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Anthropology of Language- Swallowtail Butterfly

In most films, the use of visuals have become the most important aspect. However, in the ambitious movie Swallowtail Butterfly, usage of sounds became the central focus of the movie as it helped in understanding the themes and messages that the motion picture would like to relay to its audience. This can be seen in the involvement of audio in the narrative. The director was well-renowned for his skillfull manipulation of sounds (Liro-Hudson, 2006). This is evident in its usage as a huge creative factor that drove the story. Liro-Hudson’s article published on  how-to-find attempts to dissect the different functions of the various sounds used in the movie by pointing out the significance of language, noise and music as the focal point of the themes portrayed in the film (Liro-Hudson, 2006). By doing so, various issues were touched that involved communication of people in their daily lives. It is also important to note that the different languages used in the story has been used for communication, was treated as noise, and as part of music. 

 The film Swallowtail Butterfly depicts a setting where future Japan have become one of the leaders in the world because the Japanese Yen have transformed into the most powerful currency in the world. Everyone went to Tokyo to be able to get some of these currency. There were a lot of immigrants and they began calling the city as Yen Town. The Japanese hated this and in return, began labelling these immigrants as thieves. In the process, the immigrants were also called Yentowns. These people were believed to have been overwhelmed not only by the new visual appearance of their environment but also by their audio experiences (Liro-Hudson, 2006). The different sounds presented in the movie convey various themes and symbols that is important in talking about various issues in society. The article relayed these different factors through the analysis of the interrelationships of various noises and the use of languages as sounds, music, and as a tool for communication (Liro- Hudson, 2006).

 The sounds in the film are carefully chosen and edited to fit the various themes that the director intends to relay. This includes the selection of the languages used by the characters. They used Japanese, English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Each one has its own significance in the film. Their relationship with each other are aslo valuable in understanding the movie. Since the film took place in Tokyo, it is but natural that this language is used often. Mandarin and Catnonese were also used extensively since they are spoken by most people in nearby Asian countries. English is believed to be the neutral laguage in the movie, since it is believe to be the most international one among all the languages used (Liro-Hudson, 2006). While a lot of people could understand each language, most can’t speak the others. In turn, if a language cannot be understood, they were treated as noise (Liro-Hudson, 2006). Some people get annoyed by this. In one instance, one of the characters does not understand the langauge being spoken in the radio, so it was depicted as noise. This is in direct relation to the sound that the busy city itself emits. In the movie, one of the characters, Arrow, was driven crazy because of the construction noises outside his apartment. It is also important to note that different sounds can be heard in the city. Aside from being depicted as noise and as tool for communication, language was also used to portray the message of the film through music. In the film, a band called Yentown (same as those called to immigrants and to the city itself) was the central focus of such sound.

 As mentioned above, various langauges were used in the film. Aside from the proper understanding of such sound, accent is also critical. Some people may speak English, but they have Cantonese or Japanese accent. This makes the sound they emit a little bit weird. This created a lot of code switching as seen in the movie. As mentioned above, some languages wered depicted as noise because they cant communicate using it. When Ageha was getting a tattoo, she has to speak with and English speaker and a Japanese speaker both at the same time. So she does a lot of code-switching in terms of using langauge as a tool for communciation. However, the sudden change to another language can be miscontrued as noise by another person who does not understand it. It is important to note the usage of Japanese actors who tried speaking in Chinese so they could have strong Japanese accent. This is in direct relation to the code switching of the language. While they try to communciate, they still have accents that might hinder them from being understood. This is exactly the life of most immigrants in the area. This depiction relays this theme and portrays various factors affecting it.

 Aside from the depiction of language for communication and as noise, it was also used for music. A lot of sounds in the film were this sound. Some were English like the song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra while some were in Japanese like songs orginally sang by the Yentwon band. While communication is difficult, music played a big part in uniting some of the characters in the story. This backs up the universality of music in terms of using language for communication.

 The sounds in the film were used to relaty the relationship of the city, the immigrants, and the locals in the area. By doing such, the various themes of the story was conveyed. This also created a lot of the code switching aimed by the director. One could identify that while some languages were used for communciation, others were depcited as noise because they can’t understand it. On the other hand, the use of music can unite everyone even if some does not understand its lyrics. Through the use of sounds embedded in the use of language as a tool for communcation, various themes were conveyed. The same could be said about the its depiction as noise and as music.


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