Thursday, June 18, 2009
Io9 has an excellent article on how the scifi interpretation of Japan changed over the years. From Blade Runner and Nueromancer to Steven Speilberg's A.I.
U.S. science fiction used to be fascinated with Japan, from Blade Runner to Neuromancer. Everything Japanese was cooler, sleeker and shinier than our grubby American aesthetic, and Japan was destined to dominate. And then, Japan's futuristic status waned. What happened?
Back in the early 1980s, Japan's ascendance seemed assured — there were a host of business books claiming that Japan had lost World War II, but won the peace through superior economic policies. Books like The Enigma Of Japanese Power by Karel Van Wolferen became unlikely bestsellers. Meanwhile, Japanese politicians like Ishihara Shintaro started flexing their muscles — Ishihara made waves with a book called No To Ieru Nihon, or The Japan That Can Say No (to the United States.)
Sadly, Japan's economic hegemony ran out of juice in the early 1990s, when their real-estate bubble burst (sound familiar?) and the country spent an entire "lost decade" mired in stagnation. The vision of Japan as future economic uberpower was replaced by a creeping irrelevance — but Japanese pop culture remained as influential as ever, maybe even more than during the powerhouse days.
I remember the influence of Japan both on futuristic scifi as a teenager growing up in the 80s. I also saw the decline of American manufacturing and then witnessed Japan's economic collapse in the 90s. Scifi has somewhat moved to other things. How many stories have been based in a futuristic Addis Ababa? But the influence of the cyberpunk/Neo-Tokyo continues to resound throughout recent scifi. It will always be there just as Shibuya styled Blade Runner setpieces will influence movies for decades to come.