Full Metal Apache Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America
By Takayuki Tatsumi
Duke University Press Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-3774-4
Chapter One Mikadophilia, or The Fate of Cyborgian Identity in the Postmillenarian Milieu
In the wake of cyberculture, multiculturalism, and postcolonialism in the 1980s, we cannot help but notice the tremendous impact of hyperreality (that is, of a media-saturated reality in the sense of Jean Baudrillard) on the discursive status of "orientalism" as a western stylization of the East and of "occidentalism" as an eastern stylization of the West. For multinationalist hypermedia have helped to blur the distinction between reality and fiction as never before. At the same time, the western concept of logocentric reality has proved to be no more than a dominant narrative. Let me illustrate this point by reconsidering the recent relationship between the United States and Japan, exploring the three stages in the development of "mimicry": the essentialist myth of originality and imitation, the late capitalist synchronicity between different cultures, and the multicultural and transgeneric poetics of chaotic negotiation.
The Three Stages in the Development of Mimicry
There is nodoubt that, since its reopening to the outside world in the early Meijiera, that is, in the 1860s, Japan has persistently westernized, modernized, and especially "Americanized" itself by closely "imitating" Anglo-American styles and obediently following the example of modern, white, western civilization. And yet until recently, few critics have fully examined the political nature of Japanese mimetic desire. Recent postcolonial theory can help us in this project. Japan was of course never formally colonized by a western nation, and indeed it became a colonial power itself. However, Japan's status as one of the objects of western, including American orientalist, imaginations and Japan's efforts to emulate western and American examples make it useful to draw on concepts developed in postcolonial theory, such as mimicry, in order to understand the complex interactions between Japan and the United States. As Homi Bhabha points out in his essay "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse" (1984), it is in the comic turn from the high ideals of the colonial imagination to its low mimetic literary effects that "mimicry" becomes visible as "the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite" (Location of Culture, 85-86). It has long been assumed that although the colonized respond to colonial domination via a complex "mimicry," this mimicry can never succeed in effacing the difference between the western original and the colonized copy. Western thinking on Japan has much in common with attitudes toward the (formerly) colonized. Thus westerners have both admired and denigrated the Japanese as adept mimics, who are good at copying but lack in originality.
Postcolonial theorists, however, have exposed the concept of originality as a western ideological invention, and in turn they see mimicry not as a failed attempt to achieve originality, but as a counterstrategy that radically problematizes the very origin of originality. Using these insights, Marilyn Ivy, in her provocative book Discourses of the Vanishing (1995), has explained the myth of "imitation" with regard to Japan: "It is no doubt Japan's ... entry into geopolitics as an entirely exotic and late modernizing nation-state instead of as an outright colony that has made its mimicry all the more threatening. As the only predominantly nonwhite nation to have challenged western dominance on a global scale during World War II ... Japan, in its role as quasi-colonized mimic, has finally exceeded itself: now it is American companies, educators, and social scientists who speak of the necessity of learning from Japan in the hope of copying its economic miracles, its pedagogical successes, its societal orderliness" (7).
Following Ivy, an innovative reconsideration of mimicry can thus provide us with a powerful device for analyzing U.S.-Japanese relations from a postcolonial perspective.
Ivy's reformulation of Japanese mimicry has direct and persuasive applications for literature. Modern Japanese writers, whether prewar or postwar, started their careers by imitating and assimilating the works of Anglo-American precursors. One example is The Legends of Tono (1910), an apparently original collection of Japanese traditional myths, legends, and folklore compiled by the father of Japanese nativist ethnology, Kunio Yanagita. Yanagita's text focused on the town of Tono in the Deep North of Japan where people still encountered difficulty in telling fact from fiction and the actual from the imaginary, just like the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow in Washington Irving's tale. Yanagita modeled his work on the author of the famous short story collection Kwaidan, Lafcadio Hearn, a.k.a. Yakumo Koizumi. Thus, it was not the Japanese nationalist Yanagita but the multinational author Hearn/Koizumi who established a Japanese sensibility for folklore at the turn of the century, when the popularity of "Japonism" in Europe and the United States reached its peak. While Yanagita himself believed this supernaturalist anthology to be antithetical and even "antidotal" to modern westernization, his project was in fact not imaginable without the western orientalist Hearn. In a sense the search for "originality" turned out to be the result of "imitation," revealing how problematic both concepts are.
In the 1950s and the 1960s, it became almost inevitable for Japanese writers to adopt much from the latest translated Anglo-American fiction and to follow American examples produced in the Pax Americana climate. Thus the Japanese tried to import a huge number of Anglo-American cultural products and unwittingly misread their own occidentalism as a genuine internationalism. And Japan's excessive occidentalism has sometimes gone so far as to simulate the most canonical discourse of western orientalism.
Representations of the ethnic other, whether correct or incorrect, have long enchanted talented writers who are ambitious to incorporate the most avant-garde images into their fiction. Just as Anglo-American representations of the Japanese still seem to derive from the stereotypes of Fujiyama-geisha-sushi-harakiri, so we Japanese (including intellectuals) have long modeled America upon the stereotypes of Kennedy-Apache-Gone-with-the-Wind. In her provocative essay "Imaging the Other in Japanese Advertising Campaigns," Millie Creighton carefully analyzes the way in which advertisements in Japan invoke foreigners of several sorts, especially white occidentals who are referred to as "gaijin": "In ways parallel to Western orientalism, Japanese occidentalism also involved a sexual projection of the other, particularly the allure of the occidental woman. However, as a response to the increasing impact of Western culture on Japan, Japanese occidentalism involved more than attraction to and exoticization of the Western other. The creation of gaijin as a social construction of
Japanese occidentalism also mirrored a need to assert control over the moral threat of an intruding outside world" (144). Japanese commercials of the mid-1990s are perfect examples of such an occidentalist strategy for domesticating and naturalizing the other. In a Kirin beer campaign, Harrison Ford is depicted not as a glamorous celebrity but as an ordinary "salaryman" working for a typical Japanese company. As David Lazarus reports, a number of a-list Hollywood stars can still be seen pitching Japanese products in more traditional I-use-this-and-so-should-you endorsements. "Jodie Foster sells cars. Madonna and Sean Connery sell liquor. Arnold Schwarzenegger sells energy drinks.... Demi Moore sells shampoo. Sharon Stone sells cosmetics. And, of course, there's Sylvester Stallone, who seems a particularly apt choice for commercials that sell ham" (Lazarus, "Harrison-San!," 58). Thus the traditional discourse of Japanese occidentalism has at once exoticized and domesticated gaijin; it has tried to overcome its hidden Anglophobia, which is caused by the essentialist myth of originality and imitation. The result has been a certain synchronicity of Japanese occidentalism and American orientalism.
One significant aspect of postwar Japanese history has been the metamorphosing of masochistic imitation into the principle of technocapitalist recreation. In his splendid book Suicidal Narrative in Modern Japan, Alan Wolfe has described the sensibility that shaped thinking on postwar Japan: "If there is a metaphorical paradigm that best characterizes historical writing about the 1940s in Japan, it is that of death and rebirth.... The resulting combination of marginal deprivation (buffeted by American rations and black marketeering) and relative freedom seemed to produce a mood of heady optimism and expressive vitality" (167).
The way the Japanese responded to the disastrous earthquake that struck the Osaka-Kobe district on January 17, 1995 (the beginning of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II), illuminates how a distinct form of memory has developed out of the postwar history of Japanese reconstruction. This form of memory represents, assimilates, and domesticates the earthquaking other. Just as economic recession in the 1980s seduced Americans to revive the discourse of Japan bashing, so the Osaka-Kobe earthquake carried some Japanese religious fanatics to renewed anti-Americanism. Both sides of the Pacific made every effort to erase their respective national trauma.
Thus it is notable that immediately after the earthquake, Shoko Asahara, the charismatic leader of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo (The True Teaching of Aum), attributed the disaster to a conspiracy of the United States, whose "mysterious Great Power had set off the earthquake either with a small, distant nuclear explosion or by 'radiating high voltage microwaves' into the ground near the fault line" (Sayle, "Nerve Gas," 68). No matter how fanatic this death cult is, its response to disasters is very typically occidentalist and has a longer history.
Back in the 1950s, the monster Godzilla represented the similarly sinister effect of nuclear devastation brought about by the United States. The figure of Godzilla as the ultimately disastrous other helped the postwar Japanese reconstruct a national identity by making themselves into victims of and resisters against an outside threat. The occidentalist Godzilla of the 1950s helped postwar Japanese writers develop the prophetic imagination of a creative masochism based on what William Kelly has designated "the absence of moral panic" in the panel on "Hollywood and the Media" at the conference "The American Cultural Impact on Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, 1945-1995: An International Comparison" (Brown University, April 1996). What is more, in the mid-1960s, the weekly Japanese TV series Ultra Q, featuring a variety of post-Godzilla monsters, accelerated the alteration between destruction and reconstruction. However fatally Tokyo gets destroyed by brand-new monsters, you will find the very same city reconstructed quickly and beautifully next week. Armageddon happens once a week, Resurrection the following week. This is the two-beat jazz that Japan was dancing in its high-growth period.
Like Henry Adams, who saw the turn of the century as the transition from the time of the Virgin to that of the Dynamo (Education of Henry Adams, chap. 25), I could well reconsider postwar Japan's rehabilitation as a paradigm shift from the emperor as the feudalistic demigod to Godzilla as the postnuclear semigod. As if witnessing this paradigm shift, the mainstream novelist Shichiro Fukazawa published in the November 1960 issue of Chuo Koron an anti-imperialist and blasphemous short story "Furyu Mutan" (The Story of a Dream of Courtly Elegance), and unwittingly incited a right-wing terrorist to murder, on February 1, 1961, the family maid of the president of the publishing company. Since this story narrates the fantasy of a popular revolt that not only overthrows the Japanese government but also executes the imperial family in a series of intimately described decapitations, it is no wonder that the murderer, a member of the Aikokuto (Great Japan Patriotic Party), got angry enough to attack (indirectly) the writer or the publisher. What matters here, however, is that, as John Whittier Treat has pointed out, Fukazawa's story disclosed the paradox of "the emperor's status as both reified symbol and reigning symbolist," and that his rhetoric made the text "anathema to many right-wing activists and left-wing intellectuals alike" ("Beheaded Emperors," 106). Put simply, by unveiling the limit of ideology with the paradox, Fukazawa skillfully offended "the political orthodoxies of progressive intellectuals and imperial absolutists alike" (111). It is through this aporia of ideological struggle that a brand-new paradigm becomes visible.
Thus, taking the place of the emperor as well as caricaturing the mechanics of the emperor, Godzilla as the new paradigm came to be followed by similar images in the 1970s. Examples include Shozo Numa's far-future speculative fiction Kachikujin Yapoo (Yapoo the Human Cattle), completed in 1970; Isaiah Ben-Dasan's Nihonjin (Nipponjin) to Yudayajin (The Japanese and the Jew), published in 1970; and Sakyo Komatsu's four-million-copy bestseller Nippon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks), whose amazing book sales coincided with the 1973 oil shock. As I will discuss in more detail elsewhere in this book, while the ancient Jews experienced the original diaspora (597-598 B.C.) in Babylon as an ontological predicament, Komatsu radically reconfigured the very notion of diaspora into a powerful engine of Japanese capitalism in the high-growth period of the 1970s. What is more, let us note that, symptomatic of the oil shock and the end of the Vietnam War, the year 1973 saw the astonishing coincidence between Japan Sinks and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, neither of which could have been written without the kind of nuclear imagination that is represented by Godzilla. Komatsu and Pynchon undoubtedly meditated upon what would happen to the postapocalyptic junkyard and how we should react to the age of reconstruction. This is how they both in equal measure predicted postdiasporic and globally networked space in the posteighties reality, in which everything is connected with everything else, mostly as if through a web of conspiracy. And it is this postwar historical background that enables us to witness the paradigm shift from the logic of imitation to the logic of synchronicity between Japan and the United States in the 1980s, and the advent of chaotic negotiations between orientalism and occidentalism in the 1990s, as I will show in the conclusion.
Into the Abyss of the Pan-Pacific: Why the Obsession with Blade Runner?
Now take a comparative glance at a pair of magic trees that intruded menacingly into the cultural deep forest of 1999: Tim Burton's "Tree of the Dead" and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Charisma." The first of these trees is featured in Sleepy Hollow, a film by the quintessential cult artist Tim Burton based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by the nineteenth-century American romantic Washington Irving. Modeled roughly on the enormous and fearful "tulip tree" that Irving depicted in the original story, Burton's "Tree of the Dead" is a sort of monster. When attacked, it bleeds copiously and vomits out the human corpses it has swallowed. It also serves as a way station through which a headless rider passes en route between the real and other worlds.
The second tree appears in Charisma ("Karisuma," as the Japanese title is transliterated), a film by the young Japanese cinematographer Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa), which is based on a story he wrote after ten years of planning. Kurosawa's "Charisma" tree is a kind of cyborg that generates pollutants. Although the people of the forest have cared generously for the tree, considering it part of the law of the world and maintaining it through a high-tech process, the tree creates a biohazard and requires them to confront the aporia: should they choose this tree or the whole forest?
The symbolic as well as synchronic representation of trees has a familiar literary heritage, spanning from the trees of William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter to those of Kenzaburo Oe. Yet the critical difference between the Tree of the Dead, a kind of organic, self-willed intelligence, and Charisma, a tree that influences and controls everything in the woods around it but is itself devoid of substance, serves as an especially telling sylvan reflection of the cultural contrast between the United States and Japan at the turn of the new millennium. Indeed, these trees offer near perfect allegories of the construction of their respective national identities.
To interpret these allegories, let us begin by considering how the authority of the American president corresponds not to that of the Japanese prime minister but rather to that of the emperor. In the early republican era, the people of the United States wanted George Washington to be their emperor, disclosing and naturalizing the contradictory structure of what might be termed "democratic imperialism." At the conclusion of the revolution, George Washington occupied a position of unchallenged authority in the thirteen former colonies, and there was strong sentiment in the Continental Army for crowning him king. Washington was appalled by the idea and angrily rejected it when it was broached to him by Colonel Lewis Nicola, a Frenchman who had served under Washington and who is reported to have had a great deal of influence with the officers in the army (Roberts, "Stubborn Washington"). The presidential campaign of 2000 found this feudalistic American tradition alive and well; as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out ("Counter Culture," 24), both George W. Bush and Al Gore were inheritors of hereditary power within a vibrantly nepotistic cultural milieu.
In contrast, Japan has been forced to live with what might be called "imperialistic democracy," enjoying the contradictory but peaceful coexistence of the emperor and the prime minister. While the American president can be characterized as a responsible, accountable individual who mimics the heroic role of Superman, the Japanese emperor is a weirdly chimeric cyborg, who has always first and foremost been required to preserve and prolong his own life, even under inhuman conditions, in order to secure the integrity of the nation.
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