Category Manga and Japanese Identity
I’m not here to defend Ghost in the Shell in any of its manifestations, for as regular readers of this blog already know, I find it mostly to be authoritarian drek for ammosexuals. Only Stand Alone Complex comes close to living up to the series’ intellectual pretensions, perhaps because it has much more time and space to develop its thematic threads. What I do want to push back against, though, is this notion that the opinions of Japanese people are somehow irrelevant. For if, as Berlatsky argues, the live action film is an assimilationist fantasy, then that makes it even more Japanese, not less, and the very moment in the film he brings to bear in support of his argument, the lack of shame for abandoning the past, is actually what aligns it perfectly with the problem of how Japan’s own imperial history works in the politics of the present.
The theatrical elite that seek to shape Maya’s destiny have, quite literally, no regard for her genetic family, only for how her social relations might be reshaped so as to further their own ends. Similarly, as we see in the kindai period, education, particularly those educational institutions created to serve elite/bourgeois ends, fractures family in service of a society largely beyond the individual’s control but to which the state demands a precise form of obeisance. Contemporary Japanese society has not escaped this mobilization of shōjo culture–if anything, it has simply adopted a new mask.
Mononoke is for many, once even for myself, a sacred object, a relic that embodies a transcendent anime ideal and to which, much like the bones of martyrs, the “true fan” must pay obeisance after a long pilgrimage. Even now with my ideological misgivings I have to admit that the film is breathtakingly beautiful, its pacing clear and direct–it tells its story well. But the question as to whether it’s a good story, one that bears the ceremonious retelling that an anniversary would seem to demand, remains an open question.
There were–and remain–then, two forms of sexual expression that were both mandated and directly overseen by the Imperial (now “democratic”) state: motherhood and prostitution. With motherhood, the state controlled the means of reproduction, the means by which imperial subjects were created and inculcated with certain values. Prostitution was sanctioned by the state in order to appease the all male military and keep them in line. Stability in the military was important given the frequency with which splinter factions within it mounted insurrections meant to “restore the Emperor,” a polite euphemism for “our ruling on his behalf.”
Oshii’s animated film and its source material posit a world in which one’s racially marked body is rendered irrelevant, that it can be discarded at any time for another that in no way resembles one’s “original” racial makeup. To be sure, the choice to cast Johansson as Kusanagi is likely a cynical one, but at the same time casting a white woman in an “Asian” role could be read as a subtle reflection of the very indifference to race and to conspicuous racial markers that both the underlying narrative and the mukokuseki ethos of Japanese commerce cannot help but embody.
So, last week I went on a bit of a philosophical/theoretical tangent with a mind to explaining where much of what I have to say not only in today’s post but throughout the run of this blog comes from conceptually. I would strongly suggest, dear reader, that you go back and read it before advancing […]
Shōjo manga draws a great deal of critical attention, because its very existence as both a demographic and conceptual category, for better or for worse, foregrounds questions of gender to the same degree that shōnen, as I have previously argued, tries to minimize them. Shōjo manga seem to play with gender and how gender is construed, romantically […]