The effect of WWII on Japanese culture, Manga, Anime & Film

Whilst WWII had an effect on every nation involved, it’s effect can be seen no greater than in Japan. On August 6th ‘Little Boy’ was launched by the US military Hiroshima being the target. On the 9th August a second bomb ‘Fat Man’ was also launched by the US but this time targeting Nagasaki. The destruction of these two atomic bombs changes Japans physical and social landscape forever. People began to question the worlds state and consider that one day the human race might be wiped out. This had a huge impact on Storytelling, Manga (Whimsical Drawings) had emerged in the mid 1800’s when Japan’s previously secluded society was forced to merge with other cultures via the arrival of the americans.

most Japanese lived in an unchanging feudaal agrarian society until 1853, when a fleet of heavily armed American ships sailed into Yokohama Bay… More foreigners came East in search of new opportunities, including two Europeans who were to have a huge influence on Japanese publishing – Brinton Charles Wirgman in 1857, and Frenchman Georges Bigot in 1882… As well as new ways of thinking and expression, foreign magazine brought in new technology and new formats. Japanese cartoonists began adapting American comics for the Japanese audience.

The comics market grew and diversified until 1937, when Japan went to war with China and later with the USA and comics became part of the war effort. It was not until after japan’s surrender in 1945 that the social and political cartoonists could resume activity.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 10pp-12pp

The post-surrender Japan needed a lift and a bit of optimism. A need which manga could fill.

Keiji Nakazawa’s masterwork is a first-hand account of the horrors of surviving an atomic strike – a reality which still resonates in manga.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 13pp


I want to explore how the war changed Japanese story telling, through Manga, Anime and Film. This will then lead me to the most recent form of storytelling Photography.

Manga & Anime

Astro Boy (1951)

 Astro Boy is a concept and character created by Osamu Tezsuka, the story is based in 2003, to us now it is a past time but on it’s release it looked 52 years into the future.

Astro Boy also represented the positive aspects od science and technology to a nation only six years on from the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the case for tolerance and openness to others.

-‘500 Manga Heroes and Villains’ – Helen McCarthy 22pp

The narrative explores the future of technology, robots who not only resemble humans but who also inhabit the feelings and lives of them. Humans fearing their ‘servants’ becoming more powerful than themselves they enforce the laws of robotics to try and ‘maintain control’. Astro Boy is the creating of Professor Tenma who dealt with the grief of losing his son by transferring his memories into a robot.

The story of Astro Boy became so popular it became the first Japanese animated cartoon aired on TV and is considered the first ‘Anime’

 

Akira (1882)

As an anime fan there is no escaping the wrath of Akira, one of the most influential stories and films around, it bought a whole new meaning to Manga and Anime and was influenced by WWII.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s science fiction/cyberpunk manga Akira (1982-90) and animated film adaptation of the same name (1988) represent the cultural anxieties of post-WWII Japan, exploring the struggle to find normality in amongst the social and architectural collapse of Neo-Tokyo, to learn that there can be no returning to the pre-apocalypse, only the memories can be accessed through trauma and imagined nostalgia.

– Taken from ‘REBUILDING NEO-TOKYO: THE SEARCH FOR NORMALITY IN THE APOCALYPSE OF AKIRA‘ by S. T. Cartledge
http://themanifold.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/rebuilding-neo-tokyo-the-search-for-normality-in-the-apocalypse-of-akira/

Deadman Wonderland

Perhaps not quite as established as Akira or Astro boy, Deadman Wonderland was written by Jinsei Kataoka and is an example of how the idea of a New World/ utopia in Japanese storytelling is still prominent today.

The story takes place 10 years after an earthquake sank Japans mainland and 3/4’s of Tokyo. In an effort to rebuild the city a prison is made, Deadman Wonderland, a theme park occupying old Tokyo. The workers are criminals, they run the city sized theme park and the public visit, the free forced labour helps push the economy back up. The Manga was written in 2007 but didn’t take off until it’s realise as an Anime in 2011. Interestingly just a few months after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The Anime has been a huge success in the UK but in Japan perhaps the use of a Tsunami was too sore, an inappropriate release date limited the manga and anime.

Film

Godzilla

I recently went to see Godzilla vs King Kong in 35mm, I have, like most people, always been aware of Godzilla as a popular culture icon. However until I did my research before the screening I did not know that Godzilla was a character made to represent the war.

Godzilla’s genesis “was also conditioned by Cold War tensions and atomic age anxieties.” In March 1954, a Japanese fishing vessel, Daigo Fukuruyu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5) strayed into the U.S. nuclear bomb testing zone near Biniki Atoll. The crew was exposed to “massive amounts of radiation, one crew member died (after a cynical American cover-up), and some of the irradiated tuna on the ship made it onto the market in Japan. . . . This was big news in Japan (and was called ‘the latest atomic bombing of Japan’ in the media), especially, of course, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained fresh memories.”

“The first Godzilla film clearly had a strong anti-nuclear message. . . . Yet it becomes increasingly hard to conclude that the films have had a consistent message over time . . . . The only constant about the Godzilla films is a deep ambivalence, a kind of moral and intellectual ambiguity, that precludes drawing any firm, unitary conclusions. The message of Godzilla,” Tsutsui explained, “. . . is complex and reflects . . . a fundamental ambivalence on the part of the Japanese when they look at issues like modernity, technology, science, nature, politics, and the world outside Japan.”

– http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=24850

This has just been a very brief scratch on the surface of how Japanese storytelling reacted to WWII, I will writing more on this subject in relation to photography very soon.

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