第二章 : Consumerism in ‘Paranoia Agent’ and the history of Kawaii culture

Satoshi Kon (2004) once stated that, “Paranoia has a stronger image than fantasy. In order to go through life people have to have an alternate reality, fantasy. A world filtered through his/her fantasy or paranoia”. This could also refer to Kon’s TV show Paranoia Agent (2004), which details the corruption of media branding and cuteness, on society. Kon’s words could be relevant in explaining consumer’s needs for alternative realities through the filter of merchandise and branding. It is a world within a world, and as I reflect on Paranoia Agent, I will be discussing the issue of anime and its connivance in the creation and distribution of the narcotic effect present in toy exports, such as Kon’s creation of Maromi – a physical metaphor for delusional consumerism.

It is through the media that the people of Japan believe kawaii is of national importance. Because of the importance of anime within Japanese culture, it does not denote that every person likes it in society. It is marketed well but it is undeniably only seen as ‘cool’ to those who are fans. I believe this isn’t a view shared by many in the Western world. It is easy to label a country based on what we see from the media, but this is as much American as it is Japanese. The imported exoticism, which appropriated and incorporated American pop culture, emerged from local initiatives rather than explicit American motives or interventions. The construction and strive to build their own identity, and have their own power, indicated their distance from American taste and European. The fans are attracted to a balance of familiarity and alien elements, which openly appropriates and remakes the Western genre conventions. Japanese independency, to an extent, is a result of America’s own authority over every country. This is further investigated in Levi’s quote, “By interacting with the stories and characters of popular anime and manga through fan fiction, “cosplay” and video games, American fans have personalized and adapted the medium to make it their own.” (p.43).

The first instance of a ‘cute’ character in the media was Kurukuru Kurumi-chan. Similar to the visits of Western artists to troops in Japan, Kurumi-Chan appeared on paper dolls, stickers, and even postcards to raise the morale of soldiers during World War II (Manami., Johnson. 2013) Kon eludes to this in Paranoia Agent when a character shouts “This is just like right after the war”. In the context of the show the character is, in Figals’ (2010) words, “Raising the issues of Japan’s war responsibility and victim consciousness, as well as suggesting the role of post-war consumerism in occluding an honest recognition of the past upon which present affluence has grown”.

Once Yuko Shimizu was created in the 70’s, identity became a large fashion statement. Certain ‘cute’ products that a girl liked and wore would help the girl to become a part of a large group that also identified with that character. There is a level of escapism that relates back to the Western Comicons. You meet someone with a different cultural background, but you both connect over your love of anime. In real life you could hate each other but you escape into a shared interest and a shared identity of which you can lose sight of your real life goals. If we come back to ‘cute’, we can see girls identified with it because it shows an imperfection, especially from the West. In the West, there is an obsession with attractiveness. Hollywood arguably invented the idea of a perfect woman, and this differs greatly from the traditions throughout Europe for example. Cuteness almost relates to the feeling of rebelling against tradition.

As cuteness seeped into Japanese society, the American text would also be embraced to go against Japanese culture. When the country eventually realised that cuteness was a way to power, they used it. This was the intention of Pokémon, as Kelts (2007) states, “In Japan the shows were made to sell the toys. It’s the other way around in America.” Iwabuchi (2010) exposes the reasoning behind this, “We have witnessed the rise of what I would call brand nationalism – uncritical, practical uses of media culture as resources for the enhancement of political and economic national interests, through the branding of national cultures.”

What he describes applies to the representation of regional specificity in popular culture. Confucian values can be promoted and pan-Asianism is used as a sales tactic. At the heart of this method lies a longing for the past; nostalgia for cultural identity of which they can use as an authentic way of selling a product.

Reference:
Figal, G., Lunning, F. (ed.) (2010) Fanthropologies: 5. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. P.90 – P.154
Kelts, R. (2007) Japanamerica: How Japanese pop culture has invaded the U.s. NEW YORK: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp.117-118.
Kincaid, C. (2014) What is Kawaii? Available at: http://www.japanpowered.com/japan-culture/what-is-kawaii (Accessed: 12 May 2016).

Levi., Brown (ed.) (2006) Cinema Anime. Springer. p.52

Manami, O. & Johnson, G (2013). Kawaii! Japan’s culture of cute. New York: Prestel Publishing.

第一章 : How Satoshi Kon exposes the entertainment industry through the film ‘Perfect Blue’

Satoshi Kon’s films have been the base material for such Hollywood films as Requiem For A Dream (2000), Black Swan (2010) and Inception (2010). Kon is compared more to Western directors such as Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch than anime directors Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell, 1995) and Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli), which is fascinating because his work references Japanese society explicitly. So why is the West inspired by Kon and the rest of Japanese popular culture? This is a question that I will attempt to answer over several blogs, this first post focus’ on Perfect Blue.

Although all of Kon’s films are intentionally disorientating, Brown (2006) states, “Kon possesses a strong social/sociocultural consciousness— several of his works are not only grounded in contemporary social issues but also serve as clear critiques of Japanese society”.

If we look at the opening scene, Mima is performing in the same outfits as the two other singers in the J-pop group, and they dance in sync with each other. There is a sense of Mima not being an individual; she is not in charge of her own fate, which essentially means someone else is pulling the strings. This is undoubtedly referring to the entertainment industry, as we see Mima losing control further into the film when she is made to film the rape scene. Brown (p.32) suggests Mima is, “largely a cash cow whose move into acting is stage managed— where she will be all the more an object of the gaze— for what seem to be purely financial reasons…As in a later scene when fans buy up magazines containing nude photos of the new, “sophisticated” Mima.” This reflects a vague view of the industry, as acting or singing is often seen to be used to puppeteer people to make profit. This can be seen in any ‘talent’ show internationally, not solely relating to Japan. The search for talent is made out to be what makes good entertainment. In this case, Japan is the focus, and what makes money is the soft power employed by the government to influence society.

Mima embodies the Shkjo image, with the innocence of a schoolgirl and a cute face; she is the ideal woman of male fantasies. This is depicted within Perfect Blue when Mima is surrounded by the film crew (who are all men). Brown (P.26) elaborates, “The Shkjo has become a signifier of contemporary Japanese consumer culture in its obsession with the ephemeral and the material.”

Satoshi Kon was truly a remarkable anime director. He created stories that hid so much truth under the surface. A talent lost far too soon.

 

Reference:

Brown, S.T. (2006) Cinema Anime. Pp.25 -.32 Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=EV_HAAAAQBAJ&pg=PR4&dq=brown+steven+t+brown+cinema+anime&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi9ta-AhtPMAhUrCMAKHUjxA4UQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=brown%20steven%20t%20brown%20cinema%20anime&f=false

 

The downfall of British comedy?

I will be giving my thoughts on the following article. www.dailymail.co.uk/showbiz/article-4325872/British-comedy-lewd-puerile-lavatorial-lacking-flair.html

Ok, yes popular Brit comedy shows aren’t like they were. Vulgarity is easy and ironically tame because of exposure to such jokes on the internet. When Bottom first aired in the early 90s, parents were outraged at such immature jokes, but that was the point. Bottom was a response to shows such as the good life which focused on middle class family life. Bottom was original and appealed to the youth and working class. Fine. So is there really no originality, intelligence or edginess anymore? What about Inside no 9. Oh what? you caught the end of it and thought it was “sick” and not a comedy? OK, what about stand-ups Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr? Stupid question, this is the daily mail.

Edgy humour is dark because it is reflecting the world around us. The people who don’t want that depressing satire can watch Mrs Browns Boys, that’s fine. All is not lost! There’s plenty of great new comedies just on the bbc, such as the detectorists and fleabag. Don’t think that British comedy is dependent on popular shows. Do what the daily mail couldn’t and watch the WHOLE half hour. Be prepared for it not to be like the “good old days”. Lets be optimistic and just have a laugh about the state we’re in.