The stereotype created of Japanese men as military foes combined nationalism with racism. Since their physique has always been considered small, the danger from the Japanese was perceived to come from the Japanese Superman, possessed of uncanny discipline and fighting skills. Films, often punctuated with racial slurs, were quick to paint Japan’s treachery in battle, its brutality, and disregard for international rules of war. These stereotypic images carried over to Japanese-American men outside the context of the war.
Pearl Harbor and the war years enabled Hollywood to revive the yellow peril characteristics and the fear of miscegenation.
By the end of the war, Americans had learned to associate brutality and treachery with a Japanese face. Caricatures of the Japanese were found in the cartoons of the period. Warner Brothers, Looney Tunes, created a duck version of “The Jap” who had glasses, buckteeth and cries “oh sorry, sorry, sorry” (with slurred r’s). They also created “Tokyo Jokio” and “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.
” The buck-toothed Japanese became a standard cartoon figure. Max Fleischer created a Popeye the Sailor cartoon entitled “You’re A Sap, Mr. Jap”, which is a song Popeye sings over and over. This cartoon showed the Japanese deceiving Popeye, causing him to cry out righteously: “Double-Crossing Japanese” The portrayal of women during this period fared no better. The common stereotype was the “Dragon Lady,” “Geisha Girl,” and “Tokyo Rose,” who had a penchant for White men, dressed in tight dresses, and bodies on display.
They are sly, cruel, exotic sex objects, or subservient and hardworking. Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, in “Feminist and Ethnic Literary Theories in Asian American Literature” comments on how “the image of Japanese-American women usually remains on the margin, invisible, mute or constrained to limited stereotypic images of passion. ” The media played on these stereotypes to sell misleading images to audiences, who wanted entertainment that was different from their normal lives and were willing to see and accept anything exotic.
The stereotypes of Japanese and Japanese-American women were pervasive in the media because the media perpetuated these stereotypes through their portrayal of Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Unfortunately, for some, they still carry over in the perceptions of the American people. Japanese-Americans are challenging the stereotypical images of the past and have made a voice for themselves in American society. They are fighting against the persistent racism and sexism against themselves by establishing a unifying identity as Americans and monitoring the media’s representations.
Although ethnic stereotyping is less common today than it was in the last century, it persists. The images are not so obviously offensive; consequently, many people do not recognize them as stereotypes. In terms of dramatic expression, then, the Japanese film labors under a heavy burden. If it portrays emotion within the traditional Japanese framework, it may achieve authenticity, but the effect is antiquated. If it portrays emotion within the Western framework, it comes across as meretricious and unconvincing.
Films that try to blend the two modes often end up antiquated and unconvincing. Yet in animation, which lacks visual realism and features de-Japanized characters to begin with, the expression of emotion paradoxically takes on a more convincing sense of reality. This may explain why most of the serious and ambitious film efforts have used the vehicle of anime. Given the serious dramatic deficiency, Japanese live-action films can no longer tackle any serious or profound subject matter.
In the context of contemporary Japanese film, then, anime often conveys a greater sense of reality than live-action films. The thin, insubstantial reality of animated film, that is to say, is more alive — literally, more animated — than the flesh-and-blood reality. And if anime is perceived as more real (i. e. , closer to physical reality) than live-action, this means that, increasingly, anime embodies the Japanese consciousness of reality. The Japanese conception of reality is undergoing a process of animation.
The rise of anime as well as manga is a cultural by-product of modern Japan’s tendency to promote modernization and Westernization while rejecting its history and traditions. A medium that fuses elements of East and West, and lacks a clear national identity, could be considered international in a certain sense, and this is doubtless a major reason why anime has so many fans overseas. But the current state of affairs, in which anime represents the mainstream of Japanese cinema, is by no means desirable, inasmuch as it signifies an ever-widening gap between physical reality and people’s conception of it.