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.

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.

Comipo! and the Constructed Definition of “Manga”

Comipo! is a recently-released Japanese computer program advertised as a tool that allows people to create their own “manga” even if they cannot draw. While I have not sampled the program myself, the promotional materials for Comipo demonstrate how this is achieved. Using a wide selection of pre-existing templates for backgrounds, word bubbles, characters, effects, and other visual elements, a user drags and drops these elements onto a page layout (for which there are also templates), and essentially “model” their comic pages. Characters are 3-D models, which allows them to be placed and viewed at any angle within each panel. Photos can be imported as backgrounds and filtered so as to make them more in-line with the characters.

Given this idea of “instant comics,” what I find particularly interesting about Comipo! is the pre-set library of “manga-like” features itself. The second promo shows samples of effects that can be utilized, such as where multiple sharp lines populate the inside of a panel border to emphasize that something dramatic is happening, or when a similar effect is used on the outside of a word bubble to express that the words inside the bubble are an intense inner thought. As manga are printed in black and white, the third promo goes out of its way to point out that the full-color imagery used in Comipo! can be turned monochrome. The character models themselves are also indicative of this manga-centric angle. Instead of allowing the user to pose the models themselves, the program has a list of pre-defined physical behaviors.

Through these effects, Comipo! seems to imply that there are indeed recurring visual elements that can be seen as “typical” of Japanese comics, with quite a discrete definition of “manga” (or at least “the average manga”) emerging out of the rigidity of the templates used. While some of these elements could be said to be “comics elements” in general, when compared to a similar program in the form of the “Create Your Own Comic” feature at Marvel Comics’ “Superhero Squad” website, very immediate differences can be seen. Despite the greater simplicity of the one provided by Marvel, the differences in how the two programs treat the concept of drag-and-drop comics is evident in what they choose to include am emphasize. For instance, instead of the “intense inner thought” effect used in the Comipo! promotional material, the Marvel online creator showcases a variety of cloud-like “thought bubbles.” Whether or not Comipo!’s implied definition of “manga” or the Superhero Squad’s definition of “superhero comics” are accurate is not a subject I want to address at this point; instead I just want to consider the fact that these definitions exist at all.

Perhaps the most noticeable visual elements of Comipo! are the pre-existing character designs themselves, which are firmly planted within the “moe” (a sort of cuteness which promotes strong empathy and desire) aesthetic that has come to the forefront of manga and particularly anime over the past decade or so. Generally targeted towards males already familiar with anime and manga, the decision to feature moe character designs in the program in lieu of others is a decision which seems to say that this is the face of manga today, or at the very least the face of manga for people who would buy the program and use it. Obvious technological impossibilities aside, I have to then wonder what a program such as Comipo! would have looked like if it had existed in decades prior, say, in the 1980s when the influence on character designs by artists such as Mikimoto Haruhiko (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross), Azuma Hideo (Nanako SOS!) and Takakashi Rumiko (Maison Ikkoku) could be seen in their peers? What would the implied definition of “manga” have been then?

What is tech-now?

This section will comment on recent developments in the field of East Asian cyberculture. While this implies a rough limitation of topics, we have no intention of limiting perspective and background of the contributions as such (editorial bias aside). Rather, we hope that this section creates a space of political engagement that brings together scholars and non-scholars with different perspectives on contemporary cyberculture and the politics related to this field.

What are asiascape-goats?

Asia has a long history of being recognized by Western writers as something “alien.” In particular, China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea are frequently referred to out of exploratory spirit, in order to mystify and exoticise the otherwise everyday, or even to mock the apparently strange and unintelligible. Commentators often implicitly or inadvertently exploit this sense of the “alienness” of East Asia in order to criticize their own societies: complaining about the “strange” lack of gender equality in Japan or the “unusual” treatment of human rights in China or animal rights in Korea. In other words, the idea of the “alien” enables Western commentators to deny the problems in their own societies by projecting them onto others, scapegoating East Asia for social, cultural and political woes. And conversely, commentators in East Asia can be prone to do this with stories about Western nations. We call these twin phenomena, asia-scape-goating.
This section will by no means try to abolish “otherness” and “alienations.” On the contrary, it will develop ways to make productive use of this alien or fictional character of the other (be it Asia or the West) as a means for critique with great but yet unknown (or: alien) potentials. By actively deploying Asia as a scapegoat (or exposing how the West can be scapegoated in Asia) this section hopes to contribute to new, provocative, radical, and hopefully productive forms of (self) critique and reflection.

What are multi-vistas?

One of the strengths of the Asiascape programme is that it combines varying cultural and educational backgrounds through its contributors. Posts under the “multi-vistas” label aim to make the most of this opportunity, focusing myriad perspectives on specific topics, such as how markets for similar products differ from region to region and how each contributor approaches specific pieces of media, in order to provide a more well-rounded view overall.

As only a handful of different writers could not possibly constitute a truly “complete” image of anything, the goal of multi-vistas is not to be a comprehensive showcase. Rather, it is to encourage everyone, including those involved with this blog, to be conscious of the fact that there are always gaps in knowledge and understanding, and that the first step to filling them is to be open to the views of others.

What is fandustry?

Media products compete with one another for consumers and in doing so create devoted followings, but when the consumers themselves become considerably invested in the media to the point that they may be considered “fans,” they begin to create their own forms of competition. Whether it is winning at a video game in a tournament environment, striving to own a better merchandise collection, or generating creative content of their own, fans create a kind of industry of their own where the “currency” is not necessarily monetary and can take forms such as praise, exposure, and increased opportunities to continue their activities. Often these terms of “success” are determined by the fandom itself.

Taking into account that today fan activities are not only a byproduct of professional media production, but one of the driving forces of media development, the goal of the “Fandustry” category is to highlight not simply the extents to which fans take their interests, but also the complex (sub)cultural and social dynamics of fan-oriented production and competition.