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  • The Minority Machine:Alterity and Excess in the Films of Sai Yōichi
  • Nathaniel Heneghan (bio)

The majority of Zainichi Korean filmmaker Sai Yōichi's (b. 1949) cinematic works depict the struggle of individuals who live at the social or geographic margins of Japanese society, with two of his better-known films—All Under the Moon (Tsuki wa dotchi ni dete iru, 1993) and Blood and Bones (Chi to hone, 2004)—being adaptations of Zainichi writer Yang Sŏkil's (b. 1936) novels that foreground members of the Zainichi community.1 I will use this piece, however, to examine two of Sai's more overlooked films, Mosquito on the Tenth Floor (Jikkai no mosukīto, 1983) and Soo (Su, 2007), neither of which features overt depictions of Zainichi characters, but that I read as visually and thematically resonant with experiences of being Korean in Japan.2 This essay engages in an experimental reading of these two films, analyzing Mosquito on the Tenth Floor as a commentary on Zainichi "disrecognition" and Soo as a covert exploration of the doubleness and excess that marks Zainichi alterity through a play on the cinematic strategies of "difference and repetition" as articulated in the writings of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze posits difference and repetition as dynamic theoretical strategies that [End Page 365] exceed the traditional order of representation and are only subordinated to this same order through repression.3

In this analysis, I link alterity and excess—two tropes that have come to describe the Zainichi condition of being both marginalized and unwanted (or "excessive") by the standards of Japanese mainstream society—with Deleuze's concepts of difference and repetition. Much as strategies of difference and repetition are erased or repressed for the preservation of the symbolic order, as described by Deleuze, notions of Koreanness have been subordinated for the maintenance of Japanese national identity rooted in the myth of homogeneity (Nihonjinron). I thus argue that Sai's films employ similar transgressive strategies for the interrogation of minority identity formation as that of avant-garde filmmaker Ōshima Nagisa (1932–2013), under whom Sai worked, while also exceeding this discursive approach by locating the potential for a transnational identity in an originary hybridity that transcends political designations. The term "excess" is also deployed here to connote Kristin Thompson's theory of cinematic excess, which is used to characterize elements of a film that reside outside the coherent unifying forces of narrative.4 The two films discussed here exhibit elements of excess in this sense as well, often in the form of gratuitous violence and incoherent or nonfunctional thematics, which have the effect of challenging conventional modes of cinematic representation.

In addition, I read both Soo and Mosquito on the Tenth Floor as expressions of Zainichi "disrecognition," which John Lie characterizes as the lack of a "complex of attributes—love, right, and esteem—that endow people with a sense of acceptance and acknowledgment"5 and whose internalization is "implicit [End Page 366] in the phenomenon of passing."6 While passing is traditionally understood as "the fact of being accepted, or representing oneself successfully as, a member of a different group" and most commonly refers to "the means by which nonwhite people represent themselves as white,"7 several recent studies have reevaluated passing for its subversive potential, as a process that contests the binarism of the dominant racial discourse by underscoring the "instability and fluidity" of race and thereby revealing the constructedness of racial identity.8

As I observe in my reading of Sai's films, if recuperated in this way, passing functions as an "'actual' mode of political or ideological critique" that attempts to subvert hegemonic racial discourses.9 However, while for nonwhite Americans passing typically constitutes a conscious decision, Lie argues that passing was the default option for Zainichi Koreans, particularly the second generation and beyond, by virtue of the lack of visual distinctions that would mark them as "other."10 Thus, while the sociology of passing can indeed be regarded as somewhat generic regardless of identity, the Zainichi case even further problematizes binary notions of passing by complicating the "politics of visibility" (much as recent discourses of biracial passing seek to do) and foregrounding cultural...