The Media Track of Japanese Animated Films, 1907-Present

As a big fan of Japanese animated film director Hayao Miyazaki, this media track was originally like paying homage to one of the greatest artists in the world. Yet as my project has been progressing week by week, I see a bigger picture of anime. In addition to Miyazaki, contemporary directors such as Mamoru Oshii, Satoshi Kon have profound worldwide impact on both animation and live-action films; in addition to Ghibli, production companies such as Production I.G. and CoMix Wave Films provide us with excellent works of visual fantasy...And it's also worth emphasizing that animation filmmaking is definitely demanding teamwork to which numerous people varying from the screenplay writers to sound editors dedicate themselves. The world of anime is dazzling and keeping pace with technology development, cultural trends, social change...In my project I attempts to track the history of Japanese animated films from its humble start in 1907 till the current time (2018). I’ve been interested in Japanese culture since childhood and the book The Chrysanthemum and the sword (1946) by Ruth Benedict is one of my favorites in social science. The double-facet and contradictions of Japanese are puzzling and fascinating, as “the Japanese are, to the highest degree, both aggressive and unaggressive, both militaristic and aesthetic, both insolent and polite, rigid and adaptable, submissive and resentful of being pushed around, loyal and treacherous, brave and timid, conservative and hospitable to new ways” (Benedict 1946, 2). The myths of their personality and behavior allure me to further exploring through the possibly most powerful media -- films. By doing so we can get a glimpse of the mingling of anime technology, Japanese aesthetics and social norms from a vantage point, for film is a language “in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts” (Marie 2003, 31) in the narrative influenced or shaped by their cultural customs and institutions. 

Gitelman defines “media as socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (Gitelamn 2006, 7). The history of Japanese animated films is not merely a trajectory of moving image media, but a dynamic map that embraces the breakthrough of technologies, change of world politics, social and cultural patterns. And if we compare what we see through this array of artworks and the credo revealed by Benedict seven decades ago, we could discover some ideas and customs passed from generation to generation and some already abandoned in today’s Japan. For example, Japanese, according to Benedict, always remember the “on”(恩)--the favor others do for them, and thus will try to “pay” it back. The movie The Cat Returns (2002) is about how a magic cat helps a girl who used to save his life. On the other hand, the faith and pursuit for order and hierarchy, the strong feelings for “shame”, argued by Benedict as the fundamental of Japanese culture, may look seriously outdated for the young Japanese. In popular anime the audience often see the protagonists strive for freedom and equality, the values rooted in Western societies and regarded as almost the opposite to oriental traditions.


Luqi Jiang