News and Opinion

ANA's "Racist" Commerical and Japanese National Identity

There has been a little bit of a hubbub over a new TV commercial that the Japanese airline ANA has put out. Some news organizations have reported complaints that it is racist, and ANA has responded by apologizing and is changing the ad. Here is the original CM: 

It's a disturbing commercial, but not exactly for the reasons some have stated. Since the issue of audience is important, it might be good to think about how the average Japanese viewer might see this. FIrst note the casting. The actor on the left is Nishijima Hidetoshi, a very good actor in straight dramas like Kitano Takeshi's Dolls who I like a lot (whom I've met, by the way). The one on the right is Bakarizumu, a popular comedian who has done some great routines (you can check out one here). The cut to Bakarizumu with the gaijin get-up is then intended to be comedic, both because of the casting (most Japanese would know who the two are) and the extreme get-up. You don't see that kind of get-up in Japanese TV comedy much any more, but when you do, it is rather self-conscious, emphasizing not only the stereotyped "gaijin" image, but also the slapstick, vaudeville-like nature of the comedy. That's the case here as well, with the rubber bands attaching the nose being quite visible. So on one level, the CM works by allowing the viewer to laugh not just at the "gaijin" but also, in a meta way, at the comedy. They thus laugh at the get-up as ridiculous, as patently false and comedic—perhaps even understanding it as old-fashioned and a stereotype. 

Catching Up: The Japanese Film Musical

It's been another long gap between posts. Still, I felt I had to get one more in before the new year.


This post was not the only thing that took time. So did the book I want to introduce. It not only took several years for it to get published, but it then seemingly took forever for me to get a copy. But it is a fascinating book: The International Film Musical, edited by Corey K. Creekmur and Linda Y. Mokdad and published by Edinburgh University Press (ISBN 9780748634767).  

The book itself is an important step towards overcoming the tendency to equate the film musical with Hollywood cinema. It explore the broad range of narrative musical film traditions in a multitude of national contexts, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Egypt, and Turkey.

My contribution considers the phenomenon of musicals in Japanese cinema by focusing on the problem of genre, both in terms of the general issue of the structure of genre in the Japanese film industry and the specific problem Japanese musicals have faced in trying to pursue what is often perceived as a Hollywood genre. The paper takes up two examples of the salaryman musical: Harikiri Boy (Harikiri bōi, dir. Ōtani Toshio), a P.C.L. musical from 1937 starring Furukawa Roppa; and You Can Succeed Too! (Kimi mo shusse ga dekiru, dir. Sugawa Eizō), arguably one of Japan's greatest musicals, made in 1964 with Frankie Sakai. It explores how Japan too, amidst the complex geopolitics of genre and nation, could succeed at the film musical. 

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