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By Any Other Name: Theorising the Posthuman in Japanese Animation Timothy Iles University of Victoria The Question: What is at root of the apparent affinity Japanese animation has for themes of technology, science, and communication between human and non-human forms of existence?
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Posthuman in Japanese Animation
University of Victoria
The Question: What is at root of the apparent affinity Japanese animation has for themes of technology, science, and communication between human and non-human forms of existence?
Further, why is animation so popular as a form of film production in Japan?
A corollary to this is, what can the answers to these questions allow Japanese animation to bring to the Western critical stance of posthumanism?
• Aspects of Japanese philosophy and spirituality, growing from Shinto and its attitudes towards the self, the community, and the natural and spirit worlds, have influenced the popularity of animated (science fiction) films in Japan.
• Japanese animated science fiction intersects with the posthuman debate by accepting the possibility of intelligent, sensitive, non-human forms of existence.
• Japanese philosophical and spiritual influences can contribute to this emerging, ‘western’ attitude toward technology and can allow it to overcome its inherent anthropocentrism
• Kôkaku kidôtai by Oshii Mamoruand the works of Miyazaki Hayao among other animators signal themselves as resisting the anthropocentrism of much human thought, seeing instead consciousness and identity as diffuse things created and shared across multiple and diverse forms of existence.
• By overlooking the ways in which non-Western traditions have conceived of the site of consciousness, posthumanism has effectively cut itself off from a fully articulated alternative vision of cognitive existence.
• Posthumanism: a way of situating human beings in a mechanised, technologised, non-human world
• An attitude which sees human beings as always already intimately coupled with technology
• Human beings have always been dependent upon technology for survival, prosperity, and for self-definition
• Humans are but one integral part of an information-processing mechanism which incorporates a vast technological network
• Human agency, identity, and subjectivity are distributed and do not reside in the individual: the individual is but one facet of the processes themselves which collectively become “agency,” “identity,” and “subjectivity.”
Oshii Mamoru, 1995
• Even though Kusanagi is fully aware of having been created for a specific purpose in law-enforcement, she asserts her identity as a human being, saying that she has thoughts, feelings, and memories which make her uniquely herself. She feels herself possessed of a soul, of a ‘ghost’ that informs her and gives her existential substance.
“When I come to the surface I feel like I’m becoming a different person.”
• This character thus permits Kôkaku kidôtai to question the nature of human identity as limited to the human biological form, and to propose the necessary co-dependence of humans and enhanced technological systems to maintain one another.
• Shinto, 神道, The Way of the Gods: Japan’s indigenous, pre-Buddhist religion.
• Postulates the presence of kami, deities, in all awe-inspiring things.
• kami (which number in the millions), are responsible for watching over human communities, but they also require human assistance and support.
• Shinto is an animism, but it is also a religion of anthropomorphism, which sees in its deities emotions and functions which are fundamentally understandable—because similar to human emotions and functions.
• Shinto postulates an easy accessibility to the spirit world—not necessarily an easy entrance, per se, but an easy communication, through prayer, offering, festival, or even direct speech.
• This accessibility stems from an understanding of the worlds of humans and spirits as fundamentally and necessarily joined.
• “Shinto maintains that human beings are internally related to kami and without this relation people would not be what they are. The other side is just as important: it is in the inherent nature of kami to be interdependent and intimately connected with the world, including human beings” (Kasulis, 2004: 17).
• From this interdependence grows the Shinto conception of kami, of ‘God’: it is not that Man is created in God’s image, but that God is created in Man’s.
• Kami are accessible because of the community which binds them to humankind.
• Shinto’s community-centric traditions, which understand ‘community’ as extending far beyond simply ‘the human’, reinforce the emotional acceptance of non-living images/non-human beings as capable of experiencing, expressing, and sharing emotional importance.
Miyazaki Hayao, 1988
Explicit Reference to Shinto Traditions: a Simple Shrine at Totoro’s Dwelling-place
Miyazaki Hayao, 2001
Envisioning the Kami: Anthropomorphised Facial Features, Personality/Employment Traits
Envisioning the Kami: Human Venality and Killer Business Sense: the Corporate Head
Envisioning the Kami: Anthropomorphised Facial Features, Expression of Gratitude
Envisioning the Kami: Anthropomorphised Facial Features, Human Emotions
• The “posthumanism” of Japanese animation emphasises the accessibility of communication between human and non-human characters by affirming the essentially similar natures of their existential situations, the better to explore the philosophy of humanism and human identity.
• Much of Japanese animation aims to discover the nature of human existence and to chart its contours and boundaries—to find the humanly-comprehensible soul within Totoro’s non-human body, the ‘ghost’ in the ‘shell’, either mechanical or organic.
• That this soul must be present is taken for granted by these films, for—from their philosophical influences—after all it must be present. This is taken for granted by the viewer, too, for—from the perceptual process which our psychology necessitates—even these animated images are alive.
We know that they are… projections of drawings on a screen.
We know that they are… ‘miracles’ and tricks of technology, that such beings don’t really exist.
But at the same time:
We sense them as alive.
We sense them as moving, as active.
We sense them as existing and even thinking! (Eisenstein)
• The fixation of the posthuman on the mechanical/technological dimensions of human interaction with the non-human world also limits its opportunities to think beyond the ‘traditional’ boundaries of the human and to arrive at a conceptual destination encompassing all forms of existence as endowed with capacities for consciousness, intelligence, and emotion.
• This is posthumanism’s greatest shortcoming, and one which, as I’ve shown, can find a ready solution in works of Japanese animation informed and inspired by a perspective on ‘community’ that extends to precisely that same conceptual destination as posthumanism hopes to discover.