Today, East Asian, and especially Japanese, science fiction and popular culture is immensely popular in the West. As Bolton, Scicery-Ronay Jr., and Tatsumi point out, this wave of science fiction from Japan was reliant on newer forms of communication, like television, video games, etc., while also being prominent in more traditional forms such as books.1 However, the cultural explosion happening in post-war Japan did not happen in isolation. According to Yoriko Moichi, Japanese utopian (and dystopian) literature is heavily influenced by Western utopian literature introduced after the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent opening up of Japan.2 Moreover, the modernisation and industrialisation happening in Japan both after the Meiji Restoration and after the war also impacted the post-war boom of science fiction. Lastly, the horrors of the Pacific War itself also helped to cement more dystopian and moralising science fiction at the forefront of the post-war movement, which then resulted in the initial popularisation of Japanese science fiction in the West.
Yoroki argues that the bleak science fiction created right after the war was dystopian because the war made a utopian society impossible to imagine, and that the futuristic and industrial science fiction literature of this period was ‘a little light weight’.3 This may be so, but the science fiction that was created as a direct result of the war did not only appear in traditional literature but also in the newer ones, thus resulting in a post-war dystopian culture which proved to be immensely influential. The most obvious example of such a post-war work of science fiction is the 1954 film Gojira, or Godzilla, King of Monsters!, which opened the floodgates for the subsequent popularisation of Japanese science fiction in the rest of the world. There is little doubt that Gojira is a representation of the horrors endured by the Japanese towards the end of the war. The monster is even awakened from his sleep by American nuclear testing in the pacific, alluding strongly to wartime America and its nuclear bombs. The film is also a strong critique of U.S.-Japanese post-war relations where Japan is being coerced by, and also collaborating with, the monster from the sea.4
The massive popularity of dystopian science fiction in new mediums in the years after the war thus led more of it, and more of it being exported to other parts of the world. With the technological and economic advancement of Japan in the 1970s and 80s the genre evolved into a more futuristic one, but there was still a strong dystopian element to it, as can be seen in famous an influential works such as Akira (1982/1988) and many others.5 Today, the world of Japanese-inspired science fiction is, of course, not always dark and dystopian, but much of it – and maybe the best of it –have strong dystopian elements. Thus, the utopian literature popularised in Japan after the Meiji restoration in conjunction with the horrors of the war and subsequent introspection in Japan created an initially distinctive, and highly influential genre of science fiction which has subsequently been hugely popular across the world on a plethora of different media.
- Bolton, Christopher, Csicery-Ronay Jr., Istvan and Tatsumi, Takayuki, Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (Minneapolis, 2007), p. vii. [↩]
- Moichi, Yoriko, ‘Japanese Utopian Literature from the 1870s to the Present and the Influence of Western Utopianism’ Utopian Studies 10, (1999), pp. 90-91. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 95. [↩]
- Igarashi, Yoshikuni, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton, 2000), pp. 115-118. [↩]
- Bolton, Scicery-Ronay Jr., and Tatsumi, p. ix. [↩]