AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 519

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Session 519: Art, East Asian Spiritualities and Performance: Crossing Time, Metamorphoses and Strategies

Organizer: Tze Yue Gigi Hu, Independent Scholar, USA

Discussant: John Clammer, Independent Scholar, Japan

East Asian performing art forms continue to respond to the march of time, this panel presents their changing fluid characteristics in the later half of the 20th century and the present period. The first section discusses the re-conceptualization and display of Shintoist and Buddhistic ideas, symbols, and gender-image representations in the popular media of manga and anime in Japan. The second section casts a wider view on contemporary Japanese visual culture. One presentation analyzes the stage-performing spectacles of the all-female Japanese theater especially the female entertainer's ultramodern and yet ancient roles. The next presentation explores the interplay of social forces affecting the overall developments of the art scene in Japan. The last section crosses into the animating world of China. It begins by examining the familiar ink and water-color universe of Chinese art and the (a)political relevance of Daoist thought and application will be interpreted. The final presentation extends further the geographical boundaries of discussion demonstrating that the current experiencing of the finer aspects of both Chinese and Japanese art forms could be enhanced by the adoption of Western digital technologies. The contents of the panel presentations primarily probe into the innate spiritual spheres of two East Asian cultures and their apparent visual manifestations. This "Border Crossing" panel spans several inter-disciplinary areas including the fields of comparative philosophy and religion, sociology, performance, gender, cultural and animation studies. It aims to promote multi-dimensional understanding of deep-seated cultural thoughts and practices and the vibrant creative use of metamorphoses and strategies in exerting spiritual-spirited existence.

Women, Feminised Men and ‘Pop-Spiritualism’: Blurring Gender Representations in 2000s Japanese Animation
Akiko Sugawa-Shimada, Yokohama National University, Japan

Rekijo (history fangirls), the ‘power spot’ boom (young women’s visiting of Shinto shrines to gain spiritual power), and butsuzo garu (young women who love statues of Buddha)—Japanese young women have consumed Japanese traditional, cultural and ideological images and notions, which used to be seen as tendencies of (male) elderly people. They nostalgically reconceptualise ‘Japanese-ness’ and construct idealised men through historically masculinised figures (Ashura and samurai). Their ‘“pop” nationalistic’ faith towards Shinto’s Kami and Buddha, that I would call ‘pop-spiritualism’, contributes to the building of recognition of the ‘Japanese-ness’. These reconceptualised conservative views, however, do not only speak to women’s nostalgia for Japanese hegemonic gender images, but they also represent their challenge to traditional views of (young) women. Gender representations in Japanese psychic and costume play animation in the 2000s serve as sites through which these young women’s desires for nostalgia and reconceptualisation of ethnic and gender images can be traced. In The Book of the Dead (2005), although Iratsume is absorbed in ‘unfeminine’ conduct (copying numerous sutras for Buddhist spiritual enlightenment), she is given a role of the healer to the vengeful spirit. The clichéd role of a healer is, however, represented by the male protagonist in Natsume’s Book of Friends (2008-09), who comforts ayakashi (demons, spirits, ghosts etc). In Sengoku BASARA (2009-10), although samurai is highly masculinised, the unisex samurai, Kenshin, Mitsuhide, Hanbei, represent blurring of gender images. This paper aims to explore blurring gender representations in contemporary Japanese animation in relation to the popularity of ‘Japanese-ness’ and ‘pop-spiritualism’ among young women of late.

Concept of kami in Japanese Animation and Comic: Late 20th Century Japanese Thought and Popular Culture
Yusuke Suzumura, Hosei University, Japan

What is Shintoism in late 20th century Japan? Can it be seen or experienced in popular culture, in comics and animation for example? The main purpose of this presentation is to examine the influence of Shinto in Japanese animation or comic after 1980’s. Shinto is a folk religion like attitude in Japan which expresses respects to gods and an ancestor, and enshrines them. One of the most inmportant characteristic of Shinto is well known, it is polytheistic in which a large number of gods exists. In this presentation, several significant works that featured the polytheistic element will be analyzed especially the influence of Shinto-like attitude on the concept of kami (god). I argue that this concept does not have religious meaning in most animations or comics. One animation, for example Densetu kyoshin Ideon (1980) uses the term kami or god in the title, but there is no religious meaning but an implication like “something passes human understanding”. In Kaze no Tani no Naushika (1984) there is a weapon named kyoshinhei, but its character is not a god but a huge artificial life form with god-like power. My conclusion tries to show that in Japanese animations or comics the concept kami is used in relation to some sort of symbol or cryptograph creation in the story. It implies that authors or producers of animations or comics appropriate the Shinto structure, the polytheistic attitude in their works, but one is not sure whether they are conscious of the religious significance.

The Sense of ‘Out of This World’ in the Takarazuka Revue Company ~ Staging the spiritually sublime and the physically magical in the all-female Japanese theatre
Makiko Yamanashi, Independent Scholar, Japan

Theatre as stage production is where fantasy is presented away from the audience’s everyday life. Since1914, the Takarazuka Revue Company, adjunct to the Takarazuka Music School has been the ultimate example of such fantasy in the field of Japanese theatre. Its uniqueness relies on the fact that it consists only of young unmarried women who perform all the roles on the panoramic stage of the hyper artificial spectacles. Takarazuka’s performers are all called ‘seito’ (students) on principle and never ‘actresses’ (joyu). The maxim of the school-theatre establishment, ‘Kiyoku, Tadashiku, Utsukushiku’ (purity, integrity and grace) shows their emphasis on mental development to cultivate their personality as the company’s backbone. This presentation will show how Takarazuka students have been justified as revue girls by formulating their identity as otome (maiden), which is more idealised than just a girl. Using a few examples from Takarazuka productions, it will show how Takarazuka reflects the Japanese performing traditions, especially in comparison with shirabyôshi, maiko and most of all miko, the shrine maiden, who represents meta-physicality and neutrality, as an intentionally created existence who touches the domain of the sublime and the magical. To bring this argument into today’s context, the theatre’s interaction with other media of Japanese popular culture, especially manga and fashion, will be also examined with reference to Tezuka Osamu and cospre (costume play). By analysing how the sense of ‘out of this world’ is created and consumed, this presentation attempts to reveal the uncommon nature of the all-female theatre.

An Animated Chinese Self: Returning to A Spiritual and Spirited Refuge
Tze Yue Gigi Hu, Independent Scholar, USA

How did Chinese artists and animators maintain a sense of equilibrium and spirituality during times of political upheavals and changes? Presenting a re-understanding and a retrospective study of Chinese ink and water-color animation made in the early 1960s, this paper discusses the naturalistic and peaceful world of shan shui hua ("mountain and water painting") and also examines the active spirited world of animating as framed within the film narrative and its artistically constructed background. Leading this exquisite animation genre is the awarding-winning film, Cowherd's Flute (1963). Equally famous is the Tadpoles in Search of Mummy which was made earlier in 1960. There are other lesser known works which had been created after the end of the Cultural Revolution, for example, the Mischievous Golden Monkey (1982). Such works produced in the post-Cultural Revolution era somehow did not have the illuminating spiritual appeal. There were various comparative motives in making such animated works. For instance, in regard to the above two aforementioned animated films, on the surface, the portrayal of the rustic and proletariat environment seemed to comply and adhere to the stipulated political leadership's goals and policies. However, what lurked behind is a highly refined spiritual realm that formed a protective, indifferent and even a defiant shield. The paper wants to explore further the Chinese disposition and tendency toward Daoist thought and practices at times of struggle and instability and sometimes, in the midst of pursuing material wealth and status.

Expanded Illusion of Life in the Age of Computation: Insights from East Asian Animated Artifacts into Digital Media Works
Kenny K. N. Chow, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

The literal meaning of the term “animation” is to bring something to life. What dynamic phenomena make us aware of life? Is the illusion of movement commonly seen in the film medium the only major phenomenon of liveliness? This presentation looks into humans’ enduring pursuits for an illusion of life by highlighting liveliness presented in Japanese animation, mechanical dolls, and Chinese shadow play, I draw parallels to digital media artifacts of today and argue to expand the idea of the illusion of life. I start with destabilizing the dichotomy of the animistic and the mechanistic views of life, which is commonly regarded as the Eastern and Western thoughts on animacy. Drawing upon insights from perceptual psychology and animation studies, I propose a holistic perspective on liveliness, which resonates Eastern philosophies like Shinto and Taoism. Next, I juxtapose Chinese shadow puppetry with today’s digital interactive animation with an emphasis on the automatic eye-hand coordination. This analogy blurs the boundaries between the performer/puppeteer and the audience, the animator and the computer. Based on latest provocative ideas of liveness in performance studies, I further argue that many multimedia artifacts exhibit a new kind of improvisation, which reflects the contingency of life, another major Eastern belief. The upshot is to centralize East Asian aesthetic and spiritual values in the creation and study of today’s multimedia animated artifacts and their often largely regarded Western origins, and to draw attentions from contemporary media artists, animators, and designers to the broader meaning of animation.

Rethinking Japanese Visual Culture: Contemporary Japanese Art in Relation to Anime and Popular Visual Representations
John Clammer, Independent Scholar, Japan

Discussion of the visual aspects of contemporary Japanese visual culture tends to concentrate on the well-know dimensions of anime and manga. Very little discussion of the relationship of contemporary Japanese art to these features of popular culture has so far occurred. The literature on contemporary Japanese art tends to be generated in a quite separate intellectual and cultural space from the literature on the other more familiar aspects of Japanese visual culture. This paper will attempt to overcome this division of labor by reviewing some of the major features of contemporary Japanese art and relating it to broader aspects of contemporary culture. In particular it will explore the cross-overs between art and anime and art and manga and will attempt to show the mutual relationships and affinities. In doing so an attempt will be made to broaden the vocabulary of the analysis of Japanese popular culture both in terms of its internal qualities and in an attempt to account for the expanding interest in some forms of Japanese contemporary art internationally. The paper will also take a sociological approach and will explore the communities of artistic creation as exemplars of broader trends in visuality in Japan in an attempt to understand the sociology as well as the purely visual aspects of contemporary Japanese visual culture.