I saw a short documentary recently on the history of anime (Japanese animation). Some may think that cartoons are not a real view into the culture of a country. But I think that pop culture as a much a part of culture as more traditional forms of art. They give us a glimpse of how history and religious belief influence people and the arts even in modern times.
Here are some bullet points I took away from the documentary. I think it’s interesting how the differences between Japanese and American animation show some of the differences between the cultures at large.
- In American animated film making, the emphasis is on “animated”. In Japan, the emphasis is on “film”. In other words, animation is just another tool used in making films and telling stories, so the kinds of stories one can tell in animation are not limited as they usually are in the west. That’s why Japanese ‘toons aren’t always “kid-friendly”.
- Anime is often post-apocalyptic because Japan itself is post-apocalyptic.
- Manga (comics) and Anime took off in popularity soon after World War II because there was a “hole” in culture for entertainment.
- Budget limitations early on in anime led to the development of certain styles, which are still part of anime today even though the budgets are bigger (for example, panning the camera across a scene — one picture — to give the illusion of movement where no actual animation is taking place).
There are also elements of Japanese religious tradition that show up in anime. Paul Nethercott has an article HERE pointing some of these aspects out. The fact is that there is a different story-telling sensibility in Japanese animation, and in film making in general. If you’ve watched any, you’ve probably noticed this, and may not have understood some things. As THIS article points out, an understanding of Japanese religion and other aspects of culture is needed to fully understand and appreciate many of these works.
I would add, too, that knowing about Japanese tradition, religion and, yes, even pop culture is important for those of us seeking to build bridges with Japanese people. People are a product of culture as much as culture is a product of the people.