Cats and Emperors

Not so long ago I posted a translation of doujin binsen (Japanese-style letter paper) by Keiyaku no Kuroneko.  There was one binsen inspired by the cult film Emperor Tomato Ketchup with a lot of text in the background that I left alone.  Here it is.

The Emperor

The Emperor

Having watched the two versions of the film, I can now talk about what it says in the background.  But first of all, let me give a brief summary.

In the film, children rebel against adults and set up their own government.  Most adults end up in concetration camps, some as slaves.  The footage consists entirely of mini-segments (about 2-5 minutes each) that give us glimpses into life under the Children Revolution.  I’m not going to get into any details because a lot of readers would find them repulsive, and the others, well, the others might as well go and watch it (the Shuji Terayama Wikipedia article has a link to an online collection of his films).

Director Shuji Terayama was a leftist intellectual in the Sixties, which means he opposed both Imperial Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance after the war.  Before I saw the movie I thought Terayama was pro-child anti-adult; in fact, he uses children to satirize the military-industrial adult world (the kids run around in uniform doing silly things).  He’s not telling adults to be children or surrender to children, but to grow up and be true adults…

Anyway, the children under a boy “Emperor” set up a constitution, and it is the preamble and the first few articles of this document that show up in the background to that binsen pic I placed above.  From what I can tell, Kuroneko has followed the “constitution” word by word.  This is what it says, not in my own translation, but according to the English subtitles in the film:

Tomato Ketchup Constitution

Imperial Decree:

For me, the peace, happiness, and honor of this country’s children are the core and the continuation of this everlasting lineage is best.  For the children who love me, I owe strength and aid such that the country’s advancement and development is my wish.

Provisions of the Lord Emperor:

1. The Emperor’s unsoiled respectful existence will not be dirtied.

2. By the Emperor’s chosen path of law, that which is inherited…

3. The Emperor’s father will polish his shoes by licking them with his tongue; The Emperor’s mother will play the violin for solace when the Emperor is bored.

4. Military and naval forces are under the rule of the Emperor at every moment to keep peace and intensify the well-being of children.

5. The Emperor’s favorite food, tomato ketchup, will be the national symbol.

The Emperor is on the right

The Emperor is on the right

6. Adults will not hinder what the Emperor wants.

7. The Emperor’s declarations of war, thoughts of peace, and various pacts, are binding.

8. The Emperor wears a hat, and no matter what, he does not take it off.

9. Those who give offense to the dignity of the Emperor, for this crime of disrespect will be hung by the neck from a tree until dead.

Introduction To The X-Mark Code

Adults who oppose children, who ignore children’s power, who teach a prejudiced viewpoint against children, or adults who care too excessively for children, all will be erased from the register with an X. Under the Black Flag Party they will be erased.



Slaves (look at Kuroneko's binsen, on the left!)

Let me make three comments.

A. Japan has had two constitutions: The Meiji Constitution drafted by imperial supporters during the rise of Japan as a world power, and the present Constitution which everyone knows today was almost dictated word-by-word by the American Occupation forces.  Terayama parrots the Meiji Constitution.  Article 1 in Tomato Ketchup resembles Article 3 in Meiji, 7 is similar to 13, and so on.

B.  If you think this kind of satire is very subversive, there’s a little detail that does a lot, I feel, to make it acceptable to Japanese minds.

The word used throughout the movie for “Emperor” is Kotei (=皇帝).  Kotei means Emperor, no doubt about it, but in the modern era the Japanese use it only for non-Japanese Emperors.  The Japanese Emperor is titled Tenno (=天皇).  So if an article circa 1900 had been discussing the Chinese Emperor, the German Emperor, the Russian Tsar and the Japanese Emperor, you’d have three “kotei” and one “tenno”.  Throw in the Fairy Emperor, that would still be “kotei”.

If Shuji Terayama had wanted to be devastatingly subversive, he’d have used Tomato Ketchup Tenno and not Tomato Ketchup Kotei.  Then again, if he had it could have possibly cost him dearly.

C. Aside from adults, Public Enemy # 1 in Tomato Ketchup land is the Cat.  Throughout the film we hear about punishments for cats that are as bad as for adults, the reason apparently being that cats aren’t friendly (like dogs are), they’re inscrutable and could potentially be plotting.  At one point it is decreed that any cat not wearing boots should be executed immediately.

Considering the binsen is from Kuroneko (=black cat), it’s kind of ironic.  In any case, I have met more than one child who despises cats for this very reason: that they’re difficult to play with, and seem to be uninterested in them…

"Kotei".  Not "Tenno".

"Kotei". Not "Tenno".

NOTE: All screencaps are from the short version of the film.

~ by Haloed Bane on March 5, 2009.

11 Responses to “Cats and Emperors”

  1. Interesting, very interesting… I wonder if the movie itself is actually good.

  2. What the fuck is wrong with you? After sitting through 20 fucking minutes of nothing happening, the movie actually starts and there are no fucking subs. FUCK YOU MAN. This is the last 1970s Japanese Avant-garde film I watch. I should have goddamn known better.

    However it was worth it because HOLY FUCKING SHIT THE MUSIC IS BY JA SEAZER!!!!!!!!!! FUCK YES!!!!!!

  3. @sasa

    I’m terrible at gauging whether someone i know will like something, and considering I practically don’t know you, then there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I could predict what you’d think. Movie is unusual and remarkable, that’s all i can tell you.


    OK, the short version doesn’t have subtitles (just German text across the screen). The long version does have them, at least the one i’ve seen. (not that you’ll get a lot out of them).

  4. not the video on the site linked by wikipedia, unless it was the second site linked by wikipedia I should have clicked on.

  5. I’ll have to watch this.

  6. @digiboy

    here’s the deal. you’ve got the right link, but actually i only watched the short version there, without subtitles. the long version is available as a torrent (about 700 mb) with .srt subtitles, all over the net, just google it.
    you actually need to watch both versions to actually begin to understand the story..


    be sure to let me know what you think..

  7. I found this 700mb torrent; I wonder how you get the other version, hm.

    Actually I too am rather risk averse when it comes to recommending films to people. ^^ And I must admit that I have never seen any experimental movies (I have been planning on watching “Un chien andalou” but never came around to do so), but I am generally open towards it as long as it doesn’t look like a headache-inducing video installation (I think I have seen too many of them in my life and have always disliked them so far). If you are interested, I think the list of movies I have seen over the last ~3 years reflects my preferences a bit, although I have seen quite a few bad movies too, of course – I just blog every single one.

  8. Wow interesting, would of course want a sub versions lol

  9. @sasa

    There’s an online stream for the short version here: There’s an .avi available for download, supposedly from the same website, but i haven’t seen where it is on the website. however, it’s around somewhere on the sea of google as “terayama voll.avi (vol. one I mean). No subs though..
    Watching both versions you actually can sorta make out the narrative..
    You’ve watched a heck of a lot of movies.. That Fritz Lang M movie looks like something I should watch..


    it’s not really a “talking” kinda film at all, but yup, it’s always good to have subs!

  10. Apparently the subs for the long version aren’t synced? Guess you’ll have to manually set that.

    I’ll probably end up just watching the short version for a while though, I don’t have the time to mindfuck myself right now. But ak, when you say you need to watch both versions, is it because the short version has stuff the long version doesn’t? Because that would be some evil shit on part of Terayama.

  11. @prophet

    In the torrent i found with the srt subs, the subs were perfectly fine (but i forgot where i got them from!).

    On the two versions: the short version is in (normal) black and white, whereas the long version is tinted (sorta black and cream). There are many sequences, especially in the beginning, where it’s pretty much impossible to tell what’s really happening in the long version, whereas it’s all clear in the short version. Also, the short version is less random and you can kinda get a story going (parents beat children, children rebel, children abuse parents) but the long version has a lot more stuff. The end of the long version (where the two generals beat each other with rock/paper/scissors) is classic.

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