Considering “Silent Hill”: Western Influence on Japanese Horror

Silent-Hill-2-B

An Introduction to J-Horror

In the horror genre, Japanese movies, games, and literature tend to stand out with their unique twist. Over time Japanese horror, or J-Horror, has become notable for its thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre that sets it apart from western horror. Though there is no true definition of what Japanese horror is, as elements of horror can be found in multiple cultures, there are certain things that can be picked out as being Japanese horror tropes. J-Horror media tends to focus on the psychological aspects of horror and seek to build up a high level of suspense using stories and tropes grounded within Japanese cultural tradition.

Speaking of horror in Japan signify to refer to a set of long standing mythological and literary traditions, deeply rooted in the Japanese imaginary. A wide range of Shinto or Buddhist tropes and motifs, linked to the territory of the arcane, the demonic, the possession, the fantasies, the deaths and the avenging spirits, is part of many works of the Japanese literary and theatrical tradition and constitute a repertory on which cinema will then seize in order to appropriate themes and figures (Picard). 

Survival horror games in particular, such as the Fatal Frame and Corpse Party series, can trace their foundational elements back to traditional Japanese ghost stories. However, an approach to Japanese survival horror games that focuses simply on the uniquely Japanese elements of the games would be inappropriate. Because “fear is universal in a way,” a country’s horror media does not necessarily feed off of its own culture in order to create new content (McRoy). Series like Konami’s Silent Hill and Capcom’s Resident Evil both have distinctly western influences, drawing inspiration from western films like The Exorcist and The Evil Dead.

In this article we will be looking at the distinctly western influences found in the Silent Hill games, which focuses on a psychological horror aspect to storytelling and game play, with a main focus on the second game in the series, Silent Hill 2.

 The Silent Hill Series

Silent Hill Map

Silent Hill is a survival horror series that currently has ten released titles and an eleventh, which was briefly in production before being cancelled. Each installment in the series follows a protagonist that is “called” to the American town of Silent Hill for varying reasons. Generally these characters are trying to find something or run away from their past, causing them to become trapped in the foggy, lakeside town facing visions of their darkest fears. When creating the series the developers at Konami wanted to make “modern American horror through Japanese eyes” (Picard). With this intention, Japanese psychological horror, seen through the stories heavy psychological elements and monster design, and American horror tropes, such as murders for cult rituals, Indian burial grounds, and underground Civil War prisons, were blended together.

Silent Hill 2 in particular stands out among the Silent Hill series due to its story turning away from the cult plot line that dominated other games towards a deeper psychological aspect. The game follows James Sunderland, a man who goes on a trip to Silent Hill in search of his dead wife. There he meets other individuals who are all looking for something, either safety or a person they lost, though interactions with them are kept to a minimum. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that no one is seeing the same things, and that the town is unique to each individual that enters it, playing heavily on each characters psychology, past experiences, and emotional state. Thus, it plays on the perception of reality, where you can never be certain if events are actually happening.

The horror is one commonly found in Japanese games: subtle, depending ultimately on atmosphere and a sense of horror that slowly creeps up on the player. As someone is playing Silent Hill 2 there may be the confusion as to what the greatest enemy in the game is: the town, the surprisingly human monsters, James, or the player. The ending received is determined entirely on how the player treats James and the other characters in the game. Do they heal James frequently, or let his health remain low? Do they seek to help out other characters, or just allow them to meet their fate? How much does the player care?

The developers sought to show western influence, not simply by playing off of the west’s horror tropes, but by making clear references to American horror films. James, the main character, wears an outfit fairly similar to the main character in Jacob’s Ladder. An important puzzle piece, symbolizing the devil, can be found in an abandoned baby carriage, harkening back to Rosemary’s Baby. Additionally, the bar one of the characters works in, called Heaven’s Night, is strikingly similar to the bar in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

Pockmarked WallsOne Silent Hill 2 scene in particular goes beyond just showing western influence, and decides to comment on the American “lifestyle.” Though starting off the game with basic melee weapons, such as a board with nails and a metal pipe, by the second major area the main character obtains a firearm. Going into an apartment, a standard handgun and some ammunition can be found in a bright red shopping cart. If the player chooses to look around the room they can see the walls pockmarked with bullet holes. This display is meant as commentary by the developers on how easy it is to obtain guns in America, and the violence that comes as a result of it.

By looking at these clear western influences in J-Horror video games it becomes clear fear is cross cultural. Though some elements about J-Horror are uniquely Japanese they cannot be considered outside the influence of other nation’s horror.

Discussion

In this article the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series are mentioned at having western influence. Can you think of any other Japanese horror games that share western elements?

When developing Silent Hill, Konami wanted to make “modern American horror through Japanese eyes.” Is there a case where an American company sought to make modern Japanese horror through western eyes?

Sources

McRoy, Jay. Japanese Horror Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. Print.

Picard, Martin. “Haunting Grounds: Transnationality and Intermediality in Japanese Survival Horror Video Games.” Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play. By Bernard Perron. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Related Links

Silent Hill 2 E3 Trailer

The Making of Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill (2006) Film Clip – Nurse Scene

Arcades: Japan’s Unconventional Social Space

The World’s Only True Meritocracy

The arcade is a place where respect comes with skill. It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, man or woman. All that matters is whether you’re good on the machines. “Put your quarter up” is the same as slapping someone in the face with a glove for a duel. When it’s your turn at the machine, you and your opponent are prepared to risk your pride, reputation, and money to prove one thing: which of you is the better player? Win, and you stay on the machine, gaining another victory for your mental scorecard and securing more playtime from your quarter. Lose, and you had to walk to the back of the line in shame, stewing over your defeat and formulating a new strategy as you await your chance to plunk another quarter into the coin slot.

Chinatown Fair was one of New York's last remaining arcades before it finally closed in February 2011.

Chinatown Fair was one of New York’s last remaining arcades before it finally closed in February 2011.

In the 1980s and 1990s, this was the classic arcade narrative that every arcade aficionados could call their own. In the present, the word “arcade” no longer exists in our daily lexicon. The word is a relic of an age long past just like audio cassettes, Betamax, and floppy discs. These days, if you hear the word at all, it’s in reference to places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. During our parents’ generation, society saw arcades as Han Solo saw Mos Eisley:  a hive of scum and villainy frequented by ruffians, delinquents, and all manner of riff-raff. It’s not hard to see why society said “Good riddance!” when arcades started to die one after another in America.

While arcades died in America, they continue to thrive in East Asia. In Japan, arcades are a sustaining industry where arcade game manufacturers such as Taito see nearly 100 billion yearly. But what’s Japan doing different from America that allows their arcades to succeed? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with the business model. Japanese arcades have stayed true to the 100 yen per play ever since the 1970s. The arcade scene still exists today because it’s necessary for them to exist. For the Japanese, the arcade is a social space that simply cannot be recreated by any other means. Arcades are the last truly meritocratic space left in Japan, and perhaps in the whole world.

A Social Haven

For many customers, the arcade is one of the few places they can really let loose. Arcade regulars often say that at home or in an apartment complex, it’s difficult to invite people to play games or have a party without getting complaints about the noise. In the high-volume arcade environment, customers are encouraged and yes, almost forced to raise their voices to communicate with one another. It may sound like it causes problems, but an arcade event manager who goes by Gama no Abura finds that the loud atmosphere affects customers positively, raising the excitement for everyone and contributing to a good time.

Momochi Yusuke (Left) and Kusachi Yuko (Right), both skilled Street Fighter players and members of the professional gaming team, Evil Geniuses.

Momochi Yusuke (Left) and Kusachi Yuko (Right), both skilled Street Fighter players and members of the professional gaming team, Evil Geniuses.

In fact, this high-energy arcade environment is where many regulars forge their deepest friendships. Known as “gemusentomo” or “arcade friends,” these people not only share common gaming interests, but compete against themselves, motivating one another to improve their scores in space ship shooting games or perfect their technique in a fighting game. Sometimes, the bonds grow beyond friendship. Gama no Abura actually met his current wife after spending years together playing at the arcades. One of the most skilled fighting game players, Momochi Yusuke, met his longtime girlfriend, Kusachi “ChocoBlanka” Yuko, at the arcade where she worked.

The bonds these dedicated players form rivals the team dynamics of any school sports club or town hobby league. Fighting game players especially love to partake in inter-regional competitions in much the same way as any big sports leagues. They become not just host and guests, but home and away teams. They come to the arcade to duke it out and see which region was the best Beyond proving one’s own skill, players fought to represent their region’s strength, and more importantly to bring glory and reputation to their arcade. At the end of the day, these tense matches and heated rivalries don’t stop these players from going to a bar after a tournament to drink together in celebration of a shared hobby.

A Place Which Accepts Everyone

Some people in the west associate Japan with hyper-conservative political leanings and a rigid, normative society. It may come as a surprise then that arcades bring together incredibly diverse demographics. Much like the arcades in America, Japan’s arcades do not discriminate against any of its customers. Native or foreigner, rich or poor, young or old, it doesn’t matter as long as you have some 100 yen coins and a desire to play. While arcades see the most traffic through teens and young adults, a considerable amount of arcade regulars are in their mid-30s and 40s. These individuals see the arcade as a place of rest after a hard day at work, taking advantage of their close proximity to train stations for a few hours of entertainment.

Member of team Evil Geniuses, Ricky Ortiz (left) and model and TV personality Sato Kayo (right). Both are transgender females who are passionate about arcade fighting games.

Member of team Evil Geniuses, Ricky Ortiz (left) and model and TV personality Sato Kayo (right). Both are transgender females who are passionate about arcade fighting games.

These days, as the average age of Japan rises, arcades are seeing more foot traffic from the elderly. As with every industry in Japan, arcades are seeking the patronage of the older demographic and try to find ways to entice them. In most cases, elderly men and women such as Shiba Noboru come to arcades to enjoy horse race simulation games or medal games. However, there are some interesting elders such as Mr. and Mrs. Akiyuki, a married couple aged 75 and 71 respectively who are regulars at a Shizuoka arcade. Their game of choice? Dance Dance Revolution. Rather than try and force them off the machine, younger players wish to challenge the Akiyukis and compete for high scores. The Akiyukis take pride in their ability and practice with a home version of DDR to maintain both their health and their skills.

However, it is the arcade fighting games fanbase that truly push the normative boundaries of Japan. The games themselves have a rich history, including characters that, while problematic, still acknowledge demographics that the rest of society marginalizes. Capcom’s Street Fighter II was the first fighting game to allow players to pick a female character by introducing the famous Chun-Li. Arc System Works’ Guilty Gear franchise was the first fighting game to feature an openly homosexual person of color through the character named Venom. In the real world, players such as the aforementioned ChocoBlanka are members of a still rare, but increasingly numerous population of female players. And there are players such as Sato “Kayo Police” Kayo and the American Ricky Ortiz who are openly transgender individuals who grew up playing and loving fighting games. While individuals like Ricky or Kayo may turn some heads when they enter the arcades, once they jump on the machine and rack up a winning streak, nobody looks at their gender or sexuality anymore. They care about their skill.

Are the Arcades Dying?

Despite their continued popularity, Japan’s arcade industry is experiencing a variety of difficulties. Between an ongoing recession, rationing of power due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and stiff competition from the home video game industry, arcades are struggling to attract new audiences. For Ishikawa Kiyoshi, corporate manager of Taito, one of the largest arcade game manufacturers, it’s a matter of creating new experiences you simply cannot experience anywhere else. Okano Tezu, former Sega employee, believes that home console hardware such as Nintendo’s Wii have started to turn Japanese thoughts back towards home gaming, a shift in the video game industry that arguably killed arcades in America.

However, former Sega music composer Kawaguchi Hiro has a different idea. To Kawaguchi, there are numerous facets of Japanese popular culture that have gained traction in the west such as manga and anime. But he notes that despite the uniqueness of it, the Japanese arcade culture hasn’t migrated westward in the same fashion. Kawaguchi believes that this arcade sub-culture is “a rich experience that shouldn’t lose to anime or other Japanese sub-cultures.” Perhaps he’s right. The declining success of Japanese arcades may have to do with its inability to exist anywhere but Japan. As we look to the future in an attempt to stimulate the declining arcade industry, perhaps we need to look outward to a solution. It could well be that the future survival of arcades in Japan hinges on a second arcade wave across the globe.

 

Discussion Questions:

1)  How do arcades as a social space differ from social spaces you’re familiar with? How are they the same?

2) What are some possible reasons that the Japanese arcade culture seems more socially accepting than society at large?

3) Kawaguchi believes that the arcade sub-culture in Japan is at least on par with anime and manga. Could the reason Japan’s arcade culture continues to exist only in Japan be related to Iwabuchi’s idea of cultural odor and global markets?

4) It’s been said that the Japanese borrowed the idea of an amusement arcade from America. The Taito corporation started in the 1950s as a shipping company that brought many arcade games from America to Japan. How might this information tie together Japanese arcades with Azuma and his observations of the unique historic and cultural relationships between Japan and America?

 

Sources:

100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience. 2013. DVD. (Note: Available through Amazon Instant Video, Apple iTunes Store, and on Hulu Plus)

Ashcraft, Brian. “Believe It Or Not, You Are Looking At Three Dudes.” Kotaku. Kinja Media, 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2015. <http://kotaku.com/5627165/you-are-looking-at-three-dudes>.

Ashcraft, Brian. “Watch This Elderly Japanese Couple Tear Up DDR.” Kotaku. Kinja Media, 11 July 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <http://kotaku.com/5925039/watch-this-elderly-japanese-couple-tear-up-ddr>.

Chinatown Fair: A Documentary. 2012. Film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM1goDcEepk.

“Elderly DDR Masters.” Japan Probe RSS. 27 Nov. 2010. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <http://www.japanprobe.com/2010/11/27/elderly-ddr-masters/>.

Nakamura, Toshi. “Japanese Arcade Owner Is So Sad about Japanese Arcades.” Kotaku. Kinja Media, 3 May 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <http://kotaku.com/5907255/japanese-arcade-owner-so-sad-about-japanese-arcades>.

Watson, Leon. “A New Generation of Gamers: Japan’s Elderly Take over the Arcades to Play Push Penny.” Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2085539/A-new-generation-gamers-Japans-elderly-arcades-play-push-penny.html>.

 

Cosplay Culture: A Study in Transculturation Gone Wrong?

By Victoria Mikolaski

Cosplay is a word that is becoming more well-known everyday with the exponentially increasing interest in everything that has to do with popular entertainment nowadays. The emergence of Marvel films and popular books and TV shows, and countless other franchises, has amassed fans from all over to each respective fandom. One thing that seems to link these fandoms is cosplay.

What is Cosplay?

The word “Cosplay” is an abbreviation for the phrase “costume play”, and is defined as a performance art in which participants dress up in a specific costume with accessories to represent a character or idea from their preferred TV show, book series, comic, anime and/or manga, movie, video games, or any other form of entertainment. This also includes music groups like Visual Kei rock bands, the most popular choice among cosplayers in Japan. Cosplayers buy, or make from scratch, their costumes and props, basing their character’s look on reference pictures taken directly from the source for greater accuracy in color schemes and costume design. All this effort is solely for the purpose of expressing their affections for existing narratives, an effort in reworking these stories through various media. A “fannish subculture”, cosplay culture is also closely linked to other groups set on achieving the same goals: fanfiction, fanart, and fan videos to name a few. Cosplay motivates fans to interpret existing works, and not only perform them but extend them with their own narratives and ideas. It is a way for fans to actualize fiction in everyday life, and in doing so subvert reality for a while.

History: Cosplay’s Origin Story

Forrest J. Ackerman showing off his futuristic costume at the 1st Sci-Fi WorldCon in 1939

Forrest J. Ackerman showing off his futuristic costume at the 1st Sci-Fi WorldCon in 1939

Curiously enough, the origin story of cosplay is still debated among cosplayers today. Based on photographic evidence, I will tell the version most likely to be true. Cosplay is agreed to have been around since conventions began. It is said to have started as early as 1939 in the U.S. with Forrest J. Ackerman when he attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York wearing a futuristic costume (made by his girlfriend Myrtle R. Douglas). That led to the ever-increasing interest in costume-wearing at conventions in the 1960s and 1970s, namely shown by dressing up not only as characters from the popular sci-fi TV shows Star Trek and Star Wars, but also characters from the classics like DC comics Batman. Soon after this hobby swept the nation, Nobuyuki Takahashi (founder of Studio Hard) traveled to the U.S. and attended the 1984 Los Angeles Sci-Fi World Convention and encountered costuming practices there. He promptly returned to Japan and wrote an article about his experiences at the convention, encouraging his readers to try the hobby and incorporate it Into Japanese anime and manga conventions. It was he who coined the term “cosplay”. The first appearance of cosplay in Japan was in 1978 at a fan event, so either Japanese fans had the same idea around the time American fans were increasing their practice of cosplay in the 1970s, or the Japanese fans heard about it from America earlier and the encouragement from one of their own celebrities around a decade later got cosplay enough traction to become a major practice in Japanese fan culture. Nevertheless, Japanese fans gained interest in making costumes for their anime and manga conventions and the craze spread from there, finally returning full circle to the U.S. with a distinctly Japanese vibe attached to it.

Cosplay Today: Not What it Once Was

Presently in the U.S., cosplay is restricted to limited and specific settings: conventions and other similar get-togethers separate from the rest of the community. The cultural practices attached to cosplay are intentionally separated from everyday life and the professional atmosphere. In Japan, cosplay is more intertwined with the public domain. For example, participants often gather in public parks of Akihabara and Harajuku districts. Cosplay is also a large part of consumption culture: shops sell wigs and full costumes, and costume restaurants attract fan customers. That cosplay is a professional practice shows that it has a more prominent role in Japanese society than that of the West. Such emphasis in the professional world also indicates that cosplay is a selling point for Japan’s economy nationally and internationally. There is an integration through advertising in which the Advertising industry now uses cosplay models, “Cosplay Idols”, to show off costumes for anime, manga, and video game companies. They are viewed as fictional characters in the flesh, thus encouraging the younger generation’s interest in whatever they are advertising and keeping that interest, as opposed to an inanimate object or character that inevitably falls under the category of fiction and ‘not real’ in its 2D-ness. In recent years these promotional models have been requested for other areas of commercial goods, such as food and beverage commerce as well as fashion stores, clubs, restaurants, and other franchises.

Cosplay/idol group Steam Girls cosplaying Yuki Jirushi Coffee’s café au lait Finalist Mascot Costumes (2013)

Cosplay/idol group ‘Steam Girls’ cosplaying Yuki Jirushi Coffee’s café au lait Finalist Mascot Costumes (2013)

Americans now associate cosplay with Japan. Anime and manga are immediately linked to cosplay, but not original material such as Star Trek or Star Wars. The two types of material have been essentially separated into two different categories despite coming from the same beginnings and engaging in the same cultural practices. U.S. and Japanese goods are even being sold side-by-side at conventions, and still cosplay is considered the “other” and inherently different from the U.S. cultural and national identity. Transculturation in this case complicates the notions of national and cultural identity. Is cosplay now inherently Japanese even through the concept seems to have originated in the U.S. and still practices the same things? I would argue that the West is relabeling this cultural practice as Japanese because it fits into what is considered to be “otherness”. Dressing up as a fictional character and role-playing could be stereotypical of Japanese “weirdness” and “quirkiness” (and often cult-esque behavior). The U.S. would then be Orientalizing Japan to distance itself from its own cultural “weirdness”. Japan is then taking advantage of this “otherness” and capitalizing on the brand nationalism that cosplay provides. This however, leaves the secondary category of cosplay in an odd position. It is not inherently Japanese, but it does follow the same practices.

Two sides of the cosplay coin. Is Deadpool destined to be the only character who can cross this barrier?

Two sides of the cosplay coin. Is Deadpool destined to be the only character who can cross this barrier?

By definition cosplay should be culturally neutral and odorless, because the way it operates is the same wherever cosplay culture occurs. Cosplayers go to the conventions, attend panels, participate in the Masquerade, and buy goods produced by the fandom and the original works’ producers. Cosplayers mirror typical fans in that they serve as consumers and producers simultaneously.  Western and Japanese-based cosplay practices occur in the same space at conventions, so why are they perceived as different? What’s more is that gender, class, age, and identity do not seem to have any bearing on who participates in this culture. All fandoms are welcome, so the range of interests includes all genders and age groups. Because all that is required is attendance and engaging in the fun, class also has no bearing on participation. Identity as a consumer or producer varies, a small but not insignificant portion of the attendees at conventions self-identify as both consumer and producer in the commercial context of selling their wares, which are mainly hand-crafted. Often larger conventions are national and international events. This means that there is no reason for there to be a distinction between U.S. cosplay and Japanese cosplay, as the participants are diverse enough to make the culture nation-less and culturally odorless. Ultimately, it is up to the cosplayers and fanbase in general to decide whether the origins matter.

 

Discussion Questions:

Transculturation is the process of globalization in which an asymmetrical encounter of various cultures result in the transformation of an existing artifact and the creation of a new style. As the products get circulated globally they become by default less marked, more culturally odorless, thus the origins become less important.

  1. By this definition, why has cosplay culture been re-marked as Japanese rather than become culturally and nationally odorless after being circulated globally from the U.S.?
  2. How should the Western category of cosplay be labeled now that the subculture overall has been culturally and nationally marked as Japanese?
  3. Is cosplay capable of transcending nationality and becoming culturally odorless?
  4. Can you think of another product that has undergone a similar transformation? If yes, what allowed it to happen?

 

Sources

Ackerman, Forrest J. “Through Time and Space with Forry Ackerman (Part 1)”. Mimosa 16: 4-6. (1994) Web. 20 Mar 2015. <http://www.jophan.org/mimosa/m16/ackerman.htm>

Baseel, Casey. “Coffee mascot event with cosplaying idols proves to be too much for some fans to handle”. Rocket News 24. (2013) Web. 26 Mar 2015. < http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/08/09/coffee-mascot-event-with-cosplaying-idols-proves-to-be-too-much-for-some-fans-to-handle/>

Frankenhoff, Brent. 2011, “It All Began…. “. Beautiful Balloons CBG #1677. (May 2011). Web. 21 Mar 2015. <http://www.cbgxtra.com/blogs/beautiful-balloons/it-all-began-%E2%80%A6-beautiful-balloons-cbg-1677-may-2011>

Napier, Susan Jolliffe. From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West. First edition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Winge, Theresa. 2006, “Costuming the Imagination: Origins of Anime and Manga Cosplay”. Mechademia Vol. 1: 65-76. (2006) doi: 10.1353/mec.0.0084

Of Divine and Digital Origin: Mythology in Japanese Video Games

by Katherine Stevens

The Japanese video game industry is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. They are lauded for their creativity and longevity, as well as their broad cultural appeal. However, what many consumers don’t realize is that behind the graphics and fantastical plotlines often lies a broader significance. Many of the most popular franchises in Japanese video gaming are heavily based on mythology, both Eastern and Western alike. While it is often not apparent to many players, especially younger gamers or those who are not familiar with the mythological canon, these details give the gameplay and coinciding plots more depth, and can be seen as a reflection on the creators’ view of culture. [Read more…]

Game Over? The End of Japanese Dominance in the American Console Gaming Market

by Lauren Klaasse

Almost every gamer who was around in the 1990’s and 2000’s nostalgically remembers their first time playing what is critically regarded as some of the greatest games of all time. Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time, and Pokémon, among others, that went into forging these childhood memories all hail from the Land of the Rising Sun. For years the Japanese have dominated the gaming industry since it took off in the 1980’s cementing their creations in the childhood of so many Americans. Talk to American gamers now however and you hear talk of much different popular franchises (Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto to name a few) originating from across the Pacific Ocean in none other than the west itself. [Read more…]

Pokémon, Localization, and Cultural Odor

The concept of mukokuseki is one used by many recent popular culture products emerging from Japan.  The term, literally the quality of “statelessness” or “nationlessness”, is used by Japanese producers of popular culture items to make these items relatable and marketable all over the world.  Interestingly enough, one of the products of Japanese popular culture to really send the foreign popularity of Japanese pop culture into the stratosphere was one that, in Japan, was littered with references and locales that only the Japanese would understand and appreciate, a “cultural odor” seen as foreign and exotic to those consumers outside of Japan.  (Iwabuchi, 27)  This product is one that most in the United States knows as “Pokémon” or, in Japan, “Pocket Monsters.” [Read more…]

Pokémania Caught ‘Em All: The Youth Imagination, Adult Uncertainty, and Everybody’s Wallets

The Pokémania that gripped the United States at the end of the twentieth century can best be described as a series of contrasts.  This duality encompassed clueless parents and their captivated children, the American businesses who reaped the profits and the public who clamored for its consumption, and the product’s inherent sense of both capitalism and communalism.  Pokémon’s success in the United States can be attributed to a combination of these factors.  American corporations saw the unprecedented success of the franchise in Japan, recognized the potential for endless revenue streams, and marketed it towards children after repackaging it as a culturally neutered product. Children latched onto the games, cards, and cartoons because they could exercise control over the way they played and could communicate within their own peer groups. The majority of parents saw it as a benign yet totally incomprehensible foreign good when they were not transfixed on the sensational stories of violence reported by fear mongering media outlets. [Read more…]

Localization vs Censorship: Fansubbing and the Search for a “Real Japan”

Adapting multimedia works from one culture to another is by no means a simple task. Beyond the obvious considerations of how best to deal with linguistic differences, the translator must engage with disparities in cultural norms. This can be anything from how a story constructs meaning and is represented visually, to the moral sensibilities of the viewing audience.  This process has been termed localization, and is defined by the Localization Institute as:

The process of creating or adapting a product to a specific locale, i.e., to the language, cultural context, conventions and market requirements of a specific target market. With a properly localized product a user can interact with this product using his/her own language and cultural conventions. It also means that all user-visible text strings and all user documentation (printed and electronic) use the language and cultural conventions of the user. Finally, the properly localized product meets all regulatory and other requirements of the user’s country/region. [Read more…]