Science Fiction Studies

#104 = Volume 35, Part 1 = March 2008

Graham Murphy

You Are What You Eat: Infectious Negotiations of the Orient and Occident

Takayuki Tatsumi. Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2006. xxv +241pp. $22.95. Pbk.

Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America collects a number of Takayuki Tatsumi’s essays tackling Japan’s “excessive importation, not excessive exportation” (171) and provides “the first reliable cognitive map of the Japanoid culture that has been thriving and mutating ever since its emergence during the late 1980s” (according to Larry McCaffery’s Foreword [xiv] ). Tatsumi divides Full Metal Apache into five sections: Theory, History, Aesthetics, Performance, and Representation; he then offers a conclusion to pull his arguments together as well as two appendices: an e-mail discussion with McCaffery and an interview with Richard Calder, an author he studies in greater detail in one of Full Metal Apache’s chapters.                

Full Metal Apache’s essays run the gamut of Tatsumi’s cultural interests (novels, short stories, movies, plays, ballet, performance art, etc.) and its analyses/commentaries include (but are not limited to): Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); William Gibson’s Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996); J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973); Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Charisma (1999); Tim Burton’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999); Shozo Numa’s Kachikujin Yapoo (Yapoo the Human Cattle, 1970); Sakyo Komatsu’s Nippon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks, 1970) and Nippon Apacchi-Zoku (The Japanese Apache, 1964); Shuji Terayama’s The Miraculous Mandarin (1977); Alan Brown’s Audrey Hepburn’s Neck (1996); Michael Keezing’s “Anna-chan of Green Gables” (1996); Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man That Was Used Up” (1839); Shunya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo (1989); Ken Kaiko’s Nippon Sanmon Opera (The Japanese Threepenny Opera, 1959); Yang Sok Il’s Yoru wo Kakete (Through the Night, 1994)1; Richard Calder’s “Mosquito” (1989), Dead Girls (1992), Dead Boys (1994), and Dead Things (1996); H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds (1898) and the tradition of future-war fictions; the devastation of Nagaski, Hiroshima, and Emperor Hirohito’s surrender to General Douglas MacArthur; Bill Clinton’s presidency as avant-porn; and the symbolic resonance of Gojiro (Godzilla). Amidst this eclectic retinue of subjects, Tatsumi holds that the 1980s were particularly important in the import-export cultural/critical trade because “Anglo-American writers, through their own logic of mimicry, imitated and appropriated Japanesque images, that is images that at once draw on and distort Japanese culture,” while Japanese authors recognized that “writing subversive fiction in the wake of cyberpunk meant gaining an insight into a radically science-fictional ‘Japan’” (173). Consequently, this period of appropriation and import-export trade proved to be fertile in the “multicultural artistic fruit of miscegenation and metamorphic cross-fertilization between western and nonwestern cultures” (182).                

The collection’s critical spine is developed in the essays of “Part One: Theory”: “Mikadophilia, or The Fate of Cyborgian Identity in the Postmillenarian Milieu” and “Comparative Metafiction: Somewhere between Ideology and Rhetoric.” Tatsumi explains that his theoretical apparatus “[c]oncentrates on the potential of literary theory in the globalist age, spells out the cyborgian making of postwar Japanese subjectivity based upon ‘Mikadophilia’ and ‘creative masochism,’ and details the discipline of comparative metafiction” (4). Creative masochism is a unique post-WWII sensibility, one marked by Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the American occupation of Japan, a radical transformation of

the humiliating experience of the diaspora into the techno-utopian principle of construction. This enables us to explain the reason why we Japanese are more tempted to naturalize and “digest” the digital electronic information network of virtual reality, feeling as we do that we are essentially metallivorous. (168)

Part of this “techno-utopian principle of construction” is achieved through Mikadophilia, named after the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (1885), a continuing obsession and media mania for an Emperor system that is both threatening and charismatic (Tatsumi 28). In this “clash of orientalism and occidentalism,” avant-pop emerges as a useful conceptual tool and artistic movement. Tatsumi uses Larry McCaffery’s avant-pop scholarship as a means of resolving the avant-garde paradox: a 1960s-era counter-revolutionary resistance becomes appropriated and commercialized into a 1980s-era niche market. The Theory section also explores metafiction and deconstruction because, much like the avant-garde, they too

used to be considered the most progressive of cultural tools, possessing the power to deconstruct the totality of ideology, but now this pair have taken the place of ideology, becoming ideologies themselves, which can afford to rewrite the history of postconsumerist society even as they expose ideology as always having been metafictional. (40)

There is no doubting Tatsumi’s intimacy with his subject matter as he juggles the orient, the occident, creative masochism, avant-pop, cyberpunk, and Mikadophilia. His ability to keep all these ideas and texts in motion and interacting with one another is impressive and helps illuminate a Japanese cultural marketplace that deserves greater exposure to Western scholars. Yet the Theory section also highlights some of the collection’s problems. The back cover of Full Metal Apache applauds Tatsumi’s “encyclopedic knowledge and fan’s love of both Japanese and American art and literature.” That encyclopedic knowledge can be distracting and dense just as often as it is illuminating and critically astute. The multiple digressions into numerous and diverse texts sometimes obfuscate Tatsumi’s keen critical voice as the diverse analyses can remain underdeveloped and less than satisfying. For example, Tatsumi contrasts Orwell’s “modernist” 1984 (1949) and Atwood’s “postmodernist” The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) to show a “common setting of a totalitarian society and similar metanarrative voices” (47); yet this comparative analysis is achieved in one paragraph. Tatsumi then spends the next page outlining the depictions of Hitler in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972), and Steve Erickson’s Tours of the Black Clock (1989). Although all this material is quite interesting and promising, it remains underdeveloped in its brevity. In essence, Full Metal Apache is sometimes too impatient with its allusions and intertextual references. The arguments struggle to emerge from under the weight of a cacophony of cultural references that draw attention away from a clear(er) articulation of the theoretical content.                

“Part Two: History” provides queer and/or cyborg readings of select texts: “Virus as Metaphor: A Postorientalist Reading of the Future War Novels of the 1890s”; “Deep North Gothic: A Postoccidentalist Reading of Hearn, Yanagita, and Akutagawa”; “Which Way to Coincidence?: A Queer Reading of J.G. Ballard’s Crash”; and “A Manifesto for Gynoids: A Cyborg Feminist Reading of Richard Calder.” In this section, Tatsumi convincingly argues that the future-war novels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that were inspired by H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds foreground the “yellow peril” of the Other, and in this “yellow peril literature” (67), the Martian Other eventually “became the omen of the yellow [Asian], black [African], and red [Russian] perils” (68). The Other is also addressed in the “Deep North Gothic” of Kunio Yanagita’s Tono Monogatari (The Legends of Tono, 1910; filmed by Tetsutaro Murano as The Legend of Sayo [1982]), Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “Kappa” (1927), and the Japanese folklore translations of Lafcadio Hearn (a.k.a., Yakumo Koizumi) which, collectively, “exaggerated the fear and allure of the absolute other” (5).             

The last chapters in “Part Two: History” return to occidentalism and the culture clash of West and East that “affords access to a queer reading of the works of several contemporary English speculative fiction writers” (5). Tatsumi contends that J.G. Ballard queers the analogy of the United States as husband and Japan as wife—itself a result of the post-WWII Pax Americana feminization of Japan—by providing a “new twist by setting up the hyperqueer viewpoint of a British boy who feels homosexual sympathy with a Japanese kamikaze, literally murdered or figuratively ravished by the American army” (90) in Empire of the Sun (1984). In his analysis of Richard Calder’s fiction, Tatsumi sees the “Dollscape series, including his novel Dead Girls, [as] yet another radical reinterpretation of Madame Butterfly, this one from the viewpoint of technoexoticism” (5). These essays are involved in “queering the oriental, [and] restructuring the historical space in which images of the Far East intersect with those of Anglo-America” (5). Oddly, this material feels disconnected from queer theory, chiefly because his readings make little reference to the excellent work in that field.                

It should come as no surprise that a collection focusing on cyberpunk Japan should refer to William Gibson. Although Full Metal Apache discusses Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), it favors sustained readings of Virtual Light and Idoru, while All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) gets short shrift. These chapters—“Semiotic Ghost Stories: The Japanese Reflection of Mirrorshades”; “Junk Art City, or How Gibson Meets Thomasson in Virtual Light”; and “Pax Exotica: A New Exoticist Perspective on Audrey, Anna-chan, and Idoru”—make up “Part Three: Aesthetics” and, along with the earlier chapters on J.G. Ballard and Richard Calder, will be of keen interest to sf scholars. This section considers the Japanese “reception of the cyberpunk movement in the 1980s” and then examines “the signifier ‘Japan’ as consistently reappropriated and creatively deformed by post-cyberpunk avant-pop writers” (5). Tatsumi also elaborates on “new exoticist fiction,” a recent form of writing that “seems to plunge precisely into the semiotic intersection between cultural understanding and misunderstanding” (125), by offering close readings of Alan Brown’s Audrey Hepburn’s Neck, Michael Keezing’s “avant-porn” story “Anna-chan of Green Gables,” and Gibson’s Idoru.                

In charting the relatively new territory of new-exoticist fiction, however, Full Metal Apache is not particularly careful in how it uses “cyberpunk” and “post-cyberpunk” designations. The text glosses cyberpunk by assuming a general consensus so it can focus on the Japanese reception of cyberpunk and Gibson’s Bridge sequence (comprising Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties), a sequence that is not generally considered cyberpunk proper. On the one hand, Tatsumi’s use of cyberpunk seems overly prescriptive rather than descriptive. On the other, his prescription includes everything from outlaw technologies to ghostly apparitions.                

The final two sections—“Performance” and “Representation”—continue to display Tatsumi’s admirable knowledge of cultural referents. In “Performance,” Tatsumi draws on Shuji Terayama’s avant-garde musical “The Miraculous Mandarin” to “explore how Terayama incorporated both Edgar Allan Poe’s tale ‘The Man That Was Used Up’ and Béla Bartók’s opera The Miraculous Mandarin [1919]” (6). In “Representation,” Tatsumi discusses director Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo diptych—Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)—to compare its bioweaponry to Thomas Pynchon’s Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). This analysis weaves the critical threads introduced in “Theory” to explore “the impact of American captivity narratives on the creative masochism of the Japanese cyborgian identity” and of Mikadophilia (6). But it also calls attention to Full Metal Apache’s structural difficulty: the Mikadophilia discussion is fragmented because it is divided among several sections of the text. The discussion of future-war “yellow peril” novels also suffers from this problem and the essay on Richard Calder’s post-cyberpunk fiction precedes the cyberpunk discussion. The essays of Full Metal Apache have seen earlier publication in such venues as Critique, SF Eye, Para*Doxa, Theater Arts, Interzone, Kigeki-Higeki [Tragedy and Comedy], Yuriika [Eureka], and/or have been aired at a variety of international conferences; this is likely the reason for the sometimes choppy structure. There is nothing wrong with assembling an impressive body of work into a collection; but, much as the fix-up novel requires transitional material and narrative reordering to achieve a coherent story, so too Full Metal Apache would benefit from a diligent re-ordering to achieve greater coherence.                

In “Representation” the source of the title—Full Metal Apache—is finally clear. “Full Metal” is obviously a reference to Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), a film Tatsumi briefly mentions in his earlier discussion of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo diptych. “Apache” is explained as a post-WWII Asian identity that emerged following the destruction of the Osaka army factory by American B-29 fighters. In the post-WWII years, dispossessed Koreans, Japanese, and Okinawans scavenged the remnants of the factory. Japanese journalists likened the scrap thieves to the American Apaches as John Ford had represented them in westerns such as FortApache (1948) and Fort Rio Grande (1950). The “Japanese Apache” also makes appearances in several Japanese works. Although the Apache “has been open to a variety of interpretations, it is no wonder that whoever resists government or institutions became liable to be called ‘Apache’” (160). Yet, in spite of the historical/cultural lineage of the Japanese Apache, I find the title disconcerting: having replaced any “real” indigenous Apache, a Hollywood Apache is now a figure of Japanese resistance. In a text that sometimes uses postcolonial theory to explore cross-cultural influences and import-export trade, I would have thought “Japanese Apache” ripe for critique, but the terminology escapes relatively unscathed. “Japanese Apache” is given the privilege of sliding through without sufficient interrogation and, in so doing, it enacts a type of colonial violence by marginalizing (even evacuating) Native Americans.               

Finally, Full Metal Apache charts the cross-fertilization between Japan and America in a period defined by the “chaotic and transculturally infectious negotiations [that] occur between orientalism and occidentalism” (176). Nevertheless, although offering to provide visions of the “narratives to come,” Full Metal Apache is grounded in the twentieth century (184). It may simply be a matter of deadlines and publishing schedules, but some movement away from texts that are two or three decades old towards a contemporary analysis of the post-millennial cultural milieu would have made Full Metal Apache a truer exploration of the contemporary import-export trade between occident and orient.                

In exploring the cultural miscegenation of American orientalism and Japanese occidentalism, Tatsumi provides a thorough mapping of this complex cross-territorial and cross-pollenized cultural terrain, but Full Metal Apache goes off in so many directions that the critical arguments are sometimes threatened and it proves difficult to follow the text’s “chaotic and transculturally infectious negotiations” (176). In spite of its merits and its critical acumen, tighter control on the cultural allusions, clarification of some of the critical terrain, some much-needed updating for a more contemporary focus, and greater structural cohesiveness would have produced a more coherent map of these territories. Full Metal Apache envisions “a new kind of theme park beautifully constructed within global space” (176-77) and invites the reader to become a member of Team Tatsumi; but, in its attempts to map the territories of this new global theme park, we are taken on so many different rides that the vertiginous drops, ascensions, near-suicidal declensions, and occasionally dizzying spinfests may leave readers feeling as bewildered as they are invigorated by their Team membership.

1. There is some discrepancy in this instance. While Tatsumi writes that the literary history of the Japanese Apache includes “the former Apache, Korean immigrant writer Yang Sok Il (Yan Sogiru)” (157), the bibliographic entry lists “Yang” as his surname; in addition, an Internet search also turned up such variations as Yang Sok-il and Yang Sogil.

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