by Justin Hall
We've had some friendly disagreement on Chanpon over Lost in Translation, a movie that plays with the jerky hipness of neon Tokyo. Was it honoring Japan from a foreigner's eye? Or using foreignness to excuse cheap jokes? The recent film The Last Samurai places a foreigner in traditional Japanese warrior culture, and likely leaves viewers with similar disagreements.
Japan's portrayal in Hollywood films may have become more nuanced. But that's not to say that those films are more Chanpon - more mixed-culture. Many people believe that films like these serve to separate and isolate Asian and Western cultures. Their concerns are examined in a four-page piece on the New York Times web site by Motoko Rich: "Hollywood's Land of the Rising Cliche."
Rich examines the debate surrounding these movies in a number of online publications, including Gothamist.com and the irritated Asian American Movement Zine. They found a "Last Samurai launch party casting call" asking for "beautiful Asian women" to stand around as ornaments. They saw Lost In Translation is the Same Old Story.
The piece also consults Tokyo-based film historian Donald Richie, who shares some of his typical pith: "I think it has something probably to do with the new image that Japan is transporting as trendy and right at the very edge of new technological discoveries."
Richie's latest book is "The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan," which dovetails neatly with the "Gross National Cool" theory that has been making the rounds. Douglas McGray original 2002 article in Foreign Policy magazine Japan exports animation and video games instead of cars, making for a worldwide cultural impact that belies its tiny population. Gen Kanai tracks the most recent references across four publications.
These pieces celebrated the power of Japan's exported cool. But Rich's article argues that this familiarity also breeds silly stereotypes, perhaps more than a deeper understanding of the complex and varied Japanese cultures. Quoting Richie again: "Its general zaniness is what appeals. The idea that Japan is a land of ravers where non sequiturs abound is very appealing to a certain level of Americans." As for The Last Samurai? People compare it to "Dances with Wolves," a saccharin treatment of anglo-native relations in North America. Politically correct.
These debates are likely to continue. And these films are likely to fuel future generations of foreign kids excited for an idealized Japan. And when they get off the plane in Tokyo? Then they become Chanpon, with all the pain and pleasure thereby associated.
Posted by Justin Hall at 2004年01月04日 17:02