Anime’s atomic legacy : Takashi Murakami, Miyazaki, Anno, and the negotiation of Japanese war memory. (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Arts
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsManji, Rufus C.show all
This thesis explores the cultural commentary by Japanese Neo-Pop artist Takashi Murakami in relation to Japan’s war memory and its legacy in popular culture, addressing in particular the essays accompanying his 2005 exhibition Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture. Murakami constructs a genealogy of postwar otaku subculture— anime, manga, tokusatsu, and video games—which he sees as reflecting anxieties repressed within mainstream culture: namely, memory of defeat, occupation, and ongoing military protection by the United States, epitomised by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These concerns become intertwined with the social malaise of Japan’s “Lost Decades”, in which postwar narratives of endless economic growth through scientific innovation give way to nihilism and social withdrawal. While anime of the “Economic Miracle” period show empowered heroes overcoming apocalyptic trauma through technology and righteous ideals, those of the 1990s frustrate such heroism: as scientific optimism deteriorates, protagonists are forced to question their beliefs, affiliations, and self-definition.
While Murakami offers a wealth of socio-historical insights, clear limitations emerge, particularly the immediate post-Occupation release of films and artworks depicting the war and the atomic bomb, which challenges the notion that these topics were repressed exclusively into subculture. Furthermore, critics have argued the emphasis on Japan’s defeat and the hardships faced by civilians downplays the broader history of the Japanese Empire and its wartime activities abroad, a tendency Carol Gluck terms “victim’s history”. This thesis proposes a revision of Murakami’s theory which argues that memory of Japan as perpetrator emerges subliminally in subcultural narratives alongside memory of victimhood. Drawing on Hashimoto’s, LaCapra’s, and Elsaesser’s insights on the transmission of perpetrator memory, I argue that many of anime’s most iconic Sci-Fi and fantasy narratives are rooted in ambivalence towards national history, with heroes forced to identify simultaneously with hero, victim, and perpetrator roles. I focus on directors Hayao Miyazaki and Hideaki Anno, identifying the recurring motif of the “perpetrator fathers” whose legacy young heroes must overcome, while at the same time experiencing a traumatic identification with their father figures. These narratives complicate questions of national identity, reflecting a simultaneous desire to escape from, and redeem, historical memory.