Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Stereotyping of the Japanese Male, Pt. 2

Well, it can't all be mother-in-law jokes and Wile E. Coyote-type antics, with cartoon characters thumbing their noses at gravity, can it?  No, sometimes world events cast their long shadow over the cinema, and even the shorts for the tiddly-winkies find their plots adapting to the times.  Of course, being the old-timer that I am, I can't help but reflect on how the (American) cinema has more recently been influenced by American national politics.  More specifically, movies during Clinton's second term, and of course the 2000s, during Clinton's third and fourth terms.  Well, it worked in Wag the Dog, right?
As for the here and now, I'm boldly facing the future by putting both feet firmly into the past with our next Popeye short, Scrap the... hoh boy.  Now, the word "scrap" in the title is no accident, mind you, as one of the themes of the cartoon is a slight shout-out to the, um, aggressive recycling campaign that occurred in America during World War II.  One reason there was apparently a plot to assassinate FDR.  That and food and gasoline rationing.  I mean, do without my San Marzano arrabiatta sauce and my Loacker Quadratinis?  I could kill somebody!
...oh, right.  Back to Popeye.  Once again, as with The Mighty NaVy so many moons ago, we find that Popeye is once again a round peg in a square wheel.  He's once again getting reprimanded by the Navy uppers (voiced by Popeye voice Jack Mercer?).  Boy!  This guy's getting more second chances than Alec Baldwin!  I nearly Baldwin'd in my pants, indeed!  But Popeye's one to whistle while he works, and he puts that old Fleischer ingenuity into swabbing the deck, but I dunno... when I see how he repurposes a Navy plane as a tool to swab the deck, I can't help but think to myself, isn't that also what one of the Japanese soldiers would do?
Also, Popeye sweeps some dust under a part of the ship.  He lifts up the whole upper deck, puts the dust in the space, then drops the deck back into place, which makes the same metal clanging sound that will be used in every Popeye cartoon afterwards.
BUT THEN... the Japanese attack.  And even in the heat of battle, a disgraced Popeye's still way way better than some dirty... enemy soldier.  But this is still at heart a comedy, and Popeye's a pre-Superman Superman, and Popeye takes off in a Naval plane... without the plane!!!!!!!!!  Popeye catches back up to the plane and flies on.  Meanwhile, a non-Kamikaze Japanese pilot is tailing Popeye, disguised as a cloud.  As thick-headed as Popeye is (even after several direct shots to the head... with a giant cannon... you have to see it to believe it) it takes him a while to figure out what's going on.  This might be a good metaphor for American Imperialism for some.
Popeye finally figures out that the cloud isn't what it seems, but if only he could get a good glimpse of what's behind it as confirmation.  There's a rich comic tradition at work here, of course.  I couldn't help but think of a similar sequence in A Feather in His Hare.  And, of course, the mirror sequence from Duck Soup.  ...those are the only ones I can think of.  And so, Popeye begins his attack in proper.  And even though the enemy has no redeeming qualities at all, it still takes three shots to blow the Japanese plane out of the sky!  They must be doing something right!
In Popeye's fury and zeal, he flies alongside the plummeting Japanese pilot and walks out on the wing of his plane to take a swing at the guy.  Popeye notices he's falling and does a little plummeting to Earth himself.  Wotta goof.  There's some Judo at play here as well.
The falling Popeye ends up losing his parachute, so he slows his descent to Earth with a very elastic boot.  Kinda sad, really.  Unfortunately for Popeye... or fortunately, there's passionate arguments for both cases at this point... he ends up landing on the deck of a... hoh boy... enemy scrap ship.  Japanese soldiers start beating up Popeye, Rodney King style, as the soldiers all seem to have nightsticks.  Oh, it's so spinach time.  Which, in terms of timing, makes this more of a normal Popeye cartoon.  Popeye usually eats spinach well into the Third Act, as opposed to the other Japanese-themed one so far, You're a Sap, where the spinach happens at about exactly the half-way point.  Now, if the filmmakers really wanted to be insulting to the enemy, they'd have Popeye eat spinach in the last minute of the film, and have Popeye flick the noses of one of the enemy, thereby causing their whole army to perish.  No, the war effort is to be taken more seriously than that.  Popeye throws his can of spinach into the water, and all the Japanese dive in after it.  What an insult!  Popeye finishes chewing and gulps, making that same gulping noise you'll hear in every Popeye cartoon afterwards.  He transforms into the Statue of Liberty... in a patriotic, heterosexual way, of course.  Popeye makes his way to the main Japanese battle cruiser, and he makes a "V" on the side of their ship... and in Morse Code as well!  Reminds me of a similar sequence in Can You Take It.
For Popeye's final big act, he makes an old-fashioned can opener and sinks the Japanese battleship by opening it like a giant can.  You know, the shabbiness of Japanese-made products.  But the American system of justice is still the best way to go, and Popeye ends up hauling in a bunch of Japanese POWs, who morph into a bunch of mice running around in their cage.  I know, I know, they're supposed to be rats.  But I thought the rats only went after German grain!  Hence my confusion.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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