I’m still quite confused by Japanese attitudes towards homosexuality, either as a matter of behavior, feelings, identity, genetics, or social normalcy. So recently I showed Brokeback Mountain to my 3rd year Current English students and gave them some small writing assignments. Besides the issue of gender and sexuality, it’s a really terrific movie, and it portrays interesting aspects of American culture such as Thanksgiving, rural life, and divorce.
There are 9 kids in the class, with overall very good English ability. I gave them a short test at the end. I’d already asked them the same questions in a review worksheet. They gave me a range of answers, and I think their understanding was pretty good for Japanese high schoolers! Here are three questions and some of their answers:
1. How is this movie similar to a “typical” movie love story, and how is it different?
“The movie’s similar point with “typical” movies is that a precious person dies. That scene shocks the people who watch the movie. When I watch the scene which Jack was killed, I was really shocked. The different point is that the two men are gays. In Japan, there are few movies about gays, so I was very surprised by this movie.”
“I think the similar point is they are growing their love. It is very similar to typical movie love story. One person loves a man and they are fall in love. It is typical love story. The different point is both of they are man. The typical love story is one person is man and the other is woman. But despite of they are man, they love each other.”
2. Why did Jack and Ennis fight on the top of the hill on Brokeback Mountain?
“In this movie, Ennis isn’t gay at first, so sometimes he thinks of his wife. After the divorce, he is in the shock and feels a kind of upset. So even if he is with Jack, Ennis considers his ex-wife and daughter. But on the other hand, Jack loves him from the bottom of his heart, so there is a conflict between them. Furthermore Ennis is very passionate in his character, which makes the conflict bigger.”
It is because they don’t love each other at first. I think they might hate each other.
3. Do you think this story is relevant in Japan? Why or why not?
“No, I don’t think so. It is because there are few movies of this type in Japan. I don’t know whether there is a person who loves the same sex in Japan, but I know that there are people who want to be a different sex person. It is because I can’t be sure that this story is not relevant in Japan, but I guess that it isn’t relevant in Japan.”
“I think that this story is relevant in Japan. It is because there may be a few homosexual. In the world, people have their hobbies. Some people like listening to music and other people like playing the piano. So, a few person like a person of the same sex. I think that there are various form of love in the world.”
I’m glad this test revealed a variety of answers, just as it would in the States. The characters mumble their English too much, but we had subtitles, so it was a pretty good movie for the class.