Friday, April 3, 2009

of witchcraft and weirdness

I continue making very slow progress through Gackt's book -- mostly at work, because if I do it there, I can force myself to actually remember some of this stuff rather than lunge for a dictionary every two sentences. I'm about to the middle, the Chapter In Which Life Kicks Gackt In The Head, And Gackt Goes Home To Okinawa To Punch Sandbags And Jog For A While. And by 'home', I mean 'ancestral home', not 'home where he did most of his growing up', which is in Kyoto, thus explaining all of the exceptionally rude Kansai-ben he quotes himself using as a teenager. The family is apparently pretty much straight Ryuukyuu Islander, from what I can gather without hammering away with a kanji dictionary. 'Okinawa' is inconveniently used in modern Japanese pretty much interchangeably for the island of Okinawa, which is the largest in the Ryuukyuu chain, and the administrative prefecture of Okinawa, which encompasses the entire chain, but he makes reference to the first time the ocean tried to eat him being in the Yanbaru Sea, which I think is what we'd call the East China Sea, at the north end of the actual island of Okinawa.

This particular chapter is much more interesting in the original Japanese than in translation. The English translation by darkenciel over on LJ doesn't miss any of the explicitly-stated content, but the transfer from a language with multiple script systems to one which only uses one alphabet smashes a lot of the meta-information attached to the text. Gackt makes mention of things like "kamidari" and "yuta", which darcenciel leaves transliterated in quotes -- sensibly, as it turns out, as Gackt writes them out in katakana in kagikakko, which means the words are not actually Japanese. This becomes slightly more obvious when you see the original; although "kamidari" seems to be the standard form you see in anthropological papers about Okinawa, Gackt actually spells it out 「カミダーリ」, "kamidaari", with a double-length word-interior "a" sound that's almost completely absent in standard Japanese. You see the actual sound fairly frequently when a grammatical particle that ends in "a" precedes a word that begins with "a" (for example, "watashi wa arukimasu"/"I walk") and very occasionally inside of compounds, but does not generally occur inside of words. It seems to be a consistent feature of Okinawan, though, where the actual word for the Okinawan dialect is 「ウチナーグチ」, "Uchinaaguchi". A lot of the time you can at least get some idea of what a strange Japanese word means by checking out the kanji used to spell it, even if you miss the precise context of it, but since Okinawan only has a writing system in the sort of technical academic sense that has inspired many years of argument between the University of the Ryuukyuus and just about every other interested party on the planet, this is obviously not going to happen here.

I have no idea how much Uchinaaguchi he actually speaks, but let's just say Gackt knows some very interesting nouns.

Gackt conveniently doesn't really elaborate on any of the Okinawan stuff he's put in quotes, except for "shiro", which you can pretty much guess is a kind of a Okinawan seer or shaman, as he says his grandmother is the reigning one in the family. "Noro" and "yuta" are also terms for working psychics, more or less; I have no idea what the differences are, if there are any, and they seem to be used interchangeably in anthropological articles. The "kamidaari" thing is more interesting. He uses it as an adjectival noun, to describe all of the generally weird spiritual abilities that run in the family, particularly those of his great-grandfather, whom the family seems to think he resembles in many respects. "Kamidaari" is translated in many contexts as "spirit-curse" -- the anthropologists characterize it as a time of severe and disruptive psychosomatic illness that is said to herald the awakening of spiritual powers in one who is to become a seer or shaman. From the descriptions, it sounds like a combination of transient psychoses and a variety of somatoform physical symptoms, usually connected to the sufferer's personality or present circumstance, not unlike the sorts of torment said to be endured by a lot of the saints in Christian tradition. Mostly what it sounds like, is exceptionally unpleasant.

He never links it up explicitly, but the first bits of the book describe being hospitalized for an unspecified illness when he was fairly young. Gackt never says exactly what it was -- Wiki says "gastrointestinal condition", which is unsurprisingly a front-runner for somatoform disorders -- and he recalls getting the distinct impression that they were not going to let him out again until he acted "normal". He fucking hated it then, and he makes it pretty clear that he still fucking hates it when he thinks about it now. He didn't seem all that bothered by the talking to dead people as a kid, but he sounds pretty damn angry that they tried to keep him confined to a hospital over their problems with his weird, which was, medically speaking, unconnected with the physical illness they were supposed to be treating.

He says he doesn't so much believe or disbelieve these days, but this stuff keeps happening and he is much happier when he isn't devoting a lot of energy to arguing with it or ignoring it. It's probably worth noting that he has what I think is a strictly personal quirk about wearing black onyx for protection. He wears a black bead bracelet, which I presume is onyx, around his left wrist -- it's difficult to tell if he's got it in any of the Malice Mizer stuff, since he's usually wearing an annoyingly large amount of clothing in those, but I don't think I've seen him without it after that. You can spot it fairly easily in photos, and in a lot of the closeups on his Sixth Day/Seventh Night tour DVD, which is the one Cat brought home from Japan.

Strangely enough, this also goes a long way to explain why people find him so deeply intimidating. Cat adores the man, and still admits she'd probably be a speechless puddle of wibble if she ever got near him. He comports himself in a manner I've come to find in a lot of people who come from families with long traditions of Serious Weird, including myself. Depending on how you look at it, a family either gains power from working with the spirit world, or a variety of heritable aptitudes and temperaments inspires the people around them to start believing that they work with spirits; either way, once you get that kind of reputation, it sticks rather perniciously. When you come from a family with that kind of rep, and the people raising you believe it, they teach you to deal with it in the simplest way, which boils down to being more stubborn than the cosmos. You use willpower to keep the bad stuff at bay. You simply delineate a personal shell for yourself and inform everything else that it is to keep out. It's not even so much a matter of fighting to guard your outer boundaries -- you just calmly and obstinately say "No, you cannot come in until invited," and that's that.

I don't have any objective data on how well this works on dead people, but I can tell you for damn sure that it works spectacularly on live ones. Roommate the Brown has much the same public persona as I do -- slightly quieter, but still very sarcastic and not easily intimidated -- but her mother vehemently disbelieved in things like that, and mine didn't. She has persistent problems with crazy creeps coming up behind her to smell her hair, and asking if they can lick her boots in public. She hits them with The Complete Works of Shakespeare or whatever else she's reading at the time, and they go away, but she's forever exasperated by the way they keep doing it in the first place. People just don't get that close to me. Full stop. And they don't get that close to Gackt either -- some poor staffer on Moon Child can be seen in the making-of extras, following him around with an umbrella to try and save his hair and makeup when a rooftop shoot is rained out, and even she won't get close to him. She'd rather get rained on than get both of them under the same canopy.

The phenomenon doesn't consciously register with most people; all they know is that they're very uncomfortable standing close to you, and since it's difficult sometimes to distinguish between this kind of boundary and one where a person is angry and antisocial and actively trying to drive people away by inspiring fear, a lot of them take it as a sort of personal declaration of dislike. It really isn't. An invitation to come in closer is very personal, but the wall itself is indiscriminate. Gackt is not actually unfriendly; his body language does open up quite a bit when someone is actually talking to him like a fellow human being, rather than blushing and stammering nonsense, and he seems to go to some trouble to find sunglasses that aren't full-mirrored. (The sunglasses themselves don't mean anything; Gackt and bright ambient light just don't get along. The creepy blue contacts also apparently screen out some of it, which is one reason he's so fond of them.) But he also likes to keep himself inside the boundaries of his shell, and at this point he probably couldn't turn it all off if he tried, which makes people think he's not very approachable.

This particular demeanor also happens to also be a remarkably effective non-reaction to things like bullying, which means the technique is doubly-reinforced for people who have both influences in their lives. The combination is not the only way to develop it, of course, but I suspect that the correlation is high enough and the 'look' is distinctive enough that it's one of the things palm and card readers pick up on when assessing clients.

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