Burakumin - Depiction in Film and Literature

Depiction in Film and Literature

In High and Low (Japanese title 天国と地獄 Tengoku to jigoku, literally "Heaven and Hell"), a movie adapted in 1963 from Ed McBain's King's Ransom, Akira Kurosawa made a political statement by having the main character work as a shoe industry executive who rose from humble origins as a simple leather worker, clearly implying (to Japanese audiences) his burakumin status.

The plight of the burakumin has also been presented in Hashi no nai kawa (橋のない川 "The River With No Bridge") a novel by Sue Sumii (住井すゑ), which received several film adaptations, in 1969, 1970 and 1992. The title refers to the fact that areas in which burakumin lived were often separated by a river, but bridges to cross were rarely constructed.

In the 1975 novel Shōgun by James Clavell, the crew of a European ship is housed in an eta village because of their uncleanliness and bad manners. The pilot of the ship, after being educated in the ways of the Japanese, comes to detest them as well.

Author Lian Hearn depicts a fictional feudal country highly similar to that of Japan's own history in the three-book series Tales of the Otori (2003–2004). The series depicts a caste system wherein "untouchables" live outside of mainstream society. The protagonist develops a friendship with one such outcast, a tanner who lives and works with other tanners in riverside settlements.

In Laura Joh Rowland's 'Sano Ichiro' series, burakumin (naturally still referred to by the Feudal name 'eta') appear regularly. Sometimes they are criminals, and other times merely unseen witnesses. In The Concubine's Tattoo, Sano speaks with the chief of a small burakumin community named Danzaemon and notes that the man has a regal bearing about him despite his status. He even thinks to himself, "But for the misfortune of his birth, what a fine daimyo he might have made! It was a blasphemous thought, but Sano could more easily imagine Danzaemon commanding an army than Tokugawa Tsunayoshi."

In the book Rising Sun, Michael Crichton depicts a character (Theresa Asakuma) who is a burakumin descendant. Along the storyline, bits and pieces of history of this people are described to the reader.

In Cloud of Sparrows, by the Japanese-American writer, Takashi Matsuoka, and later in its sequel The Autumn Bridge, burakumin are often mentioned by the old name 'eta'. They are described as filthy beggars, more animal than human, and their life has no apparent value to the samurai, a fact that baffles the Christian missionaries visiting Japan in the novels.

The award winning 2008 Japanese movie Okuribito (Departures), features the main character Daigo who becomes a professional embalmer, a line of work long reviled in Japanese culture for its association with the dead. It isn't explicitly mentioned, but a Japanese audience would recognise it as a job for burakumin. Despite Daigo having no mentioned ancestral background, the film portrays a sense of strong lingering discrimination for the work. As such he tries to hide his new profession from everyone, including his wife, who actually leaves him when she learns the truth.

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