Spoilers after the jump! This article deals with a controversial scene in the movie Royal Space Force: the Wings of Honneamise. Read at you own risk.
Although the wings of Honneamise is an acclaimed film, many have accused it of having sexism in it’s portrayal of an attempted rape near the middle of the film. People have interpreted the scene as giving Riquinni Noderaiko an overly self effacing attitude towards herself after this, and saddling the protagonist with so much evil he can no longer be taken seriously as a protagonist. I believe those objections are founded in a misreading of the characters and their circumstances, and argue that their circumstances are clearly modeled after pre war Japan, further explaining this scene’s content and making the actions portrayed understandable although not morally justifiable.
Let us look at the totality of the film. What are the political institutions of the protagonist? Monarchistic. What is the societies attitude towards prostitution? Open and supportive. What are it’s attitudes towards religion? Traditional and conservative. Despite advanced technology at the same level as the Japan or the US had at the end of the 1950’s, the society is clearly modeled after prewar Japan, and even the economy still seems to be heavily agricultural outside of urban sectors as shown by scenes of Noderaiko harvesting grain. We will therefore expect to have the same attitudes towards sex and gender that one would find in a society not fully under the influence of modern liberal attitudes towards sex and gender, and would also expect to find an absence of Christian attitudes towards sex and gender as well. (A logical assumption given that this planet is implied to be very far from Earth.)
Let us look at the setup for the scene earlier that day: a sum of money drops out of Noderaiko’s boot. And what does that mean? She is hiding money. And even more particularly, the directors commentary clearly explains that this is how prostitutes carry their money. This was intended to be a clear portrayal revealing that she is a prostitute, and most likely an illegal one. This puts her outside the bounds of traditional morality as understood in her society and in that of prewar Japan. Prostitution in prewar Japan was supposed to be confined strictly to brothels, and prostitutes were not allowed to leave the brothel without permission. This alien society (and the protagonist, Shirotsugh Lhadatt) clearly show the same attitudes here.
And later that night we come to this controversial scene, a moment where Lhadatt attempts the indefensible: he attempts to rape Noderaiko as she is preparing for her shower. She knocks a candle base from the altar against his head, sending him to the floor. The small girl wit she takes care of awakens at the end of this struggle, looks at them, and goes to bed again.
The next morning Lhadatt attempts to apologize for what he did, and she refuses the apology saying she is the one to blame and he must accept her apology.
This is pretty clearly the portrayal of people who are living beyond the sexual bounds of their society. He starts the relationship with her earlier partially because he is interested in her as a women, not merely from a desire to help her. She later reveals that she is much farther from “moral purity” than she seemed to be at the beginning. Lhadatt is feeling tired and cynical that night, and simply decides that since she is a prostitute she has no right to refuse him. A perverse and disturbing attitude to us, but one that would probably not be that far from many men’s minds in societies which do not extend freedom from rape to those who are outside the bounds of society.
This scene enhances rather than detracts from the realism of the film. The protagonist is not Captain Picard: he is a man from a specific culture and society with very different attitudes towards human rights and women’s rights than postmodern Japan or the U.S. And does this make the protagonist impossible to sympathize with? I contend not. For a man of his society and culture merely to apologize for what he tried to do makes him commendable. Noderaiko also shows her belief in maintaining her role, and her unwillingness to consider herself a victim. She engages in prostitution to support herself and the small girl she is taking care of, but it is clearly something that she feels ashamed of. She is simply a poor and marginalized woman who feels guilt for what she does, and as a result blames herself rather than Lhadatt. Although this is very uncomfortable to many viewers, this is at the end of the day a realistic portrayal of how people in this circumstance would interact. This film pulls no punches unnecessarily, and does not do so here.