13 July 2014

guest post - back and forth media

As we at Study of Anime are either 1) getting back from ConnectiCon or 2) finally fixing their computer (and resetting files, programs, and all that tediousness), here's a guest post by Sid Motaghi, a recent graduate of The New School, where he studied Media Studies. You can find him on Twitter at @betatapeofpast also.

In Bolter and Grusin’s book, Remediation: Understanding New Media, they discuss the elements of immediacy through hypermediacy, transparency in digital media, and a double logic of remediation. Remediation as defined by the contemporary entertainment industry is a type of borrowing called “repurposing.” Such examples include: television can and does refashion itself to resemble the World Wide Web, and film can and does incorporate computer graphics into its form.

I say all this because the concept of repurposing can be applied to Japanese animation works, which seem to be in constant dialogue with works from other cultures (music, art, film, etc) - notably Western film. That is to say, Japanese animation (known as anime) and film, and Western animation and film, are influenced from each other.

The first example I would like to bring up of such a dialogue is the anime film Akira. This is a famous film that was based off a manga, but better known and respected for its film adaptation. It falls under the genre of cyberpunk action thriller set in the future. Some of the film’s influence has been drawn from sci-fi films such as Blade Runner and 2001:A Space Odyssey. Since Akira was the first major anime to be introduced to North America as an anime, not counting Speed Racer or Sailor Moon, which were dubbed and presented as ‘cartoons’, Akira’s influence was so large that movies like The Matrix were influenced by its main character Tetsuo. The protagonist in The Matrix, Neo, basically shares the same psychic powers Tetsuo in Akira attains as the movie progresses. The Matrix has a number of influences not just from Akira, but another anime film entitled Ghost in the Shell. Ghost in the Shell has so much in it that echoes in The Matrix, from the visual aesthetics in both films being remarkably similar, to the action sequences in Ghost in the Shell where The Matrix pulls the concept of what we call “bullet time,” to the philosophical dialogue being spoken by the characters in both films, the amount of similarities and comparisons feel endless. This later also turns around: in the Animatrix short film collection, often now bundled with the later Matrix films, animation studios such as Madhouse, Studio 4C, and famed director Shinichiro Watanabe are involved with the short film stories revolving around the concepts that the Matrix franchise used.

If you watch Satoshi Kon’s films like Perfect Blue and Paprika, you’ll notice that elements from each film is being addressed and borrowed to appear in Western films as well. Parallels between Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue were made when Black Swan was released in theaters: Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan is slowly losing her mind like the former performer turned actress in Perfect Blue.

The last anime I would like to make an analysis of as an anime being a compilation of Western film influences is Cowboy Bebop. The fact that one of the series’ hallmark phrases is “See you Space Cowboy” can’t help make one but feel that the series of Cowboy Bebop is echoing Western cowboy cinema from John Wayne and Clint Eastwood: the fact that the anime series features gun-wielding standoff action sequences similar to classical Western cowboy films does not hurt, either. Another striking homage is the fact that the director of the anime deliberately titled each episode of the series after a famous American song such as "Bohemian Rhapsody" from Queen, and the soundtrack feels very jazz-like in tone; homage upon homage, layers upon layers. Taking the music of the series aside, this should not be surprising: almost every episode in Bebop in fact is homage to some other kind of media, whether it is from a film, TV show, or another medium. Take these examples for instance: the episode “Toys in the Attic” is a direct homage to the movie Alien in the way the plot of the episode is structured, and the episode "Pierrot Le Fou (Requiem for a Clown)" is actually based off a postmodern French film from Jean Luc-Goddard of the same title, and the villain of the episode, Mad Pierrot, has been said to be a mixture of a few of Batman’s traditional comic nemeses including The Joker and Penguin. This is a bit more complicated, as Cowboy Bebop incorporates much more than art styles or episode structure elements from other media, but serves as a stellar, multi-layered example of borrowing, re-purposing, and dialogue across cultures and different forms of media.

Western and Japanese media have been remediating each other throughout history to this day: addressing cultural influences and symbols, and new spins on themes - like any medium of entertainment has done since recorded time. As more and more people have access to media from across the world, it is only reasonable to expect this sort of re-purposing - remediation, mediation, and more - to become a dialogue and conference of media from multiple areas of the world, with many layers of influence from differing cultures, all creating and sharing their creations with one another.

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