Kojima and the Soviet Union

NEGLECTING CULTURE

 

Soviet stamps depicting Japanese and Soviet relations. The stamp to the left is from 1990 and reads “Sovmyestnyi Kosmicheskyi Palyot” (Joint Space Flight), USSR-Japan. The stamp to the right reads “Mir, Druzhba” (peace, friendship) and depicts the 1966 second Soviet-Japanese “peace and friendship” summit in Khabarovsk. Soviets were known for their internationalism and willingness to work with foreign nations, even capitalist ones as Japan or rival ones as the US.

Soviet stamps depicting Japanese and Soviet relations. The stamp to the left is from 1990 and reads “Sovmyestnyi Kosmicheskyi Palyot” (Joint Space Flight), USSR-Japan. The stamp to the right reads “Mir, Druzhba” (peace, friendship) and depicts the 1966 second Soviet-Japanese “peace and friendship” summit in Khabarovsk. Soviets were known for their internationalism and willingness to work with foreign nations, even capitalist ones as Japan or rival ones as the US.

It is well-known that the Soviet Union practiced mass-surveillance to root out spies and traitors, maintained a one-party rule operating within a very limited command economy, imprisoned defectors and traitors in harsh gulags and practiced wide censorship to erase possible corruption elements and propaganda which may cause subversion or civil unrest. We see many of these aspects in the Metal Gear franchise, and as demonstrated by grim characters like Volgin, we can perhaps get very negative impressions of the dead nation. As history is written by winners and the USSR was the one that collapsed, the entire Soviet bloc was and is depicted in the media as little more than a criminal and oppressive dystopia which received a well-earned sendoff, like Volgin’s fireworks display. Sadly, there is more to the Soviet Union if you bother to study its culture and its people, a side not many people get to know. With all its sociopolitical and economic problems, the USSR was simply just one more country inhabited by very real people, living very real lives like everyone else. You may even be baffled when hearing that a lot of people now miss the USSR and the Communist bloc because they found out what capitalism was truly about as is the case of Romania, where most people miss the simple stability of having an apartment to live in, a stable job, free healthcare and education and a car, all certified and ensured by the state. Also, crime was non-existent in the Soviet Union, one of the aspects missed most by people, and vagrancy was also non-existent due to heavy state intervention. It’s not surprising to see the internet swarming with comments like the following. I took this from the comment section of a typical “Che is a demon” article:

“I grew up in a Communist country (Hungary in Europe), and I don’t like people saying Communism sucks and it’s bad. I had a very happy childhood, I was very happy to be a Pioneer (that’s what we were called), nobody cared about the ideologies, we were doing great things together. My parents were happy, they both had a job, we did not starve, there were no homeless people or beggars on the streets, there was very-very little crime in the country, there were no drugs, you could let out your child on the street without having to worry, there was practically no unemployment, we had good healthcare, great schools, everybody could afford to buy books, go to the theatre, cinema. We weren’t rich, but we were happy and safe. Now we have capitalism, everything is the opposite, crime, drugs, homeless people, beggars, horror and sex on television even in the afternoon when kids can watch it, unemployment, etc. Thank you, I was much happier in Communism! I couldn’t travel? So what? I can’t travel now either, ’cause I don’t have the money and I constantly have to worry about losing my job!”

You can see statements like these all over the internet. Personally, I can’t help but fully agree with this person, but those are my own views.

If you bother with watching Soviet films or even read Soviet literature, you will see a radically different country than the one painted by the US and its allies, or even by the resentful Soviet dissidents and émigrés who ended up in the US, a beautiful country with people full of vitality, honesty and good values. I could go as far as to say that the average Soviet citizen knew how to appreciate life better than anyone in the US, due to caring for their few possessions and being unaffected by mindless consumerism. Thus, it’s painful to see that Kojima doesn’t seem to escape the Western clichés from the films he loves. No country, no matter how big or small, is free from sin, and it is certainly a shame that Kojima can’t produce an openly heroic Soviet character if he can produce Unitedstatian ones, despite all the obscure sins that surrounded the North American nation. At least he managed to produce pretty solid Sandinista Latin American characters in Peace Walker, still the most anti-US game to date.

ParamedicKojima’s depiction of the USSR is somewhat simplistic, though. While it’s true that the only side of the USSR depicted in the game is that of the military and the government, there was plenty of room for a humanization of the opponent or a more prevalent criticism than Johnny’s grandfather resenting the Cold War. If you know anything about Russian culture, you notice this immediately. In MGS3, a character from our support team named “Para-Medic” constantly talks to us about films she’s seen after saving the game. All of the films she mentions are either Unitedstatian or Japanese. Now, we could assume she doesn’t talk about Soviet films because they are not translated or even made it to the West in the game’s historical context, but she could still talk about the themes in those films, and if she can get a hold of obscure and rare films from Japan and Britain there’s no reason to believe why she could not get Soviet ones, especially after the de-Stalinization period of Khrushchev. This, at least it seems that way, is just Kojima blatantly ignoring Soviet cinema. In the ‘60s, some of the very best Soviet comedies and drama films were made, and science fiction thrived notably too. Soviet sci-fi was also what is called “hard science fiction,” which as you may know, deals heavily with proper science while attempting realism, and pretty much tries to ignore crazy monsters and zany adventures in favor of scientific explanations, strong characterization and plot. Women for example, weren’t props to be rescued as in US films, but were almost always cast as, for instance, pilots, generally useful in a crew. Soviet science-fiction thrived notably during this period, the start of the Space Race, and it managed to inspire the West numerous times, for instance, in 1967, Ivan Yefremov’s 1957 acclaimed novel “The Andromeda Nebula” had finally been made into a film. “Nebo Zovyot” (“The Sky Calls“), a film from 1959, depicts a Soviet and a US conflict in space for exploration on mars. It was so popular that Francis Ford Coppola even made a US version, “The Battle Beyond the Sun,” and Stanley Kubrick himself used graphics and illustrations from the film in his masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Planeta Bur” (Planet of the Storms) from 1962, however, would be the prime Para-Medic film, as it includes a US-Soviet trip to Venus, depicting spaceships, The Fury-esque cosmonaut suits, firefights, dinosaurs such as t-rexes and pterodactyls, and natural perils as Venus’ sulphuric acid-ridden surface, volcanoes and earthquakes. It sounds crazy and corny, but it’s actually very well done. With Para-Medic’s uncontrollable enthusiasm with films, it seems completely out of character that she’s never heard of such a film. It is possible given the game’s time period and context not to hear of a Soviet movie in the West no matter how famous, but this is fiction, and the game is trying to illustrate points with the movies it references. Realism doesn’t have a place here, especially not of the kind that can hamper the message or the artistic direction of the game. Besides this is the CIA, I’m assuming Para-Medic could get Major Zero to somehow steal a bunch of Soviet sci-fi films and have the CIA subtitle them. Whatever. The thing is, it basically means it was not Para-Medic, but Kojima who never heard of the films, or rather, didn’t care for them enough to reference them. Pity.

Badass cosmonauts; The Fury from MGS3 to the left, screenshot of the Soviet film "Planeta Bur" to the right. What? Soviet sci-fi about gun-toting cosmonauts? You bet.

Badass cosmonauts; The Fury from MGS3 to the left, screenshot of the Soviet film “Planeta Bur” to the right. What? Soviet sci-fi about gun-toting cosmonauts? You bet.

Later sci-fi films which became notably well-known in the West include one of the most famous, Leonid Gaidai’s “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession” from 1973, called “the Russian Back to the Future”; “Stalker” and “Solaris” by Andrei Tarkovsky, and “Kin-dza-dza!” by comedy director Georgyi Daneliya. However, these are incompatible with MGS3’s time period, hailing from the 70s and 80s.  The point is, if Kojima calls himself a film-buff and claims his life is “80% movies,” then he should know of these films without a doubt.  Instead, Kojima misses out on a great opportunity to motivate people into studying and enjoying the culture of the USSR, so as to not see the former country as little more than an outdated and generic evil enemy, and fails at giving the Soviets a human face. I’m sorry, but you can’t call yourself a film buff if you only know of US films or from the West, or of films from your own country, and if you purposefully choose to ignore them then you’re clearly dehumanizing the enemy and falling into the Western clichés you supposedly want to avoid, namely, Western ignorance of the Eastern Bloc.

A film buff should be absolutely international and reach a certain level of curiosity for the films of perceived “enemies.” It’s really doubtful that he doesn’t know of Soviet films considering what a film buff he supposedly is, so we can only assume he chose to ignore the entire thing, setting for the “Crazy Attack of the Gigantic Killer Zombie Spiders from Space” films of 1960s United States. Perhaps this is meant to illustrate the shallowness of the entertainment Westerners crave, as in the “Godzilla” conversation with Snake, when Para-Medic refers to it as “mostly mindless fun, but it’s got a serious anti-nuke message as well.” This line actually defines MGS3 in a nutshell. The thing is, you can watch productions by Mosfilm for free in the Internet, and judge by yourselves the themes depicted in the USSR. Unlike the escapist science-fiction Unitedstatian paraphernalia Para-Medic loves, Soviet films deal with the reality of society and are strongly apolitical for their country of origin, placing a strong emphasis in characterization and acting instead of special effects and cheap thrills. It’s very hard to convey the power of Soviet cinema with a few words here, so I strongly invite you to check it out for yourselves, for example, in Mosfilm’s website, where literally hundreds of films can be viewed absolutely free and with subtitles in English. Certainly, it’s a missed chance considering that most of us in the West are completely used to Unitedstatian films while someone with the cinematic knowledge of Kojima could have educated us with cinema of true quality and his personal insights regarding the content.

Columbia Pictures, featuring Columbia, a national personification of the United States.

Columbia Pictures, featuring Columbia, a national personification of the United States.

Mosfilm, featuring the famous statue "Worker and Kolkhoz Woman" by Vera Mukhina, with the Spasskaya Tower in the background.

Mosfilm, featuring the famous statue “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman” by Vera Mukhina, with the Spasskaya Tower in the background.

Another character of mention from our support team aside from Para-Medic is Sigint. Sigint is black, which is impossible for the game’s context and setting, the racially-troubled 60s. However, if we suspend our disbelief, we can perhaps believe it, in the same way we could believe Para-Medic got a bunch of ultra-forbidden Soviet films. But that’s not the important thing about Sigint; it’s his fascination with the USSR’s inventions. He basically admits that the AK-47 is the best assault rifle in the world and that the SVD is better than any other sniper rifle the West has produced. The technological gizmos which didn’t exist by this time such as the fictional USSR-built night vision goggles and thermal goggles absolutely amaze him, which in turn make him show admiration for SigintSoviet technological prowess. Sigint also seems pretty knowledgeable about the USSR, talking about the Order of Lenin, of the usage of anti-tank dogs in WWII and the worldwide policies of the USSR, and flat-out says that the communist nation exports its worldwide revolution to third-world countries, providing them with research on effective and economical tactics to make up for lack of funding. It always seemed odd to me, as Sigint appears to be not enamored of the USSR as Para-Medic is with Japan, but he certainly seems impressed by Soviet technology and certain aspects of its system/culture. They definitely couldn’t have put a clear Soviet sympathizer on a CIA team for obvious reasons, but what about someone with sufficient knowledge of Soviet history and culture in order to provide Snake with tips, aside from technology information? Someone like Nastasha Romanenko, or maybe even better, a Unitedstatian defector, like EVA fools you into believing, but a true one who could also flesh out the reason for the defection. It certainly would have worked wonders considering the game’s setting, but perhaps we may get some of that in MGSV.

 

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