the Japanese

July 3, 2009

He’s a man of about forty. Tall with a fairly “Western” face.

The choice of a Western-looking Japanese actor should be interpreted in the following way:

A Japanese actor with pronounced Japanese features might lead people to believe that it is especially because the protagonist is Japanese that the French actress was attached to him. Thus, whether we liked it or not, we’d find ourselves caught again in the trap of “exoticism,” and the involuntary racism inherent to any exoticism.

The spectator should not say: “How attractive Japanese men are,” but “How attractive that man is.”

This is why it is preferable to minimize the difference between the two protagonists. If the audience never forgets that this is the story of a Japanese man and a French woman, the profound implications of the film are lost. If the audience does forget it, these profound implications become apparent.

Monsieur Butterfly is outmoded. So is Mademoiselle de Paris. We should count upon the equalitarian function of the modern world. And even cheat in order to show it. Otherwise, what would be the use of making a Franco-Japanese film? This Franco-Japanese film should never seem Franco-Japanese, but anti-Franco-Japanese. That would be a victory.

His profile might also seem French. A high forehead. A large mouth. Full but hard lips. Nothing affected or fragile about his face. No angle from which his features might seem vague (indecisive).

In short, he is an “international” type. What makes him attractive should be immediately apparent to everyone as being that quality found in men who have reached maturity without succumbing prematurely to fatigue, without having resorted to subterfuge.

He is an engineer. He is involved in politics. Not by chance. The techniques are international. The game of political coordinates is too. He is a modern man, wise in the ways of the world. He would not feel out of place in any country in the world.

He coincides with his age, both physically and morally.

He hasn’t “cheated” with life. He hasn’t had to: he is a man who has always been interested in his own existence, and always sufficiently interested not to “trail in his wake” a nostalgic longing for adolescence, which so often makes men of forty those false young men still looking for what they should really do to appear sure of themselves. If he isn’t sure of himself, it’s for good reason.

He’s not really a dandy, but neither is he careless about his appearance. He is not a libertine. He has a wife he loves, and two children. And yet he likes women. But he’s never made a career as a “ladies’ man.” He believes that that sort of career is a career of contemptible “substitution” and most suspect. That anyone who has never known the love of a single woman has never really known what it is to love, has perhaps never even attained real manhood.

It’s for this very reason that his affair with the young French woman is a real love affair, even though it’s a chance adventure. It’s because he doesn’t believe in the virtue of chance affairs that he can live this one with such sincerity, with such violence.

—from Margeurite Duras’ notes
on her screenplay for
Hiroshima, mon amour
(1959, dir. Alain Resnais),
prior to the shooting of the film

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