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The Japanese Version
April 13, 2013 8:19 PM   Subscribe

In the late '80s, documentarians Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker spent six months in Tokyo looking at how symbols and imagery familiar to Americans had been appropriated and given new significance in Japan. Though more than 20 years old, the resulting video remains popular in undergraduate courses across the social sciences and humanities in part because it's so entertaining.

posted by Monsieur Caution (13 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hm, I flipped the quotation marks when creating the HTML for this, and only double quotes give verbatim results and thus a reasonable idea what kinds of courses use this video.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:51 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Looks like an interesting documentary, although to add an extra layer to the onion, it's a pretty interesting examination (in a meta way) of American (as opposed to simply non-Japanese) attitudes and perceptions about Japanese culture. Some of the stuff at the beginning seemed pretty normal to me (as someone who has had what I think is a deep relationship with the country for more than 20 years), and I would question whether the symbols have been "appropriated" in the first place, or if the symbols were truly American in origin at all.

That said, it's undeniable that Western perceptions of Japan have been shaped by the American relationship with that country. Americans like Donald Richie and George Lucas have played a key role in popularizing Japanese cinema, for example, and the Occupation gave Japan the constitution it still uses today.

So the relationship is key, at least in terms of how "the outside world" perceives Japan. But, then again, the US has influenced pretty much every culture on the globe in some way.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the conclusion of the video: "It showed us that the Japanese can interpret anything about America in anyway it suits them. And why not? Do we in America, and in the west, hold a copyright to our cultural creations, or even our own stereotypes? Once they land in the hands of the Japanese, everything is fair game, in a game in which we are only spectators."
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:33 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, immediately upon starting to watch I thought, "So this is how American filmmakers used to present Japanese culture and daily life to American audiences." It's not especially old, in the scheme of things, but the anime invasion and the popularization of the "lost decade" have definitely changed the way we talk and think about "what Japan is like."
posted by Nomyte at 9:35 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't believe Dave Spector's been around that long. Pops up on the terebi all the time now, and then, there he was, 22 years ago, with the same hair.
posted by kadonoishi at 11:22 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Best part: Donald Richie bemoaning Japan's complete lack of parsnips.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:43 AM on April 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


So, occidentalism then?
posted by acb at 5:16 AM on April 14, 2013


I am still watching the documentary, which is terribly amusing. I thought I'd post a vaguely relevant pic while I watch the rest. So here is a photo of a traditional Tanabata parade.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:36 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just finished watching. That was stunning. I can smell the Bubble. That's when I started getting involved with Japan. But by the time I learned the language, and got over there, the Bubble popped.

I think I can summarize that documentary in one word: ジヤパニーズ。I don't think I've ever heard a Japanese person use that word before. The context is an advertising executive who is auditioning foreign women. His words are poorly translated, shortened and stripped of colloquialism. But he clearly talks about how foreigners (he uses the word gaijin) are perceived by the Japanese people, and here he uses those words like they were foreign loan words, he says "jyapaneezu piporu."
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2013


I too Feel Coke.
posted by dr_dank at 9:32 AM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are there any similar explorations of America's obsession with, and appropriation of, Japanese culture?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:48 AM on April 14, 2013


> It's not especially old, in the scheme of things, but the anime invasion and the popularization of the "lost decade" have definitely changed the way we talk and think about "what Japan is like."

If someone told me to name a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, and not Yukio Mishima or Yasunari Kawabata, would be first to come to mind.

On the other hand, I haven't read much Japanese writing.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:05 PM on April 14, 2013



Are there any similar explorations of America's obsession with, and appropriation of, Japanese culture?


Yes, that would be Roland Kelts' Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. which I can recommend.
posted by gen at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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