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nettime: Japanimation and Techno-Orientalism

Japanimation and  Techno-Orientalism            
Toshiya Ueno

Japan as the Sub-Empire of Signs 

The word Japanimation is neologism that is made by two words, Japan+animation. 
Now, Japanimation is seen in whole world. And people outside Japan are
interested in the Japanese subculture including Manga and Japanimation, etc.
If people once asked "What is ZEN?", then now people asks "What is Otaku?".
But I'm very skeptical about this condition. This phenomena is absolutly
the effect of globalization, information capitalism.
Under the Fordist economic system of the past, globalization meant nothing 
more than "Americanization," and media and entertainment were supplied by 
Disney animations. 
However, we must now consider seriously the fact that the post-Fordist 
social environment of globalization will include Japanimation and ponder
its meaning. In other words, the strategy of this cultural movement is the 
effect of the Sub-imperialism. According to Kuan-Hsing Chen, the sub-empire 
is secondary dependent empire which has hegemony much more in culture and 
economy than military system. And this new verson of imperialism uses 
sub-culture in general. By analysing a Japanimation film, I would like to 
illustrate and critcize Japan as the sub-emipire of signs.

                 The "GHOST IN THE SHELL"

The film "GHOST IN THE SHELL"  is set in the world of AD2029. This near 
future is not so information-based that nations or ethnicities have vanished 
, although networks of many enterprises have covered the planet, electrons 
or light running through them. In this world , East Asia is a huge corporate 
zone dominated  by multinational economic and information  operations.
In this world, the lives of human beings are intertwined with advanced 
technologies. It is a world of cybernetics and sophsticated electronic 
information networks , where the border between people and machines 
sometimes becomes blurred or invisible. For some people, reality is only 
virtual. Many humans in this world become cyborgs, a comlex of man and 
machine. Except for the kernel of their brain, some people in this age 
already have substituted a cybernetic, prosthetic body for their own body . 
The main character of the film, a woman named  Motoko Kusanagi, is the 
leader of the "Shell Squad", Section 9 of the Department of the Interior, 
which has been formed by the government to combat cyber crimes and 
political terrorisms in the information society. Through the net, crimes 
have become more sophisticated and more violent. The story of the film is 
about a conflict and conspiracy among some departments and agents in the 
government. The events are concerned with a strange hacker who has the code 
name "Puppet Master". This unidentified super hacker started out as a
computer virus manufactured by the Foreign Ministry. The "Puppet Master"
can take over human beings to further his own purposes by using what is
called "ghost hacking".     
Even though a human in this world may almost have changed its own body into 
a machine,  it still can remain human  in so far as  it has  its own "ghost".
Ghost is a sort of spirit, not mind in general. It is indeed unconciousness
itself, but is also memory, which can help found people's identities.
"Puppet Master" says " memory can not be defined , but it defines mankind."
As if it were the water in cup, the identity of a human needs a form or shell
at the same time  that it needs "ghost". We can't distinguish between shell
and ghost in human beings. But the problem isn't about the traditioal
philosophical dichotomy between mind and body. Rather we come face with the
very basic question in SF : Is  cyborg the human or the machine?  What is
self or identity for cyborg ma(chi)n(e)?  The "Shell Squad" team as an
organization tries to chase and catch  the "Puppet Master" while Major
Motoko Kusanagi tries personally to respond to that basic question. 
For sometimes Motoko is skeptical about her identity and whether she has
"ghost". Because her body is almost a machine, she is caught in a
paranoia according to which  she was made as an android and provided with
a virtual self and an artificial "ghost". In fact, some people arrested by
the "Shell Squad" as the "Puppet Master" have turned out to be just only
agents who were given fictitious personality by cyber brain hacking.
 They  were "puppets without ghost" and they have only illusional image and 
memory and self identity. These problems are closely concerned with the 
micro=politics of identity including opposition and segmentation between 
class, gender, ethnicity and "race". It is can be said that human and cyborg 
belong to different tribes and "race"each other. This context recalls the 
problematic of "cyborg politcs" presented by Donna Harawey. Broadly  
speaking, the question here, is the self a mind or a spirit or does  
the self consist of a suit, a  shell, prosthetic technologies?  Does the 
vested shell or suit incorporate the body and become the self itself, or 
doesn't it?  So as audience of this film ,we share the same question with 
Major Motoko: the problem of the "shellfishness of selfishness" and the 
question of  "Who am I ?"
The "Puppet Master" has appeared to the "Shell Squad" and  It(or perhaps he) 
speaks  through a cyber body without ghost. It seems that he allows 
himself to be caught. He affirms, "I'm not an AI. I'm a living, thinking 
entity who was created in the sea of information." It is easy to see here 
the problem of Artificial Life (AL). For natural life DNA is nothing more 
than a program designed to preserve itself. And then life, when organized 
into species, relies on genes to be its memory system. Conversely the 
computer and cyber technologies are the extension (explosion) of human memory.
 Some programs can function independently from human will and so gain autonomy.
If these processes become more complicated and sophisticated, then certain
programs or algorithms are going to become more similar to life itself. Of
course it is very different from the life in nature, but at least we can see
and define some information program as Artificial Life(AL). In this sense, the 
"Puppet Master" as AL uses "meme" and cultural genes to control many humans 
and systems. It has "ghost".

           Informational capitalism  and Techno-Orientalism

Manuel De Landa has already remarked that interest in AL came out of 
reflexion on the failure of the AI paradigm. He has always stressed the 
shift from a top down aproach to a  bottom up aproach , for the latter 
depends upon emergent and autonomous processes in information science. In 
general, Artficial Life experiments include the design of a simple copy of 
an individual animal, which must have the equivalent of a set of genetic 
instruction that are used to create its offspring as well as being  
transmitted to that offspring. DeLanda says....

"This transmission must also be "imperfect", so that variation can be 
generated. -The exercise will be considerd successful if novel 
properties, unimagined by the designer, emerge spontaneously." 
-" Virtual Enviroments and the emergence of synthetic reason"
If AL truly were more than a simple program and could become life, it  
would  send some information to its own offspring by "imperfect 
transmission". The behavior and intention of the"Puppet Master" in this 
film  is based on this logic. Thus in the end of this film, the "Puppet 
Master" proposes to  Motoko to merge with each other. By this unification he 
would able to get death, as in real life, while Motoko could generate  
varied offspring into the net.
One probably could say that we have already known "Puppett Master" in our 
ordinary  lives. In fact it is possible to find invisible manipulators  in 
the market and the financial system. The market and capital increasingly are 
becoming dependent on emergent processes and non-linear logic. "Emergence" 
here means the sudden change of some states in any system or a haphazard 
phenomenan relying on a radical contingency. In the paradigm of AL, this 
emergence and  bottom up decision making in a system are very important. 
This is why we can consider the work of huge capitalist corporations and 
the complicated virtual financial system from the point of view of 
Artificial Life (or Artificial Market). There is nothing like the 
"invisible hand of God", but there are some invisible hands of "Puppet 
Masters". Of course this is just an anonymous process,  but at least one can 
 say that the "Puppet Master" is an allegory of information capitalism.
De landa presents a similar point of view about the market.("Markets and 
Antimarkets in the world economy", in Techno Science and Cyber Culture, 
Routledge 1996) Any replicating system that produces variable copies of 
itself , in order to get new evolving forms, has to need " the divergent 
manifestation of the antimarket". The market for capitalism has always 
already consisted of self-organized, decentralized structures. And it has 
always also been an "antimarket". The antimarket is an aspect of the
non-linear process of the market itself.

To analyse this film further, I would go back to the issue of "Japanimation" 
itself. Why is this kind of animation  so  highly  developed in  Japan ?  I 
think that one reason has to do with the gaze of Western people toward 
Japanese culture. And the problem is also about Orientalism. For example in 
70's when the German techno-pop band "Kraftwerk" used android or machine-like
gestures in their live shows, they took the gestures of Japanese buisiness
men in Europe as their model. It shouldn't be surpriseing that they were
interested in robot like bowing and expressionless laughter. 
David Morley and Kevin Rovins have argued, in their influential book The 
Space of Identity, that "Western stereotypes of the Japanese hold them to 
be sub-human, as if they have no feeling, no emotion, no humanity" 
("Techo-Orientalism: Japan Panic", in The Space of Identity, Routledge, 1995).
These impressions come from the high development of Japanese technologies. 
They are a phenomenon of "Techno-Orientalism".
The basis of Orientalsim and xenophobia is the subordination of others in 
various areas of the world  through a sort of "mirror of cultural 
conceit". A host of stereotypes appeared when binary oppositions -- culture 
and savage, modern and pre-modern , and so on -- were projected on to the 
geographic positions of Western and non-Western. The Orient exsists in so 
far as the West needs it, because it brings the project of the West into 
focus. Naoki Sakai says on this point ,

"The Orient does not connote any internal commonality among the names 
subsumed under it , it ranges from region in the Middle East to those in the 
Far East. One can hardly find anything religious , linguistic or cultural 
that is common among these varied areas. The Orient is neither a cultural , 
religious or  linguistic unity. The principle of its identity lies outside 
itself: what endows it with some vague sense of unity is that Orient is that 
which is excluded and objectified by the West, in the service of its 
historical progress. From the outset the orient is a shadow of the West."
If the Orient was invented by the West, then the Techno-Orient also was 
invented by the world of information capitalism. In "Techno-Orientalism", 
Japan not only is located geographcally , but also is projected 
chronologically. Jean Baudrillard once called Japan a satellite in orbit. 
Now Japan has been located in the future of technology. Morley and Rovins

"If the future is technological, and if technology has become 'Japanised', 
then the syllogism would suggest that the future is now Japanese too. The 
postmodern era will be the Pacific era. Japan is the future, and it is a 
future that seems to be transcendinng and displacing Western modernity."

Japanimation is defined by the stereotype of Japan as such an image of the 
future. The West is seduced and attracted by the model on the one hand, 
while on the other hand the model of Japan is looked down upon rather than  
envied by the West. Furthermore this complex about Japan seems to contain a 
psycho-mechanism similar to anti-semitism. As is will known, Japanese 
capitalism is highly developed and has become very powerful in many areas 
such as the US, the EU and Asia. Techno-Orientalism works there as a 
manipulator of the complex about Japan, in which Japan is the object of  
transference of the envy and contempt  from other cultures and nations. So 
now, a role resembling that of the Jew is being played more and more by the 
Japanese. Of course it is vain to link the Jew and the Japanese actually  
and essentially. Rather The Jews and the Japanese function as the effective 
figures of the information captalism.

                           The Japanoid Automaton

I think that the stereotype of the Japanese ,which I would like to call 
"Japanoid" for not  actually Japanese , exists neither inside nor outside 
Japan. This image functions  as  the surface or rather the interface 
controling the relation between Japan and the other. Techno-Orientalism is a 
kind of mirror stage or an image machine whose effect infulences  Japanese 
as well as other people. This mirror in fact is a semi-transparent or two 
way  mirror. It is through  this mirror stage and its cultural apparatus 
that Western or other people misunderstand and fail to recognize an always, 
illusory Japanese culture, but it also is the mechanism through which 
Japanese misunderstand themselves. 
Different from the Lacanian mirror stage, a complete solution for this 
structure of disavowal, through which a "real" Japan could be properly 
recognized, is impossible. 
It is interesting that in the film " GHOST IN THE SHELL" , the metaphor of 
the mirror is very used often in a particular way .In particular, the"Puppet 
Master" has whispered a passage to from  the Bible to Motoko when he has 
tried to approach  her through cyber hacking. In the end of the film , the 
"Puppet Master" says to Motoko - "We resemble each other's essence, mirror 
images of one another's psyche."  And after she merges with the "Pappet 
Master", Motoko cites the Bible as bellows -                

"What we see now is like a  dim image in a mirror--. Then we shall see face 
to face.  When I was child, my speech, feelings and thinking were all those
of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways."

There are two mirror stages in this context of Techno-Orientalism. One is 
about the encounter between the human and the machine, the human and the 
net. And another is about the relation between Japan and others(Western , 
other Asian, etc ). These two mirror images constitute the "Japanoid" as 
object of envy and hate. I have already mentioned that the Japanese have 
often been laughed at because of their "automatic" robot-like gesture. Of 
course as Freud has observed there is very close relationship between 
automatic action and humor and laughing. But here  one should be think  
about why androids or robots are ridiculed and why the person laughed at
becomes like an android. Rey Chow has an interesting analysis of this point.

"In Chaplin's assemmbly line worker, visuality works toward an 
automatization of an oppressed figure whose bodily movements become 
excessive and comical. Being "automatized" means being subjected to social 
exploitation whose origins are beyond one's individual grasp, but it also 
means becoming a spectacle whose 'aesthetic' power increases with one's  
increasing awkwardness and helplessness."
"Postmodern Automatons" in Writing Diaspora, Rey Chow, Indiana Universtity  
Press, 1993"

To affirm the culture and the industry of the modern world is to summon the 
"automated other" by introducing the rhythm of technology and machine of 
each age into ordinary life. As far as workers, women, the ethnic other 
experience a radical change in work conditions because of high 
technology, the image of the automated doll is imposed on them. This image  
also is imposed on the nation=people who overadapt to the mutation of 
technological conditions. Needless to say the Japanese is being seen as 
the "automated other". Japanimation, which organises the image of 
automatization and animation (giving it a life form), constructs and 
presents a "Japan" as an "automaton culture" and as the "Japanoid" in 
"Postmodern Times". 
It is worth returning to the "Puppet Master" in this film , because the      
"Puppet Master" reminds us of the control of the "automaton". The one 
controled doesn't think he is a puppet, but in fact he behaves as a puppet 
controled by a master. It is the same with the relation of an ideology in 
general to humanbeing. Motoko, as a woman cyborg, thinks of herself as an 
"animated automaton". In order to supplement her void (as cyborg, as woman, 
as minority....etc), she agrees to the proposal to merge with the "Puppet 
Master". She as a minority would abandon her "ghost" to a huge system and 
net. In turn the "Puppet Master" as system would get death and a so called
life cycle. Rey Chow has already defined the strategy of the cyborg feminist
as rejecting the binary opposition of masculine-human-subject-versus
-feminised-automaton. .
Chow argues that, this strategy " retains the notion of the automaton  
- the mechanical doll - but changes its fate by giving it life 
with another look. This is the look of the feminist critic. Does her power 
of animation take us back to the language of God, a superior being who 
bestows life upon an inferior?" Chow asks. This is the task of the cyborg as 
half machine, half animal and transgressive being. Conversely, when a 
subject takes up that tactics of transgression, it becomes like a cyborg 
unconsciously. So for the cyborg feminist, this strategy should be extended 
further than "animating the oppressed minority". Cyborg feminists have to 
make the automatized and animated situation of their own voices the 
conscious point of departure in their intervention. By abandoning and 
sacrificing her own identity and ghost to the "Puppet Master", Motoko takes 
up  the strategy of cyborg feminism. 
The "Japanoid Automaton" could be rejected in this way, but this rejection 
and resistance has always broken down in Japanese subculture. The 
a-national (non-national) culture of Japan and Japanese (Japanoid) are 
"animated and automatized" as being non Western and non Asian. In this 
cultural climate, a Japan imaginarily separated from both West and East is 
reproduced again and again in the political unconscious of Japanimation 
(subculture). Though Japanimation has often emphasized the landscape of Asia 
and Japan in te near-future, it is the operation of forgetting and conceal 
the real situation of Asia and Japan. In certain sense, Japanimation is an
ideological apparatus at the same time that it is also -virtually?- 
a armament of criticism. 
Why do Asian landsapes excites the cyberpunk imagination? Certainly it would 
be possible to reduce the problem to the influence of the film "Blade 
Runner". But it should be considered that Japanimation has illustrated the 
mutation of global capitalism itself by appropriating the illusion of Asia 
or Japan. By choosing Hong-Kong  as the settiing of this film, and trying  
to visualize the information net and capitalism, the director of this film, 
Oshii Mamoru, unconsciously tried to criticize the sub-imperialism of Japan 
(and other Asian nations).

Japanimation is traveling through the cultural diaspora into the world, and 
is translated, communicated, and misunderstood. It should be cited the 
passage from Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto"."There is no way to read 
the following list from a standpoint of "identification", of a unitary self. 
The issue is dispersion. The task is to survive in the diaspora."If the 
image of shell and suit in cyborg has been moving, it is not vain to 
discover the "automated other" in various expressions and in global 
information capitalism itself. It is another way to "animate" the other
and the minority.

Toshiya Ueno
   critic, media actvist
   associte professor of Chubu UNV

private address  306-1-2-10  
Suwa , Tama-city , Tokyo,Japan
T/F 81-423-75-6463

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