An Experiment in Analysis: Part II - Storytellers' Mai Himura in "Mai" Representing the Internal Struggle of Ultimate Identity in Multi-identitied Individuals
In this, the second episode of the Storytellers series, “Mai,” personal narratives begin to twist together as the focus shifts from the more well-developed Hunter Crowley to the as of yet ironing board flat character Mai Himura. Throughout the text, we come to know that Mai hails from a Japanese family that’s been steeped in mythology. However, as the viewer can tell based on Mai’s appearance and variety of English, she grew up in the United States, which creates a duality of culture, characteristic of being Japanese-American. After the car wreck, she becomes possessed by a demon of Japanese lore and goes in and out of a state of possession. The portrayal of this character by Jessica Lu, then, serves as an examination of being from two different cultures, showing the viewer the mental wrestling of identity that comes with those cultural origins.
The episode opens on a view of the car crash from before, then the camera shifts back to the campfire. Mai is narrating a monologue to accompany the visuals. As we know from the first episode, the people around the campfire are the same people who are in the stories, and they are the heroes of the story they tell. What she recounts is rife with what’s purported to be a cultural saying from Japan. She begins, “My mother once told me in Japan that it is said [sic] that there are many lives inside of us. Spirits lie within, both gentle and violent,” outlining for the viewer that she is cognizant through her mother of Japanese teachings (0:21). This outlining sets Mai up as a character who is still spiritual and in touch with her Japanese roots and that she’s proud enough of them to talk to others about them and share some of one of her cultures’ teachings in the process.
Mai then goes on to say that she’s “not sure [she] believes in that, though. After all, it’s only a story” (0:55). Out of context, it would appear that Mai is denying that she’s really all that in tune with her Japanese heritage and that she is more of a monocultured, assimilated American. However, as the narrator of the story that’s about to unfold, in which she is the hero, and in which her Japanese heritage and her relationship with Japanese mythology come into play, this cannot be seen as a denial of pride concerning her mixed identity, but rather a playful remark that she’s aware of how absurd it can seem to be balancing two different identities.
The scene then shifts to Mai in the wreckage of the car, her eyes glowing green before shifting to a week later when she’s dolling herself up for guests, making sure her necklace is on correctly and that her hair’s just right. This is the viewer’s first insight in this episode into Mai as one who identifies with American culture, as what she’s wearing is markedly not Japanese, but American: a camisole, pants, and boots, all black. Mai’s guests, Skyler, Hunter, and Finn, then arrive to join her. A conversation ensues wherein the question of blame for the car accident comes up. Hunter attests that it was the car and not Finn’s fault, to which Mai replies that it was Hunter’s (1:51). Hunter is taken aback at this remark, and responds nervously, as though Mai knows too much about something. All the while, Mai is casually sipping her drink, confident in her accusation. This confidence implies that she has some way of knowing assuredly that Hunter caused the accident. The suggestion is that she has powers of some mystical variety, hence her glowing green eyes at the top of the episode, which probably allowed her to intuit Hunter’s guilt. On the surface, this is merely Mai using the Japanese part of her identity to identify a reality of the world. On a deeper level, though, this is an indication that Mai is an allegory for dealing with handling the two aspects of one’s identity. In this case, she’s able to advantage herself by looking at the world through her Japanese lens.
This advantageous state of being a mult-identitied person, however, is soon coupled with the internal struggle of finding one’s own identity as Mai’s possession comes to the forefront of her actions. After leading Hunter outside, she talks for a bit with him before slinking over to a katana on a pedestal in her backyard. She begins to draw it behind her back as she responds to Hunter’s assertion that he won’t be the same person for long, “No, you won’t,” but she stops when Finn and Skyler exit. (2:54). Mai appears to be out to kill Hunter, which will be confirmed shortly to be her possessing spirit’s intention. This appetite for murder, though, is symbolic of the symptoms of the turmoil of associating strongly with more than one cultural group. Mai’s Japanese side is beginning to overtake her American side, to the extent that it’s about to wrest a part of it from her: her friendship with Hunter. This is a case similar to what happens to multi-identitied people in that one cultural identity can seem to dominate the other(s), with the danger of extinguishing it/them, and it requires a great deal of mental capacity and balance to be able to manage to keep the identities intact to retain as a part of one grand identity.
Mai then works a little to seduce Finn, sitting sensually by him, grazingly moving her hand across his body instead of through the air to grab his camera, asking that he film her. Finn responds hesitantly to her request, which prompts Mai to ask, “What? Don’t you like the new me?” (3:48). She then shouts a loaded question at Hunter, stating the he likes her new appearance, as her eyes begin to glow green again. Her possession coming to bear in her green eyes here is indicative of her Japanese culture seeking to push out her American culture. It claims that it is the new Mai, and that the aspects of her American culture like it, which, again, is a dealing with the duality characteristic of a person like a Japanese-American in touch with their culture like Mai.
Mai’s consciousness returns to her for a brief moment, then leaves again when the possessing spirit retakes her. Finn asks why she’s dressing and behaving “weird” (meaning out of character) (4:13). Mai, however, interprets this to mean that Finn accused her of acting oddly, to which she responds, “So, Skyler gets to dress how she wants and hang all over guys in public, but when I do it, it’s weird?” (4:22). The double standard here portrayed here is notable in that it’s seen as more acceptable for a seemingly purely American girl to be fawning over boys, but when the Japanese-American girl does it, it seems out of character, drawing attention to what society unfairly asks of conformity in different cultural groups. Hunter then asks Mai, “Mai, What the hell’s wrong with you?” (4:28). She responds, “Oh, that’s just delightful coming from you” (4:31). Throughout this exchange, the possessing force feels threatened and defends itself verbally from the attacks leveled against it in an effort to keep itself from being wrested away by Mai’s friends, symbolizing the cultural misunderstandings that can arise from encountering an unfamiliar identity in a familiar person, leading to feelings of hurt and insult in the multi-identitied individual. In a final attempt to save itself, the possessive spirit through Mai demonically commands everyone to get out of her house, a last ditch effort to keep its vice-like hold over her. Everyone leaves slowly, as though Mai’s possession, demonic voice, and emerald eyes were nothing to be surprised about, representing friends not quite understanding (i.e., lacking the ability to sympathize and not knowing to empathize with) their struggling friend.
Finn stays behind at Mai’s house and looks through the Japanese folkloric books and objects in the house. After a few moments, Mai’s mother discovers him, and they have a short conversation in Japanese, after which Finn flees. While a rather short scene, it serves to further cement in the viewer’s mind that Mai comes from a Japanese family that keeps its roots strong; her mother speaks Japanese and goes so far even as to keep books and objects of folklore and legends in their house. Finn then makes his way over to the Crowley residence with a book of folklore in hand. Hunter isn’t there, but Celia, his sister, lets him in, and he speaks with Skyler about the legend that he found about Tsukimono-Yokai (an animal spirit that possesses human beings to rid the world of the “spawn of the wicked”), which he surmises is what’s possessing Mai. This revelation about Mai’s character suggests that her Japanese culture seriously is looking to kill a part of her American culture identity, represented by her friendship with Hunter, whom the spirit has characterized as an evil part of Mai’s identity to be excised, like a malignant tumor. It’s a symbolic representation of the battle that goes on in the minds of such multi-identitied people, that each culture, at times, battles the other.
Finn, Skyler, and Celia then race off to try to save Hunter from Mai, and Mai starts a narrative monologue to close out the episode. “Who’s to say who we really are,” she begins, “our inherited impulses, our darkest desires, they’re all in us. It’s in our blood” (9:04). Her opening is a direct reference to the battle that she has going on, each identity pulling at her, informing the way she views the world and fighting for a more uniform worldview. And it will say that way because, after all it’s in her blood.
Episode 2, “Mai,” of Storytellers focuses on the characterization of the character Mai. She’s a Japanese-American who’s struggling with the extremities of the two identities that make her up: the Japanese and the American. After the car wreck, her Japanese side begins to well up and seek to drive from her being the American culture that she grew up with outside of her home, destroying her friends and her image in other’s minds so that she is more mentally uniform. This battle, however, is not unique to Japanese-Americans or fictional characters. While the impeti and results of the battles are different, this is a situation in which many different, multi-ethnic or multi-identitied person find themselves. Mexican-Americans, Bosnian-Americans, homosexual men and women who dance in both Queer culture and Straight culture, transgender people who delve not just in the culture they create but the one that cisgendered people do as well, really anyone who dances in two ore more strikingly different identities can find themselves in such a situation, and though their struggles likely won’t manifest themselves in the way that Mai’s do, they will still undergo such struggles, probably throughout their whole life trying to find exactly where they fit in society, being of not just one group, but two, or three, or more, each group saying “Oh, you’re not X enough to hang around us Xs.” They may try to bleach part of their identity to lessen its impact and hide it more easily, but it will always be there, having informed their worldview from birth. Everyone has their demons, some more obvious than others, but we, as a society, should do our best to allow everyone to fit in and value fresh perspectives. Else, we’ll find ourselves in a whitewashed society where neophobia and xenophobia are rampant and stagnation is the norm.