Ever since the bubble burst and with an economy struggling to reinvent itself, Japanese culture itself has come to adorn the label of "made in Japan", a commodity bought and sold overseas in the form of manga, anime and video games. Personally, I can't say that I am a big fan of manga, anime, or for that matter video games, but there is no denying the significance they have in disseminating and incubating a global interest in Japanese culture. What augmented view of Japanese culture they present is another topic altogether. Nonetheless they serve the roles of both commodity and an ambassador bridging the cultures as well as bank accounts of East and West. Manga and anime though viewed as distinctly Japanese are no longer Japan-centric. Hollywood in recognition of the popularity of this subject has bridged out to produce a live action version of the famed anime and manga, Ghost in the Shell. The movie although not released has already been met with sharp criticism from Asian American activists due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the main character. Though Hollywood recognizes that producing films like the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer in which Al Jolson is in blackface, apparently in 2016 it is still ok to pass up talented Asian actors and actresses in favor of putting a white person in yellowface. Though not as overtly racist as the portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Mickey Rooney required hair dye, and facial prosthetics, just because only one bottle of black hair dye was used doesn't make it any less offensive.
Despite the outrage amongst Asian American activists, only the slightest murmur of complaint can be heard in the far reaches of media in Japan. For many it seems to be a non-issue, in fact just from personal experiences the people I talk to seem thrilled that Hollywood has taken an interest in the story and that it is cool an A-list celebrity such as Scarlett Johansson will play the lead role. As a Japanese American I can't share the same enthusiasm and have felt some resentment in this missed opportunity to heal wounds between Hollywood and the Asian American community. I also feel resentment that Hollywood has in a way created yet another rift in what is a wonderful opportunity to bridge two cultures or communities. Hollywood has taken the reins in disseminating their western ideas of a story which is uniquely in spirit Japanese.
One of the curious aspects of manga and anime is that often although the physiognomy of the characters are distinctly Japanese, the physiology of the characters themselves are neither distinctly Eastern nor Western especially in visage, but often a fusion of both. In this sense anime and manga encompass the spirit of what it is to be Hafu (mixed race Japanese), to exist as a crossroads between cultures in physiology or physiognomy or both, to be neither distinctly Asian nor Western. For this reason, in this upcoming series of work I am doing, I am casting Hafu in what I am calling single frame live action movie clips of famous anime and manga. The series you see here is from the manga The Black Lagoon (ブラックラグーン). As I said I am not a big fan of manga or anime, though I respect what this medium has done to bridge our cultures, and by casting hafu I would like the audience whether East or West Asian American or Caucasian to be able to say, he or she is one of ours. Manga and anime is no longer a domestic phenomenon but a global phenomenon and anime and manga are in a sense a metaphor for what it is to be hafu. Like anime and manga we are not unique to Japan, we are an international phenomenon, some of us having never stepped foot in Japan, and who on occasion even look to anime or manga to inform us of our roots. The people in these photos also help serve to redefine to the world preconceived notions of what it is to be Japanese. For Japanese Americans out-marriage is the norm where in Japan out-marriage is still not the norm but a growing trend. Without reading this statement and only looking at the title you may say to yourself, "this person is not Japanese" and in a sense I have started you on an important dialogue about what defines race and nationality a dialogue which many of us mixed Japanese have on a daily basis. Certainly the cast in these images consider themselves to be Japanese which on occasion is questioned. This is an ongoing project so please check back as I will be posting updates and if you are hafu and are interested in participating in this project in any way please contact me in the link above. Thank you!