When: 3pm on Zoom
As foreign residents of Japan, we are of course interested in ‘understanding’ Japan (leaving aside whether that’s even possible). But one aspect of Japan which makes this difficult is the glossing over of Japan’s experience in its Long War from 1931-1945 – more than a decade of horrors, culminating in the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With public discourse on its recent past stifled for practical and psychological reasons, popular culture became the only post-war conduit for any Japanese curious to engage with that fascinating but terrible period.
It’s to understand this phenomenon that we asked Roland Kelts to interpret Japanese popular culture for us. His credits include, in particular, the book JAPANAMERICA, a global best-seller and read in Hollywood from Quentin Tarantino to aspiring directors, not to mention millions of anime fans.
Roland will describe how, while officially the Japanese armed forces have been thrown into the equivalent of a psychic and historical trash-can, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s greatest battleship, the Yamato, still sails through the galaxy as a popular science fiction construct. Given the tradition of ghost stories in Japanese culture, one is tempted to imagine its dead sailors getting a measure of posthumous satisfaction from this existence. In reality, this monster battleship ended its existence in a tragic suicide mission. Ironically, one of several movies about ‘Space Battle Ship Yamato’ also ends in a suicide mission, but for a noble cause. Decades ahead of Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds, Japan’s artists had discovered the pleasure of re-inventing history with a much happier ending…
Roland will also comment on how Japanese pop culture discusses masculinity. He shows that strong, decent father figures are less common than their opposite: Astro Boy for example is created, like Frankenstein, by a man driven mad with the loss of his son. He fails to protect and nurture Astro Boy, who like Pinocchio, yearns for a loving family. I personally noticed in the great Miyazaki movie Totoro that the father of the two girls is an obtuse, weak presence – oblivious to the suffering and adventures his daughters are going through. Perhaps this reflects the people’s sense of betrayal by their war-time ‘fathers’, in particular the Pope/Emperor Hirohito.
Finally, Roland will describe the business model of pop culture in Japan, which often leads to the spectacular misallocation of profits. These rarely go to the artist, and if Hollywood or Wall Street are involved, rarely to the Japanese side either!
Any CEO wishing to see a side of Japan beyond the bland pictures of temples and rice paddies, will find this event both stimulating and useful!