what the fox said

December 26, 2013

I love foxes! But not because I think they’re cute, fluffy and silly. Nor because I think they’re sly, cunning and tricky. I love foxes because if you fail to respect their privacy, they will expect you to commit suicide. This often confuses people.

I decided foxes were my favorite animal at the age of six while watching what would become my favorite movie, Dreams. The film is presented as eight dreams from the life of the director, Akira Kurosawa. The earliest of these vignettes, “Sunshine Through The Rain,” tells the story:

A young boy lingers under the lintel of his family’s gate as rain begins to fall through the sunlight. His mother tells him not to go out, because foxes hold weddings during this weather that they don’t want humans to see. Disregarding her warning, the boy goes into the woods and spies on the foxes’ wedding procession from behind a tree. After some time, he is discovered and runs back home.

At his family’s gate, the boy finds his mother, who tells him that a fox came looking for him and that she can’t allow him back in unless he is forgiven. The mother hands her son a short blade the fox gave her, telling him that they expect him to kill himself and that he must be ready to die, because the foxes do not usually forgive.

The mother begins to close the gate, then her son protests that he doesn’t know how to find them. She tells him that on days like this there are always rainbows and that the foxes live under those. Then she closes the gate. The boy walks off toward the rainbow, his future uncertain.
These foxes don’t honor our distinction between children and adults, seeming rather more prone to treat humans with foxgloves (a toxic flower) than with kid gloves. Their realm borders and overlaps the human world, but it is very much their own domain and they are not kind to trespass.

Watching it for the first time, I didn’t see Kurosawa’s foxes as scary or misanthropic though. I saw them defending their own marginalized existence from human encroachment; affirming that what they hold sacred is meaningful apart from human comprehension or validation. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, the sound is still heard by the foxes.

Kurosawa’s foxes survive by guarding themselves from the human gaze, their mystery protecting them from being erased by our simulacrum. These are not real foxes, of course, but only Kurosawa’s foxes, another projected archetype—represented in the film by people wearing stylized fox masks. Another image to burn on the iconoclastic pile.

The most respectful way of speaking for the voiceless is by honoring the fact that whatever you say cannot be as true as their silence.

fox mask