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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Maria Mengel

Japanese Studies/Musicology/French Philology
(PhD Students, March 1, 2006 - September 30, 2006)

  • Culture as semiological concept
  • Cultural Studies beyond the „afterology“
  • Gender Studies as trans-/intercultural dialogue
  • Application of Western theories upon Japanese phenomena

PhD project

The Floating World of the Japanese Love – Anime, Identity, and Japan

My PhD project tackles the problematic of identity construction in contemporary Japan through the analysis of anime as socio-cultural phenomenon. Often regarded as the first original (cultural) product ever exported by Japan, anime is firstly a site of acceptance, submission and integration, and secondly a possibility of resistance, oblivion and self-identification. Among the multiple topics dealt with in the anime – e.g., environment, death, peace and war, future, furusato – I analyze the theme of “love” as theorized by Baudrillard, Eagleton, Foucault, Kristeva, Lyotard and Rougemont. Moreover, I regard identity not as a fixed structure, but as a fluid continuum and flexible “game” as defined by L. Wittgenstein while referring to language as a complex entity composed of several “languages” and their employment strategies. Furthermore, I consider the problematics of identity construction as the possibility of regarding identity not as a fixed structure, but as a fluid continuum, as a compositum of several different, possible „identities“. Considering anime a typical product of the Japanese postmodernity through the prism of several Western theories and focussing on the aspect of how love is (re)presented, transmitted and perceived through the medium of popular culture reveal the avatars of the everyday search for identity in the cultural supermarket, the way culture and economy, politics and sciences, tradition and innovation interact on a more general (and globalized) consumption level.
The methods employed are field work, scientific literature research and own analytical approach. The field work is divided in several phases, in Japan and in Germany. It consists in structured and unstructured interviews with Japanese anime producers, Japanese specialists and researchers of the Japanese popular culture and naturally both Western and Japanese anime consumers. An important part of the field work is to watch and analyse the anime movies, both those belonging to the so-called Top 100 and to the category of less famous productions. It would be also interesting to complete the field work through research at the Ghibli enterprise in Tokyo (both the Ghibli Studio and the Ghibli Museum), a conclusion reached after having talked to Takahata Isao (e.g., アルプスの少女ハイジ, 1974; 火垂るの墓, 1988) by the end of May 2005, while visiting myself these two institutions. The second method is the research of scientific literature concerning the problematics of anime, love and identity in different languages (English, French, German, Japanese).
        Based upon these two main traditional methods, there is my own analytical approach: the application of Western theories (e.g., language philosophy, identity construction, power analysis, postmodern fragmentarism, consumerism) to typical Japanese phenomena as anime. This paper continues directly the scientific strategy in searching for mechanisms to construct the Japanese identity employed in my earlier analysis of the Takarazuka Revue and thus looks for answers to several questions: Is there a way to apply Western theories to non-Western phenomena? Can the conclusions help a better communication between traditionally separated worlds, nowadays always more inter-connected through the fibers of globalization and institutionalized consumption? Is it possible that such antagonist elements like tradition and innovation, culture and economics, politics and science to be unified and revealed through the purifying, although idealist model of love (re)presentation and perception? Back then, while tackling with the problematics of gender construction in modern Japan through the analysis of the all-female musical theatre Takarazuka Revue by employing Judith Butler’s gender theory, I realized that the mechanisms of constructing identity on one side and of perceiving the different facets of this construction on the other side are only first steps on the long way of understanding cultures, no matter if “own” or “other” cultures. The process of actively participating at the construction of “own” culture or respectively passively reflecting the construction of “other” cultures is a spiral-like infinity, doomed to reflect the avatars and questions of the human being searching for determination in the global(ized) village. Like gender, love, namely its (re)presentation and perception, are culturally defined fluidities.