Science Fiction Studies

#80 = Volume 27, Part 1 = March 2000

Michael Fisch

Nation, War, and Japan’s Future in the Science Fiction Anime Film Patlabor II

In the opening scene of Oshii Mamoru’s science fiction anime film Patlabor II (1993), a Japanese United Nations unit stationed in Southeast Asia in the year 1999 comes under heavy fire from hostile forces during maneuvers in the jungle. The Japanese forces, led by Tsuge Yukihito, are outfitted with state-of-the-art battle Labors (giant manned robots) and are thus more than a match for the hostile tanks. Tsuge’s request to central command for permission to engage the enemy is denied, however, and he is ordered to take evasive action and wait for the arrival of another unit. The delay turns out to be deadly and the Japanese Labors are decimated by enemy fire. Tsuge at last returns fire and succeeds in destroying an enemy tank before his Labor is hit by a rocket. The battle is over quickly and the image shifts to somber rain falling on a burned-out Labor lying in a pool of water. Accompanied by a mournful soundtrack, Tsuge crawls from the hatch of his ruined machine to survey the damage. He is apparently the only survivor. The camera pans across the surrounding jungle before resting on the image of a giant stone Buddha, cracked and overgrown with vines—a reminder of great civilizations that have fallen into history’s oblivion.

Patlabor II was produced in the wake of a debate that surfaced both in Japan and internationally over Japan’s responsibility in the world as a wealthy and technologically advanced nation. By the mid-1980s, Japan had become one of the world’s most economically successful countries through its dogged and narrow pursuit of national goals under the luxury of a peace ensured by the United States’ Cold War imperatives. The end of the Cold War, however, spurred a reevaluation in Japan and the United States of the nature of Japan’s relationship with the US and Japan’s own responsibilities in the post-Cold War world.1 At the heart of this reevaluation was an assortment of issues, such as Japan’s trade deficit with the US and American dependence on Japanese technology. Some of the most inflammatory debate for both the Japanese public and politicians, however, concerned Japan’s Self Defense Forces. A number of Japanese leaders were eager for Japan to advance its international status by participating in the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations. There was also talk of an expansion and revitalization of the Japanese Self Defense Forces so that Japan might eventually take more responsibility for its own defense. Both of these matters naturally involved a discussion of Article 9 in the postwar constitution, whereby Japan renounced its rights to maintain an army and use military force overseas.2

Invariably, the debate generated by these questions led to discussion of Japan’s World War II history, as this was Japan’s last significant military engagement. No matter how “rehabilitated” Japan felt, it seemed incapable of escaping the trauma of that war in either domestic or international contexts. Within Japan, years of negative depictions of the war along with seemingly ceaseless discourse devoted to exposing the political and ideological failure that had led the nation to defeat, were accompanied by the spread of a staunch pacifist ideology among the population.3 In the international arena, Japan appeared hesitant to publicly acknowledge its actions as an Imperial power in Asia during the war, as was demanded by many Asian nations as a price for economic cooperation (Finn 125, Pyle 133-134). Furthermore, the United States and the European powers found it convenient to maintain a selective memory regarding Japan’s war history, recalling the war whenever Japan’s economic prowess appeared as a threat and forgetting it when the discussion turned to the need for Japan’s participation in the United Nations (Tamamoto 6-8). Because of the vacillation and confusion among political positions inside and outside Japan, the country was more or less paralyzed.
The Gulf War and international resentment over Japan’s passive participation in a cause so vital to its interests (Japanese industry is massively dependent on oil from the Middle East) brought matters to a head (Tanaka 92-93, Renwick 58-59). After a brief period of political chaos and upheaval, the Japanese Diet, led mostly by the conservative right, passed the UN Peacekeeping Operations Bill (PKO) in 1992, allowing Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) to participate in UN peace missions. The legislation, however, included a list of five guiding principles that strictly precluded Japanese forces from engaging in any manner of armed conflict (Tanaka 96, Katzenstein 125-126). Even though support for the PKO bill among the Japanese population was still not strong, Japan sent a 600-man SDF engineering unit, seventy-five civilian police officers, and eight military observers to Cambodia in September 1992 to participate in the UN effort there. News of the first Japanese casualties (an election observer and a civilian police officer) in April of 1993 provoked further debate in Japan and calls for withdrawal (Pyle 127-131, Shiro 100).

In Patlabor II Oshii engages questions of Japan’s future and its involvement in the United Nations peacekeeping forces within a science fiction narrative that allegorically reflects—and critiques—the politics and society of postwar Japan. In addition, the film muses upon the nation’s experience in World War II and the nature of the ensuing peace under the American treaty. In my reading, what is at stake in Patlabor II is nothing less than Japan’s future and international position: while the film represents the dominant pacifist mood in Japan as well as arguments for participation in regular international peacekeeping operations, what finally emerges is a voice of nationalism, supporting the idea that Japan take responsibility for its own self-defense and expand its role in international affairs. As I will show, this voice often employs a strong, if implicit, anti-American rhetoric.

My discussion of the film is divided into two parts. The first, and more substantial, focuses on the narrative and imagery. In particular I examine the first scene, described above, as well as a central monologue that raises provocative questions concerning Japan’s World War II experience, its relationship with America, the postwar peace, and its obligations towards the world. In the second section I analyze the appearance in the film of specific elements from the science fiction genre in order to identify the manner in which they either contribute to or oppose the reading derived from the first part.

A guiding assumption behind my approach is that the film participates in the discursive space wherein the “imagined community” “Japan” is constituted.4 At the same time, I must emphasize that my objective here is not to expose the presence of a secret nationalist agenda within Japanese popular culture, nor to perpetuate the notion that Japan and Japanese politics are somehow problematic for the world. Rather I seek only to demonstrate the appearance of a fraught political debate within a popular Japanese text, while at the same time critiquing its method of representation.

Patlabor II as Anime, Science Fiction, and War Film. The term anime is the Japanese word for animation. Internationally it has come to denote the specific style of popular animation exported by Japan. Within Japan the term, on a general level, simply distinguishes between the comic book form (manga) and the animated cartoons that appear as weekly television episodes. There is of course an overlap between the manga and anime realm as many popular manga were made into animated television series and vice versa. The original Patlabor—in which the idea of the Patrol Labor Force and its central characters was developed by a team, including Oshii as director—first appeared as a television series and later in manga form. As in the case of Patlabor, a number of the weekly television anime have also appeared as special full-length films. At the same time, there are several anime feature films—such as Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira (1989), or Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa (1984)—that were released as manga and feature films without first appearing as television series.

Within the sea of anime produced in Japan, Oshii’s work—especially his most recent film, Ghost in the Shell—stands out for its striking form and provocative content. It is comparable only to a few other classics (e.g., Akira) in terms of the quality of its drawing and the complex nature of its ideas. As Ueno Toshiya suggests, Oshii’s anime is unique in that it conveys a realism—in the high level of its animation and its sophisticated camera techiques—that blurs the boundary between anime and live-action films (Oshii being one of the few Japanese directors to work in both formats).5 Ueno further notes, on a more thematic level, that Oshii tends to deal with one central idea throughout his works, “like any great philosopher” (186).

The exact nature of Oshii’s major theme is open to question, however, since his works are complex and operate on several levels. Moreover, both intertextually and within any given film, Oshii often displays a tremendous ambiguity that makes it difficult to determine a specific direction of thought. One example of this is the question of technology (and civilization) versus nature as this theme appears in Oshii’s treatment of Tokyo in the Patlabor films.6 On the one hand, Oshii’s representation of life in Tokyo depicts human alienation from nature in a way that invokes a sense of profound sadness bordering on despair. For example, his ubiquitous white birds soaring majestically above and around the confines of the city’s walls of buildings can be seen as stark symbols of the loss of freedom human beings must pay for the trappings of urban life. On the other hand, Oshii’s representations of Tokyo also convey a fascination with the city, its immensity and promise. One senses an identification between the director and the characters he often depicts sitting across from the city, gazing at its skyline and waiting. As will be seen, Patlabor II also demonstrates its own considerable ambiguity in dealing with questions of war and peace.

In terms of genre, Patlabor II is a science fiction film both because it deals with contemporary questions through a narrative set in the future and because it contains some of the quintessential science fiction elements, such as the representation of future technology and its implications for human existence. Yet it also departs from science fiction in several ways. First, aside from the presence of the high-tech Labors, everyday existence as represented in Patlabor II is fairly close to life in contemporary Japan. Oshii emphasizes this mundane, non-futuristic reality through the characters’ use of nearly obsolete objects such as an old-fashioned stove to heat a large metal water kettle.7 Furthermore, by comparison with more universal issues, such as the questioning of gender identity within the context of human-machine relations in Ghost in the Shell,8 the conflict in Patlabor II is decisively local, concerned mainly with the nation of Japan. One could even say that Oshii downplays the potential human-vs.-machine theme that might surface in Patlabor by minimizing the scenes involving the Labors and giving humans unequivocal control over them (as opposed to the tense cyborg conflicts depicted in Ghost in the Shell).

In its handling of the question of Japan’s future with respect to peace and war, Patlabor II contains a number of elements that have come to be associated with the war film genre. For example, it features a rigorous thematization of the question “why do we fight?”—a depiction of battle that is neither glorifying nor condemnatory, and an ambiguous representation of the enemy. In this regard, it is actually ideologically richer than many of the American sf war films that have preceded and followed it, such as James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1998).

The plot of the film is complicated and involves several intentional false leads and (perhaps unintentional) inconsistencies that make it somewhat difficult to follow. Immediately after the opening scene in which Tsuge’s Labors are overwhelmed by enemy fire during a 1999 UN operation, the film abruptly jumps to the year 2002, when the Yokohama Bay Bridge is suddenly destroyed by a missile fired from an F-16 fighter.9 The possibility is raised that a certain rogue unit within the SDF is responsible for the attack on the bridge and may be attempting a coup d’état. Contradicting this interpretation, Captains Goto and Shinobu of the Second Special Vehicles Division (SVD2)—a quasi-military police unit that uses battle Labors to control crime and sabotage—learn from Arakawa, an inside government source, that the F-16 was a supposedly special American model. New events, however, eclipse this development before its full ramifications can be explored.

The idea that the attack on the bridge was launched from an American plane seems to dissolve when three Japanese fighter jets appear on radar headed for Tokyo from an SDF airbase. The attack, however, turns out to be the result of someone hacking into Japan’s defense computer to create a phantom attack sequence. Interestingly enough, blame for the incident ultimately falls on America: Arakawa explains that since Japan’s budget for the defense computer was cut, it was necessary to borrow technology from the United States, which has jeopardized the safety of the system by leaving it open to hackers throughout the world.

Suspicion and tension between the Japanese police and SDF continues to increase and the two sides position themselves in preparation for an armed confrontation. Martial law is declared and tanks and infantry are sent to occupy Tokyo in what are some of the most poignant and emotionally charged images in the film. In the meantime, the majority of government officials are depicted as utterly incompetent and incapable of dealing with the situation without causing civil war. The US is also threatening to intervene at this point and occupy Japan if the situation is not brought under control.

Responding to information from Arakawa, Shinobu and Goto finally learn that Tsuge Yukihito, who disappeared after returning from his UN mission and is suspected to be operating a pro-nationalist terrorist group, is most likely orchestrating the whole crisis. Tsuge’s specific objective is never made clear, however. At different points it is suggested that he is either attempting a coup d’état, starting a civil war, or merely seeking to recreate the situation he was put into during his mission in Southeast Asia in order to give government officials a taste of real war. The final scenes involve the capture of Tsuge’s headquarters, but not before Tsuge has managed to destroy a good number of Labors—and indeed large sections of Tokyo—with attack helicopters. He also commands huge computer-controlled airships that threaten to release toxic gas over the city. When Tsuge is finally captured and asked why he has not committed suicide in view of the failure of his plot, he responds with cryptic hopefulness: “Because I wanted to be able to watch just a little more ... this city, its future.”

World War II, National Identity, and the “Foul Peace.” The film’s opening scene of combat in Southeast Asia is the only one that takes place outside Japan and involves contact with non-Japanese. Appearing before even the opening credits, this scene clearly establishes the fact that the national crisis, which is the subject of the remainder of the film, concerns Japan’s position in the international arena. As such, the scene succinctly expresses the content of the national crisis.

The representation of combat in this initial scene is indicative of the ambiguous position toward war that is expressed throughout Patlabor II: the scene conveys no specific pro- or anti-war sentiment, there are no images of the carnage of battle (which anime has been proven quite capable of portraying in the past), nor are we shown images of dying soldiers. Yet the act of battle is hardly glorified, either as it lacks any heroic figures or elements. Apart from brief clips of the Labor pilots operating their machines, the only human reference point in the scene—and thus potential point of audience identification—is the character Tsuge. The dominant emotion imparted through this identification is frustration resulting from an inability to act. The fact that the Labor force clearly has superior firepower—which would be obvious to viewers who had seen the first Patlabor film or the original television series—and would have been able to avoid destruction if only they had been allowed to defend themselves, augments this sense of frustration.

Tsuge’s Labor force in Southeast Asia represents advanced Japanese technology and Japan’s potential to contribute in a significant manner in the international arena. Yet the force is not permitted to engage the enemy and is ordered to wait for another unit. While the film does not explain the situation fully, the reasons behind this order would be understood by an audience aware of the political drama surrounding Japan’s involvement in the United Nations peacekeeping force. Essentially, Tsuge and his crew are rendered impotent by the fraught historical debate over the issue of military mobilization, and are thus depicted as victims of the paralysis and confusion caused by the government’s inability to formulate a decisive position. The plot that Tsuge later carries out in Japan essentially collapses the debate from an international to a national space, with the two sides representing the differing political views brought to an armed standoff, and consequently paralyzed. In other words, Japan’s inability to act internationally is a result of a divided national consciousness—divided between guilt and fear on the one hand, and the desire to leave history, especially World War II, behind for a new Japan on the other.

World War II was Japan’s last significant military engagement and thus the most accessible model—maintained through historical narratives taught in schools or by media representations—for military experience on a national level. Hence it was natural, both inside and outside Japan, for discussions of Japan’s possible military participation in the United Nations to turn to this model as a point of reference. Since World War II, Japan has become a country that prides itself on its peacefulness and its ability to stay out of military conflicts. The generation of Japanese that grew up in this environment thus tends to harbor an adamant pacifist stance, based on a universal humanitarian ideology condemning war.10 This ideology, combined with the legacy of World War II as a painfully abiding memory, provided the main counter-position against calls from conservative nationalists, who tended to locate themselves on Japan’s political right, for SDF participation in the United Nations.

Patlabor II engages these issues directly in a monologue delivered by Arakawa. This technique of lengthy speeches, in which the film’s central theme or idea is clearly laid out for the viewer, is typical of Oshii’s sometimes didactic style. In this case, the monologue serves what Oshii has stated in hindsight was the central objective of Patlabor II—a summing-up of the postwar period in Japan.11 Typical of the Oshii monologue style, we do not see the character delivering the speech but instead hear a voiceover accompanying a series of arresting, symbolically dense images.12 The monologue occurs in the context of a discussion between Arakawa and Goto regarding the SDF-police standoff. Goto suggests that Tsuge’s group seems to be trying to start a war. Arakawa replies that the war has already begun and that the question now is how it will end. Goto boards a boat and Arakawa sees him off from the shore; then, the image shifts to Goto’s point-of-view of the severed Yokohama Bay Bridge and the monologue begins.13

You as a policeman, Goto, me as an SDF officer, what is it that we are trying to protect?
[Image of Goto standing solemnly against the background of the bombed bridge and gray skies]
It’s been half-a-century since the last war and you and I have never had the experience of real war since we were born. Peace? Is it peace we should protect?
[Image of gray skies with industry in the background]
If so, what in the world is peace for this country, for this city?
[Various images of dilapidated industry]
Once we put all our strength into war only to be defeated. Then the Americans came with their occupation policy. And then there was the Cold War and wars by proxy under the nuclear deterrent. Even now in most of the world there are civil wars again and again. There are also ethnic clashes and armed disputes. We live in a bloodstained economic prosperity that is comprised of and supported by numerous wars of this kind. This is the contents of our peace!
[Images of grain elevators and silos]
It’s a peace that we maintain at any price, no matter what it’s really like, just because we fear war. Our peace is an unjust peace. We simply supply the money while other countries pay the real price for war. And we continue to divert our eyes from the truth of this foul [kinakusai] peace.

The monologue begins by asking, in a rhetorical manner, what is it that we are protecting? (In other words, the question being posited is, why do we fight?—as pointed out earlier, a fundamental question of the war film genre.) The accompanying image of the bombed bridge suggests that the need to fight is defensive—to protect Japan and maintain peace in the nation. In response, the monologue moves to undermine this answer by questioning the nature of peace in Japan. It presents a deeply negative view of this peace, beginning with a criticism of American influence and questioning the genuineness of America’s allegedly peaceful intentions. The images here of gray, solemn, and dismal industry suggest perhaps that the price of wealth and American-style modernization has been a loss of natural beauty. Yet the images also emphasize the idea of an industrious and wealthy country, which coincides with subsequent expressions of guilt over the price other countries have had to pay for Japanese peace. Finally, the Japanese people are accused of being indifferent to other people’s suffering, which in view of the expression of guilt can be read as a call to action.

This call to action is met in the film by the voice of Goto, who articulates the pacifist position: “Unjust peace? It may be a foul peace, but it is our job to protect it. Even though it’s an unjust peace, it’s still better than a just war.” There is no move here to contradict any of Arakawa’s criticism of the Japanese people or the nature of peace in Japan, as evidenced by the consistently gray images. Yet the stated opinion is that war must be avoided at all costs. Arakawa’s monologue then continues:

I understand your dislike of “just” war. Only a fool would support a just war. Our history libraries are full of examples of people who have been deceived by their leaders into fighting so-called just wars.
[Image of the sea against gray skies with a solemn buoy and industry in the background. Immediately followed by an image of an airplane against gray skies]
But as you probably already know, the line between just war and unjust peace is not very clear. And since the word peace has become a lie, we cannot believe in our own peace. War is born of peace and still peace is born of war. This is simply a passive and empty peace just because there is no war at the moment.
[Image of seagulls flying over the sea on a gray background with a ship on the horizon]
But before long the world will be filled with real war. Haven’t you ever thought about that?
[Again, images of steel industry against gray skies]
We’ve shrewdly enjoyed the benefits of war, contained within our television screens in which the front line is simply a game of offense and defense, while pretending to forget that it is real war. If we continue with this self-deception, sooner or later we will be greatly punished.

Arakawa seems initially to concur with the pacifist stance. At the same time, he suggests that there has in fact been such a thing as a just war, World War II. The image of the solemn buoy conveys a sense of isolation and loneliness, suggesting that Japan is perhaps without allies in the world and must protect itself. From here, the monologue moves to a more abstract approach to the question of war. War is seen not as an anomaly within the order of human existence but as an ineluctable condition: “War is born of peace and still peace is born of war.” Thus, while the overall argument of the monologue seems to begin with a criticism of the situation in postwar Japan as a kind of false peace that will eventually give way to war, it appears that it is not just the peace in Japan that is being placed in question but rather the entire concept of peace as an attainable, permanent state of existence. This position opposes the notion of peace as a state achieved either through deterrence or as the result of trust and understanding between potentially hostile forces.

If war is inevitable, then Japan’s struggle to protect its peace is in vain. Moreover, not only has this peace already been marked as lacking in many respects, but the Japanese are again accused of having ignored other people’s suffering in their selfish pursuit of prosperity and their effort to protect their essentially imperfect and ephemeral peace—ephemeral since “before long the world will be filled with real war.” Japan will naturally pay for its crime of apathy: “Sooner or later we will be greatly punished.” To this, Goto responds, “Who will punish us? God?” and Arakawa answers,

In this city everybody can be like a god. From our armchairs we can know all kinds of reality through the media even while we can’t really touch it. We are in fact very ignorant gods. If God can’t do something, humans will try. If we can catch up to him [Tsuge], we will understand this before long.
[Image of heron flying over ocean]

These last remarks continue the criticism of Japanese apathy towards global conflicts, connecting it with the potential to see wars on television yet remain so physically and mentally distant as not to be affected. Arakawa suggests that, through a technologically enhanced vision, the Japanese have become like gods. At the same time, the virtue of this power is called into question, thus also indirectly questioning the value of Japan’s technological achievements. The full import of the final lines remains obscure, however, since it is never made clear how catching Tsuge will lead to a better understanding of the human hubris implied in the connection between apathy and the media. The lack of clarity here has in part to do with the fact that, as mentioned earlier, we do not know what Tsuge’s real objective is. It would seem that the repetition of the imperative to catch Tsuge simply marks a return to the role Arakawa plays within the narrative and thus brings closure to his more philosophical meditations.

In terms of the monologue’s allegorical significance, there is a fascinating similarity between Arakawa’s position and the stance taken by the conservative politician Ozawa Ichiro during the debate over Japan’s involvement in the United Nations forces. Ozawa took up the cause for a number of changes concerning Japan’s international role that had been suggested during the Nakasone government. He was opposed to the pacifist ideology that had taken root in Japan and felt that Japan had become “selfish and money-grubbing, ignoring the cost of maintaining the international freedom and peace on which the Japanese economy depended” (qtd. in Pyle 152). Ozawa believed that in order for Japan to become a “normal country” it had to take more responsibility in the international community, which meant revising or simply eliminating Article 9 in the constitution, yet also cooperating more fully with America.14 His efforts towards this end were influential in formulating and passing legislation in 1992 that allowed for sending SDF troops abroad (Pyle 153-54, Finn 122-26). In view of these similarities, it seems reasonable at first to suggest that Arakawa is supposed to represent Ozawa. Yet Arakawa’s final statement renders his political beliefs unclear, which complicates any association with a real political figure or position. Arakawa’s sense of mistrust toward the United States—which is revealed more strongly at a later point—is also certainly far from Ozawa’s call for more cooperation between the two nations.

Determining how seriously we are to take the ideas presented in the monologue is complicated by the fact that Arakawa is deliberately depicted as the film’s most unlikable character. Even before we discover that he was a former member of Tsuge’s group, he provokes suspicion due to his evil grin and perpetually shifty eyes, which suggest that he is concealing ulterior plans. One wonders why Oshii chose to present the central thematic content of his film from the viewpoint of this unreliable character. Possibly, Oshii is attempting to voice criticism of Japanese society in the postwar era while at the same time softening the thrust of this critique by associating it with the devious Arakawa.15

There are a number of possible motives for such a seemingly curious move. First, direct criticism of governmental policy is not a popular method in Japan. Second, while the views presented in the monologue may not seem all that extreme outside Japan, it should be remembered that the majority of the Japanese population was opposed to the idea of expanding the SDF or sending troops overseas to participate in combat-related UN activities—the need for which is a logical conclusion of Arakawa’s argument. Finally, since Oshii himself was a member of the anti-military student movement of the 1970s, he might feel a certain uneasiness with the political direction in which this criticism of Japan’s international position seems to lead. Above all, what this issue demonstrates is the aesthetic and ideological complexity of Oshii’s anime films, which have the capacity to appear at once didactically pointed and slyly ambiguous.

Nevertheless, two factors weaken the distancing effect generated by Arakawa’s unreliability, thus seeming more firmly to endorse the position expounded in the monologue. First, as mentioned above, we are not shown Arakawa speaking. Hence, the negative associations and suspicion aroused by his appearance are not as pronounced in this scene. Second, while Arakawa may be depicted negatively, his relationship to Tsuge has a redeeming if not legitimizing effect on the political views he voices. When it is eventually revealed that Arakawa was a former member of Tsuge’s group, we are told that while he still shares its political views, he split from the group in opposition to Tsuge’s violent methods. Ironically even though it is Arakawa who helps Goto and Shinobu while Tsuge is destroying Tokyo, it is Tsuge, not Arakawa, with whom the viewer is led to sympathize and identify. One can even say that from the opening scene, in which Tsuge is depicted as a victim of the political incompetence of Japan’s leaders, and throughout the film as a former love affair between Tsuge and Shinobu is revealed, a definite warmth and sympathy is evoked for this character who is responsible for the destruction and chaos in Japan. This sense of sympathy is clinched in the final scene when Tsuge is at last subdued by Shinobu and the two grasp hands longingly.

Yet Tsuge is, for most of the narrative, a silent and mysterious background figure. We are never clearly told exactly why he attempts to induce a civil war in Japan. Even his one explanation—by way of a cryptic citation from the New Testament, discussed below—is actually voiced by Shinobu. Thus, Arakawa’s monologue is the only immediate and semi-clear explanation offered. While it is severed from Tsuge himself, leaving him untarnished, its tentative connection to Tsuge and the sympathy we feel for him has a redeeming effect on the political views it expresses.

Tsuge’s Message: Not Peace, But a Sword. The passage from the New Testament cited by Shinobu is critical since, as observed above, it seems to offer an explanation for Tsuge’s violent actions. The obscurity of the New Testament language and its removal from its contextual meaning, however, serves to disguise this explanation almost entirely. We know only from the film’s opening scene that Tsuge’s plan is somehow connected to his experience in Southeast Asia. When Arakawa informs Goto that the American ambassador has said that if Japan cannot solve its domestic affairs the country will face American military intervention, it is suggested that Tsuge’s plan is really designed to provoke America into attempting to re-occupy Japan, an action that could lead directly to another global war. The film, however, gives us no immediate reason to believe that this is in fact Tsuge’s plan, since we are offered no obvious motive for such an apocalyptic wish—save, perhaps, for the New Testament passage itself.

The New Testament quotation occurs in the final scene, when Shinobu at last apprehends and arrests Tsuge. Reciting a passage from the gospel of Luke (12:51-53), she claims that he wrote these words to her upon his return from Southeast Asia. A moment earlier the same passage had also appeared, in fragmented English, scrolling across computer monitors; it is the code program that controls the airships Tsuge has released over Tokyo. The quotation runs as follows:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth?
I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided,
three against two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son,
and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter,
and the daughter against the mother;
the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law,
and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

Taken at face value, the passage simply suggests that Tsuge is a rebel attempting to cause unrest and dissent within the nation. Since this interpretation still fails to offer a real understanding of his motives, it is logical to assume that one is intended to look beneath this surface implication for a more significant meaning.

Viewed within its Biblical context, the quote does indeed suggest something much different. The passage is part of Jesus’s prophetic warning to the Pharisees, articulated in the style of the Old Testament prophets. Speaking at a time of political chaos and discontent, Jesus is actually warning the people against narrow sectarianism and telling them to open their eyes and see the reality of the world in which they live: “[Ye] hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” (Luke 12:56). Criticizing the Pharisees for collaborating with the Romans and creating division among the people, Jesus is basically telling his listeners that they will be weakened and ultimately destroyed if they are not united.

The invocation of this Biblical prophecy in Patlabor II serves to convey a specific political message in a manner that accommodates the film’s own form of prophetic science fiction expression. Indeed, there is an overwhelming similarity between the political viewpoint articulated in the film and the message Jesus is attempting to relay to the people. Just as Jesus is speaking against the Pharisees’ collaboration with the Romans, Tsuge is criticizing Japan’s collaboration with America. Furthermore, while Jesus depicts through words the weakness of a nation divided, Tsuge demonstrates through his actions the frailty and weakness of a divided Japan. As discussed earlier, it was the division in opinion over the nature of Japan’s role in the future international community and Japan’s participation in the United Nations that paralyzed Tsuge’s force in Southeast Asia and led to its destruction. In addition, this division in Japan, the result of incompetent political leadership, nearly leads to civil war and American military intervention, just as the sectarianism and strife among the people in Jesus’s time led to Roman military intervention. In support of this reading, I would point out that Oshii’s use of Biblical references throughout his anime films demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the text.16 It is thus highly unlikely that he would have employed this quotation without being aware of its wider implications—though how many Japanese viewers would be able to interpret the passage in terms of its contextual meaning is questionable since Christianity is still a minority religion in Japan.

Tsuge’s final statement regarding suicide and his curiosity about the future—which is also the last line spoken in the film—further support my interpretation of the significance of the New Testament passage. Had the film ended with Tsuge’s suicide, it would have expressed a message of despair at Japan’s inability to heed the warnings articulated by Tsuge and Arakawa. A prophet who kills himself after delivering a dark warning to his people does not express a great deal of confidence in his followers’ ability to mend their ways and avoid disaster. As it is, Tsuge’s open interest in the future conveys an expression of hope that his message will be understood and heeded. In this manner, Tsuge’s apparent defeat can be interpreted as a victory since it was never his intention to have Japan destroyed in a war but rather only to warn the nation and engender a unified political resolve.

As noted above, the thrust of Arakawa’s monologue is a condemnation of Japan for not taking more responsibility for the maintenance of peace in the world (or even in Japan), and for clinging to the illusion that the present peace is a permanent state of existence. While this criticism contains an implicit attack on the United States for initially enforcing and now perpetuating this condition in Japanese society, the force of the critique seems to be aimed at the Japanese people and government.17 Added to Arakawa’s speech, the effect of the New Testament citation is to imply that Japan is at fault for collaborating with the US, whose policies have sown division within Japanese society.

Of course, one does not need to look far to find justification for the film’s criticism of the United States. From its role in Japan’s relinquishment of the right to use its forces overseas, to its constant pressure on Japan to rebuild its armed forces during the Korean War, to its mixed signals of cooperation and competition as Japan became an economic world power, America’s lack of clarity in its posture toward Japan during the postwar period has been the source of ambiguity and confusion within Japan over its own position in the world. Yet despite the understandable sentiments of anger and mistrust this waffling policy has engendered, the film’s manner of presenting its critique slides all too easily into a rhetorical framework of fervent nationalism.

The domestic problem in Japan, according to the argument the film seems to mount, is essentially the result of a conflict with the United States. Japan and the US are thus established in a contextual relationship that Naoki Sakai calls “a schema of co-figuration” (51-52): Japan’s sense of national unity and identity is constructed in relation to an imagined national other. On the one hand, this manner of producing national identity is a common discursive phenomenon that does not denote anything necessarily pernicious; yet on the other hand, the US in this case is not simply an imaginary other but also the cause of Japan’s crisis, the precipitating threat that drives the imperative for national unity. American influence emerges in the film as an insidiously “foreign” element that has opened Japan to forces of chaos (as in the case of the American technology that makes Japan’s defense system vulnerable to hackers), creating division within the nation and leading the people toward false belief. In a manner common to nationalist rhetorics, US influence in Japan is represented as an impurity within the organic national body that must be expunged in order to recover the imperiled homeland. As we shall see, this rhetoric of invasion and infection converges with powerful tropes within the science fiction film genre—tropes that work both with and against the message of Patlabor II.

“Secure Horror” vs. “Paranoid Horror.” Aside from the initial scene that takes place in Southeast Asia, the remainder of the military-political conflict in the film occurs in or around Tokyo. Severe damage is visited upon the city in the course of this conflict: bridges are blown up, and combat helicopters roam the city wreaking destruction while government forces seem all but helpless. The destruction of Tokyo in these scenes is inevitably reminiscent of the Godzilla films produced in Japan during the 1950s. Drawing on Andrew Tudor’s definitions, in his 1989 study Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie, Susan Napier discusses Godzilla as an optimistic form of “secure horror” in which “the collectivity is threatened, but only from the outside, and is reestablished, usually through the combined efforts of scientists and the government” (332). The enjoyment factor in the “secure horror” genre is derived precisely from the fact that the spectacle of chaos and destruction, which audiences tend to find so attractive, is rendered less likely to induce anxiety and thus more enjoyable by the knowledge that order will be restored with the resolution of the conflict. It is important to note that while these films were a continuation of an anti-technology motif that was prominent in prewar Japanese science fiction and fantasy, they also conveyed a strong nationalistic message in their representation of American technology as the evil force that awakens the monster, in contrast to the good Japanese technology that finally kills it. Napier points to the negative representation of American nuclear technology as an obvious reference to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; in the same context, she suggests that the happy conclusion to the film served as an important ideological device that “offered its immediate postwar Japanese audience an experience that was both cathartic and compensatory, allowing them to rewrite or at least to re-imagine their tragic wartime experiences” (332).

While the images of the destruction of Tokyo in Patlabor II conform to Tudor’s definition of “secure horror,” there is room to doubt whether they carry the same “cathartic” function Napier describes for the present generation in Japan. The nationalist aspect, however, is still very much operative. This is especially evident in the scene where the Yokohama Bay Bridge is destroyed by a sinister and sleek missile that homes in on its target in a manner reminiscent of televised images of American “smart bombs” during the Gulf War.18 Perhaps the desire to cement such a connection in the minds of its viewers is the reason behind the film’s unexplained and undeveloped plot shift in which the attacking jet is identified as American.

Another aspect of “secure horror” with nationalist significance can be located in the residual historical meanings connected to the images of tanks and infantry moving to occupy Tokyo in the dead of night, a likely allusion to the US occupation. The scene is intercut with clips from a news broadcast narrating the event, explaining the government’s purpose and asking the people to remain calm. The police and special units are shown preparing for a long war of attrition while the population appears stunned, staring at the events unfolding on their televisions in disbelief. The succeeding montage of social chaos begins with a close-up on a placard reading “out of order” (ko-shoo-chuu) above a train platform. For a city as large as Tokyo, in which the population absolutely depends on the intricate and incredibly efficient train system to commute to work, there is perhaps nothing more exemplary of chaos and disorder as the failure of this system. This shot is followed by a more than two-minute sequence—almost lyrical in form—that contains some of the best and most emotionally charged animation in the film. Accompanied by a mournful soundtrack, we are shown melancholy images from a single day in a city under siege—a city that is trying to behave as if it were business as usual. The scene finally fades out with a soft and quiet snow falling on solitary soldiers standing guard during the night.

The message—and sense of horror—encoded in these images is two-fold. First, on a historical level they are, as mentioned above, a stark reminder of Japan’s utter defeat in World War II and the ensuing loss of national pride that came with the American occupation. Second, in a contemporary context the mobilization of the military signals the collapse of the peace that has come to define postwar Japan. Japan’s obstinate decision to pursue peace and abstain from any armed conflict has been a central differentiating characteristic separating modern Japan from its prewar social attitudes, when the nation’s military prowess was a source of tremendous national pride. A shift in this direction thus marks not only a temporal but also an ideological regression, a movement towards a once-discredited but now perhaps rehabilitated militant nationalism.

Yet the seemingly jingoistic nationalist message that emerges from the “secure horror” element in Patlabor II is complicated by two potential contradictions. First, the threat to the nation emanates from within the collective itself—from Arakawa and Tsuge—and not from outside. This raises the specter of what Tudor identifies as “paranoid horror”—a competing subgenre of the sf/horror film in which “danger comes not from outside in the form of alien invaders as in Godzilla, but from one’s friends, family, or even oneself” (qtd. in Napier 340). This “paranoid horror” element is a common device in dystopian science fiction films—a recent example would be Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995)—which are often quite critical of nationalistic constructions. Yet, as mentioned above, while Arakawa is indeed demonized in the film, the viewer is led to sympathize with Tsuge. This sympathetic depiction leaves the viewer with the sense that the real threat to the nation does indeed come from the outside—from the Americans who are poised to attack at the slightest provocation—and not from such citizens as share the ideology expressed by Tsuge.

Second, the national government in the “secure horror” film is generally a positive force that works to reestablish order in the nation. By contrast, the government in Patlabor II is harshly criticized and its leaders depicted as blundering and incompetent. This criticism, however, does not go so far as to condemn the entire institution but only its leaders; Goto and Shinobu disobey this council of aged, conservative, and ultimately impotent figureheads in order to take the initiative and save Japan—for all intents and purposes, a very patriotic action. Overall, it is the young and the innovative who redeem Japan from the rigid and corrupt leadership that would have impelled the country blindly toward civil war and destruction. This can be interpreted as a direct rebuttal to the claim arising among Japan’s elders that the younger generation is apathetic and spoiled—a cohort of shin-jin-rui (a new kind of person). In addition, this action is a decisive contribution to the debate concerning Japan’s participation in the UN and its new position in the world, as it was the older politicians who remained intransigent against the change. Therefore, while the film clearly criticizes contemporary Japan, it does so in a way that remains faithful to its national structure, asking for reform rather than revolution. The younger generation prove themselves worthy by picking up the nationalist torch from an older generation that had fumbled it. The genuine concern expressed in the film for the faltering state of the nation renders it perhaps even more nationalistic.

This of course begs the question of where one is to draw the line between honest expressions of patriotism and jingoistic nationalism. Simply put, if the film serves as a vehicle for nationalist ideology, which of the various forms of nationalism are we talking about? There can be no doubt of the distance in both form and content between the militaristic nationalism that seized the Japanese people prior to World War II and anything surfacing in contemporary Japan. Yet there is an acute sense of pride in the wonder of Japan’s technological achievements transmitted in the spectacle of the giant Labor machines that seems to slide rather easily from simple patriotism to fervent nationalism. If the dividing line between patriotism and nationalism is the moment when pride in one’s country becomes fear for the integrity of the nation in the face of an imagined military threat or a cultural contamination emanating from outside, then Patlabor II is clearly located on the nationalist side of the line.

The image of the Labor and the halo of pride surrounding its employment (in both Patlabor films) can be seen to assist the nationalist element in a manner similar to the representation of American and Japanese technology in the Godzilla films. This is most evident in the final fight scenes in Patlabor II, in which Goto and Shinobu, together with a squad of Labor pilots who have survived Tsuge’s attacks, have devised a plan to sneak into Tsuge’s headquarters via a secret tunnel. The group assembles at the mouth of this tunnel, which also happens to be a forgotten and defunct subway station. Goto explains that the station is a relic from a bayfront development project that collapsed during the war years. In other words, the group has metaphorically traveled backwards through time to prewar Japan. From here the group advances down the tunnel toward Tsuge’s headquarters while confronting x-Tors, which we are told are American-designed battle robots. These robots are squat, dull, and generally unaesthetic by comparison with the impressive Japanese Labors, but they live up to their fearsome reputation and Shinobu alone succeeds in advancing with her Labor to capture Tsuge. Along with the obvious confrontation between American and Japanese technology enacted here, the metaphoric time-travel element that precedes the scene renders the battle a kind of re-imagining of history in which Japanese forces again encounter the Americans. This time, the Labor, representing the pinnacle of achievement of Japanese science and technology, vanquishes its American counterparts.

It is difficult to be critical of a director and writer as talented as Oshii. His work is indeed in a class of its own and he has been responsible for pushing the boundaries of anime toward previously unimagined levels. Yet as Patlabor II attempts to deal with the very complex and emotionally charged issues concerning Japan’s SDF, the incredible social and environmental transformations witnessed during the postwar era, and the nation’s responsibility toward maintaining the global peace from which it has benefited, it is susceptible to the sometimes problematic near-sightedness that arises in relation to these topics. Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that the character of the nationalism that emerges in the film is a far cry from the sort of ultra-right militarism advocated by such figures as Yukio Mishima. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that such a nationalism could even exist, let alone flourish, in the decidedly pacifist and anti-confrontational environment that characterizes contemporary Japan.

Moreover, in assessing the implications of the film’s nationalist stance, it should be remembered that Japan was under tremendous international pressure, especially during the Gulf War, to take an active part in the mobilization, but was paralyzed by the ardent anti-military ideology that has taken root since World War II. Hence, it is entirely possible that a nationalist message can coincide with one stressing international cooperation. Rather, it is those moments in the film when this message turns toward an imperative for unity in the face of an imagined American hostility that I find problematic. Instead of viewing this as an ideological failure on Oshii’s part, I would suggest that Patlabor II’s ultimate message may be seen as cautionary, demonstrating how the argument for expanding the role of the SDF (both in Japan and internationally) slides much too readily towards a nationalistic anti-Americanism—a view that has thus far failed to gain serious support among the Japanese population.

1. A valuable study of the implications of the end of the Cold War for Japan is Pyle, upon whom I have relied for background.

2. See Pyle 152-155; Renwick 58; and Finn 122-123. Article 9 reads as follows: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” For futher discussion, see Shiro 96-98.

3. The pacifist position is in fact so strong that even mildly pro-military statements made by political leaders have cost them their careers. Renwick explains, for example, that former Director-General Nakanishi Keisuke’s statement to the Shineseito Upper House in December 1993, that Japan should reconsider the war-renouncing article in the Constitution led to his forced resignation (135).

4. The term “imagined community” is of course borrowed from Benedict Anderson.

5. Interestingly, Ueno points out that there has sometimes been criticism of anime that effects a blurring of boundaries with regular cinema. The criticism is based on the view that in order for anime to be an independent genre it should remain unreal-looking. Ueno, however, views this criticism as deriving from the institutionalized discrimination against anime that demands a clear demarcation between real and unreal representations (188).

6. In a discussion with the director published in Animage magazine, Hayao remarks on Oshii’s apparently ambiguous feelings toward Tokyo.

7. For a further discussion of such objects in Patlabor II, see Ueno 28.

8. For an excellent discussion of this topic, see Silvio.

9. The scene draws upon a real incident in which a defecting Mig-25 pilot managed to enter Japanese airspace undetected in 1976 (see Asahi Shinbun).

10. An example of this pacifist position is the recent refusal by 278 (out of 404) graduates of the Tokorozawa High School to participate in a graduation ceremony when the principal ordered the raising of the rising-sun flag and the singing of an anthem praising the Emperor (see Tokyo AFP).

11. In a discussion of the film with Hayao Miyazaki, Oshii states that he felt it was important to make a film that would clearly express what the postwar period had been like for Japan (“nihon no sengo wa doiu jidai datta noka”) as a way of summing up before moving into the next millennium. He also states that this notion became clear to him only after finishing the film (30).

12. Oshii employs this method throughout his anime and even in such live-action films as Kereberos (1991).

13. The translations throughout this essay are my own.

14. See Finn, 107-108. Although the two ideas—revising Article 9 and more cooperation with the United States—may appear contradictory, the United States government has seemed to regret imposing Article 9 on Japan ever since the Korean War, when it began to put pressure on Japan to rearm and help in the effort to contain communism. Ozawa’s position on Article 9 and the future of the SDF in fact earned him close friends in Washington at the time (Shiro 98, 106-108, 111 n., Renwick 135).

15. That the opinions expressed in the monologue are apparently Oshii’s own is made clear in his interview with Hayao (28-29).

16. See, for example, Patlabor I (1989), in which the central conflict in the film involves a deadly “Babel” virus that threatens to destroy Tokyo’s new Babylon Project. Ghost in the Shell also uses several New Testament passages.

17. It is interesting to note that in the dubbed version of Patlabor II released in the US, the criticism of America is made much more explicit.

18. For more on this connection, see Ueno 41-42.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

Asahi Shinbun. September 7, 1976: 1.

Finn, Richard B. “Japan’s Search for a Global Role: Politics and Security.” In Japan’s Quest: The Search for International Role, Recognition, and Respect, ed. Warren S. Hunsberger. Armonk, NY: East Gate, 1997. 113-130.

Hiyao, Miyakazi. “jidai ni keri o tsukeru tame ni” [“In order to sum up the period”]. Animage 184 (October 1993): 27-31.

Katzenstein, Peter J. Cultural Norms and National Security: Police and Military in Postwar Japan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1996.

Napier, Susan J. “Panic Sites: The Japanese Imagination of Disaster from Godzilla to Akira.” Journal of Japanese Studies 19.2 (1993): 327-351.

Pyle, Kenneth B. The Japanese Question: Power and Purpose in a New Era. Washington, D.C.: AEI, 1996.

Renwick, Neil. Japan’s Alliance Politics and Defence Production. London: Macmillan, 1995.

Sakai, Naoki. Translation and Subjectivity: On “Japan” and Cultural Nationalism. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1997.

Shiro, Okubo. “Japan’s Constitutional Pacifism and United Nations Peacekeeping.” In Japan’s Quest: The Search for International Role, Recognition, and Respect, ed. Warren S. Hunsberger. Armonk, NY: East Gate, 1997. 96-112.

Silvio, Carl. “Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.” SFS 26.1 (March 1999): 54-72. Tanaka, Akihiko. “The Domestic Context: Japanese Politics and U.N. Peacekeeping.” In U.N. Peacekeeping: Japanese And American Perspectives, ed. Selig S. Harrison and Masashi Nishihara. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie, 1995. 89-104.

Tamamoto, Masaru. “Japan’s Search for Recognition and Status.” In Japan’s Quest: The Search for International Role, Recognition, and Respect, ed. Warren S. Hunsberger. Armonk, NY: East Gate, 1997. 3-14.

Tokyo AFP News Service. March 8th, 1999.

Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989.

Ueno, Toshiya. Kurenai no metasutsu: anime toiu senjo [Metalsuits, The Red: Wars in Animation]. Tokyo: Kinokuniya Shoten, 1998.

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