In Japan, the relationship between technology and humanity is quite complex. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world; new technologies appear in Japan months and even years ahead of other countries. The Japanese people rely on technology for a large part of daily living, from commuting on bullet trains to communicating with one another on mobile phones. Technology is becoming more and more omnipresent and invisible; use of technology has become second-nature, near instinct, almost as if the machines are becoming an extension of the human body. In fact, the boundaries between humanity and technology are blurring constantly, creating potentially problematic scenarios for the future. What happens when the line between man and machine is erased completely? When does a man cease to be a man and become a machine? These and similar concerns are often raised in Japanese popular culture, a sounding board for radical ideas. Japanese cult cinema in particular addresses the concept of technology interacting with the human body, seen in films such as Godzilla (Dir. Honda Ishiro, 1954), Tetsuo (Dir. Tsukamoto Shinya, 1988), Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (Dir. Tsukamoto Shinya, 1992), and Dead or Alive: Final (Dir. Miike Takashi, 2002). Following an introduction to the concept of cult films in general and an overview of the social context and history of Japanese cult cinema, there will be a detailed reading and analysis of the films listed utilising the ‘cyborg myth’ theory of scholar Donna Haraway. This discussion will prove that through the years in Japanese cult cinema, the interaction between technology and the male body has become increasingly personal and complex.
The term ‘cult cinema’ is a nebulous one, holding different meanings to different scholars; what may be a cult film to one critic is a mainstream film to another. To begin with, we should classify ‘cult cinema,’ as much as it can be classified. Generally, three factors influence whether or not a film is ‘cult:’ the audience, the content, and the film’s position in relation to the ‘mainstream’ (itself a nebulous term; here defined as the majority of films released in commercial cinemas directed toward the largest audience possible). Usually the audience of a cult film is small but almost fanatically loyal. An example would be the fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Dir. Jim Sharman, 1975), who typically dress up in the costumes of the characters when viewing the film in cinemas. The content of cult films usually consists of blood and violence, sexuality and nudity, or transgressive morality. Jeff Sconce describes cult films as having a ‘trash aesthetic’ (Quoted in Jancovich 309), essentially meaning a low-budget or ‘B-movie’ feel. Finally, cult films usually do not exist in the mainstream, often being released straight to video or showing in fringe cinemas. These elements work together and independently to label a film as a ‘cult film.’
The types of films in the cult classification are as varied as they are interesting. Sconce lists a sampling of films potentially designated as cult: ‘”bad film,” splatterpunk, “mondo” films, sword and sandal epics, Elvis flicks, governmental hygiene films, Japanese monster movies, beach party musicals and just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to soft core pornography’ (Sconce quoted in Jancovich 309). These classifications are subjective, however. Some critics consider Elvis films as cult, but many others do not, for instance. A film can also have cult content and exist outside of the mainstream, but have a massive audience. For the purpose of this essay, we will consider cult films those with extreme and transgressive content, as seen in many Japanese cult films.
The origin of Japanese cult cinema, along with almost everything related to modern Japan, lies in the aftermath of World War II. Following the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan was left militarily, economically, and socially devastated. According to Chon Noriega, ‘[after that] an essentially American military occupation force dismantled and rebuilt the Japanese family and society in such a way as to ensure that Japan could never again become a military threat to the Allies’ (Noriega 65). In essence, the United States became the architect of modern Japan, imprinting American ideals onto Japanese society. Gender roles were drastically changed as well: ‘Reform gave women full legal equality and ended the authority of the clan over the family and the father over children’ (Noriega 65). This reform heralded the end of thousands of years of feudal rule in Japan, representing an enormous change in Japanese culture and society. The father and patriarch was no longer the unassailable figure he once was.
The United States had a clear agenda in their reform of Japan. Noriega maintains that this reform was not as innocent or altruistic as it appeared on the surface, stating that the ‘reform exceeded what American society would have accepted for itself at the time, indicating that the purpose was more to undermine the patriarchal base of Japanese society than to reform it’ (65). As stated previously, this was partly to protect Allied interests: disrupt Japanese society enough and it will not be able to re-militarise. However, this reform can also be seen as punishment toward Japan, essentially castrating a powerful, masculine feudal society by empowering the women and emasculating the men. The occupation and reform went smoothly, however, as ‘the Japanese cooperated with the Americans, bringing about enormous socioeconomic and political change’ (Noriega 65). This change was not without its influences, as it ‘required repression in order to succeed’ (65). Noriega quotes Robin Wood in foreshadowing future Japanese social turmoil: ‘[W]hat is repressed must always strive to return’ (Quoted in Noriega 65).
Along with the cultural and societal upheavals brought about through the American reforms, another incident involving Japan and the United States had a direct impact on Japanese cult cinema. On 1 March, 1954, the United States detonated a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. A Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon, was accidentally irradiated during the test and a fisherman later died. This caused great outrage in Japan and re-opened national wounds stemming from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Noriega 66). Twice had technology (in the form of the atomic bomb) damaged Japan, emasculating and weakening the country.
The Lucky Dragon incident led to the birth of cult cinema in Japan. In response to the accident, director Honda Ishiro made Godzilla, a film about a fishing boat that gets destroyed by a mysterious reptilian creature who goes on to terrorise Japan. This was the first kaiju eiga (giant monster) film (Macias 16) and also one of the first Japanese cult films. Following the success of Godzilla, Japanese studios began to produce low-budget, quickly-made genre films full of sex, violence and extreme morality. There was virtually no limitation on content in these cult films; anything short of ‘hardcore sexual imagery’ could be shown on screen and ‘the only taboo that could not be transgressed was the Emperor’ (Macias 10). This freedom led to an amazing assortment of shocking, perverse, exploitative, and fascinating films in a number of sub-genres including Yakuza, pinku eiga, horror, ultraviolence and science fiction.
Some would argue that the concept of technology and humanity interacting is visible in mainstream Japanese films as well and would question the sole focus on cult cinema. The films that will be discussed are all in the genre of science fiction, a genre described as offering ‘large-scale speculations on the future of modern society… and allegories in science fictional form about its current condition’ (Cook 192). While mainstream films are capable of commentary on social and gender issues, the science fiction film often goes several steps further, extrapolating past and current concerns to critique the present and formulate a potential future. Moreover, the hypothesis argued in this essay is best explained through examination of the figure of the cyborg (cybernetic organism), a half organic, half machine construction. The cyborg is an archetype of the science fiction film, and hence the reason for discussing cult cinema.
For Donna Haraway, the cyborg is not simply a cybernetic organism, but a complex theoretical model relating to politics, society, and human nature. The two forms of cyborg, the traditional cyborg and the Haraway cyborg, share very little in common. The traditional cyborg is a common figure in science fiction, usually a human being enhanced with electronic/mechanical appendages or implants. Science fiction writer William Gibson helped to create a cyborg sub-genre, cyberpunk, with his novel Neuromancer. Variations on the traditional cyborg include The Terminator (Dir. James Cameron, 1984), which featured a machine covered with organic tissue and the Replicants from Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982), androids shaped into human form.
Haraway’s cyborg, on the other hand, is a theoretical myth formed from many complex theories, a fusion of many differing ideas based around the dissolution of boundaries. According to Haraway, there are ‘three crucial boundary breakdowns that make the following political fictional (political scientific) analysis possible” (68). In other words, there are three boundaries that have weakened recently and this weakening allows for the possibility of the cyborg construct. Central to the theory of the cyborg is the ‘argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction’ (Haraway 66). For Haraway, boundaries are the single most important factor in discussing the cyborg.
Human beings tend to overlook the fact that we are a form of animal, albeit at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The first boundary is that ‘between human and animal’ (Haraway 68). Few things remain that separate us from animals any more; no longer are ‘language, tool use, social behaviour, mental events’ (68) solely in the possession of mankind. Many animals have consistently displayed complex behaviours once attributed only to humans. Humans and animals were once strictly morally and ethically separated, with humans placed above all other animals. Animals were seen as humanity’s property, entertainment, or test-subjects. Haraway maintains that ‘many people no longer feel the need of such a separation” (68). Humans and animals are now growing closer together; Haraway notes that ‘[t]he cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed” (68). Considering this, in Haraway’s view a werewolf (in mythology, a person who transforms into a wolf) could be considered a cyborg, even with no mechanical or technological elements. In contrast to traditional human/animal relationships as noted previously (with humans separate and superior), Haraway suggests a controversial alternative: ‘Far from signalling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling. Bestiality has a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange’ (68).
As technology advances, so does our relationship with it. The second broken boundary is that ‘between animal-human (organism) and machine’ (Haraway 69). Much like with animals, humanity’s relationship with machines has traditionally been one of master and servant. Human beings were responsible for designing and building the first machines, and all machines up until a certain point. As such, all machines are fallible. Haraway notes that: ‘Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the specter of the ghost in the machine’ (69). In essence, because humans designed and programmed the machine, elements of human personality and behaviour seep into the machine, imprinted directly into the programming. This caused random behaviour, glitches, bugs, and other miscellany. According to Haraway, ‘basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream’ (69). Soon machines will be designing and building other machines, wholly independent of human influence, as Haraway notes: ‘Late-twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally-designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert’ (69). There could conceivably come a time where a machine designed by a machine becomes infallible; would the infallible machine then design a new human?
Soon machines will become so small as to be functionally invisible. The third and final boundary recently broken is that ‘between physical and non-physical’ (Haraway 70). The world is no longer made up of actions; the world has become one of ideas and information. This boundary, according to Haraway, has become ‘very imprecise for us’ (70). Especially now in the age of telecommunication and the Internet, differentiating between physical and non-physical or virtual can be difficult. Technology is getting smaller, more complex, and more sophisticated: ‘Miniturization has turned out to be about power; small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous’ (Haraway 70). In industry, the smaller the microchip or circuit, the more useful and powerful it becomes. In several years nanotechnology (machines the size of human cells) will revolutionise the way we interact with technology. According to Haraway: ‘Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum’ (70). Soon all machines will be made of sunshine, invisible and omnipotent. A machine could be instantly reprogrammed to perform any task or serve any function. But humans, according to Haraway, ‘are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence’ (70). Accordingly, a cyborg does not even require a physical body. Being free from boundaries, a cyborg could reside in a computer mainframe or in a cloud of nanites; the world could even be comprised of a non-corporeal society.
As mentioned previously, Haraway’s cyborg transcends most boundaries. The reason for this begins with the fact that ‘[a] cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden’ (Haraway 99). According to Christianity, a human being is born of God and free of sin. Essentially, Haraway is saying that a cyborg is not born free of sin, as inferred by ‘born in a garden.’ A cyborg is not born of God at all; a cyborg is created by man. Haraway continues, stating that a cyborg ‘does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end (or until the world ends)’ (99). Because the cyborg does not have to struggle with dualisms (human/machine, man/woman, self/other), the cyborg has no boundaries. The cyborg is at once all of these dichotomies. Haraway states that ‘[t]he cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world… which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end’ (67). Elaine Graham elaborates: ‘By virtue of their hybrid status, cyborgs call into question the impermeability of the categories by which humanity has traditionally differentiated itself from its non-human “others”’ (425). This means that cyborgs question the nature of humanity by dint of their very existence.
If one were to envision a world inhabited by Haraway’s cyborgs, it would be practically unrecognisable to our contemporary world. To begin with, everything would be nothing. A man would not be labelled as a man, a woman not as a woman. There would be no gender, no reproduction. Beings would simply exist in the world. Everyone would govern oneself, as there would be no hierarchy of power. Haraway describes one version of such a world: ‘A cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints’ (72). This is her ideal world, just as the cyborg is her ideal construct. She is essentially advocating an anarchist world, albeit a benevolent one. This is supported by her belief that ‘the need for unity of people trying to resist worldwide intensification of domination has never been more acute’ (71). Haraway’s theories have become adopted and adapted in many fields, including feminism, socialism, and film studies. This essay will now apply her cyborg model to four Japanese cult films, Godzilla, Tetsuo, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, and Dead or Alive: Final, in examining the interaction between technology and the male body and how this interaction has changed over the years.
Godzilla is an allegory, made in reaction to the Lucky Dragon incident. The film begins with Godzilla, an ancient sea-creature, awoken by the Americans testing a new atomic bomb. Godzilla goes on a rampage, attacking Japan. The figure of Godzilla represents the emasculated, disempowered Japanese male, mutated and transformed into a cyborg, a man/animal hybrid; this is the repressed striving to return. Godzilla has animal characteristics, such as the reptilian features and skin, but he is also human-shaped. Technology is the catalyst for this change. As for the formation of Godzilla, Haraway states that ‘cyborgs have more to do with regeneration and are suspicious of the reproductive matrix and of most birthing… [R]egeneration after injury… involves regrowth of structure and restoration of function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd topographical productions at the site of the former injury. The regrown limb can be monstrous, duplicated, potent’ (100). The atomic testing severely injured Japan and Godzilla is the resulting regeneration, monstrously potent.
Godzilla is at once Japan and not-Japan. Chon Noriega asks the question: ‘[I]f Godzilla is so destructive, why do the Japanese sympathize with him as a tragic hero?’ (64). Essentially, Godzilla is Japan, the Japanese male. The Japanese recognise in him themselves, the repressed tendencies they cannot act out. He represents Japan’s fury at its former impotence; he lashes out not at America, the instigator of Japan’s emasculation, but at Japan itself. He seeks to masochistically punish Japan for its weakness, to essentially commit seppuku, ritual suicide after a perceived loss of honour. According to Noriega, ‘in the West… construction of an Other primarily defines a self’ (68). The self does not know who he is until he sees an Other; through the recognition of the other, the self gains identity. However, ‘the Japanese language carries within it the added stipulation that both self and other remain within the culture’ (Noriega 68). This is in contrast to the West, where the other is generally thought of as outside the self’s culture. In Japan, the self and the other are two parts of a whole.
In many ways, the atomic bomb was Japan’s first introduction to technology. This tragic meeting imprinted upon Japan a dreadful fascination with and fear of technology. Godzilla director Honda Ishiro comments on the lasting impact of the film: ‘Behind the fear of [Godzilla] was the fear of the atomic bomb’ (Quoted in Macias 19). Godzilla represented this Japanese fear of technology, a fear that it would cause Japan to destroy itself. Technology changed the male body in this film, mutating it into something alien and unrecognisable, much like radiation changed the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The interaction between technology and the male body at this point in Japanese cult cinema involves the technology changing the man. The male body has little or no control over the change or the resulting cyborg hybrid.
The relationship between technology and the male body becomes much more intimate in Tsukamoto Shinya’s Tetsuo. The film begins with a ‘metal Fetishist’ cutting a gash into his leg and inserting a metal coil, in what appears to be an act of sexual gratification. The Fetishist is literally penetrating himself with technology, inviting it into his body. This reflects the change in interaction with technology since the time of Godzilla, shifting from a feeling of fear to a feeling of love. This Fetishist represents only half of the equation, however. The main character in the film, the Man, is the self to the Fetishist’s other. Again, both characters represent the two sides of the Japanese male, though this time the modern Japanese male. The Man recoils from technology whereas the Fetishist embraces it. This reflects the paradoxical feelings in Japan at the time.
In the 1980s, Japan’s prosperity and economic power was tied to technology, which the exported around the world. Thus, technology was tied to prosperity, which was in turn tied to masculinity. The more prosperous a salaryman (Japanese businessman) was, the more technology he could afford. The more technology he could afford, the more masculine he was. Working toward prosperity and technology consumed most of the salaryman’s life, leaving little time for family. This caused dissonance within the Japanese male, leading to the love/hate relationship with technology (with the specter of atomic fear hiding in the back of the Japanese consciousness as well). Tetsuo is an allegory for the state of Japanese culture in the 1980s, portraying a world of technology as fetish, hiding the irradiated masculinity.
The technology in Tetsuo is itself a cyborg, which in turn leads to the creation of humanoid cyborgs. The Man becomes infected by the Fetishist after running him over. A small metal burr appears on the Man’s cheek, eventually growing to consume him. This infection is the technology, a form of organic nanites. The nanites are cyborgs, in the fact that they are living machines that multiply and grow like biological organisms; much like in Haraway’s theories, they are organism/machine, physical/non-physical, intelligent/instinctual. These cyborgs create cyborgs out of the Man and the Fetishist, penetrating their emasculated bodies. The Man is emasculated through his position as a salaryman, a husband in title only. The Fetishist allows the penetration, assuming a submissive, feminised, emasculated position. The nanites serve to re-masculate the Man, transforming his penis into a massive cybernetic power-drill, a literal symbol of dangerous sexuality. Technology has created a powerful masculine figure, but it has also removed his humanity; the Man brutally kills his wife during a rape with the power-drill.
According to Haraway, his masculinity is nothing but a masquerade, as cyborgs are post-gender. His is an artificial masculinity in every sense of the word, perhaps reflecting the artificial masculinity of the Japanese technology-prosperity-masculinity construct described earlier. At one point early in the film, the Man dreams about being dominated and raped by a woman with a massive mechanical penis. This helps to highlight the paradoxical relationship between technology and humanity. Is this dream of the Man’s a fear or a fantasy? Technology brings prosperity but it also brings domination and control. The boundaries between dominant/submissive, man/woman, man/machine are all blurred in Tetsuo.
Unlike in Godzilla, where technology alone changed the man, in Tetsuo II: Body Hammer it is both the technology and the man who cause the change. In Tetsuo, the Man was arguably an unwilling participant in the technological conversion. However, in the sequel Tomoo specifically seeks to become more powerful, more masculine. He too is a salaryman, physically weak and emotionally isolated. When kidnappers take his son, he is physically unable to run after them. At one point, he is hanging from the ledge of a roof and is unable to pull himself up; his wife eventually rescues him, highlighting his emasculation. The wife even says to Tomoo: ‘You need to get strong.’ Near the beginning of the film, the kidnappers inject him with an unknown element; this plot point initially serves as explanation of his later transformation. Tomoo attempts to lift weights and work out, in order to ‘get strong.’ Initially unable to lift any weight, he becomes enraged and begins to slowly transform, making himself stronger. The technology inside him responds to his feelings of rage and impotence, mutating his body into a living mechanical weapon. Unlike the mutation in Godzilla, brought about by external influences, the transformation in Tetsuo is purely internal.
The injection is later revealed to have been blocked by technology, a little pocket computer that Tomoo had in his jacket. Tomoo has been a cyborg since he was a child, experimented on by his father. He is thus both innocent and not-innocent, ‘born in a garden’ but ripped out of it as a child. He transforms himself into essentially a living gun, a massive phallic symbol of masculine power. However, he cannot control this extreme power and incinerates his son in misplaced rage. Like the Man in the first film, Tomoo loses all humanity, feeling no loss or regret at the death of his son. Tomoo seems to feel only negative and selfish emotions such as rage, envy, and hatred. Whenever someone takes something of his, be it a childhood toy or his son, he will do whatever it takes to punish the offender, even if it means destroying his lost item. To punish means more to him than to receive the item back; this behaviour relates to his relationship with his mother and father.
In Oedipal fashion, Tomoo kills his father out of jealousy for his mother. Tomoo’s father was engaged in a bizarre embrace with his wife, kissing her at gunpoint and using the weapon in a sexual manner; perhaps the weapon was a fetish for Tomoo’s father, himself emasculated similar to Tomoo. At that point, Tomoo’s father had enhanced his sons (Tomoo and Yatsu), grafting guns into their arms. Yatsu had manifested his weapon already, killing a dog, but Tomoo had not, unable to perform. During the violent embrace, Tomoo’s father accidentally pulls the trigger of the gun, paralleling a premature sexual climax, and shoots his wife in the face. Enraged at seeing this, Tomoo manifests his phallic cybernetic weapon and violently shoots his father, essentially paralleling a sexual climax; he cannot control this climax and shoots his mother as well. After killing both his parents, Tomoo represses the memory. Much like the Fetishist in Tetsuo, Tomoo’s father equates technology (the gun) with sexuality; his family (Tomoo and Yatsu) feel the same way, as well as equating technology with masculinity.
The two brothers, Tomoo and Yatsu, share an interesting relationship with each other and with technology. Both are cyborgs, living weapons; Tomoo, however, is much more powerful than his brother. Tomoo’s strength comes from his emotions; the angrier he gets, the more powerful he becomes. The two brothers can be seen as the self and the other, much like in Tetsuo. However, it is Yatsu who is the self and Tomoo the other. According to Haraway, ‘[t]he self is the One who is not dominated, who knows that by the service of the other; the other is the one who holds the future, who knows that by the experience of domination, which gives the lie to the autonomy of the self’ (96). Tomoo is dominated by technology; he has allowed himself this domination, just like the Fetishist. He has opened his body to the invading technology and rejected his humanity. Yatsu has the technology within him, but he controls it, it does not control him.
At one point, Yatsu is described as a ‘God.’ Haraway states that ‘[t]o be One is to be autonomous, to be powerful, to be God; but to be One is to be an illusion, and so to be involved in a dialectic of apocalypse with the other. Yet to be other is to be multiple, without clear boundary, frayed, insubstantial’ (96). Underneath everything, Yatsu’s autonomy and power is an illusion, as Haraway says. He is controlled by his origins; he follows what his father set for him, nothing more. Tomoo has autonomy from his father, though he is controlled by himself/technology. At the end of the film, Tomoo becomes almost an abstraction, becoming an amorphous collection of humanity and technology combined in a tank rumbling through Tokyo like an unstoppable juggernaut. This is the future envisioned by Tsukamoto, echoed by Haraway’s dystopic version of the cyborg world: ‘[T]he final imposition of a grid of control on the planet… the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinist orgy of war’ (72). This is technology and humanity feeding off each other, combining to create a massive techno-organic blob.
In sharp contrast to the films previously discussed, Miike Takashi’s Dead or Alive: Final views the interaction between technology and humanity in an opposing manner. Rather than the male body mutated or penetrated by technology, it is the technological body penetrated by humanity. The two main characters in the film, Ryo and Honda, are both Replicants (in reference to Blade Runner), androids shaped into human form. However, throughout most of the film, Honda believes he is human, with a human wife and human son. Ryo was a battle Replicant, designed to be the front-line warriors in the military. Over the years, he has abandoned his role as a soldier, adopting one as protector. The film sets up an interesting dichotomy between the two characters: Ryo has no family but is a good father figure, Honda has a family but is not there for them; Ryo is from the Old World, Honda is from the New World; Ryo represents the light (both visually and thematically), Honda represents the dark.
Both characters are weakened masculine figures, which allows the humanity to penetrate their technology. Ryo is weakened through solitude; he seeks companionship, human or otherwise. Honda is weakened through his subservience to Mayor Wu, a tyrannical despot who controls all aspects of life. Through the interaction with a small boy and his older sister, June, Ryo begins to become more human. He plays with the boy, takes care of June and protects them as his family. Part of Honda’s responsibilities as a police enforcer include punishing those couples who become pregnant without permission, counter to Mayor Wu’s laws. Honda begins to show compassion to these couples, infected by their family unit, and slowly becomes more human. When it is revealed that his wife and son are Replicants as well, the humanity takes over. The change is fairly ironic, as he switches ‘from obedient and emotionless when he was human, to compassionate and human now that he is a robot’ (Mes 246). Machines can be cyborgs as well; the ‘organic’ at the root of organism can apply to emotion and meaning as well as flesh and blood.
The main theme behind Dead or Alive: Final is the breakdown of the family caused by technology. Ryo helps out a group of rebels, of which June is a part, who seek simply to be allowed to have children as they please. Mayor Wu, with ‘his belief that true love is only found in homosexual relationships’ (Mes 248), has banned childbirth through the technology of a birth-suppression pill. The family unit in the film has been replaced by technology as well. Both families depicted in the film, Ryo’s surrogate family and Honda’s artificial family, have Replicants as the patriarchal head. As Haraway noted, a cyborg world ‘is a world without genesis’ (67), and as such would not advance or change. Humanity exists to create and empower the next generation, to make a better world. A world with Replicant families is a world stagnant. Moreover, if homosexual pairings are offered as the ideal, humanity will not last past the current generation; there is very little procreation in a homosexual relationship. In this film, the interaction between technology and humanity is ubiquitous; man and machine are practically indistinguishable. Man is machine and machine is man.
All of the films under discussion share one common characteristic: a duality of character. In Godzilla, this duality is in the form of Godzilla/Japan. The monster represents the repressed side of the Japanese male, lashing out at his impotence. In Tetsuo, the duality is with the Man/the Fetishist. Two sides of the same figure, one a sadist, the other a masochist. The dualism in Tetsuo II: Body Hammer appears with Tomoo/Yatsu. Tomoo represents the Other, the dark future of the technological world. Finally, Ryo/Honda constitute the dualism in Dead or Alive: Final. The past and the future, the light and the dark contained in one melding, the yin and the yang. These dualities reflect the main theme of this essay, technology/humanity. As Japanese cinema, cult films in particular, has progressed, so has the interaction between these two constructs. As Haraway states, the boundaries between the two are dissolving. Gone are the boundaries between man and animal, organism and machine, and physical and non-physical. Soon we will all be cyborgs, living in one of two worlds.
Cook, P. and M. Bernink, eds., The Cinema Book, 2nd Edition (London: British Film Institute, 1999).
Graham, Elaine, ‘Cyborgs or Goddesses?: Becoming Divine in a Cyberfeminist Age,’ Information, Communication, and Society, 2(4) (1999), pp. 419-438.
Haraway, Donna, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs,’ Socialist Review, 80 (1985), pp. 65-107.
Jancovich, Mark, ‘Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital, and the Production of Cultural Distinctions,’ Cultural Studies, 16(2) (2002), pp. 306-322.
Macias, Patrick, TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion (San Francisco: Cadence Books, 2001).
Mes, Tom, Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike (Godalming: Fab Press, 2003).
Noriega, Chon, ‘Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When Them! is U.S.,’ Cinema Journal, 27 (1987), pp. 63-77.