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chapter 3 Pain and Pleasure in the Flesh of Machiko Saito’s Experimental Movies Celine Parreñas Shimizu (University of California at Santa Barbara) A photograph lying on the table at a curatorial meeting at the San Francisco Cinematheque features a figure that looks like the human incarnation of a whip—long, lean, and dressed in leather. Stick-like and twisted on a white floor—with the biggest, blackest, and longest hair in the world fanning her spread-eagled body. Who is that? Is it a woman or a man, Asian or Yellowface, or someone in between the established borders of recognizable gendered and racial identities? I search the face for expressions of pain, pleasure, or anything to help me understand the image. I see nothing definitive but something in between, with the long hair and sharp and lean physicality of a dragon lady Fu Manchu. It’s simultaneously racial, genderqueer, and sexual. While she is not easily consumed, I find her nothing short of delightful. The caption names the figure as the filmmaker Machiko Saito in a photo still from her film Premenstrual Spotting (1998). Because the intensely racial and sexual image is self-authored, the image becomes even more intriguing. Are viewers ready to see Asian American women making films that don’t just protest the hypersexualization of Asian American women in Western cinema but engage such images as the filmmaker’s own? Saito seems to use the legibility of the hypersexual Asian woman to articulate a new form of self. If film represents the embodiment of our desires and the power of the imagination to craft new realities, can hers be a world where Asian women can be highly sexual and not self-annihilating but celebratory and real? That is, how do self-authored sexual images present good possibilities for Asian American women within the long-established equation of sexual representation as misrepresentation by others? What’s going on here? Why the trafficking in highly charged sexual and racial meanings in her racialized and gendered authorship? More precisely, how is Machiko Saito using difference—race, gender, and sex—and its visible elements to say something about her vision of self and the world? I T4989.indb 55 T4989.indb 55 2/27/09 6:57:11 AM 2/27/09 6:57:11 AM 56 celine parreñas shimizu needed to get hold of her work urgently, immediately, so I could better understand her mobilization of the power of race, sex, and the moving image. Perhaps the image speaks to me because I’m also an Asian American woman filmmaker obsessed with sexuality—power, pain, and pleasure in its various forms—as feminist practice. In my own short films, I dwell on fucking and other sex acts to illustrate the dynamics of power, desire, and colonial history as they imprint themselves on Asian women. With intense pleasure, I direct a character to offer herself up like dessert in Mahal Means Love and Expensive (1993), name my characters versions of the Tagalog word for vagina in Her Uprooting Plants Her (1995), and shoot numerous vigorous interracial sex scenes in Super Flip (1997). Is my commitment to composing representations of Asian American women’s sexuality and power—and my subsequent enjoyment of these entanglements in Machiko Saito’s films— appropriate and proper to good racial and feminist politics? Meeting Saito in her films, I feel no longer alone; it’s cathartic. Momentous! Does Saito, like me, stand alongside others like Margaret Cho, whose political tactics point to how the inappropriate and improper serve for productive expressions of subjugation and power? My latest video work, The Fact of Asian Women (2002–2004), explores how perverse sexuality unifies the representations of Asian American femme fatales in Hollywood. As I argue in my book, The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene, as well as in my latest video, Anna May Wong’s, Nancy Kwan’s, and Lucy Liu’s repertoire of roles each represent a different mode of perverse sexuality: dragon lady, prostitute with a heart of gold, and dominatrix. The perversity unifying their representations can be interpreted variously as strength, diversity, or pathology and thus can become a politically productive perversity. By examining what my gaffer Serene Fang called “sexual lighting,” what my director of photography Yun Jong Suh described as the looming power of the male gaze in traditional shot compositions, and what my actors Lena Zee, Angelina Cheng, and Kim Jiang...


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