asiascape vistas

Techno-Culture, New Politics, and Philosophy in East Asia

Asiascape Vistas is a forum for discussion about the many and various dimensions of cyberculture found in or originating from East Asia. Its focus is on the interplay between these media and questions of politics & philosophy. Contributions are from the academic collective responsible for the core project, but other contributions will also be considered by that collective.
If you wish to contribute to Asiacape Vistas, please send an email using the form on the contact page.

What Is That Funny S-Shape?

In the history of comics, one of the great success stories has to be Thomas Nast, whose political cartoons were key in removing the corrupt New York politician William “Boss” Tweed from office and crippling his established power base. One of the reasons Nast’s cartoons worked where other avenues met with less results was that they could be understood by the illiterate; one only needed to see the fat man with a sack of money for a head to connect 2 and 2 together.

Nast is certainly not the first instance of using images to circumvent illiteracy, but as literacy rates have improved drastically in the 130 years or so since Tweed, you don’t really see comics having to deal with a population of specifically illiterate adults. Yes, there are works for children that do so, but because they are aimed at the young you don’t really get the same effect. And yes, you still have political cartoons that are easily understood on the visual level (name your favorite politician and put a Hitler mustache and/or devil horns on their head), but they’re again created in an environment where literacy is assumed.

When I look at that drawing of Boss Tweed, or pictorial depictions of Biblical stories from the Middle Ages, I don’t see that as specifically Tweed and that it’s a statement of corruption or that this painting is indeed the story of Job. I feel as if I do not have the right context, too far-removed from those times, and that in addition to that limitation I am also in a way restricted by my ability to read. I cannot capture that circumstance; while I could easily pick up a current comic or cartoon meant for adults in a language I do not understand and would most assuredly succeed in not reading it, I would still have a work that was created and meant for an environment where the average adult can read, no matter how minimal the text might be, and I might not have the proper cultural context.
I of course am not encouraging or promoting illiteracy, but as the world has moved away from it, I have to wonder if we’ll lose that method of creating comics for an adult audience, a style that arose out of a particularly great limitation. I also am curious about Japan, where literacy rates have been remarkably high for a number of decade and where comics culture has also developed greatly during that period.


The short serial “The Japanese Tradition” by the Japanese comedians RAHMENS includes various enjoyable parodies on different cultural aspects of Japan and can be found on youtube with English subtitles. I most enjoyed the one called “Sushi”, which claims to teach the viewer (foreigners?) how a sushi restaurant works and how one has to behave there. RAHMENS employ a great variety of exaggerations and “fake” information, but season it with what I conceived of as “true” statements about the Japanese culture and society (which, in the end, might say more about me than about the film). To me, the interesting question here is, what exactly RAHMENS are making fun of in “The Japanese Tradition”? Before explaining this any further, I would like to encourage you to watch the 8-minutes-movie [here] and decide for yourself before reading any further…
[hopefully 10 minutes pass by…]
My first impression was, that this is a parody on Japanese culture (sushi) and Japanese society. As such, it was fun to watch because I could tell where they are exaggerating or faking and where the information is “true” (but nevertheless provides a critical view). At least I thought I could… Thinking about this a little more, I realized that I am not at all able to completely distinguish between fake and “true” information in the film. This feeling might be even stronger with anybody who is not familiar with Japanese culture or its global entities, and who might for example have no reason to doubt that you have to dip your sushi into the soy sauce until the weight changes (which is very “dangerous”, since the sushi falls apart when soaked with soy sauce). Aren’t RAHMENS actually mocking me by confronting me with my perception of Japan, my personal asia-scape-goating. And doesn’t this parody then, work better, the more I think I know about Japan? From this prespective, the topics that come up in “Sushi” can be categorized in some general fields where (Western) stereotypes converge. Critique of whale-hunting and related topics might have been the source for the idea to show that, by asking the cook for his suggestion, you get access to a variety of dishes made from protected species.
It would be interesting to know, whether this is intended by RAHMENS or not, whether they had a foreign audience in mind and deliberately played with this audiences images of Japan as a place where they eat anything and don’t care about extinction of species at all, but this cannot be answered here (although I think their target audience is located in Japan). To me, the more interesting question is, whether this kind of parody created by deliberately blending “fake” and “true” self-criticism can be a strategy to engage with the asia-scape-goating of others in a thoughtful and productive way, a form of counter-asia-scape-goating? And, would I think of it in these terms if it was produced by a Western group?

Dream or Nightmare? Kon Satoshi’s Paprika

written by Mari Nakamura

“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind”, Sigmund Freud says [1]. Psychologists have used dream analysis but they can only ask people about their dreams when people had woken up. So it would be wonderful if we could electronically record and interpret dream. Writing in the journal Nature, the US researcher Dr. Moran Cerf said his research team has developed a system for recording higher-level brain activity, “We would like to read people’s dreams” [2]. Dr. Cerf’s project aims to develop a system that would allow psychologists to corroborate people’s recollections of their dream with visualisation of their brain activity.

If we could record and interpret dreams and find clues to the unconscious mind, would it be possible for us to control the unconsciousness? Furthermore, once the unconscious mind is controlled, is this also affect to the consciousness? The Japanese science fiction animation film, Paprika (2006) [3] deals with these psychological/philosophical issues.

Paprika is based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui (1993) [4], and is directed by the late Kon Satoshi. The film is about a device, the DC-Mini that permits psychologists to enter people’s dream. The DC-Mini is developed by a group of scientists and one of the members, Atsuko Chiba, is using the machine for psychiatric therapy secretly with her alter-ego Paprika. One day three DC-Mini are stolen and the inventor Tokita reveals that these devices were unfinished products and the user can enter peoples’ dreams and manipulate their unconscious minds. As the investigation continues, Chiba and her associates find that in fact, the DC-Mini also allow users to manipulate dreams and delusions when people are awake. The reality and the dream in this context are merged.

Dreams start invading realities and things become fluid. The distinction between the reality (the conscious) and the dream (the unconscious) is no longer clear. We are not sure which one, Chiba or Paprika, is herself or her alter-ego anymore. The film here raises a series of questions about the idea of control – what it mean today, how to take control, on what to do when we take it. In the film, Chiba thinks she controls over Paprika and Paprika should obey her. In this sense Paprika is subject to Chiba. Yet, Paprika raised a question to Chiba, “Have you ever thought that maybe you are a part of me to think that you can control yourself and others?” Paprika points out a possibility of her control over Chiba. The relation between subject and object is reversed in this aspect. Who does control whom? The distinction between subject and object is blurred. In this vein, the very meaning of what being in control is no longer clear.

The film Paprika provides us an interesting example to think about the concepts of reality/dream, consciousness/ unconsciousness, control and subject/object. Once the dream record device becomes ‘possible’, will it be a dream or a nightmare?


[1] Sigmund Freud, cited in Quinodoz (2005:36). Jean-Michel Quinodoz, Reading Freud: a chronological exploration of Freud's writings Volume 1 of New library of psychoanalysis. New York:Taylor & Francis, 2005.

[2] Pallab Ghosh, ‘Dream Recording Device ‘Possible’ Researcher Claims’. BBC news on 27 October 2010.

[3] Satoshi Kon, Paprika, 2006.

[4] Yasutaka Tsutsui, Paprika, Tokyo:Chuokoronsha, 1993.

What is 'beyond utopia'

This ‘beyond utopia’ section is concerned primarily with issues arising from science fiction in a global setting. That is, here we are not only concerned with geographical or cultural parameters of cultural products and their implications, but rather with the genre and the issues to which interesting artifacts therein give rise. Hence, while the other sections of this site are framed by East Asia in various ways, this one is fundamentally framed by science fiction itself. It takes its name from the title of our major research project, 'Beyond Utopia: New Politics, the Politics of Knowledge and the Science Fictional Field of Japan.'

Towards free manga and richer artists

A few weeks ago, I attended the conference “INTERCULTURAL CROSSOVERS, TRANSCULTURAL FLOWS: MANGA/COMICS” in Cologne, at which the well-known pioneer translator of many famous Japanese manga and anime, Frederic Schodt, gave a keynote speech. He introduced his work and addressed several issues in the process of translating, layouting and publishing Japanese manga in the US. He identified the increasing amount of illegal scans and so-called “scanlations” – scans of manga with text translations made by volunteers – that circulate among fans As one pressing threat to professionally translated and published manga.
Schodt seems to be not alone with this concern, as an article on the Japanese page of Yahoo from Nov. 17th shows. Acoording to ITmedia, well-known manga artist Ken Akamatsu has had mixed feelings about fans who value his work but don’t want to pay for it for some time. Now he has decided to act and “turn the whole manga business upside down” by creating a company that offers free downloads of manga online. According to the article on Yahoo, Akamatsu’s business model is to collect scanned manga from fans and make them available for free online in combination with advertising. The revenue of the advertisements will be distributed among the artists, who have been asked for permission in advance. The Yahoo-article remarks that Akamatsu's company will only deal with out-of-print manga, and therefore won't be a threat to the interests of other publishing houses. He himself sees the aim of this effort in “protecting the manga culture Japan takes pride in, and conserving it for future generations in a proper way.”
Rhetoric aside, the idea sounds very interesting and, if it works, it might be a way of using the economic potential of the internet to the benefit of both the creators of content and its users (as opposed to many cases in which users are allowed to create content for free but the respective company profits alone). Akamatsu’s model, rather than simply giving the users free content at the cost of the artists, introduces a third party (the advertiser), who might benefit from the fact that the site attracts a great number of people with some shared interests. Since the productive process is long complete and future revenues are probably insignificant, this seems to create revenues for the artists where none can be expected any more. But of course, there are a lot of “ifs” here, and the list is far from complete. As digitalized content, once circulated, cannot be banned or withdrawn from the net any more, one of the challenges will be, whether the site attracts enough people who care enough for a free but “legal” way of acquiring such works (and are willing to skip though advertising pages).
In any case, if this is a serious attempt, it might be worth having an eye on in the future. In the meanwhile, more information on the idea can be found on Akamatsu blog.