So this is one of the first shorts I put together. It’s slightly inspired by 60s era punk cinema with the low budget filming and amateurish feel. There’s also definitely a touch of film student grasping a sort of technique. Either way it’s my video
This is a question that used to run through my mind repeatedly when I first started watching anime. Even my mom would point out the unusual features of these characters, figuring their big eyes conveyed contempt for the typical smaller eyes many East Asians have. There would be other comments along these lines that would make one think the Japanese hated their appearances in favor for for a more European look.
Though after visiting the city of Tokyo, this has made me change perspectives somewhat. I have to admit there is a large influence from the Western world (shops, frequent use of English, music). However, there never seemed to be the idea of self hatred, or the drive to become white. While over there, I was taking a few summer classes, and one of my teachers commented on this. Briefly she mentioned “Please don’t think that anime characters are trying to look Western. The large eyes are meant to convey emotion.” Although if you look in the history of anime, the image of big eyes were largely borrowed from the cartoon Betty Boop and the animation of Walt Disney. So you may think to yourself why didn’t they take these white characters and make their features look more Asian? Well if you look at the history of Japan, you notice there were many different aspects borrowed from other countries (mainly Ancient Chinese and Korean civilizations) with their original form somewhat intact. For example, let’s examine the Japanese language. Much of the written language is borrowed from traditional Chinese characters (kanji) with different pronunciations added to them. Some words may have also came from Korean, which was brought there from early travelers. So there seems to be a sense of blending different aspects of culture into the Japanese way of life (Sounds familiar America?)
But think about it (especially in Betty Boop’s case), do you realistically see white people with eyes that large?
Think about it, what type of shows do you typically see characters with big eyes? Comedies, romances, other less serious genres. But for thrillers and mysteries, you would typically see characters with smaller eyes. What does this say?
Yes there were products that were designed to make eyes bigger, but when one stops to think about it, it doesn’t seem to imitate white features so much as imitating the features of a young girl (think about it – how many white people do you see with eyes that cover half their face).
If you look at any small child around the area, their eyes were typically larger and rounder, which leads to a more innocent look. People who are familiar with this Japanese pop culture see a large influence of this cutesy “kawaii” look everywhere; there is a small cute mascot for almost every business and city, the “innocent” look is popular for women, along with the incredibly high pitched voice many women adopt. So rather than women trying to imitate a European look, it seems more like there is a strive to look more innocent and childlike. This leads to another question as to why images of innocence is often associated with a sort of sexual thrill (many hentai anime/manga featured girls who looked somewhat young), but that shall be for another day.
This leads to another question of the potential infantizing of women, which is a theory that can also be applied to American culture. Big eyes, smooth hairless legs, and the idea of being more submissive are all popular beauty standards American women here are expected to adopt. So why don’t we assert the argument that many white women wish they were children?
You may also ask “Well what about the pale skin of anime characters?”. First off most Japanese people tend to be pale (unless they are from the country). You may also point out that whitening creams are popular in Japan, and I have to admit I have seen whitening creams (along with the option to whiten oneself in those purikura machines). However, if you look historically at courtesans and geishas, they would also paint their faces white (with lead based paint unfortunately). Would we say Geishas are trying to be white? Or maybe there is another culture significance of white skin? Could it be that it signaled royalty, for a women who was a part of the royal court would often times spend their days inside the palace. As a result of this, they may be a bit pale. Either way, historically pale skin has been a beauty standard in Japan.
“Well what about the blonde hair that so many characters seem to have?” First off let’s examine these anime shows: do they involve other characters with unnatural shades of hair and fantastical scenarios that involve small creatures, robots, aliens, talking animals, etc? If so, this is not a realistic depiction of everyday life. Keeping this in mind, why would you expect the characters in the show to have realistic appearances?
Now let’s consider more realistic anime:
What do the above people have in common? Let’s examine someone with blonde hair in a manga that has a more realistic premise:
What sort of words run through your head when you look at this character? Something along the lines of “I don’t exactly want him teaching my kids or really leave him alone with any children.” In contemporary Japanese society, having blonde hair tends to denote the idea “that person is trouble,” “they’re probably an gangster”, “let’s hide our money from them”, etc. This is more of a thought held by many older Japanese people, but it is still a popular association, much like tattoos are still associated with the yakuza. Black and dark brown hairdos that are both common natural colors for the average Japanese person, so consequently any other color is still seen as “odd” much like it is in America. Take a look at any other realistic manga/anime: Ikigami, Monster, Battle Royale, etc. What do they have in common? They feature more realistic plot lines (which for the most part are also quite solemn) that feature characters with dark brown/black hair.
Let’s examine blogger Julian Abagond’s take on this subject in his article “Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?” In this he points out “The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.”
For example, if you look at this figure of a stick man, what race do you assume him to be? Most likely a white man, even though there are no features to tell you otherwise. That’s because in our Eurocentric culture, whiteness is seen as the default race. Any other has to be explicitly stated. Similarly, in (homogenous) Japan, a Japanese person would automatically assume that figure is Japanese. Why? Because there the default race is Japanese. Americans would have to add slanted eyes or some other stereotypical feature. Abagond goes on to say “So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.”
As shown above, when there are foreigners in anime there is usually a marker to indicate this “otherness”. The white characters have features typically associated with white people – wide nose, chiseled jaw, larger ears, blonde hair. The character of Hispanic descent looks hispanic – larger lips, higher cheekbones, and dark skin.
So why is it that people assume that anime characters look white? In my personal opinion, this could possible result from a colonized way of thinking. Being under the rule of Western Imperialism, minorities would often try and imitate their oppressors, often times to gain a better standing in society. If you look more like your oppressors, you would be viewed upon more favorably by those around you. However, Japan was never colonized by European countries. They instead chose to close their borders and reject any type of foreign influence. All of this changed during the Meiji Restoration, but one has to realize the Japanese did not have to deal with this burden of self hatred. They may not feel the constant pressure of looking like another culture as minorities who live here may.
It seems Abagond put it best “Some Americans….want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.”
Although I’m not going to touch the trend of many South Korean women getting double eyelid surgery.
All images are from Google. I retain no rights.
(Note: Most of this post is taken from a essay I wrote in a past course. There have been some edits made)
First off I have to mention that David Lynch is one of my favorite auteurs and I believe this man is a genius, even though I may not really understand his point. Either way I am a big fan of his When examining a film, it typically helps to know what is going on in said movie. However, if you have chosen to watch a David Lynch film, this is an aspiration that you will most likely not reach. Lynch is known for unusual plot lines that don’t always seem to connect to the viewer, and usually causes people to wonder what the hell they just viewed. However, there is a method to his madness (cliche but seriously applies in this case). I will explore the film Eraserhead, one of Lynch’s most famous works, while also trying to figure out what was the meaning of this film. To summarize my idea in one simple line, I believe this movie addressed the terror of (forced) marriage and responsibility.
Before the idea of marriage is introduced to Henry, the concept of what it entails is brought up in the very beginning of the film where we see Henry floating around what looks like another planet. This could introduce the alien concept to his current lifestyle (i.e. marriage). Although the planet seems somewhat more rounded and smooth, a closer examination of the “planet” reveals multiple craters that are deep and look difficult to traverse. Could this mirror the idea of childbirth in this film? Childbirth is typically viewed as a blessing for people who view the act from the outside. However, once the camera zooms into the planet you see the craters and unevenness. Does this present the idea of something thought to be beautiful is actually unappealing up close.
Following this vision of the planet, there is the man who seems frozen with skin that resembles bark on a tree. A tree, which is although continues to grow, still remains stationary in this life until it dies and leaves behind a stump. This imagery could be the result of an unwanted pregnancy (which in turn may lead to an unhappy marriage), and being in this confined arrangement drains the life out of the person, leaving them a frozen stationary being. Then he pulls a lever, which sucks away what looks like an umbilical cord from Henry. The use of the umbilical cord (at least that’s what I assume it is) seems to represent the upcoming pregnancy that Henry will be faced with. Connecting this with the man who reeks of hopelessness, the implication seems very clear of the attitude of this unplanned pregnancy.
Playing off the idea of regretful decisions, the sound effects seem to enhance this idea. For instance when Henry was first meeting Mary’s parents there was an odd rubbery sound in the background. Now this may sound a bit odd, but it almost sounded like a rubber condom being rubbed back and forth. Henry becomes increasingly uncomfortable in this scene, as if being haunted by a past mistake. A broken condom perhaps? There is also the scene where Mary leaves after the first night at the apartment, and before she leaves she reaches to get her suitcase from underneath the bed. As she is doing this, she repeatedly rocks the bed back and forth, which also denotes sex. Once again, this sound (and action) terrifies Henry, potentially once again reminding him of his mistake.
Going back to the idea of the umbilical cord, I will examine one of the more popular characters to arise from this film.
looking at the scene of the girl with the exaggerated cheeks, she slides back and forth across the stage as other cords fell around her. She was careful not to step on any of them at first, but eventually begins to deliberately step on two of them. When you look at the woman, she seemed to have an exaggerated image of innocence.The grotesquely plump cheeks, the angelic dress, the childish demeanor. This woman could be the embodiment of Henry’s subconscious, a sort of warped form of innocence that he still holds onto. Maybe he feels he is the victim and this situation and internally feels resentment towards this birth. (Side note – relating to the idea of innocence, towards the beginning as Henry is show walking through an empty, desolate wasteland in high water pants, which almost demonstrates immaturity (having pants that don’t fit quite right). Once he enters the elevator clutching his package, where he looks small and innocent as he clutches the package the same way a child may clutch a teddy bear)
As the movie progresses, there is the increased conflict felt from Henry towards the “baby”. There is the imagined sequence where Henry’s head falls off and he is taken to a pencil machine operator (according to the credits), the operator examines the head and says that it is ok. Although pencil machine operators do not typically make the best therapist, maybe this helped to sharpen Henry’s view of his surroundings? Then as the operator brushes away the pencil dust, this almost represents the freedom that Henry may now experience as a result of the diagnosis. It almost tells him that he is not the guilty person in this family and what’s really destroying his psychosis is the baby. In the following scene, the image of the baby becomes more sinister and mocking when Henry comes out of his dream. The only way for Henry to heal himself and the marriage is to destroy the nuisance. Once he does this, he is free as the dust that swirls behind him. He is free to reclaim his innocent past, free from the responsibilities that dragged him down. The world seems brighter and he is free to drift off with his subconscious (potentially signaling a loss with the real world and instead embracing the comfort of his imagination)
All images are from Google. I retain no rights.
While in the future I may pursue formal education of this field, for now I will try and teach myself what I can. Or I may get lucky and learn enough to finally be able to work on a film set. Either way I’m hoping to delve further into the world of cinema and production while at the same time dragging everyone else here with me.(Side note – I will not include film descriptions of films I analyze since this is not an essay for class and I trust people know how to Google.)