The U.S. gets widely accused of cultural imperialism, a phrase that has support from the rise of Western history, where the West’s technological superiority and penchant for conquest has forced much of the world’s culture to change. It turns out that one of those cultures, Japan, has modified Western culture in its own way, and now exports things like manga back at the West.
I interviewed Susan Napier late last summer, for the Japanese magazine Shukan Daiyamondo. The interview only recently was published, but Napier’s observations remain timely. For instance, she notes that Japanese culture has long fascinated the West, but now elements of it are almost mainstream.
The question is why Japanese stuff so popular now? I think it’s a combination of things: it’s different enough to be very interesting, and it’s an alternative to American culture. That seems to have hit a chord in today’s world.
At the same time, I just went to see the Transformers, which was all done with computer animation and live actors. In Japan, it would almost certainly have been completely animated. Napier isn’t sure that will ever catch on in the U.S., despite a general increase in interest in animation on television, in movies and elsewhere.
Americans still expect animation to be funny. Look at The Simpsons, the Family Guy, South Park. These are very witty and clever and imaginative, but in a way they’re circumscribed, they’re not dealing with the big theme. Japanese animation is like Hollywood, it covers everything. I do wonder when we’ll see serious cartoons in America. There seems to be a real huge kind of block about that.
The full interview is here.