2008-2009 Events

theme: virtual worlds, real politics

The MIT/Harvard Cool Japan research project is planning four events for the current academic year. This year’s theme is “Virtual Worlds, Real Politics,” in which we explore various ways in which popular culture and media related to Japan are intertwined with contemporary political issues. Too often the scholarship that examines popular culture reinforces the impression that media representations exist in their own closed off worlds, for example in illuminating the specialized activities of fans or the curious worlds of entertainment producers, while doing little to clarify the stakes for all of us in connecting such virtual worlds with real politics. The selection of events this year is meant to explore and analyze some ways that the worlds of popular culture are intertwined with political issues, including the portrayals of youth violence, the workings of election campaigns, the impact of digital/mobile media on youth politics, and the linkages of gender, animation and robotics design in Japan.


Flim screening with panel discussion: Tekkon Kinkreet (2006, Dir. Arias)

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On Wednesday October 1st at Harvard, we will screen and discuss in a panel format the animated film, Tekkon Kinkreet (2006, Dir. Arias) that offers a unique portrayal of urban development, capitalist corruption, and youth violence. It is based on a 1996 manga by Matsumoto Taiyo, written after Japan plunged into recession. Produced by Tokyo-based, cutting-edge Studio 4C and directed by an American living in Tokyo with a screenplay by an American as well, the film underscores the transnational character of contemporary anime production. In 2008, the film won a Japan Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Schedule of events:

6:00-7:00 PM - Panel Discussion
Markus Nornes (U Michigan / Harvard), Susan Napier (Tufts), Anthony Weintraub (Tekkon Kinkreet screenwriter), and Ian Condry (MIT)

7:00-8:45 PM - Film Screening

8:45-9:30 PM - Q&A & Discussion with Panelists

Date: Wednesday October 1, 2008
Time: 6:00-9:30 PM
Harvard University
Tsai Auditorium
CGIS South
1730 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Film screening with a Q/A with the director Soda Kazuhiro.

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On Tuesday October 21st at MIT, we will screen a documentary about an election campaign in Japan, and have a Q/A with the director Kazuhiro Soda. The director uses an “observational method” (no voiceover, no textual explanation) to document the campaign of a political neophyte caught up in the big world politics of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It’s a black comedy.

Documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda closely follows a heated election campaign in Kawasaki, Japan during the fall of 2005 when the Liberal Democratic Party selects Kazuhiko Yamauchi, 40 years old, self-employed and with no experience in politics, to run for a vacant city council seat. Film is in Japanese with English subtitles (119 minutes)

Date: Tuesday October 21, 2008
Time: 7:00-10:00 PM
MIT 32-141 (Stata Center)
32 Vassar Street
Cambridge, MA

"Digital/Mobile Youth in Japan: New Cultural and Political Movements"

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Seminar with Prof. Yoshitaka Mori (Tokyo University of the Arts) who will discuss his research on youth politics and digital/mobile media in Japan.

Date: Thursday November 6, 2008
Time: 12:30-2:00 PM
MIT 14E-304
160 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA

"Gendering Robots: Posthuman Sexism in Japan"

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Seminar with Prof. Jennifer Robertson (U Michigan), who will discuss her research on robotics in Japan, which she examines from the perspective of feminist anthropology.

Robertson explores and interrogates the gendering of humanoid robots manufactured today in Japan for use in the home and workplace. She shows that Japanese roboticists assign gender to their creations based on rigid assumptions about female and male sex and gender roles. Thus, humanoid robots can productively be understood as the vanguard of a “posthuman sexism,” and are being developed in a socio-political climate of reactionary conservatism.

Co-sponsored by MIT Women's and Gender Studies Program, and MIT Comparative Media Studies

Date: Thursday March 5, 2009
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
MIT 32-155
Cambridge, MA

Otaku, Nationalism, and the "Never Be Cool!" Politics of Tsurumi Shunsuke"

Seminar with Prof. Toshiya Ueno
Wako University (Japan)

What's wrong with the talk about "soft power" and the narcisstic nationalism of "cool Japan"? What can the resolutely uncool "otaku" (obsessive fans) teach us about popular culture and political protest? What does the life of philosopher Tsurumi Shunsuke tell us about the changing meaning of politics in the postwar period and the new millennium?

Come join in a dialogue with one of Japan's leading cultural studies scholars. Prof. Toshiya Ueno of Wako University (Tokyo) and McGill University (Montreal) is the author of many books in Japanese including "Red Metal Suits: Anime as War Zone" (1998) and "Urban Tribal Studies: A Sociology of Party Club Culture" (2005).

Date: Tuesday March 17, 2009
Time: 12:30-2:00 PM
MIT 14E-310
Cambridge, MA

MIT Dance Theater Ensemble presents "LIVE ACTION ANIME 2009: MADNESS AT MOKUBA"

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Performances at Anime Boston (May 22, Fri. at 4pm) Hynes Convention Center and at Tokyo University of the Arts (May 29-30, Fri/Sat. at 7pm) in Japan

How can Massachusetts Institute of Technology students bring to life the excitement and eccentricities of anime? The MIT Dance Theater Ensemble will demonstrate the possibilities with its performance Live Action Anime 2009: Madness at Mokuba at the convention Anime Boston on May 22, 2009 (Fri.) in the Hynes Convention Center. The troupe will then take the show to Japan, where they will collaborate with Japanese students to perform the play at Tokyo University of the Arts on May 29-30, 2009.

This project highlights the diverse paths of globalization by drawing inspiration from fan activities around Japanese popular culture. Globalization is not driven only by large corporations and national governments, but also through the less understood but increasingly important channels of grassroots fan activities and digital media—a kind of globalization from below. Anime (Japanese animated films and TV shows) is a popular culture form that is driving American interest in Japan, especially among young people. Live Action Anime 2009: Madness at Mokuba aims to bring some of that energy back to Japan, while also underscoring the on-going importance of Boston as a center for US-Japan cultural exchange.

Who else but MIT students and faculty could invent “live action anime”? Part homage to anime history, part commentary on the plight of undocumented workers in the US, and over-the-top tribute to anime creators and fans worldwide, this original theatrical production features giant robots, a Japanese schoolgirl, a lovelorn fanboy, a masterless samurai, a gamer woman, evil media magnates, and a vengeful deathgod who all battle for truth, justice, and the anime way.

SYNOPSIS: The stage is set for the finals of the giant robot battle contest at the Mokuba Institute of Technology. But as the two teams prepare for battle, a strange disease called VIRTIGO is sweeping the school, causing unpredictable reality slippages. And it's getting worse. Does it have something to do the suspicious arrest of undocumented Japanese gamers at Infinite Channel Network? Can our heroes solve the mystery of VIRTIGO, help the workers, and find love?

Directed by Prof. Thomas F. DeFrantz (Music and Theater Arts, MIT) with original script by Prof. Ian Condry (Foreign Languages and Literatures, MIT), the play features a cast of MIT students and community members as they attempt to do the impossible: create live action anime. Through dance, words, music, and anime-inspired backdrops, the show explores the joys and peculiarities of Japanese animation. It is appropriate for audience members age seven to seventy and lasts about one hour.

Performed first in December 2007 at MIT’s Kresge Little Theater to sold out crowds, the show has been updated for a performance on May 22 at 4:00pm at Anime Boston at the Hynes Convention Center. Anime Boston is a convention that draws upwards of 15,000 anime fans over three days. People wishing to see the play in Boston must register for the Anime Boston convention (see http://animeboston.com for more details).

The fifteen-member crew will then take the show to Japan where they will perform at Tokyo University of the Arts (Kitasenju campus) on May 29-30 2009 (Fri, Sat.) at 7pm both nights. Profs. DeFrantz and Condry (MIT) are collaborating with Profs. Sachio Ichimura and Yoshitaka Mori (Tokyo U. of the Arts) to create this unique international exchange event. The show in Tokyo will include a dance performance by students at Tokyo University of the Arts (a.k.a., Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku, http://www.geidai.ac.jp/english/index.shtml ).

Live Action Anime is a collaborative project that is performed by the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble. This particular project emerged out of two on-going initiatives at MIT, namely, SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, and the MIT Cool Japan research project.

Live Action Anime 2009 is sponsored by the MIT Japan Program, MISTI Global Seed Funds, MIT Office of the Arts, MIT Council of the Arts, the De Florez Fund for Humor, MIT Music and Theater Arts, MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures, SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, and the MIT Cool Japan research project.

Friday May 22, 2009 (Boston) and
Friday May 29-30, 2009 (Tokyo, Japan)
4/22: 4:00 PM, 4/29-4/30: 7:00 PM
Boston: Anime Boston - Hynes Convention Center
Tokyo: Tokyo University of the Arts

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