I saw Your Name. in cinemas a month ago. A month prior to that, Shin Godzilla. Then a few weeks ago, a classic anime, Yuki – Snow Fairy. I’m not just naming anime I’ve seen, not that Shin Godzilla is an anime, but could probably be treated as such. I’m naming them because they have one thing in common, they’re highly political.
Anime, just like any art form, can be used to express a whole range of emotion, thought, and ideology. That much is a given. When we’re digesting hours upon hours of anime per week, it’s hard to see the under lying message of them. Sometimes it’s just not obvious enough. Sometimes, it is.
You may not have heard of Yuki – Snow Fairy, and I don’t blame you, even Japanese Wikipedia doesn’t have a page for it. It’s a film that came out in 1981, and was directed by Tadashi Imai. It’s mostly lost to the ages now and hard to find copies of it online or elsewhere. I was luckily enough to see it for free, with subs, at the Japanese Film Festival in Melbourne. We all took different aspects away from it, but one was abundantly clear. It was very anti-establishment, and went very hard against the ‘big man’.
It wasn’t a surprise to learn, after watching Yuki, that Imai was apart of the 日本共産党, or Japanese Communist Party. If Yuki were any more left-wing it’d be a Nordic country. While I love political commentary probably more than the regular person. I prefer my political commentary to be subtextual, or show how the directors political views can succeed. Yuki had neither of these things. While yes, it was a children’s film, it’s message was so overt I could have been reading /r/politics and had less political views shoved in my face.
Modernisation of Political Thought in Anime
That’s where Your Name. and Shin Godzilla come into play. Both films are a response to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake (also known as 3.11) and what happened in the months following it. Your Name. focused more on the Japanese people, and their response and feelings post-earthquake, while Shin Godzilla was more government based.
Makoto Shinkai has said that while he didn’t intentionally create Your Name. in response to 3.11, it came out inevitably because of it. Taki, the male protagonist in the film even says, “You will never know when Tokyo could become like this”. 3.11 changed Japan and it’s way of thinking, and that’s reflected in Your Name. That’s one of the reasons why the film is so popular in Japan, it understands Japan’s state of mind.
Shin Godzilla and the Government
On the other hand, you have Hideaki Anno and Shin Godzilla, which is a blatant allegory to 3.11 and a discussion about Article 9 of it’s Postwar Constitution. If you’re unaware of Article 9, it’s the limiting power of Japan’s Army after WWII and the creation of the JSDF. Which PM Abe wants to expand. It is Godzilla though, what could you really expect?
What was unexpected was that while Your Name. was subtle, Shin Godzilla just threw stuff at you at a pace that not even a man in an F1 car could handle. Though not as overtly as Yuki.
3.11 was a three prong attack against Japan by nature, and this is recreated to a tee in Shin Godzilla. First he comes as a tsunami, then a destructive earthquake, and finally a nuclear reactor. To form an even closer mirror, the film goes on to satire the Fukushima 50. A group of government agents who tackled the disaster head on, keep failing, but kept trying.
That’s not to say these are the only three pieces of Japanese media are political
Hayao Miyazaki has been pushing gender roles for decades, and is outspoken in his belief of pacifism. Akira is as political as you can get. Sailor Moon‘s creator, Naoko Takeuchi, forwarded the LGBT discussion with her creation of Haruka and Michiru as partners, rather than the akogare that yuri manga was used to at the time.
Sometimes it’s easy to just watch anime and turn your brain off. But it’s a culmination of someones thoughts, their ideas, their ideologies, and the world around them. I find it so interesting to look behind what I’m watching and see what the creators are trying to express, politically or not.