I used to watch my brother play the Metal Gear Solid games and it’s actually really interesting to look at Hideo Kojima’s games in the context of how homosexuality is viewed in Japan.
I’m not going to speculate on Kojima’s own sexuality, I’ll leave that to himself, but his games are famous for being very horny, homoerotic and having a ridiculously high number of bisexual male characters. People will point out that they’re all villains, but that’s just the explicitly bisexual characters. His two main characters, Snake from Metal Gear Solid and Sam from Death Stranding, are also implied to not be straight.
This is where Japanese culture and the extensive lore of Kojima’s works comes in.
Homosexuality is taboo in the west and Japan for different reasons. In the west it’s seen as sinful, but in Japan it’s seen as disruptive. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t call attention to yourself in any way. Don’t mess with the status quo. Most queer people choose not to come out to their families for this reason. And to make matters worse, even if a small majority of Japanese people are in favor of queer people having rights the government is very conservative and it’s even illegal to depict homosexuality positively in some parts of Japan.
So what does Kojima do to appease his government and the culture of his people? He does what people did in Hollywood in the 30’s and make the explicitly bisexual characters villains and make his heroes covertly bisexual.
Kojima always had an interest in sexuality and gender. In high school he wrote a story where all women succumbed to an illness, leaving the men unsure of how to continue. Remember, at the time the majority of women in Japan quit their jobs when they got married and took care of their husband and children. So who was supposed to take care of the house and their sons? Could men just stop craving intimacy or would they have to turn to each other? And how would they make more babies? I’ll get back to that.
One of the most famous scenes in Metal Gear happens when Snake disguise himself as Ivan, the lover of Volgin. Volgin walks up to what he assumed to be his lover and grabs his crotch, looks confused, grabs him again and asks “Who are you? I know the major better than anyone else” Volgin and Ivan are undoubtedly villains, but their love for each other is surprisingly the most human thing about them. If Snake puts on Ivan’s mask during his bossbattle with Volgin, Volgin will hesitate at first, then double his attacks in anger, but also cry because he’s trying to kill a man with his boyfriend’s face.
Snake/Otacon is the most heavily implied relationship in the whole series that hasn’t been confirmed. In the first game Snake could end up with Otacon at the end, and since then they’ve moved in together, raised a child together, talked at length about how they taught each other to love, teased each other about their libido, and the list goes on. They also notably get call-backs to two other canon romantic couples; Raiden and Rosemary when Otacon tells Snake that he won’t be let back inside before he takes a shower (Rosemary wouldn’t let Raiden back in because he got pee on him), and Volgin and Ivan when Otacon says he knows Snake better than anyone else. My point being, Snake and Otacon are very heavily implied to be a bisexual couple.
Then there’s Death Stranding. The game is definitely written by a more mature Kojima who has been hanging out with a lot of Americans. His view of sex and love is more nuanced and he understands that there’s a difference between sexual and romantic orientation. We still got Higgs, a flamboyant villain who acts very predatory and is heavily implied to be bisexual, though never confirmed, and Sam who’s implied to be asexual (he has an Ace of Spades sticker on his bike) and biromantic, and we get our first confirmed good bisexual character, Die-Hardman.
Kojima never got to play around with gender much in Metal Gear Solid, but he made up for that in Death Standing. Remember that story he wrote in high school? We see a lot of inspiration from that here. The solution the men came up with for having healthy babies in the story was to have men carry pods around on their stomachs where the fetus could grow in the most natural way possible.
There’s still women in Death Stranding but there’s a lot of men carrying babies around on their stomachs, men forming family unions, and the main character Sam acts more like a stereotypical mother than father. There’s literally a scene where Deadman puts a hand on Sam’s pod like it’s a pregnant belly and basically asks him “The three of us are a family, aren’t we?”
Sam later tries to give the baby to a woman, Fragile, but she only sees it as babysitting and gives it back, so Sam gives it to Deadman who declares it “our little one”.
By the end of the game the three of them are seen together, depicted as two parents holding their child. Throughout the game people are constantly trying to hug and touch Sam but in the end the only person who gets a hug is Deadman.
It’s also worth noting that in the universe of Death Stranding Sam and Deadman are believed to be a couple before they actually are. Deadman made sure of that so no one would question why they spend so much time together.
There will no doubt be more bisexual men in Kojima’s next game, and I’m curious to see if there’ll be any development in how openly he depictes queer characters. He’s a middle aged man so no matter what his own sexuality might be I don’t expect him to easily shake the expectations of Japanese society off, but he has started hanging out with a lot of Danes, most notably Nicolas Winding Refn who despite making extremely violent movies is very open minded and has, when asked, been very honest about his own sexuality (to spare you the pain of digging though Danish interviews, he’s a straight, slightly bi-curious man with an interest in BDSM, but who’s also satisfied leaving a lot of his fantasies to his imagination because his movies gives him an outlet for a lot of it).
You can see a lot of Scandinavian/Nordic influences in Death Stranding and I’d be surprised if Nicolas didn’t expose Kojima, intentionally or unintentionally, to the Scandinavian view of homosexuality. I can best describe it with a news report I once saw on national television. Parents were worried about a dangerous road that their children had to cross every day to get to school but the government wasn’t doing anything about it. The parents they interviewed were a gay couple but they were treated exactly like any other worried parents. No fuss, no spectacle. Please think of the safety of these parents’ children.
I can imagine that approach would go over very well with a middle aged Japanese man who clearly wants queer people to be able to live happy, fulfilling lives with families and children but doesn’t seem to want to upset his society.
Other people have pointed out that Kojima and Nicolas seem to inspire each other a lot and have taken an interest in each other’s cultures, and Nicolas was the first person to announce publicly that he’d be in Kojima’s next game, so I’m really interested in seeing what that will do, if anything, to how comfortable Kojima is with depicting his queer characters. Something certainly happened once he started socializing with a lot of Americans.
I am of course not saying Kojima is a saint who’s doing everything right, but he is an interesting guy to follow.
I like how Kojima realized he killed Liquid way too early and instead of just putting him in the next game and saying he survived he went “Hmmmmm, well the only way to bring him back now is to have Ocelot undergo hypnosis which causes him to kin liquid everytime he sees snake”
A week or two ago I was asked if I’d talk about Hideo Kojima’s less than stellar depiction of women, and I thought “It has already been talked to death. What could I possibly have to offer?”
And to be honest? His female characters never bothered me that much. Don’t get me wrong, there’s loads of things he could do a lot better, but in the grand scheme of things his depictions of women are nothing special compared to most other Japanese games and anime. I could never find it in me to care enough about him specifically to single him out. In fact, I think several of his female characters are better than what we see in a lot of games/anime. I won’t name any titles because if I unintentionally use someone’s favorite game/anime as a negative example they won’t be able to focus on anything else. Just know that I don’t think Kojima is the worst one out there.
I appreciate that his female characters have more variation than the size of their boobs. Those who work in offices are girly and thin, while some of the soldiers could be mistaken for men. I’ll never get over how buff Meryl from Metal Gear Solid is despite being a cute girly girl in personality (at least at first).
Some of his female characters cover up, some wear very little, often they’ll switch. They often only exist to further the plot of the main character, but so does the male characters. It’s a game after all. They are often sexualized but so are a lot of the men. In fact, I know guys who stopped playing the MGS games once the graphics got too good because the sexualization of the male characters made them too uncomfortable. There’s a reason why MGS is so popular with gay men. Kojima really understands what men find attractive in men, so much so that even straight guys feel it and have to tap out.
There is of course an argument to be made that no one should be sexualized, but I know for myself that it’s much more about balance. Either you give us equal or none, and Kojima was always one of the guys who was closest to the equal.
Until Quiet. He massively misstepped with her. It didn’t matter how good or bad her story was, no male character had been as sexualized as her and it tipped the scale too much for a lot of people. Kojima loves camp, but this was way too much. But it’s also worth pointing out that the reason why she caused such an uproar was because she was too much compared to Kojima’s other female characters. There are loads and loads and loads of Japanese media where women like Quiet are the norm. At least MGS had some balance which is why we noticed when it tipped.
Take the movie Taken. It made me so uncomfortable it put me off the rest of the series. I kept having this nagging feeling that women weren’t really people in this universe, just things owned by men who could then choose to treat them well or violate them. My suspicion was confirmed when the main character shot an innocent woman to get her husband to talk. It was very much treated as “your people hurt my woman so I get to hurt your woman”. Women weren’t even people to the “hero”. The movie wasn’t overly violent and most of the really bad stuff happened off screen but it still made me never want to watch it again. I did end up watching it again many years later though because my housemate wanted to, and she too had the same reaction when he shot the woman. You could feel the whole atmosphere in the room change.
Compare that to Nicolas Winding Refn’s movies (yes, I’m going to talk some more about him because he hangs out with Kojima and they clearly inspire each other). I’ve often wondered why demons in horror movies are such conformists. Why do they direct their most vile, sexual malice towards women? Where are all the equal opportunity demons?
Turns out one of those demons is Nicolas.
There’s an insane amounts of graphic violence towards women in his movies but you rarely hear it mentioned because it isn’t focused on women. No one is safe in his world. Even though men tend to be more violent than women in his stories they are just as vulnerable to violence, humiliation and rape as anyone else. He will fetishize the hell out of anyone’s murder to an uncomfortably sexual degree. In other people’s movies men will often be killed off quickly while women are tortured for days. Nicolas is happy to provide you with the opposite. In his tv series the main character’s girlfriend was unceremoniously shot in the head while the main character was whisked away, stripped down and whipped for three days until he was stomped and hacked to death with a machete, all in a strangely sexual way. And if the characters visit brothels you can be damn sure there’ll be both male and female sex workers.
Nicolas makes the sort of slick, violent movies that would be popular with young men except he doesn’t care about men’s sensibilities. Everybody are suffering equally in his movies, and people can sense that balance, so even if the violence and gore is overwhelming you don’t leave his movies with a feeling that he hates women.
In fact, he loves women. He’s no feminist icon but he might even understand the female plight a bit better than most male writers and directors. The Neon Demon is about female models trying to conform to men’s beauty standards by eating each other to get in the good grace of male photographers, even though it’s very obvious men aren’t worthy of this admiration. Even everybody’s favourite good boy Keanu Reeves is a shitbag.
Also, if Nicolas ever gets his hands on your favorite male actor there’s a good chance he’ll appear in bondage at some point if Nicolas can work it into the scrips. He has already done it to Mads Mikkelsen, Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling, and if Keanu Reeves ever agrees to work with him again he’ll be in real “danger” too.
The reason is simple enough. Nicolas is of the opinion that women are on a higher evolutionary and spiritual level than men (I’ll get back to his magical beliefs) and therefor the natural order of things is for men to be willingly submissive to women. If a man forces himself on a woman, or a woman force a man to submit to her, it is a violation of human truth. Therefor when consensual relationships between men and women happen in his movies they often have some willing male submission, and men in general (even outside romantic or sexual relations) are tied up more often than women.
One of his happiest couples were Jesus and Yaritza who had a straight up Dom/sub relationship. Jesus didn’t start out submissive but learned to love it with Yaritza. They are meant to be together and therefor it is natural. It’s also notable that men rarely “get the girl” in his movies because they are deemed unworthy by the women. Most of his men are perfect images of “toxic masculinity” and pretty pathetic even if they don’t always understand it themselves.
And that brings me back to Kojima. Both he and Nicolas are massive nerds and male nerds have a habit of glorifying manly men, which makes this photo pretty fun.
Mads Mikkelsen takes it in stride having these two nerds lust after him cast him as their idea of a perfect man: strong but also loving and kind.
The MGS games are pretty damn manly. The men are gruff and rugged with deep manly voices and even the women are more manly than most real men. Kojima worked on this franchise for decades and it seems like he got pretty sick of it by the end, because Death Stranding feels like a big fat middle finger to his old idolization of manly men.
Sure, the main character Sam looks the part, but he is far from your standard action hero. He’s extremely insecure and submissive. It takes a lot to make him fight back because his first instinct is always to run away and avoid confrontation. He’s very empathetic and even maternal, immediately accepting Lou as his daughter, carrying her around on his stomach as if he was pregnant with her and cradling her when he sleeps. And he’s constantly naked. Constantly. In fact, you can ogle his naked body as often as you like because you can make him shower as many times as you like and get a very intimate cutscene every time, and that’s not counting all the compulsory naked scenes that you can’t skip without missing the story.
This is where the Bigger Picture and Smaller Picture comes in. The many naked scenes with Sam didn’t cause an uproar because men doesn’t have a history of being objectified like that, but it also meant the one scene where Fragile is stripped down to her underwear and forced to run through timefall (rain that ages everything it touched) by the villain didn’t face me one bit. At this point I had watched the camera caress Sam’s nude body so many times the sight of Fragile in a top and panties felt like nothing.
A big part of Sam’s story is also that he has no autonomy over his own body. When he first wakes up he’s cuffed to a bed and acts like he expects to be sexually assaulted once a man walks in. The villain mockingly grabs Sam’s hair and parades him around while Sam does nothing but panick. He’s forced to wear a device that means he can never run away. He has no privacy in his room. When he sleeps people tap him for blood and strips his clothes off without his consent. He can’t even take a shower or use the toilet without people collecting his waste. It’s even implied that we as players are part of the problem because we control him. He’ll often wordlessly plead with the player to let him do things “Please let me sleep” “Please let me shower” “Please don’t make me leave the room just yet”
And there are no macho men in the game. Not one. Deadman is a goofy scientist, John is a former soldier but an emotional wreck who can’t fight anymore, and Heartman has a role you’d usually associate with female characters in Japanese media because he’s very sick and fragile, has to be protected at all times, is very emotional and cries a lot, but also puts on a happy face and constantly hands out hearts. Even the villain Higgs isn’t that’s much of a threat once Sam gets him one on one.
People have complained that Sam and Higgs’ final fight is anticlimactic and cringe but that’s the point. They’re just glorified postmen going at each other. It’s pathetic. There’s no glory in fighting, just men slapping each other until someone collapses. People also say it reminds them too much of a fight from MGS and I think even that is on purpose. Violence is nothing but repetitive. Nothing new. Nothing honorable.
And this is where I think you can see some of Nicolas’ influences on Kojima. Women come off as the “more evolved gender”. They hold all the otherworldly power (and at the start of the game also the worldly power with a female president). Mama at first is stuck in a cave so she can stay close to her child but once she reunites with her sister they have a constant link to the other side. Fragile can teleport herself and others though space by stepping into the other side. Amalie has so much power it’s unfathomable and is even referred to as an evolution. Even the baby that enables Sam to see the dead is female, and all babies with this ability get it from their connection to their mother.
And the men who walk the other world regularly, Sam, Higgs and Heartman, are also the most “feminine”, but they don’t do it quite as naturally as the women. Heartman had to kill himself over and over until he started dying on his own, and Higgs and Sam got their powers from Amalie. We even see Higgs kneel in front of Amalie, the natural way of things according to Nicolas.
Speaking of Nicolas, I promised I’d get back to his magical beliefs. I don’t know how much of it he actually believes but he definitely has more than a passing interest in magic. He gets into some real deep magic stuff in his movies, and I’ve seen two photos of him slightly leaning in front of Kojima and subtly making the horns with the hand closest to Kojima (could only find the photo Nicolas posted on his own twitter)
It’s used as a protective spell. Either he’s joking or he feels protective of Kojima which would be a first for a man. He usually talks about wanting to protect small, fragile women, but apparently Kojima awakens this instinct in him too. At least I’ve only seen him do it like this around Kojima.
Both of them have stories of looking up to/feeling a bit inferior to Mads Mikkelsen (Nicolas was even told by Mads “You can never be me. You’re not as cool as me”) and honestly? Between being a couple of nerds from wildly different parts of the world who share Mads Mikkelsen and have kinky kinks they’re happy to let each other in on and even getting magic involved, together they would make more interesting characters than any character they themselves have created.
Non of this is meant to defend either of them as much as just me musing on why they don’t bother me all that much. People are much more complicated than we want them to be.
Like, Nicolas is very quick to deem women too “fat” for his personal tastes but at the same time he’s very clear that just because a man isn’t attracted to a woman he isn’t entitled to disrespecting her. His big revelation about women came to him at a time when women were at their least attractive to him: during and after his wife gave birth. He felt completely useless as a man during the birth and the whole thing was incredibly overwhelming. Afterwards when he thought he couldn’t take any more (despite his movies he’s kind of a wuss in real life) a nurse showed him the disgusting, bloody placenta and told him the women at the hospital called it the tree of life. That was when he came to the conclusion that women are more evolved and that he adore all of them.
And Kojima has made some very good and some terrible female characters, and while the balance in his depiction of men and women isn’t perfect he’s much closer than most men in the same genre.
Like I said, I just can’t find it in me to get worked up over them. If you want someone to talk about how horrible or amazing they are there are plenty of hot takes, articles and YouTube videos for either point of view. I’m just not bothered enough by them to give you a super interesting take.
Snake aka Old Snake aka David aka
aka Solid Snake not to be confused with Solidus Snake aka King aka President George Sears aka Solid Snake not to be confused with Snake aka Raiden aka Mister Lightning Bolt aka White Devil aka Jack The Ripper aka Jack not to be confused with Jack aka Snake aka Naked Snake aka John aka Vic Boss aka aka Saladin aka Venom Snake aka Punished Snake aka Big Boss not to be confused with The Boss aka The Joy not to be confused with The Sorrow who is actually the one that smiles a lot