NapierConfrontingting_Master_Narratives

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Unformatted text preview: Confronting Master Narratives: History As Vision in Miyazaki Hayao’s Cinema of De-assurance Susan J. Napier There is something. . . timeless about the concept ofglobal culture. Widely diffused in space, a global culture is cut off From any past. As the perennial pursuit of an elusive present or an imagined future it has no history. A global culture is here and now and everywhere, and for its purposes the past only serves to offer some decontexualized example or element for its cosmopolitan patchwork—Anthony D. Smith, “Towards a Global Culture?” Ifyou opened a map OFJapan and asked me where was the forest of the s/zz'shz'gamz' that Ashitaka went to, I couldn’t tell you but I do believe that somehow traces ofthat kind of place still exist inside one’s soul.~——Miyazaki Hayao, in an interview with Yamaguchi Izumi, 1997 “Who speaks for the past?” Robert Rose‘nstone asks in his introduction to Rem'sz'oning History, a discussion of New History Cinema. Recently, this question has gained in importance as the past is acknowledged as one of poritiom 9:2 © 2001 by Duke University Press positions 9:2 Fall 200i 468 the key elements in the’formation and maintenance of national identity, paradoxically (but hardly coincidentally) at a time when “historicity” seems to be on the wane. As the trend toward globalization has intensified over the last decade, both national histories and national identities have become contested territories, as the citizens of an increasingly interdependent world attempt to define themselves vis—a—vis what many fear to be an oppressively homogeneous global culture dominated by the United States. This “struggle for memory," to use Henry Giroux’s term, takes place not only in the areas of policies and politics, but also within the mass entertainment industries of television, video, and film, which increasingly take on the job of “speaking for the past” to the audience.I If anything, far more than the diatribes of pundits or the letters (or characters) on a printed page, it is the visual rep- resentations of an embodied historical “reality” offered by the hybridized popular culture space of film, television, and video that most profoundly affect the viewing subject, offering the audience visually arresting and se— ductively plausible simulations of historical time and space. Depending on both producer and audience, these simulations can be either palatable or provocative, reassuring or subversive, but they are always more than simple reproductions of historical reality. As Shohat and Stam put it, “Narrative models in film are not simply reflective microcosms of historical processes; they are also experiential'grids or templates through which history can be written and national identity created.”2 ‘ Iffilm and the visual mass media in general can indeed help to “write his— tory” and “create national identity,” the question ofwho speaks for the past in these industries becomes ofparticular importance. In the immediate postwar period in Japan, for example, the spokespeople included filmmakers such as Kurosawa Akira, whose vivid, humanisticjz'daigeki (period films) both ex- ploit and deconstruct the mythology of samurai warfare, and Ozu Yasujiro, whose films, although set in a contemporary postwar world, consistently elegize a vanishing past in which patriarchal authority was still sacrosanct. Even though Kurosawa’s films often problematized certain myths and Ozu’s work lamented their passing, they both offered memorable visions ofa past that still had room for heroism and humanity and which, though separate from the contemporary world, resonated deeply within a Japan that was struggling to redefine its identity after its defeat in the Pacific War. With the Napier | Confronting Master Narratives 469 rise oftelevision in the 19605 and the beginning ofthe animation boom in the 19703, concurrent with the deep cultural changes occurring as Japan went from economic dependent to economic superpower, however, visions ofthe Japanese past became both fragmented and ideologically diverse. They now ranged from the conservative remapping ofWorld War II history into a vi— sion oftwenty—first—century collective sacrifice in the animated science fiction classic Uchurcnkan Yamazo [Space Battleship Yamato] (dir. Matsumoto Leiji, 1972), to Imamura Shohei’s carnivalistic celebration of popular upheaval in his 1981 film Ez'janaz'ka. In the U.S. context one strong candidate for “speakerhood” is unques— tionably Walt Disney pictures, whose films manifest a distinct U.S. style and tone and have met with great success since the inception of the Disney Studio in the 19205. Disney’s influence both in the United States and globally is so immense that it has also generated a backlash. Indeed, some commentators such as Scott Schaffer suggest that there is a “guiding pattern behind Dis— ney’s use of local stories or histories [which is] the expansion of American political, economic, and cultural imperialistic power in the second halfofthe twentieth century."3 This assertion to my mind overstates Disney’s agenda, which is, after all, primarily to entertain and sell as many tickets and as much tierin merchande as possible. At the same time, however, it is also clear that, as Schaffer and many other commentators suggest,4 Disney products and projects, which distort history and culture, function as mass cultural legiti— mations of an essentially U.S. worldview, one that is upbeat and centered on individual action and initiative, and—while it acknowledges Otherness— often ends up erasing difference through its joyously inclusive finales, such as the “group hug” ending ofA'laddz'n or the uniting ofmermaid and human in The Little Mermaid. As such, these films participate in a larger project of American cinema, especially its most popular films, and that is to function as a cinema ofrcasxumnce, to use Robin Wood’s term,S which promotes a vision ofa world in which all problems are solved and harmony is restored under the aegis ofU.S. ideology and values. This vision, as evidenced by the global success of Disney and films by directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, is one that resonates worldwide. Indeed, few would be likely to disagree with the notion of Disney and U.S. mass culture in general as a winner in the contest ofcultural positions 9:2 Fall 2001 470 expansion throughout the world, and this article does not minimize their influence.6 Instead, I give an example of a mass cultural alternative that offers its own distinctive vision of the world, a vision that at times directly challenges the thematics of reassurance of so much of US. cinema. The alternative is the Japanese animation industry, whose products, usually called anime, embrace a far wider continuum of approaches to culture, history, and national identity in general than most ofthe products from the contemporary Hollywood film industry. In contrast to most US. cartoons (at least until the recent success of The Simpson: and Soar/i Park), anime texts offer a dark and complex view of the world. Even conservative fare, such as the popular Gundam and Yamato series of the 19705 and 19805, is set in dangerous science fiction worlds where favorite characters die and, in the memorable climax to Farewell Yamato, national icons such as the beloved space/warship are last seen embarking on a suicide mission. More recent anime set in the domestic world of high school life, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena or Serial Experiments Lain, portray the vaunted Japanese education system as a chaotic world of bullying, betrayal, and fear with no redeeming authority figures to intervene. This is not to suggest that all anime is subversive or that all anime texts are masterpieces. As truly mass cultural products, anime texts differ widely in quality. Estimates vary, but at least 40 percent of the Japanese film industry’s product is animated. With such an enormous output, it is inevitable that a considerable amount of anime can seem simplistic, repetitive, and boring to everyone but the most devoted fan. Even in its most juvenile form, such as the popular Pokemon television series, however, Japanese animation has achieved global impact (with Pokemon on the cover of Time), leading one scholar to declare it “Japan’s chiefcultural export.”7 Not only is anime worth studying in terms of its status as cultural export, but it is also a fascinating harbinger of what might be a new way of looking at national culture and identity, one that rests less on a firm separation or even interplay between self and Other, and more on the gradual acknowledgment that in the transna— tional postmodern world of contemporary mass culture, the Other (in terms of both national and gender divisions) might increasingly be imbricated within the self. Napier l Confronting Master Narratives 47] Nowhere is this trend more obvious than in the animated features written and directed by Miyazaki I-Iayao for his Studio Ghibli. These films are both popular and subversive, especially in regard to conventional gender coding. Furthemore, the studio’s most. recent hit, Mononoke/zz'mc [Princess Mononoke](1997), also problematizes traditional notions ofJapanese history and national identity. Despite its sometimes unconventional representations, however, Studio Ghibli is the most important animation studio in Japan, occupyinga position roughly equivalentto that ofDisney, and Miyazaki is the best—known animator in Japan today. Although he bristles when described as the Walt Disney ofJapan and the studios have in certain respects different agendas, they also share many similarities that cannot be ignored, especially after Walt Disney Enterprises in 1996 acquired the rights to a number of animated films produced by Studio Ghibli. Ghibli was not established until the 19805, but, like Disney, it was a family operation (and still is), presided over by one creative genius whose vision imprinted itself strongly on the studio’s products. (In Miyazaki’s case this includes his imprint on films created by his colleagues at Ghibli, Takahata Isao and the late Kondo Yoshifumi.)8 This vision was not simply aesthetic (although it is that as well—both studios consistently produce films and tie—in merchandise that have a distinct studio look), but also encompassed a moral and ideological worldview that both critics and supporters might describe as an “agenda.” Both filmmakers use similar tools such as tightly controlled narratives, at least by Japanese animation standards, with upbeat endings often involving children or teenagers as the central protagonists, and psychological realism, overlaid with a strong dose of the fantastic, to impart certain messages to a target audience that is usually a family market. These messages can be described as humanistic and emphasize such values as loyalty, friendship, responsibility, and initiative. Indeed, though Miyazaki’s work has darker elements than the Disney films, much of his work can also be considered to negotiate an essentially reassuring narrative structure. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the way the two studios are alike is that they have consistently mined the folklore, history, and fantasy of other countries and cultures for material for their films. In the case ofDisney these include such well—known examples as Aladdin (dir. John Musker, 1992), set in Arabia and inspired by the story from/1 Thousmzdand One NightrgMulan (dir. positions 9:2 Fall 2001 472 Barry Cook, 1997), set in historic China and inspired by a famous legend; and Thefungle Book (dir. Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967), set in nineteenth—century India and inspired by the Rudyard Kipling books. Works of Miyazaki in- clude films such as Majo no tnkkyubin [Kiki’s delivery service] (1989), about a young witch exploring a fictional European city whose architecture and landscape contain hints ofboth Stockholm and the Mediterranean; Kurtnaz' no bum [Porco Rosso] (1992), about an Italian aviator flying the Adriatic im— mediately after World War I; and, perhaps the most imaginative, Tenku no :ln'ro Lapum [Castle in the sky Laputa] (1986), about two children searching for a castle in the sky that is clearly inspired by the flying island Laputa of Gulliver’s Travels. Miyazaki says the heroine ofthe postapocalyptic ane no tnnz' no Nam-icon [Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind] (1984), set entirely in a future world, was inspired by the young princess Nausicaa, who cares for Odysseus’s wounds in The Odyssey, and the valley she lives in, with its windmills and castles, is clearly reminiscent ofEurope. Although they both decontexualize other cultures for material, there are crucial differences between the ways the studios use this material. First, Miyazaki uses non—Japanese sources to serve as the basis for distinctively orig— inal visions. With the'exception osz'kz', which is based on a children’s novel by Japanese writer Kadono Eiko, the other works are entirely Miyazaki’s creations. In contrast, Disney follows the essential. framework of the origi— nal story (often within very broad outlines) and then adds the touches that transform the original into a more Disney-like product. Even more important is the difference between the ideological messages from each studio. Although both messages are broadly humanistic, it seems that Disney, almost paradoxically, concentrates on “Other” cultures to con— struct or at least reinforce its vision of U.S. identity. As Schaffer suggests, “[Disney] does this by utilizing stories from the past—from traditions, gen— erally those of other countries—in such a way as to reinforce the values and cultural practices of America.”9 The female protagonist in Mulcm, for example, seems to owe more of her plucky humor and self—starting ability to contemporary idealizations of the young American female than to the actual heroine ofthe'legend. No matter what country or culture they belong to, virtually all of the Disney protagonists engage in what might be called “performing Americanness.” Napier | Confronting Master Narratives ' 473 In significant contrast, Miyazaki’s characters can almost never be solely described as “performing Japaneseness.” Instead, Miyazaki seems to use his cosmopolitan sources and settings to create characters that, while retaining certain characteristics linked to Japanese society, are distinctively more in— dependent in thought and action from the group-oriented characteristics traditionally celebrated in Japanese culture, such as the group allegiance of the samurai in Kurosawa’s S/zz'c/iz'm'n no samurai [Seven samurai] and the collective fighting power of the “Sailor Scouts” in the anime series Seem munu [Sailor moon].IO In other words, Miyazaki’s works do not simply decontextualize foreign countries and cultures to reinforce a national iden— tity. Instead, he works them into the narrative in a way that subtly erases traditional distinctions between the Japanese self and the foreign (usually Western) Other. This is especially true of his female characters, who are often the protagonists. These female protagonists are an intriguing mixture ofcharacteristics that include elements that are explicitly Japanese as well as others that suggest a Western identity. On the Japanese side, they clearly partake in contempo— rary Japan’s culture of the :hojo (young girl). As delineated by both Japanese and Western scholars, the :hojo occupies the site of play (515051) in mod— ern Japanese culture. Feminine, inn0cent, and cute in the quintessentially Japanese form of cuteness known as kawaz'z’, the shojo serves as an appeal— ing alternative identity in contrast to the image of the hardworking, highly pressured Japanese male. In the works of writer Banana Yoshimoto, they are also linked with nostalgia, an aspect that can be seen in the vision of 19505 female children in Miyazaki’s Tomzri no Totoro. Often, however, the s/zojo is depicted as older and is subtly eroticized. Most ofMiyazaki’s heroines are in their early teens, and although their sexuality is never highlighted, charac— ters such as Nausicaa and San have clearly female figures and relationships with male characters that seem at least potentially erotic.11 Miyazaki’s heroines differ from the typical shojo, however, in their active— ness, determination, and independence. Even in the 19905 the :lzojo depicted in anime and manga (comics) often had overtly traditional characteristics, as exemplified by the dreamy, nurturing, and ultimately passive heroines of such 19905 romantic comedies asAa megamz'mma [Oh my goddess] and Dcnez' 5/10j0 Az‘ [Video girl Ai]. Although the heroines in recent, more subversive positions 9:2 Full 200] 474 s/zojo anime such as Serial Experiments Lain or the comic Sailor Moon are more complex (in the case of Lain) and more aggressive (in the case of the heroines ofSczz'lor Moon), they often are at the mercy ofcomplex, sometimes frightening forces over which they have little or no control. In contrast, many of Miyazaki’s female characters are remarkable for tak— ing charge oftheir lives. For example, Kiki in Kz'kz": Delivery Service stoically leaves home at age twelve to learn to be a witch, and the heroine ofNamz'— ma explores the apocalyptic wasteland and performs scientific experiments entirely on her own. In Monono/{e/iimc, San is a raging mix of anger and aggression who in one memorable scene attempts to take on human civiliza— tion with only the help of her two wolf “siblings.” Rather than try to refract contemporary Japanese reality through an idealized fantasy lens, Miyazaki instead seems intent on producing figures whose prime attributes could be found in Japan, but they exemplify more Western—type models of courage and heroism. Furthermore, these are attributes that are conventionally coded as male. Whether or not Miyazaki’s protagonists are realistic is another question. The critic Murase Hiromi quotes a letter she wrote to the director when she was twelve asking was he ever going to create a “real” female protagonist. As with Disney, therefore, Miyazaki seems to be explicitly fashioning his heroines as inspirational icons for his audience. The difference, however, lies in the fact that these heroines are indebted to both Japanese and West— ern sources for their overall characterization, unlike Disney’s more purely American protagonists. Miyazaki’s works were part of national debate in Japan during the 19705 through the 19905 (and, indeed arguably, from the Meiji period opening to the West) about what it means to be Japanese in an increasingly global world. Japan’s "national discourses and practices of this period often contra— dicted each other and increasingly showed the fault lines of any notion of national unity and homogeneity. On the one hand, the Japanese from the 19705 on bought books on Nz'lzonjz'm‘on (theories of the Japanese people em— phasizing Japan’s uniqueness vis-a—vis other countries) while a Diet member, Ishihara Shintaro, and Morita Akio, president ofSony, issued a controversial book urging the Japanese to “say no” to Western demands. The Japanese Napier I Confronting Master Narratives ' 475 National Railway even launched an immensely popular campaign, “Dis- cover Japan,” in which passengers, especially young women, were exhorted to go on journeys that would lead to a recovery ofJapan’s vanishing past and a discovery of the self as well. On the other hand, during this period many Japanese traveled abroad, and an increasing number of young Japanese at— tended summer school or spent semesters in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, supported by a government—sponsored program known as kokmaz'ka (internationalization), Japanese citizens imported and consumed Western goods in enormous quantities, while on the more abstract level of culture, Japan remained, in Marilyn Ivy’s words “a voracious and seemingly insatiable consumer ofAmerican cultural forms.”12 In the case of Miyazaki, with the exception of his nostalgic personal fantasy Tomm' no To...
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