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RESEARCH

Science fiction provides us with more than a glimpse of futurist visions, it allows us to probe questions of cultural , politics and socio-economic change in societies. Chris Goto-Jones reveals his fascination for this sub-culture and Japan’s long and mutating relations with ‘weird-’.

From science fictional Japan to Japanese

Chris Goto-Jones ers established and consolidated imperial fictive of Europe and the US. In rule across the globe. It is interesting to other words, whilst the fictions had slip- he term ‘science fiction’ is of relatively reflect that one of the other central, the- Gojira (1954) movie frame. streamed from negative to positive, Japan Trecent origin, apparently coined by the matic concerns of sci-fi is often considered remained science fictional. -legend in an edi- to be the encounter with difference, and torial to his new magazine, Science Won- occasionally with either the mystification Science fictional Japan in the der Stories, in 1929. Nine years later the or the demonisation of difference. In other post- world: magazine changed its name to Astounding words, sci-fi can be read as a thread in the specific race. In many ways, Heinlein’s In the years immediately following the end Science-Fiction, and thus the name entered weaves of colonialism and orientalism. is an intriguing window into Ameri- of the Second World War, anxiety about the history. However, throughout the 1920s Indeed, in recent years much of the most can fears about Japan’s imperial expansion emerging Cold War was clear in the so- and 1930s there were a plethora of com- sophisticated work on sci-fi has come from and its proposed Co-Prosperity Sphere. called ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction.’ In peting terms: pseudo-scientific, weird- the standpoint of post-colonialism. From 1949, George Orwell’s masterpiece Nine- science, and Gernsback’s own early favour- this perspective, we see the beginnings of As one of the most influential voices in teen Eighty-Four was published, in which ite ‘scientifiction.’ the creation of a science fictional Japan, as American sci-fi, Heinlein’s portrayal of the the fictional nation of Eastasia is identi- well as the coincident birth of science fic- ‘PanAsiatics’ has been extremely contro- fied as one of the three superpowers of Fiction that would eventually become tion in Japan. versial, variously condemned and praised the dystopian . In general the 1950s labelled as ‘science fiction’ (or ‘sci-fi’) for its engagement with the volatile race- and are marked by intense political had been in existence for at least a cen- The engagement of sci-fi with the politics of the time. On the one hand, activism and by scepticism about the abil- tury before. Convention dictates that the East Asian ‘other’ in the first half of the critics have accused Heinlein himself of ity of technology to solve all problems, and first piece of sci-fi was ’s 20th century (and then again during the buying into American chauvinism and this agenda is played out in the sci-fi of the gothic masterpiece, (1818), years around the War) is clearly anti-Japanese propaganda during the early time. although the reasons for this origination informed by a kind of reactionary and anx- 1940s. On the other hand, Heinlein and are far from uncontested. For some, it is ious frontier-spirit. Classic comic-strips others have argued that his purpose was Central to these problematics was the enough to say that Frankenstein is the earli- such as Philip Francis Nowlan’s Buck Rog- anti-racist, and that his text was an attack horror of wartime technology, culminat- est text that still exists within what Damien ers in 25th Century (the first US sci-fi comic on Japanese and US at the time. ing in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima Broderick (Reading by Starlight, 1995) has strip, starting on 7 January 1929) and Alex Whatever the actual force of this book, the and Nagasaki in August 1945. A common called the ‘megatext’ of modern sci-fi (that Raymond’s Flash Gordon (beginning 7 historical interest of Sixth Column vastly theme in Anglo-American sci-fi became is, within the set of stories that define lit- January 1934) show America being over- outweighs its literary quality, which even anxiety over a loss of humanity and the eracy in the genre). For others, the issue run by the Red Mongols, and pit the all- Heinlein himself lamented. potential collapse of civilisation triggered is not conventional but thematic: sci-fi American (Flash Gordon is quarter- by the pursuit of technological advance- is about technology and mechanisation, back of the New York Jets) against an evil These sci-fi classics from the early 20th ment. Three of the most acclaimed sci-fi necessarily a product of modernity and of (Chinese) Emperor Ming the Merciless of century illustrate very well the ways in of all time, ’s Founda- the industrial revolution. Accordingly, the planet Mongo. However, perhaps the most which science fiction was a symbolic tion (1951), ’s (1965), 19th century works of Shelley, HG Wells remarkable of these pre-war texts is the depicts the invasion of the US by a force of genre or a metaphorical discourse from and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Jules Verne should be read along side Sixth Column (1949) by Robert Heinlein, ‘PanAsians,’ whom he identifies as a mix its inception. Heinlein’s transparency in (1961), all appeared in this period. As we Nietzsche’s proclamations about the death which was originally serialised in Astound- of Japanese and Chinese. The Americans his depiction of the Japanese as Japanese, will see, the a-bombs also played a central of god, Max Weber’s account of the ‘iron ing Science-Fiction in January, February defend themselves through recourse to a rather than as aliens from another galaxy role in the development of sci-fi in post-war cage’ of modern bureaucratic machinery and March of 1941 (nine months before special ‘ray weapon’ that could be adjusted with suspiciously Japanese or Chinese Japan, albeit in a radically different way; and ’s stand against the Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor). Heinlein so that it would only damage people of a sounding names, was actually rather unu- the classic , Gojira (1954) by self-alienation of Being in the face of the sual. The tendency in sci-fi is to re-figure Ishirô, will become emblematic. imperialism of technology. the encounter with the ‘other’ in terms of the encounter with the literally . By the end of the 1960s and into the , Science fictional Japan: Of course, the question of race politics however, there was a real turning of the In other words, sci-fi is the literature of the within sci-fi has attracted a wide critical tide. The so-called ‘New Wave’ of sci-fi hopes and anxieties of industrial moderni- literature. In the post-war period, Samuel shifted the attention of authors and read- ty, and it should come as no surprise that R. Delany would become a leading figure ers away from the technology-driven glo- other industrial societies have produced in this field, using his own science fiction ries (and anxieties) of ‘outer-space’ and their own ‘weird-science.’ Indeed, Japan’s (and sci-fi criticism) to explore and chal- towards the complex, human concerns of relationship with sci-fi began in its so-called lenge questions of identity and difference, ‘inner-space.’ During this period there was ‘age of ’ (kikai jidai) in the early of exploration and conquest, of autonomy a real focus on challenging social and cul- 20th century with the work of writers such and assimilation. His 1967 tural taboos, on radical political stances, as Mizushima Niou and Yumeno Kyûsaku, winning novel, The Einstein Connection, and on heightened literary quality. Leading who were writing contemporaneously has become a classic of its kind. lights in the UK and the US were Michael with social critics and philosophers strug- Moorcock, , , gling with the problematics of modernity In the post-war period, however, it gradu- and of course Samuel R. Delany (although and its overcoming (kindai no chôkoku). ally became clear that the representation some of these figures rejected the label). Already in the late 1920s, Japanese writ- of Japan in science fiction did not have to ers (and scientists) were envisioning around negative racial stereotypes. One of the intriguing aspects of the New or jinzô ningen (artificial people), No longer a threat, Japan began Wave was the way in which it re-appropri- and stories about them (including some to recapture some of the romantic mys- ated and re-signified ; like many of claims to have invented them) appeared tery that it had once enjoyed in European the other cultural movements of the time, in magazines in the 1920s eyes, such as in the work of Jonathan Swift the New Wave was fascinated by spiritual and 1930s; at this time, such stories would (Gulliver’s Travels, 1826), whose archetypal aspects of Asian culture, such as Zen (DT have been labelled as kûsô kagaku (imagi- explorer, Gulliver, famously travelled to the Suzuki established his Zen Centre in Cali- nary science). It was not until the post-war mystical land of Japan with a special letter fornia during the 1960s), Indian mysticism period that the English terms ‘SF’ or ‘sci-fi’ of introduction from the king of Luggnagg, (just as travelled to India in entered popular usage. with whom Japan was apparently allied in 1968), and the freshly politicised nature of the 18th century! By the time of the New Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, Historians of Europe as well as Japan Wave movement of the 1970s, Asia was famously condemned the New Wave for its will be quick to notice that this period already an explicit source of inspiration fixation on stylistic innovation and for its corresponds approximately to what Eric for the mystical futurities of the West, and persistent recourse to (what he called) Ori- Hobsbawm has called the Age of Empire Image used to promote Nippon 2007. 1980s placed the technologi- ental religions and spirituality. Zelazny’s (1989), in which the so-called Great Pow- cally thriving, contemporary Japan into the (1967) might be indicative.

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One of the truly literary moments in this Science Fiction Convention () to Katsuhiro for his Dômu (1980-2, period was Nobel laureate Hermann be held in Asia (but the 65th Worldcon), 1983). By the early 1980s Japanese sci-fi

Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel, which was chose as its slogan: Nippon – SF no kuni Advertisement for was rapidly becoming a hermetic and cul- first published in 1943 in a Germanic con- (Japan – The Land of Science Fiction). tural world of its own, both in touch with text of intoxication with the ‘mystic East.’ (1995). Anglo-American currents and self-reflec- In 1969, it was finally translated into Eng- Worldcon began in New York in 1939. As tively independent of them. lish as The Glass Bead Game, a novel that its name suggests, the convention’s ambi- posits the development of a new form of tions were international from its inception. One of the most exciting and interesting game as the pinnacle of human civilisa- If we can assume that sci-fi was a genre aspects of Japanese sci-fi is, of course, the tion, requiring consummate intellectual concerned with the future at that time (and way in which its own megatext is explicitly and spiritual development, which is iden- this is not a universal assumption, as we open to a range of additional media. We tified strongly with East Asian traditions. have seen), and particularly with a post- have already mentioned and manga, Indeed, Hesse’s other novels also enjoyed national, space-faring vision of human- and the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a a revival in the 1960s (after his death in ity, then any lingering sense of national string of impressive, conceptual works 1962) largely because of their resonance parochialism seems both quaint and by the likes of Shirow Masamune and with the counter-cultural, spiritual move- ridiculous. Given the nature of the genre, Oshii Mamoru, and then Anno Hideaki’s ments of the time: Siddhartha (1922), Step- Worldcon should have paid more atten- remarkable and revolutionary, Shinseiki penwolf (1927), Journey to the East (1932). tion to the ‘World’ than the World Series… Ebuangerion (1995-96). As was already the Nonetheless, the dominance of the US case in the 1920s, Japanese sci-fi shows a This sci-fi re-figuring of Asia as a spiritual and the apparently inalienable centrality Seiun Prizes (the Japanese equivalent of grily reading in translation. Rather than predilection for exploring the technological alternative to the technologically angst- of the English language has characterised the Hugo Awards) have been awarded observing the characteristic ‘frontiers- limits of the human via robots, cybernetics ridden West was a common feature of the history of Worldcon (and especially the since 1970. manship’ that is often present in Anglo- and ‘.’ A persistently controversial many of the novels of the period, not to prestigious Hugo Awards that are present- American genre novels, Tatsumi Takayuki issue in sci-fi (and Japanese sci-fi mention an already familiar orientalist ed at the convention each year). One of the intriguing things about the (Full Metal Apache, 2006) suggests that in particular) concerns the gender politics trope in European literature. Indeed, it JSFC is its sense of the world. Whilst it we can see a spirit of ‘creative masochism’ of the interactions between female figures bled over into the sci-fi boom of the late Of course, it is not merely coincidental that makes no claims to being a ‘Worldcon,’ its (sôzôteki higyaku seishin) in Japanese sci-fi, and technological change. 1970s and 1980s that followed the release the first Worldcon to be held in Asia comes history shows a much greater openness to characterised by the anxiety of writers like of Star in 1977. For many critics (as at the peak of European and American (and awareness of) sci-fi from overseas. Komatsu and Abe Kôbô about the ideolog- However, it is also noteworthy that the well as for George Lucas himself), many interest in science fictional Japan. Howev- Indeed, unlike the Hugo Awards, there is a ical heritage of the Second World War and Seiun Prize is sensitive to the demands aspects of the galaxy, specifically er, it is also the case that Japanese science special Seiun Prize for the best translated the twin, reinforcing psychological dam- and potentials of different media as expres- the mystical ‘Jedi Way,’ were derived from fiction is beginning to play a highly visible novel, which has been won by such genre- age caused by defeat and by the apocalyp- sive forms. It is notable, for example, that Taoist and Zen (sometimes role in Euro-American popular culture: the greats as Frank Herbert, Robert Delazny, tic nature of that defeat. For these writers, the 2001 Seiun Prize for Best Media was presented with the admixture of Zoroastri- anime and manga explosion of the 1990s and . Conversely, the great Japa- sci-fi possesses a special mission and pur- not awarded to a or an anime anism); the fabled ‘force’ reconstituted qi and 2000s has made Japan a global force nese sci-fi writers are almost unheard of in pose in post-war Japanese society, since it but to a – the characteristi- or ki; Yoda’s famously garbled English has in science fiction, and Japanese video Europe and the US, despite the fact that necessarily contains within it hypotheses cally ‘Japanese’ Playstation title Gunparade been seen as a thinly veiled representation games (often with sci-fi themes) dominate many of them engage directly with the for the future development of Japan and March, which (like many of the most of Japanese-English. the international market. The influence of themes and questions raised by European visions of ‘tomorrow’ that allowed the popular games in Japan) was never even Japan and Japanese sci-fi on the US is now and American authors, providing interest- ‘New Japan’ of the post-1945 era to con- released in Europe or the US. The game Whilst the Star Wars phenomenon aban- unequivocal, leading Tatsumi Takayuki ingly inflected, alternative visions. To the tinuously challenge and re-conceptualise was later made into a manga by Sanadura doned the high-brow pretensions of the to claim that we are all ‘Japanoids’ today extent that the ‘world’ is aware of Japanese its post-war trajectory. Given the events Hiroyuki and an anime series by Sakurabi New Wave in favour of sci-fi’s more popu- (Japanoido sengen, 1993), whether we know sci-fi, it appears to locate the genre in the of the Pacific War, this self-reflective and Katsushi, both of which have been licenced larist roots, it retained a certain nostalgic it or not: Ridley Scott freely confesses the media of anime, manga and video games, self-critical task seemed especially urgent for translation into English. romanticism about representations of Asia influence of Japanese media on his clas- neglecting the novels and short stories in the 1960s, but it also continues as a as the home of a spiritual (and often more sic ; the Wakochoski brothers that comprise the backbone of the sci-fi central theme in This openness to varied media as the vehi- ‘human’) alternative to coldly technolo- are open about the importance of anime in ‘megatext’ in the West. In other words, the throughout the subsequent generations cles for science fiction is symptomatic of gised and alienated societies in the West. their Matrix trilogy (and even produced an field of science fiction demonstrates inter- of writers; it has witnessed something of a wider embrace of what has been called Interestingly, the next major movement in anime interlude, , 2003); and national language politics in microcosm. a renaissance in the 1990s following the ‘convergence culture’ – the increasing science fiction affected a re-technologis- end of the Cold War and Japanese society’s tendency for cultural franchises to employ ing of this mythical spirituality, often via Some of the more literary classics of Japa- concomitant quest for national identity. multiple media to relate a core narrative, the imaginary of Japanese technological nese science fiction have been translated around which the various media ‘con- advances. into English. The towering figure of Komat- In contrast to the 1950s and 60s in the verge.’ Although the Matrix series is often su Sakyô (who has won the Seiun four West, the 1970s and early 1980s might cited as a classic example of convergence The ‘cyberpunk’ movement of the 1980s, times) might be known to English readers be seen as the ‘golden age’ of Japanese in the West, it is in Japan that we see the led by writers such as , as the author of Nihon chimbotsu (1973, science fiction, during which time a new most highly developed, persistent and per- and the editor Gardner translated as , 1995), which sold generation of writers could refer back to vasive examples. Perhaps the most famous Dozois, witnesses the creation of ‘cyber- over four million copies in Japan; as guest classics of home-grown sci-fi (as well as to and successful sci-fi example is the sprawl- space’ as a futurity in which consciousness, of honour, Komatsu also won the Seiun imported and translated texts), especially ing and Final series, which spirituality and digital technology coalesce. at Nippon 2007 for the eagerly anticipated after the nuclear monstrosity of Gojira and incorporates dozens of video games, In the context of the digital revolution and sequel Nihon chimbotsu II (2007). Read- the publication of Komatsu’s Japan Sinks manga, anime, novels, and various other the rapid emergence of the Japanese bub- ers may also be familiar with the work of in 1973. For the first time, young Japanese ‘character goods.’ But Final Fantasy is not ble economy, visions of the future began to (1988). Abe Kôbô, whose mainstream novels have writers could identify Japanese heroes of unique in its convergent nature – it is not take on a distinctly East Asia visage, with made something of an impact in transla- sci-fi, alongside the big names of Cord- uncommon for Japanese sci-fi stories to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade tion, and whose experimental sci-fi novel wainer Smith and Samuel Delany who unravel in multiple media. In other words, Runner (1982), setting an early standard. recently Leonardo DiCaprio announced Daiyon kampyo-ki (1958, translated as were emerging against the background of sci-fi is an unusual expressive form and a Shortly afterwards, Gibson’s acclaimed that he would produce a movie version of Inter Ice-Age 4, 1970) appeared in English the . Indeed, the 1970s and socio-economic phenomenon in Japan. (1984) contained some pow- the classic animanga Akira. Not only that, in time for the New Wave. However, other 80s were periods of incredible richness in erful Japanese imagery, and portrayed the but anime has broken through into the accomplished writers will be lesser known: Japanese sci-fi, at least partly because writ- In sum, it seems that science fiction pro- future as tinged with ‘Japaneseness’: the mainstream of Western popular culture: the unparalleled master of the ‘short short’, ers absorbed all of the previous SF tradi- vides an interesting lens on questions of microchip that makes everything possible science fiction directors such as Oshii Hoshi Shin’ichi is virtually unknown; even tions from the West simultaneously at that cultural history and the political uncon- has the name Hosaka; the best comput- Mamoru (Ghost in the Shell, 1995) and the incomparable Tatsui Yasutaka, famed time, rather than diachronically, resulting scious in various societies; it expresses ing power comes in the form of the Ono- O¯ tomo Katsuhiro (Akira, 1988) are now in Japan as the recipient of both the Tani- in unusual patterns, motifs and themes political critique and futurist visions of Sendai Cyberspace 7; and key characters iconic figures in their own right. zaki Prize and the Kawabata Prize for lit- that were creatively ‘Japanese.’ reform; and it manifests important cur- (such as the cybernetically enhanced and erature (1987 and 1989), who has won rents in socio-economic change as well as genetically engineered super-ninja, Hideo) It should come as no surprise, then, that back-to-back Seiun Prizes (1975 and 1976), Unlike his Anglo-American compatriots, transnational cultural flows. As the ‘land have obvious Japanese origins. By the time Worldcon has finally had to recognise that has only recently come to the attention of Komatsu’s sci-fi was characterised not by of science fiction,’ Japan is a fascinating of Gibson’s Idoru (1996), which is explicitly Japan is not merely science fictional, but the international public, partially because the claustrophobic paranoia of the Cold case. set in a version of Japan that is simulta- also a real-world context for a specific tra- he wrote the novel (1993) on which Satoshi War but rather by the grand tectonic move- neously represented as a futurity (for the dition of science fiction. That said, many Kon’s acclaimed anime, Papurika (2007), ments of history (and the earth’s tectonic Chris Goto-Jones West) and as a slightly fantastical vision of gaijin (alien) participants at Nippon 2007 was based. In recent years, science fiction plates!), which seemed to persist in imper- Asiascape.net present-day Japan, cyberpunk’s love affair were surprised to learn about the depth in Japan has reached new levels of matu- illing Japan. Indeed, the role of histori- Leiden University with Japan was already profound. This was and richness of Japanese science fiction, rity and acclaim; non-genre, literary writers cal singularities (such as the apocalypse [email protected] techno-orientalism or Japanophilia: Japan which has developed in dynamic interac- such as the Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburô itself) in Japanese science fiction cannot was no longer merely science fictional, tion with Western sci-fi, even if that devel- and the phenomenally successful Muraka- be understated, and many of the most Japan had become the future itself. opment has gone almost completely unno- mi Haruki have been experimenting with influential writers to emerge during the ticed in the English language literature of elements of science fiction and fantasy in ‘golden era’ seemed to orientate their work Science fiction in Japan: sci-fi criticism. Nippon 2007 coincided with speculative ways. around them. One such figure, who would Asiascape.net would like to thank Given this context, it was not without a the 46th Japan Science Fiction Convention In fact, sci-fi in post-nuclear Japan looks later break through to world acclaim with MEARC, Toshiba, the NWO and IIAS measure of intentional ambiguity and per- (the first JSFC was in Tokyo, 1962) – the very different from its counterparts in the the anime Akira (1988), after the manga for supporting its projects in this field. haps irony that Nippon 2007, the first World annual event at which the prestigious West, which Japanese authors were hun- of the same name (1982-86), was O¯ tomo

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