Lackluster Video: The Continuing Enigma of Japanese Television

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Monday nights at 9? Nodame Cantabile. Not gonna front like I ever read the manga (manga?) or even that I manage to keep up with the show every week, but yes, I sometimes watch one television show in the Japanese television “golden time” prime time hours. Like a lot of Japanese dramas, the show gets a bit of energy from its dedication to adapting manga (Japanese comic book) timing and direction to real-world moving visuals: some tiny gags only last 18 video frames and as hypothesized they use a dash of CG to recreate the nonviolent hyperviolence of the original manga (漫画). Another highlight is fake German Maestro Franz von Strezeman (played by professional ham Takenaka Naoto) who speaks fluent Japanese in an impossible Italian-esque manner of over-stressing the second-to-last syllable as in “dekimaSHIta.”

For some reason, the producers were able to escape the trap of using the yakuza-backed oligopolistic jimushos’ talentless talents and actually have a pretty able cast of film actors to play the leads. In order to recreate the cartoony over-exaggeraton of the manga — the static version of anime — the director presses his actors to their limits of real life mannerism. But “overacting” “well” is not so easy. Most of the time I don’t buy it — it just looks like non-intentional overacting and not like stylized performance — but I have started to notice it’s not just the actors’ problem in a lot of the cases.

On a total subconscious, non-snob level — as a Westerner accustomed to at least two-and-a-half decades of American television and the occasional BBC import — my brain fails to build up a fourth wall around the actors under the standard conditions of Japanese audio and video quality. My cognitive channels interpret the mediated information as a bunch of actors acting out a slightly amateurish play and being filmed with someone’s Beta camera and the footage going out on the airwaves without any attempts to filter the colors down to more “attractive” or film-like settings. Moreover, the sound seems to be recorded in live settings and not closed sets, and so you can hear the same hums and buzzes that populate real life. Ironically, the sound is too “real” to project a fantasy reality. I am no audio engineer and cannot explain the technical settings of why Japanese TV sound is at a lower quality than what is seen in Japanese commercials and films etc., but most people will just instinctively sense something verging on the amateur. Our brains are hardwired to pick up technological difference.

Some weeks ago, I made a (weak) case that money was not the central constraint of Japanese TV quality, but reading through Coates and Holyroyd’s Japan and the Internet Revolution yesterday, I found this tasty blockquote:

Despite marked success in other areas of digitized entertainment — most notably anime — Japanese television is decidedly low tech. Game shows operate on 1950s-style North American stages, with few of the bells and whistles that dominate American productions. Television news is particularly intriguing in this regard. News hosts often hold up hand-held graphics to illustrate their stories, or use a pointer and wall-board to provide detailed information. Production values are mediocre by Western standards, and there is little evidence of the availability and use of advanced digital technologies and computerized production techniques. The gap between Western and Japanese television production is likewise evident in televised sports, which are low-key, offering limited camera angles with few gimmicks from the announcing booth.

The issue with television is more complicated than this summary suggests. Japan has the technological capacity to do a great deal more. In fact, many of the key components in television production in other countries are made in Japan. Sony, Hitachi, Matsushita and others are world-leaders in digital imaging and produce many of the world’s editing suites. It is puzzling, therefore, that this technology is not used to full effect. The television companies have substantial revenues (and a captive market, as cable services have made few inroads in the country) and very large audiences. It is choice, rather than resources or ability, which results in the low-key, low-tech television programming. That decision, in turn, appears to rest on the Japanese respect for simplicity in the domestic sphere; the country does not demand American-style reporting of baseball or soccer, is not overly impressed with glitzy high-production value game shows, and is comfortable with the homey, accessible ‘feel’ of the vast majority of the mainstream television programming.

(Bold mine, and for the record, the book is a pretty “rah-rah/Japan-will-bury-us-in-their-advanced-keitai-future” work and not the kind of pessimistic track you all expect me to champion.)

So let’s break down what we know:
1. Japanese television has no technological barriers to improved content (i.e., they have the resources on hand)
2. Japanese television has no financial barriers to improved content (i.e., TV in Japan is one of the most profitable industries in the country.)
3. Japanese companies are intentionally producing low-quality content

I think we can all agree on #1 and #2, so Number Three is where the argument begins. Here are the common rationales to explain the situation:
1. Abilities: Japanese television creators are incompetent at creating better quality content due to lack of skill/craft in using resources
2. Consumer Pull: Japanese TV watchers want low-quality content and TV channels are creating content to their wishes
3. Producer Indifference: Japanese television channels have a captive market, little competition from cable or satellite sources, and generally stable market stares, and therefore, have no real incentive to increase the quality of their content

No question that our moral anthropologist superiors will automatically pick Option 2 — that television stations are directly responding to a consumer need for low-tech programming — because they believe all products to be a perfect reflection of tribe desires. Surely, the fact that the viewing public in Japan is generally Japan’s least sophisticated demographics (old folks, stay-at-home spouses, teenagers, boring people) means a mass of viewers comfortable complacent with low-tech TV. Does this mean they are explicitly expressing this desire for homely content to stations? Are Japanese TV channels making innovative shows with impeccable visual quality only to have viewers punish them with low ratings? This seems doubtful. Having Japanese not complain about something they are not expecting in the first place is not the same as active approval. If the Coates/Holroyd Nihonjinron theory of “down home television” was true, Japanese viewers would broadly reject 24 or Sex in the City as looking “too high-tech.” But they don’t; Tsutaya is always home to hundreds of empty DVD boxes in the foreign drama section. Whether viewers are content with current content does not mean they are the direct impedance for its production. This is true in almost every cultural industry.

What about the cartel idea in Option Three? Certainly, Japanese network TV has no real rivals — whether in cable channels or in FOX-esque 4th channel upstarts. Don’t want to go conspiracy theory (again!) but no one in the Japanese “system” ever had anything to gain from cable TV diffusion: networks did not want to lose ratings, Dentsu and Hakuhodo did not want to lose their monopoly on TV ad space nor see that monopoly ad space get devalued with lower ratings, and the government is probably secretly pleased to see Japanese eyes all focused on the same 5-6 shows every night to main a general cultural homogeneity from Hakodate to Hakata. Whatever the reason for the anti-cable realities, Japanese cable now is like American cable circa 1986, where sometimes you see only one or two second-rate commercials loop over and over in-between the acts of an ancient ’70s sitcom.

What’s important, though, is that oligopoly generally leads to indifference to innovation — especially when consumers have nowhere else to go. There must be a correlation between the fact that American network TV continued to lose viewers from the ’60s on and the increase in better and more intelligent programming. And while Fox may have lowered the bar in “values,” their “nothing-to-lose” last place scrappy underdog position let them throw out The Simpsons, 24, Get a Life, and Arrested Development into the mix. (That may explain why Japanese late-night TV is often the most interesting, as well.) Then think about HBO stepping up to the plate out of nowhere and raising the bar even higher.

As I saw with my research into the Japanese music production world, oligopoly seems to stifle innovation on another front: Even if these massively powerful companies have the power to actively introduce innovations or improvements with no fear of losing share in a failure of product reception, they aren’t going to, because innovations ultimately outmode all of their pre-existing stock. If Johnny’s Jimusho makes one of their groups full of actual singers and songwriters and goes all hipster, this style change could make V6 or Arashi or whomever immediately look last year. They want to control obsolescence on their own terms, and in a lot of cases, that means never ever changing anything until their “product” has run its course. The most comfortable position is no change at all, and the only real incentive for innovation is the threat of competition or the fear of losing customers. Japanese TV has no real fear of losing their core base — even now in the Net age since old people are so hopeless with computers and calculators — so why would they want to make some of their programs look cheap to make one look new and fancy?

Japanese TV fits another model perfectly: Japanese products marketed for international sales are top-notch while protected domestic markets are full of profitable oligopolies of second-rate content and trapped consumers. Fuji TV dramas are like made-in-Japan detergents or aspirin — weak and un-exportable — but the populace has no other options.

Yes, I will concede that most Japanese viewers do not mind their television content. Hell, even I like watching the dog-cat shows once in a while. But I still think the “culturalist” explanation gives them too much market power in determining what is coming out of that glowing box. The frustration with Japanese TV is again one of nonplus rather than anger: Why are they failing to mobilize resources that exist? Why is the 6’7″ center sitting down on the sidelines when he could be blocking shots and slam dunking? Nodame is fine for what it is, but in a more perfect arrangement of resources, I would actually make an effort to watch it every week.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 28, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

136 Responses

  1. umm Says:

    I like the low-tech Japanese news. They often have rather well crafted set pieces, scultures or models of the people they are talking about, and neat dioramas to visually explain stories.

    I much prefer it to the digital/hi-tech world of exploding war graphics and such you see on CNN and FoxNews. I wouldn’t conflate low-tech and low-quality. And I prefer it to the digital overkill+bad style that typifies US news.

  2. Mutantfrog Says:

    I’ll try the conspiracy theory game for a second.

    Maybe this is the real reason why JASRAC went after Youtube. The TV studios do not actually make any money directly off the thousands of clips of old shows and will never realistically find any way of monetizing them, but if viewers can pull up clips from 10, 20, or 30 years ago and realize that quality has not improved in any way since then, then there is really no reason to even bother making new programs, when you could just as easily use the old ones as room filler and background noise.

    Incidentally, I kind oflike the low tech NHK style news myself. And there is of course no shortage of talent in Japan to make all the flashy programs, should they be needed. After all, many of the commercials are up to American levels of polish, not to mention the high level of technical polish of some films, and a lot of video games and anime.

  3. marxy Says:

    Re: the JASRAC vs. Youtube

    I think the stations were probably upset that most of the clips either 1) made fun of something going wrong on TV that otherwise would have passed unnoticed in the past 2) highlighted something embarassing or controversial that they in the past would have been able to “disappear” in the collective memory and maybe 3) generally questioned the integrity of Japanese TV. That clip of the yakuza guys breaking into a house in the 80s and killing some guy and the media just sitting there and filming was pretty damning.

    Interesting note: JASRAC told YouTube, maybe you need to make it so that no Japanese viewers can access your site. Still a very nation-centric mindset to dealing with globalization.

    (By the way, my comment reel will not allow html at the moment. I will try to fix this.)

  4. alin Says:

    Japanese viewers would broadly reject 24 or Sex in the City as looking “too high-tech.”

    why should that be? they’re accepted as one school of terebi, neither closed to nor complexed about. you seem to be railing against pluralism.

  5. marxy Says:

    So why do Japanese television networks not introduce their own sort of technical pluralism?

  6. john Says:

    Thank you, I have been looking for an answer to this question for awhile. That book is pretty fucking expensive for a text though.

  7. marxy Says:

    That book is interesting, but that’s the sole thing they write about TV. Everything else is about the development of the internet – a subject that your take on becomes immediately outdated the minute the book hits the shelves.

  8. john Says:

    Well, to upgrade the gloss and glamour of TV show requires some investment. They will likely pull in the same ratings whether or not News Hour 11 is in HD with some sort of film filter over it. The difference is the old way is still cheaper.

  9. joey Says:

    I think you guys are totally off on your YouTube theories in the comments, even though the MutantFrogging of the story in October was top notch. It’s pretty simple how the networks can monetize their footage which is floating around YouTube, they do what YouTube is already doing (or perhaps what revver.com is doing, or perhaps what NBC is doing: http://www.nbc.com/Video/rewind/) which is to put up the old clips online and insert ads somewhere in the mix. Assuming the ads make more money than the bandwidth, they are making money. If I am the NHK/JASRAC cartel, my thinking would be why should YouTube be profiting off my content when I (possibly) can?

  10. nate Says:

    I’m back online.

    and I’m an anthropologist. actually, my beef lies in calling it lower quality. With the glaring exception of dramas, labeling japanese production “low quality” is like calling Lassen (the dolphins-in-space guy) “high quality” art.

    With the exception of dramas, most Japanese shows have an intentional “stage feel”, and if you look at the set of a show like lincoln, you see used to really great effect.
    I have feeling you’re buying a PS3 instead of a wii because it doesn’t have the same power.

  11. Momus Says:

    Your “oligopoly stifles innovation” argument takes too much for granted that we all agree what innovation is. That it’s all tied up with what Rupert Murdoch does on cable, for instance. But actually, that sort of “innovation” is precisely the opposite; technically slick though it may be, it’s part and parcel with a global monoculture in which there’s less and less variety, less and less (as Alin points out) pluralism. And in the context of this monoculture, what stands out as the whackiest, most original television anywhere? Yup, Japanese TV, whether it’s the cameo of Matthew’s Best Hit TV in “Lost in Translation” or people watching UA dressed up as a big bird on Doremino Terebi.

  12. lacadutadegiganti Says:

    First of all, no kidding about how pricey that Coates and Holyroyd book is. $105 at Amazon?! Pretty predatory academic pricing.

    Second, one thing that must be said in favor of J-tv is that, though low in production values, reruns are much less common. It’s all ephemerata, white living room noise, but at least it’s generally freshly-ground.

    -Catone
    -Spent $60 each for HBO’s DVDs of Big Love and Rome. Worth every penny. Are any J-series sold on DVD?

  13. marxy Says:

    “And in the context of this monoculture, what stands out as the whackiest, most original television anywhere? Yup, Japanese TV”

    I thought you said “whackist” for minute. Then I saw that you wrote “whackiest.” I am not sure either of these are words.

    Again we hit the discussion – nation monoculture as global pluralism vs. nation pluralism as global pluralism. Why isn’t #2 okay? Did it feel like a sell-out to you that they did “Taste of Tea” on film? Anyone think that a Japanese 24-style TV show shot on film (or at least Panavision) would be some sort of globalized sell out? No, it would be an exportable version of Japanese culture and would up the global pluralism.

  14. Mulboyne Says:

    Nate and Momus both make good points. TV companies aren’t still using equipment from the 1970s and 1980s; they have modern equipment and techniques to hand so their production values are a conscious choice. There is a risk in seeing the slick look of a programme like “24” as more advanced or modern and characterizing Japanese television as somehow deliberately retarded. When punk bands rejected the technical gloss of prog rock, they sounded new and fresh, not old fashioned. There isn’t any inevitable convergence against which Japanese TV companies are holding out because they can suppress innovation.

    On a related note, I just saw an article the other day that domestic films could well see a bigger box office this year than overseas films – the first time since 1985.

    http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20061127-100121-2186r

    On the matter of YouTube, not all TV companies are the same. Local Tokyo broadcaster MXTV uploads BlogTV to YouTube. The Fuji TV CEO was quoted as saying “To us, YouTube is a pioneer, but not a rival.” They have elected to launch their own site – http://www.watchme.tv/ – which is currently in beta. Whatever their real intentions, most TV companies are currently hamstrung because they do not have all the necessary rights for internet distribution. The Government has convened a panel to come up with a catch-all solution rather than requiring companies to engage in numerous separate negotiations.

    JASRAC, one of the main parties the TV companies must deal with, has a different agenda and has been much more draconian. That’s not just limited to YouTube. In recent years, JASRAC has been going around to live houses, bars and dance academies to collect royalty payments which can amount to hundreds of thousands of yen. They were also behind the outlawing of parallel CD imports and the campaign for an iPod tax.

  15. Mutantfrog Says:

    John, I said I was playing the conspiracy game, not that it was my actual theory. Like most others, I am genuinely puzzled why Japanese TV has seen so little innovation. And to respond to Momus, yes I WILL say that Japanese TV has seen very little innovation because to me today’s programs look far more similar to those of a decade or two ago than American TV of today does to older shows.

    The formulas haven’t changed much, and while they may use newer equipment to save money and do slightly fancier character generator graphics for the huge amounts of onscreen text, they don’t do much different.

    I’m not saying that Japanese TV is all bad (even though I generally don’t like it) but production values and realism in dramatic TV is objectively lacking when compared with, say, HBO, BBC, etc.

    In response to lacadutadegiganti, loads of Japanese TV is sold on DVD. Most of it is animated, but there are some dramas as well.

    I will agree that JASRAC is suck, and everything Mulboyne said is correct.

  16. Julian Says:

    Replace the word “Low quality” with “Low production values” and you’ve got it right.

    That’s the problem; you’re judging it by your standards so it’s automaticaly crap and if it’s crap then it’s puzzeling why they don’t make it better and thus there’s obviously something wrong with Japanese television culture.

    Low fi does not automaticaly equal low quality unless you let it. Look at Kitano’s work for example, he enjoys working on a low budget and compares it to sashimi; raw no foreplay.

    I’m not praising Japanese TV here for a hands-on gonzo aprroach to film making or anything, infact I think most of it is utter garbage. I wouldn’t rate anything on American television much higher either though. Obviosly if producers can save money with low production values and maintain their audience then there’s no reason for them to spend money on improving the production values. They’ve already got them hooked and can just turn out the same old same old over and over again. Sounds pretty similar to television everywhere don’t you think?

  17. marxy Says:

    I think attaching a “punk aesthetic” to Japanese TV is overkill. There is a conscious choice to keep things low budget and low expectations, but not “raw” in response to a super-high-tech movement that is the mainstream.

  18. Mulboyne Says:

    “I think attaching a “punk aesthetic” to Japanese TV is overkill.”
    I’d agree with that. The comparison was drawn to illustrate that just because technology is available doesn’t mean that people will want to use it or want to show they are using it.

  19. marxy Says:

    On any sort of technological product meant for overseas sales, you do see a maximization of tech-potential. Maybe the Wii held back on processor progress for pricing purposes, but look at that controller. When things get competitive, everyone brings their best game.

  20. Julian Says:

    Punk is definitely the wrong word because it implies anarchistic mentalities that have nothing to do with japanese mainstream culture and I guess the words “raw” imply that too. I wouldn’t call Kitano’s work punk. Maybe… modest?

    I think the people who describe it as homely are on the right track. In New Zealand/Australia we have certain no name brands that purposefully sell themselves from a “no bells&whistles” angle. They have names like “Home Brand” or “No Frills” and package all their products (and they have a large range of products) in white cans, boxes and bags with bold black print giving the minimum of required information; “Chocolate cookies” “canned peaches” etc. It seems to be a very solid marketing angle because the products are extremely popular. I doubt that it would cost the companies sufficiently more to print more eye catching logos on their products. They just choose not to.

    You say that there is obviously a DVD market for High fi shows. But couldn’t that be compared to people buying brands for certain products and going for the no-name stuff with other products (Coco pops and “no frills” milk?) after all a DVD is still a typ of investment in a show, it has a lot more perceived value than something you can get for free by just switching on the tely. Junk food doesn’t need neat ackaging and neither do the basics.

  21. check Says:

    Primordial usage of technology is merely a single example of JTV’s failure to embrace innovation.

    In general, people are railing against the inability of the medium to self-master and transcendence.

    As much as people change, so should anything. I do not want the same thing, year after year.

  22. marxy Says:

    Japanese TV as generic commodity.

  23. Julian Says:

    “Japanese TV as generic commodity”

    From what I’ve seen of it that sounds about right to me. No need to export a generic comodity either. Any novel ideas that come from Japanese TV have already been smuggeled into the west anyway (Kind of hard to patent “Dipping B-rank celebrities in eels”).

  24. Momus Says:

    I think the people who describe it as homely are on the right track.

    Yes, I’d bring back my izakaya reference. Who needs their izakaya evening filmed in Panavision and readied for export to other countries?

  25. check Says:

    It’s not about technology.

    It’s about change.

    And the consistent Japanese failure to embrace it.

  26. Momus Says:

    Ah, change no matter in what direction! Change for the sake of change! That irreducible value for management consultants, advertisers and politicians!

    Here’s my hero Laurie Taylor discussing it (scroll forward to 2.45):

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallowed/rams/thinkingallowed_20060927.ram

  27. Jack Says:

    Who needs more gimmicks and computer generated crap in news and documentaries. In US TV they are there to fill space. Totally useless. Claiming the Japanese TV is somehow lacking because it doesn’t have spinning three-D logos flying about (just because they CAN) is rather weak thinking.

  28. junior Says:

    An interesting question is: is anime as low budget as japanese live action content? I think there’s been some really subversive, innovative anime in the last fifteen years, and the Japanese do the non- comedic adventure anime far better than their American counterparts on television.

    (American animation adventure stories embrace non-innovation, each decade they just rewrite Superman, Batman, and X-men stories from the 1960s once more).

    Is this phenomenon explained by the influence of manga, which is auteur based and beyond budgetary concerns, while the American comic industry is largely based on production line values and is a generic commodity, where big corporations hire new artists each year to rewrite superhero properties acquired from the 1930s to 1960s?

  29. check Says:

    “Ah, change no matter in what direction!”

    Change forward.

  30. Momus Says:

    Well, Abe wants to teach patriotism in Japanese schools. For him, that’s “forward”. “Change forward” just means change in any direction we personally approve of. Unfortunately, in way too many Marxy essays, it’s assumed that “change forward” in Japan should mean it becoming more like the US. Has there ever been any Marxy essay in which Japan has been advised to become less like the US? Has there been any Marxy essay in which becoming less like the US hasn’t been accused of being a right wing, nationalist or conservative move? And this at a time when it’s hard to think of a more right wing nation than the US.

  31. Momus Says:

    But let’s focus a bit more closely. Here’s a screenshot from a Japanese TV show I happened to be watching today. It’s from TV Asahi’s “Perfect Man Play-Off”:

    http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y296/imomus/delitv.jpg

    Now, in addition to the TV picture you’ll notice that there are three different text areas on the screen, an inset reaction monitor, and a scoreboard. These aren’t just digital effects, they’re also interactive feedback devices, monitoring how participants in the scene reacted afterwards, and how the studio audience and an invited panel of judges is feeling about the situation.

    The theme is “20 beautiful women choose the perfect man”. The situation being illustrated is a hypothetical scenario in which a man (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi from Smap) comes home to discover his wife is having an affair. Kusanagi reacts in a super-casual, empathetic way by saying “Hey, let’s go out for dinner!!” 20 of the beautiful women on the judging panel approve of this cool-headed reaction.

    Now, all this complex information about the situation and the reactions to it can be gleaned from a single screenshot. I find that terribly interesting. It’s very Japanese to want to cram that much information onto a screen. It’s also not “low resolution” at all if you consider resolution to be a matter of information-per-frame. What’s more, the information here is much more semantic and contextual than it would be in a single frame from the American shows Marxy is championing as self-evidently superior. It allows latecomers to grasp the show’s context, it allows people to watch TV with the sound down, it allows you to catch up quickly if you’ve been looking away or talking to someone in the room, and so on.

  32. Chuckles Says:

    For the most part, I dont agree with the general strain of this post.
    On the allegation of Japanese TV being low tech; I have seen a fair of amount of European and Middle Eastern television programming in my time, and one thing that struck me was that a lot of the programming coming out of the Middle East is far more fancy than much European Television. Britcoms are hardly blam blam blam hitech – and neither are a lot of French and German productions. To me, the Japanese scene resembles the European scene a lot more in this context – it is hardly peculiar. The real question is: Why is American programming so busy? Why the flashes? The noise? The schmancy zoooming in and out of text? The drum rolls?
    There are some explanations – yet, the captive audience, while probably true empirically, may have nothing to do with explaining the phenomenon.
    Consider another domain of media production: Comics. The busy-ness of traditional American comic books, again, is something that overshadows the smooth lines, defined features and spare adornments found in a lot of Japanese comics. I think, that the bam bam bam American approach is the abnormality here: it is more a reflection of the bigger, better, faster, longer, harder school of thought: A narrative that is endemic to the historical experiences of the United States – and a school of thought for which America has attracted much scorn from the continent (again, a certain criticism of America by a certain Adolf H and Joseph G during the war comes to mind) – the notion of America as a corrupt, loud, boorish affair suggests itself to me when analyzing American media. Even with respect to American Religion, another aspect of American media production (Harold Bloom has some nice words on this), we see again, the bigger, better, longer, faster, harder school of thought in the carrying ons of many Pentecostal and Evangelical modes, their mega mall complex churches, their ornate media spectacles on TBN, their HiTech xtianity – compared to what obtains in much of Japanese and European religion, the differences are stark.

    I strongly suspect, that the anomaly here is the United States (of course there are wannabe hitech shows in Japan) but for a culture in which understatement is favored, I would actually not expect them to be predominant, captive audience or not.
    Has it occured to Marxy that the reason Japanese content marketed to foreign territories is top notch is because these territories have a taste for this kind of content? I have experienced complaints about American programming from Japanese folks who mostly object to its noise and busy-ness. I think a cultural model does a great deal to explain these issues. America, is after all, the land of Mission Accomplished and Bush on a War Ship – American culture cannot be ignored here: There is no reason to believe that the Japanese audience is so captive, that going on 50 years, they have found no ways to create whatever fancy content truly suits them – theyve done it in many other fields, so whats so special about TV?

  33. check Says:

    Nick, I am amazed you found this show interesting.

    To each his own, I suppose.

  34. junior Says:

    “It allows latecomers to grasp the show’s context, it allows people to watch TV with the sound down, it allows you to catch up quickly if you’ve been looking away or talking to someone in the room, and so on.”

    The reaction of television critics I’m familiar with would be is that this is not a sign of good television.

    If you only need 10% of your brain’s focus to follow the narative, it’s not very sophisticated now is it?

    If you compare The Love Boat to The Sopranos, well, there’s an enormous amount of redundant dialog in The Love Boat designed to fill you in if you aren’t paying attention, and each plotline follows a familiar formula, you can tune in half way and follow it just fine, and its designed to be watched that way (but no text at the bottom of the screen to make it THAT dumbed down, bravo Japan) but few people are going to argue that The Love Boat is the superior drama.

    I tend to enjoy narrative complexity in media. Saying the show so redundant that you hardly need to pay attention at all is not a ringing endorsement in my mind.

    “Now, all this complex information about the situation and the reactions to it can be gleaned from a single screenshot.”

    The counter- argument is that a bad writer will use paragraphs of awkward monologue or narration to summarize a characters thoughts and feelings, while a skilled writer will can do it with a few words or a proper cinematic beat.

  35. marxy Says:

    “Who needs their izakaya evening filmed in Panavision and readied for export to other countries?”

    Your izakaya has been replaced by a Royal Host.

  36. Mutantfrog Says:

    “In New Zealand/Australia we have certain no name brands that purposefully sell themselves from a “no bells&whistles” angle. They have names like “Home Brand” or “No Frills” and package all their products (and they have a large range of products) in white cans, boxes and bags with bold black print giving the minimum of required information; “Chocolate cookies” “canned peaches” etc. It seems to be a very solid marketing angle because the products are extremely popular. I doubt that it would cost the companies sufficiently more to print more eye catching logos on their products. They just choose not to.”

    This sounds exactly like Muji.

    Momus may be correct that Japanese variety TV shows a large amount of information per frame (although I also think that this is mainly to make it easier for people to follow the “narrative” more easily while distracted by other activities) but this does not address the poor production quality of TV dramas.

    Someone mentioned Takeshi Kitano. His films may be low budget, but they absolutely have high production value, and this high level of polish vs. budget is something that can also be found in arthouse or indy films in other countries.

    It is well established that Japanese viewers enjoy foreign TV shows that are filmed in a realistic way, and not on cheap VHS equipment with lighting as fake as a 1980’s after school special, so why are there none produced domestically?

    “An interesting question is: is anime as low budget as japanese live action content? I think there’s been some really subversive, innovative anime in the last fifteen years, and the Japanese do the non- comedic adventure anime far better than their American counterparts on television.

    (American animation adventure stories embrace non-innovation, each decade they just rewrite Superman, Batman, and X-men stories from the 1960s once more).”
    I think Japanese animation is higher budget because they know they will make more money from DVD sales, the foreign market, licensing of toys etc. Notice that even animation sold direct to DVD makes money, so the revenue from an initial TV broadcast is probably just icing on the cake for many works.

    I would disagree partly about American animation though. If you seriously compare, let’s say, the 1960’s Superfriends with the 2000’s Justice League, yes you have the same characters and many similar situations, but the quality of the newer ones is amazingly better and actually very good. This is of course largely thanks to Japanese animation’s influence on both the creators and the audience.

  37. marxy Says:

    “There is no reason to believe that the Japanese audience is so captive, that going on 50 years, they have found no ways to create whatever fancy content truly suits them – theyve done it in many other fields, so whats so special about TV?”

    Well they also love the discman and MD player, right? Curse the “Mission Accomplished” iPod!

    “Kusanagi Tsuyoshi from Smap”

    Momus is a huge SMAP fan – in public, at least.

    Let’s not even debate content here – just the use of technology.

    What we are essentially saying is:

    “Why use a Sega Genesis in a PS3 world?”

    One half is saying:
    “The Japanese like the Sega Genesis and don’t care about updating to the PS3 because Sega Genesis games fit perfectly into the Japanese cultural mindset.”

    The other half is saying:
    “There are market-structural reasons why television stations do not want to upgrade to PS3 levels.”

    But you have to admit that for many other product classes (where there is fierce competition like cell phones etc.), you see real pursuit of greater and greater technology.

    Something to realize also –

    TV station rankings in Japan are very, very stable. Fuji overtook TBS about ten-fifteen years ago, and since then the ranking has basically been set at 1. Fuji 2. Nippon TV 3. TBS 4. Terebi Asahi 6. Terebi Tokyo. There is a bit of competition between 1 and 2, but TBS’s big draw was only baseball, which has seen a drop in ratings over the years. Almost nobody thinks they can really move up the chart.

    Compare this with NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX, all of which have seen drastic movements in rankings. In the last fifteen years alone, all of these stations (except for FOX, I think) have been #1 – because of good programming – and then dropped off – because of bad/lazy programming. The key to competition is content.

    Can you say that Japanese TV is “competitive” or that “content” is the unit of competition?

    Non-competition is going to breed a stability, and while content may be culturally bound to a certain degree, technological stability is going to be a product of a lack of ambition.

    Another important point with all this is that Japan actively wants to be a global content provider now, and anime/manga show that it is possible. Why compare to America? Because America sets the standard for cultural exports. Japan could also export TV to non-Asian regions, but the quality is an issue.

  38. junior Says:

    “I would disagree partly about American animation though. If you seriously compare, let’s say, the 1960’s Superfriends with the 2000’s Justice League, yes you have the same characters and many similar situations, but the quality of the newer ones is amazingly better and actually very good. This is of course largely thanks to Japanese animation’s influence on both the creators and the audience.”

    I think at best you get a watered down version of a 1960s comic book. Maybe a much better watered down version of a 1960s comic book than they were making in the 1960s, but a watered down version non the less.

    I don’t think thats really the case with most anime. You either get a fairly straightforward adaptation of a modern japanese comic book, (with, at least in some cases, cutting edge or new themes and situations) or original material.

    I realize a lot of people disagree with me on the merits of American superhero cartoons, but I do feel like what they’re really saying is “At last! They really nailed that 1960s comic formula. About time!”

  39. marxy Says:

    I think everyone is in agreement that anime is world-class quality and the market reflects this.

  40. Yago Says:

    I would also like to point: what happened with Japanese cinema? After the glorious era of Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, what’s wrong with it now? I’ve not seen a serious japanese movie in ages. Maybe it’s my problem that I find Kitano’s work cool but just too silly. The fact that anime is (content and technology-wise) far better than both cinema and TV shows should mean something.

  41. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    pardon the interruption, but happy birthday sucka.

  42. Mutantfrog Says:

    “I think at best you get a watered down version of a 1960s comic book. Maybe a much better watered down version of a 1960s comic book than they were making in the 1960s, but a watered down version non the less.”

    I’m not really going to argue with you about that, except to say that the level of storytelling in (some) superhero comic books is higher level now than in the 60’s, but it is still a sad truth that the American comics market has shown a lack of openness to other genres. At least, before we started importing manga.

    I think almost everyone can agree that Japanese animation shows far more diversity than American animation, particularly outside of comedy, where American animation is actually quite diverse and good (mainly thanks to Fox and Cartoon Network).

    “The fact that anime is (content and technology-wise) far better than both cinema and TV shows should mean something.”

    Maybe most of the people that have the potential just think anime is a more vital medium and work there instead. The talent pool is after all finite. Q. Who is the most famous living Japanese film director?

    A. Miyazaki Hayao.

    Q. Who is number two?

    A. ???

  43. marxy Says:

    Momus cashes in his once-non-capitalized neomarxisme comments here:

    http://imomus.livejournal.com/244273.html

    Guess who’s the arch-villian this time? I guess it’s a birthday present to be back on the Click Opera.

    “pardon the interruption, but happy birthday sucka.”

    Thanks.

    Anyone here who claims to “love” Japanese TV actually live in Japan and make an effort to watch as much of it as possible? The only thing I will admit is that the sheer boredom of most Japanese TV makes me more productive with other parts of my life.

  44. Don Says:

    Yago:

    What happened with Japanese cinema after Kurosawa and Mizoguchi? It kept going. High quality films are still being made here (Nishikawa Miwa’s “Yureru” and Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Hana Yori Mo Naho” are two of my favorites fom this year), but it’s easy to pass them over if you don’t read local film-related media or have to rely on overseas distribution (that’s not directed at you).

    As for anime having “better” content than cinema, surely that’s an opinion rather than a fact? Personally, I’m of the opposite view – but then again, I watch hardly any anime.

    Anyhow, using Kitano Takeshi (or any filmmaker for that matter) as a standard by which to judge a country’s entire cinematic output is definitely the wrong way to go about things. Sites like http://www.midnighteye.com offer plenty of suggestions.

    Mutantfrog:

    I’m not quite sure what you were getting at with the questions at the end of your post, but even if Miyazaki Hayao is arguably the most famous living Japanese film director (although it’d probably be Miike Takashi or Kitano Takeshi if discounting animated works), fame is hardly an accurate gauge of the depth of an industry’s talent. A lot of great films are made that never reach a substantial audience, and the Japanese films that are distributed and released on DVD overseas aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop.

  45. alin Says:

    tv , other than something like sbs in australia or arte in the EU tends to make me physically ill but i can handle a fair ammount of japanese tv. why? the fragmented poli-textuality, the way there’s no authoritative voice of god (no, that male narrator is not god) etc. the way it keeps a dynamic, shifting gap between same and other, it fails to (attempt to) get to any ‘truths’, swings between objective documentary and subjective self-depreciating non-sense or genuine confession etc alltogether not uninteresting.

  46. Mutantfrog Says:

    Don, My point is not that there aren’t good Japanese non-animated films being made, in fact I am a big fan of both Miike and Kitano. But clearly the global worldwide market for Japanese animation is huge, and the market for Japanese live action dramas is only nearby Asian countries. As far as I know, Japanese variety shows are only shown abroad in Taiwan for a local audience (not counting the Spike TV comedy shows where they re-dub Japanese programs.)

    Hollywood movies wouldn’t have half the budgets they do if they weren’t making money in every country in the world, and the same is true of Japanese animation. Animated shows are slicker than equivalent live action ones (please, no more disingenuous substituted discussion of variety/game shows when we are really talking about scripted shows like dramas, and that means you too Momus)because they are proven to make money world wide, and are worth the investment.

    “As for anime having “better” content than cinema, surely that’s an opinion rather than a fact?”
    Some anime IS cinema, but I think in the end we are muddying the debate by mixing up discussion of cinema and TV. Cinema as a medium has room for independent art, free from market pressures, but TV is a purely commercial medium. There is no such thing as independent broadcast TV.

  47. marxy Says:

    “the way there’s no authoritative voice of god”

    My reading may be “American” and narrow but talk about projecting! Although I have heard rumors of board meetings at TBS where they ask around the table “How can we make our programming more in line with Deleuze??”

    “it fails to (attempt to) get to any ‘truths’,”

    Except when it’s telling you to try a bean-based diet strategy that will make you thin – oops, ill. Or it’s telling you that the one sukiyaki place in Ebisu that they got $10,000 from is amazingly delicious.

  48. Don Says:

    Can’t argue with that. Back to our regularly scheduled topic.

  49. junior Says:

    I can’t believe Momus’s concept of a response was to compare his recent favorite example of Japanese television to the very worst example he could come up with in American television, as if anyone was claiming that there are no bad television shows in America.

  50. nate Says:

    When I was watching scads of Japanese tv, it seemed there were very few dramas… excluding the jidaigeki, I don’t remember a single regular drama series. But it seems with the exception of Marxy, there’s no one here really talking about dramas. So I’m confused where the complaint lies. Shows like london hearts, lincoln and so on really aren’t hurting for production values. The sound is generally impeccable (where appropriate), the pacing (editing) good, the graphic design always more contemporary and usually more risk-taking than the imagined american counterpart.
    I say imagined because there are only two types of american tv shows that run on the dominant model of tv in Japan, the stage show. Those are talk shows and game shows, and Japan wins that tech battle hands down, no?

  51. john Says:

    The only reason I watch Japanese television is because I do not understand the language fully yet, and hope something interesting, or better, something I understand will come on, and maybe I’ll pick up some new words to embarrass myself with.

    Last night I saw a punishment game where the “winners” had to go to a busy intersection in Tokyo, yell each others names, then run into the intersection’s divider/crosswalk and kiss for about 2 minutes. The production quality was still terrible, although the actual content was entertaining.

    Theory: Entertainment does not correlate to production quality, but production quality (thanks cognitive psychologists) can effect how one perceives the entertainment value of the show, based off preexisting expectations and biases for what the “quality” of television is.

  52. alin Says:

    Except when it’s telling you to try a bean-based diet strategy that will make you thin – oops, ill.

    you’re doing a funny thing here assuming the viewer doesn’t have your enlightened ability to filter information. also your example shows, if anything, an ability to swing positions and create debate for the public good. (i don’t know why you always ignore the endless, content-full, democratic debate that goes on on j-tv on just about anything.)

  53. Momus Says:

    Oh, and may I offer a hearty “happy birthday” on behalf of all of us on the “Moral Anthropologist Superiors” team, if the others will allow me to speak for them.

  54. marxy Says:

    “you’re doing a funny thing here assuming the viewer doesn’t have your enlightened ability to filter information.”

    No one got ill?

    “When I was watching scads of Japanese tv, it seemed there were very few dramas.”

    I was talking to a guy in our media dep’t yesterday, and he was saying that the networks HATE making dramas, because if the ratings are bad, they are stuck with it for 6 months or so. Japan doesn’t seem to have a pilot season or mid-season replacements, and I think it’s probably not a good things to the talent agencies to cancel their stars’ shows midstream. Therefore, less dramas than American TV.

    Meanwhile on the iMomus blog: I may just be a right-wing ideologue. He hasn’t ruled it out yet.

  55. lauren Says:

    So, Japanese TV is the opposite of the Japanese soft drink industry then? And you are grousing about both…

    I’m not really with you on this one, Marxy, but it’s ok, you are still boss. Happy birthday.

  56. marxy Says:

    Can I say that Momus’ post and his comments that follow reminds me of why I hate having this same conversation over and over again? I like all of you new people coming out of the woodwork (honestly I even liked hearing the counteropinions), but over at Click Opera, it’s all wah-wah boo-hoo Marxy’s a right-wing, Murdoch-supporting, Bush-loving, woman-hating, gun-toting individualist and he should be ashamed of himself…

    Everything needs to be a Puritan witch battle, for this guy, with the halo clearly on the correct head.

  57. Momus Says:

    No, it’s not that. It’s that we are both basically from the same culture, but I deconstruct my own culture whereas you deconstruct someone else’s. And that makes it very tempting for me to deconstruct you. You’re letting the side down… by not letting the side down!

  58. passerby Says:

    I was talking to a guy in our media dep’t yesterday, and he was saying that the networks HATE making dramas, because if the ratings are bad, they are stuck with it for 6 months or so. Japan doesn’t seem to have a pilot season or mid-season replacements, and I think it’s probably not a good things to the talent agencies to cancel their stars’ shows midstream.

    Dear Marxy:

    A bit of research before you post wouldn’t hurt. Jdorama.com and DramaWiki are good places to start.

    Here is a tip: most Japanese TV dramas last 10-12 episodes. There are sites devoted to tracking dorama news and ratings every season. http://drama.chu.jp/
    http://www.dramanews.net/

    J dramas has no concept of “pilot season” and “mid-season replacements” because each drama lasts exactly one season. Occasionally a popular series gets a sequel. A series lasting “6 months” is usually a special event for the network. Taigas on NHK last an entire year. A few soap operas have been running on and off for several seasons.

    But you shouldn’t take my word for this. Check out the fan sites. There’s a huge dorama fandom out there.

    Sincerely,
    Amused

  59. Momus Says:

    And because I like to tie our debates here into a wider context, the current lead story on the BBC News website is:

    Bush vows to ‘complete Iraq job’ The US president pledges to keep troops in Iraq until “the job is complete”.

    In this context, it’s hard not to see some of these Marxy entries as “Marxy vows to “complete Japan job””. It’s the same mistake: you cannot impose your values on someone else’s culture.

  60. carolalotta Says:

    i know this point has been mentioned before in this argument, but it simply cannot be stressed enough:

    Happy birthday, marxy!

  61. marxy Says:

    Momus vs. Marxy – a moral crusade.

  62. marxy Says:

    “Here is a tip: most Japanese TV dramas last 10-12 episodes. ”

    Yeah, I knew that, but thanks for the correction. I am not sure why the guy was saying “six months” though.

  63. Ken Says:

    I think there are a lot of angles to take this from. To start, saying that calling Japanese TV programs ‘low quality’ is some form of cultural imperialism seems odd. I personally don’t buy into the relativist notion that we’re not allowed to compare and contrast from an objective viewpoint.

    That said, as has been mentioned, not all Japanese TV is ‘low quality,’ though much is. Hand made props are low quality. But, as has been suggested, that just may be what they viewership wants.

    I’m not so sure about that. Family members and co-workers who watch more ‘advanced’ news program have consistently expressed to me that they wish they could watch such quality on NHK et al. Of course, that’s just anecdotal evidence, but I think that the assertion that ‘the viewers are getting what they want’ assumes that the viewers generally aren’t familiar with what else is available.

    The lack of competition also breeds a lack of innovation, as several Japan observers have pointed out, across many fields. In turn, the lack of exposure to what else exists breeds an unsophisticated consumer base, that can easily be mislabeled as content with the status quo.

  64. Mitsuko Says:

    I agree with Momus: what Marxy is doing to Japan is exactly analogous to what Bush has done to Iraq. There should clearly be a phased withdrawal of this blog.

  65. alin Says:

    but it is uncannily similar, down to forgetting any agenda or anything about intellectual dignity and appealing purely on that supposed lowest common denominator emotional level when ‘under attack’.

    anyway, happy birthday too .-.

  66. D. Rumsfeld Says:

    Stay the course, Marxy.

  67. Mutantfrog Says:

    Most TV in Britian is similar. A series of roughly 6-12 episodes and then maybe sequel series’, but commissioned as a new series, not another “season.”

  68. Yago Says:

    not defending marxy but this is not about “values”. Technological quality is objective: japanese TV being low cost is a fact.

    And in any case, why can japanese TV people impose their individual ‘values’ in an arguably captive audience, while we (which can compare) cannot even discuse about its content being silly and low class? It’s not that we don’t understand it.

    Japanese TV’s attractive being “it fails to (attempt to) get to any ‘truths’, swings between objective documentary and subjective self-depreciating non-sense”.
    heh. Occam’s Razor tells me it’s childish and overall stupid, but anyway, that was a good way to avoid ‘imposing values on a foreign culture’.

    don: I’ll check, thanks a lot.

  69. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Lots of interesting perspective here and alot of the same old bullshit rehashed. M&m both have some good points here about the different ways TV functions being visible in the production. Indeed much TV is designed to be viewed with the sound down, however doramas are not.

    The narrative form anywhere demands attention but I completely understand what marxy means when he says they look amateurish. I often find myself being pulled out of the narrative by clumsy camera work, boom mikes on screen, audio errors or the worst is the 60Hz hum of ungrounded audio equipment. I find it odd looking at the mix of camera styles in the same show, sometimes taking the static camera viewing the stage approach, sometimes making odd attempts at cinematic shot framing but never quite hitting the mark of how the camera is handled in either “traditional” Japanese cinema or western cinema.

    Now, heres the real kicker. The production companies do often use the newest equipment. Just go by the Asahi TV building on Meiji Dori and see for yourself. Yet even using these great cameras, things still look oddly lit (no Momus, I dont buy your argument about “real life” and flourescent lighting) and the color balances are often strange even accounting for the crappyness of the NTSC standard. Knowing that the equipment is designed to be very true to color and having seen the lighting setups used, my only conclusion is that the shitty look of these shows must actually be done in post production. Could it be that the producers intentionally squash out the images to make the shows look like that? Of course that brings us back to the original and in my opinion unanswerable chicken and egg problem of do people really like that look.

  70. nate Says:

    how captive is the audience?

    the BS networks air US and Asian series, and BS2 dedicates a goodly portion of of it’s daily hours to a sweep of the global dial. You get a pretty fair sampling of the news, including ABC, CNN, and the BBc. Then we come back to the NHK studio, and yeah, I guess it is a bit low tech… but a fair piece of the audience really does know what’s out there.

    Curiously, all the asian countries center their studios and graphics around lighter tones than the dark blues of the US and the dark red of the beeb.

  71. junior Says:

    “Can I say that Momus’ post and his comments that follow reminds me of why I hate having this same conversation over and over again? I like all of you new people coming out of the woodwork (honestly I even liked hearing the counteropinions), but over at Click Opera, it’s all wah-wah boo-hoo Marxy’s a right-wing, Murdoch-supporting, Bush-loving, woman-hating, gun-toting individualist and he should be ashamed of himself…”

    He seems to like to repeat the same ‘talking points’ again and again. In this thread, he was going on about some unsubstantiated claim about the U.S. being more right wing than Japan. (and he seems to have made up his own definition of right wing at that, he even sort of concedes it when he writes on his own blog “is he a right-wing ideologue? It depends how you define right wing”)

    This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the topic of this thread.

  72. Momus Says:

    I’d like to hear Marxy’s take on Rupert Murdoch’s persistent failure — and persistent attempts — to break into Japanese television, newspaper and internet markets. Would he welcome a Murdoch success? Does he see Murdoch as politically neutral? It’s a big topic, so it probably deserves its own post.

  73. marxy Says:

    I dislike Fox News and the New York Post. I like the Simpsons. I like Arrested Development. These two shows have nothing to do with a Murdoch agenda. MySpace Japan will probably fail. I don’t think Murdoch is so great, but I think the Fox TV network ended up with some good shows (out of their 200 terrible other attempts). The kind of media oligopoly that Murdoch represents is bad.

    I mean, do you really think that I LIKE Rupert Murdoch because I like the Simpsons? Do you think that I LOVE Bush because I believe in some central tenets of the American government/society?

  74. marxy Says:

    “the BS networks air US and Asian series, and BS2 dedicates a goodly portion of of it’s daily hours to a sweep of the global dial.”

    75% of viewers do not have more than 11 channels though, no?

  75. check Says:

    Happy Birthday, David.

    If we knew each other better, I would create a blog and post some slanderous, out-of-context comments in your name.

    It would be the gift that keeps on giving.

  76. davido Says:

    *look suprised*
    *sample*
    *chew*
    *pause*

    *look surprised*
    UUUUUUUMMAAAAAIIIIIIIII.

  77. davido Says:

    *look suprised*
    *sample*
    *chew*
    *pause*

    *look surprised*
    UUUUUUUMMAAAAAIIIIIIIII.

    (repeat)

  78. Bruce Lewis Says:

    From my POV as one who works in the anime/manga biz here in Texas, it appears that Japanese TV is much like anime and manga — visually highly stylized in order to allow the viewer to immerse himself/herself in the fictional world presented. In this it is more akin to the similarly stylized worlds we see in Latin American TV novelas than to slick, “realistic” episodic US TV.

    My wife and I watch NODAME CANTABILE (via download) every week and love it. The manga is my current favorite as well. しがたがない、ね?

  79. Mulboyne Says:

    There is more variation in Japanese dramas than the discussion so far has suggested. Some do specifically go for a more movie feel which it is possible to do without using film. You might see shaky camerawork in others but, since technology makes it possible to use a cameraman with a severe case of the DTs and still get a decent shot, this is undoubtedly intentional.

    Perhaps it isn’t quite so easy to separate the drama content from production techniques. Many series are high on melodrama and slick production is not really suitable just as a theatre acting style does not suit film or TV. When a character is running through pouring rain along the streets of Tokyo looking for a lover who has gone AWOL, that’s not supposed to be realistic and shouldn’t be filmed as such. Arguably, such scenes shouldn’t be shot at all because they are just a lazy shorthand.

    When Korean cinema produced “Swiri” (also known as “Shiri” and, in Japan, as “Shuri”) it was successful in emulating the look and feel of a Hollywood action film. Japanese cinema tried to do the same a year later with “Whiteout” but came up short because the script used too many television conventions. It was slick, but it felt like TV.

    That didn’t prove to be a problem for Hideo Nakata when he filmed “Ringu”. He used some techniques familiar to anyone watching spine chillers on Japanese TV and came up with a genuine piece of cinema which has influenced the horror genre virtually everywhere.

    If anyone’s interested in hearing how Japanese TV makers see the technical side of their job, there are some year-old accounts in English over on the Panasonic Varicam site.

    https://eww.pavc.panasonic.co.jp/pro-av/sales_o/04reports/04index.html

    This from lighting man Yuya Tanaka:

    “In shooting ‘Yatsuhaka mura’ the director requested that in order to portray the gruelling sinister aspect of the story we needed a dark look with emphasis on the color black. Normally for television versus a movie due to the difference in the viewing environment per household, in theory we would make the production lively. This time we were to make it obscure. The lighting should be not too bright and giving a fearful tone.”

    There, as others have mentioned, a reference to how an audience is likely to be watching the programme. Another producer expects TV and movies to converge with the greater usage of HD. It may well be that TV drama conventions come to be influenced by the production techniques available rather than the other way round.

  80. lauren Says:

    With so many hour-long tv shows in the US, many movies just feel like long television episodes of a series you will never see again.

    It seems disingenuous to hinge so much of the differences between American and Japanese tv on ‘production values’, so I’m going to ignore that idea.

    I think I’m having such big issues with this argument because taste in tv is terribly subjective and *gasp* cultural. Usually Marxy goes after “problems” in Japan that offend sensibilities that are more universal than this. (Momus and co. say they are not, and so discussion of varying degrees of politeness ensues.) It is much easier to swallow things like “yakuza control over the entertainment industry is a bad thing” or “it’s bullshit that Japanese people don’t have insulation in their houses” because safety and comfort is something that concerns all humans and, no duh, crime is scary and being cold sucks, so believing that Japanese people would agree with this is simple (for me).

    Believing that SMAP is inherently lame though… that’s much more of a jump. And you seem to have started this with a supposition that Japanese tv is terrible and then are trying to find out why that is. All of Momus and pals’ usual arguments stick here for me where I normally don’t find them very convincing. TV in Japan just has a different role. Copy and paste Momus’ It-only-looks-like-a-train-but-in-fact-it’s-a-series-of-japanese-etiquettes-travelling-through-space point here, but make it about tv and: word.

    Are you going to get a “Lost” on tv in Japan? No. It’s just not compatible with J-tv. That makes me sad because I like “Lost” a lot, but then again American tv is never going to be Japanese tv either and (maybe i have poor taste, but) that bums me out too. I miss all the jimaku and the dorama and the crazy shit and knowing that when I go to school tomorrow everyone else in class will have seen the same thing on tv as me. It makes me feel closer to everyone in Japan, and I’m a not-too-fluent white girl. I can only imagine how the Japanese feel about this. It’s like the Superbowl, only it’s every night and it’s not football.

    I can understand that it’s probably not a good thing that there are only like 6 channels in Japan, but the ultimate aim in fixing that shouldn’t be to have content that is more similar that in the US. It might lead to greater diversity on tv and that’s sweet, but it’s still going to look like J-TV and you might still hate it.

  81. marxy Says:

    I will agree that content preference is subjective, and that “low quality” to me may look like “the greatest TV show ever” to you. I will go as far as to at least say, many people who even like Japanese TV will at least admit that the Beta-quality video has not shown much change in a long time. If that is some kind of genius application of meta-craft, so be it. My guess is that there is an economic rationale behind it, and I think it’s a bit silly to see the Japanese people as a tribe beyond economic realities.

    My general concern though with any kind of “Japanese TV is like this because of this” is that almost no one is interested in the industrial organization behind TV prodution and this is a GIANT part of the equation. TV is like an izakaya, TV is intentionally non-cinematic, everyone loves SMAP… these all may be true, but they have to be linked and meshed with the PRODUCTION DECISIONS that ultimately and directly control content. Consumers just consume, and with a free service like TV, it’s hard to gauge their “choices.”

    I will deal with more exclusively Johnny’s Jimusho in an upcoming essay, but they are a perfect example: yes, they are on TV all the time and sell lots of records. But the thing about Johnny’s acts is that even when they do not sell a lot of records and are “unpopular” in the market, they are still on TV all the time. (Not to mention that the Oricon charts looks like they give Johnny’s some serious bumping when the Soundscan Japan data is compared side by side.) Whether people like SMAP is unrelated to their presence on TV, and before you can draw conclusions from just superficially reading the output of production, you also have to look at the inputs, constraints, and organization that lead to the creation of content.

    If this essay had any point is was to at least introduce the idea that there may be economic/industrial reasons for the reason Japanese TV looks as it does. Obviously, that’s not 100% of the explanation, but it at least has to be considered.

  82. dzima Says:

    >If this essay had any point is was to at least introduce the idea that there may be economic/industrial reasons for the reason Japanese TV looks as it does. Obviously, that’s not 100% of the explanation, but it at least has to be considered.<

    What’s with all the controversy? I actually find this conclusion quite agreeable and balanced.

  83. Jrim Says:

    “What’s with all the controversy? I actually find this conclusion quite agreeable and balanced.”

    Well, it’s the usual case of Marxy coming out guns blazing, getting mauled by Momus et al. and then restating his case in slightly more palatable terms, innit?

    Marxy: keep fighting the good fight, man.

  84. lauren Says:

    The degree that Japanese tv watchers are actually paying attention has been brought up before, but for as picky as they are about their groceries they aren’t too judicious about tv quality (from a technical sense), it’s true. Why would anyone work to up production values if no one really cares? Whereas foreign viewers would take issue with it, forcing the companies to export a different sort of product, it doesn’t mean they are shortchanging their countrymen per se. There are certainly other areas where Japanese people are more picky and have to be offered superior goods. Or at least more “Japanese-y” goods.

    But that’s a different concern than what kind of programming ends up on tv. Even if Japanese consumers are not really concerned about the non-cinematic nature of their tv (or if they are, too), that says nothing about whether they are being unwittingly force-fed Johnny’s boys.

    I am more interested in your specific examples rather than attacking the entire institution of Japanese tv and suggesting that if it were fixed it would like more like American tv. Really, it shouldn’t really have anything to do with the actual content. Challenge the inputs you mentioned, but cut the output a break. Evil corporations and the mafia can make cultural products that are interesting and totally clean ones can make stuff that sucks – one is not indicative of the other. We just don’t know what Japanese tv would look like if it were totally clean. What if it looked nearly the same because everyone really prefers tv as it is now? But even if the yakuza were giving the people exactly what they wanted wouldn’t make them ok. So it’s not what they are putting on tv, it’s how.

    But maybe that’s where you are going with this? If that’s the case then I look forward to your looking at those inputs.

  85. lauren Says:

    Jrim’s totally right about that. I actually read Momus’ essay first and it did flavor my whole reading. I was later like, “Oh, I guess Marxy did talk about American tv in just one paragraph…” I got psyched into thinking it was a bit more inflammatory than it really was. Got sidetracked by a few points and overemphasized them in my mind.

    Not that I feel differently, but putting it more palatably as Jrim put let me see better where he was coming from.

    So, yeah, do your thing, Marxy.

  86. marxy Says:

    Momus sidetracked your understanding of my points? You don’t say!

    After reading his comments, I was so totally convinced that I am a die-hard right-wing Republican that I had to go confirm my voting records that I voted straight Democratic for the last three elections.

    Wait, who’s Momus again?

  87. lauren Says:

    Sorry, it was sloppy reading on my part.

    But yeah, you are so right wing that even Momus didn’t even get all the reasons why!

    -Not only are you American, but you are from the South and everyone knows the South is full of red states. And from Florida too! You guys elected JEB BUSH as your governor!! Jesus!

    -Speaking of Jesus, didn’t you say you were Episcopalian?? == Christianity == right wing, natch.

    -You are on Myspace, which Rupert Murdoch owns!!

    -You have and/or have had a beard. (I’m not sure on the current status of your facial hair, but that doesn’t mean you are any less Republican.)

    It never ends!

  88. marxy Says:

    You know who also had a beard? U.S. Grant – a Republican.

  89. marxy Says:

    Actually my beard is highly exaggerated in the media, I am lazy and only shave about once a week, and my dark cast means I look stubbly immediately after a shave.

  90. Laotree Says:

    As it gets colder I can’t help thinking that the prevalence of non-vented kerosene heaters in Japanese homes tend to make oxygen-starved people more complacent during those prime-time viewing hours. I feel like I shed a couple of IQ points every winter forgetting to open the window 1時間1~2回. Maybe that’s why the Kouhaku thing is so popular; gotta be the worst way to spend New Year’s Eve. But hell, when I get home from work at 10pm, hungry, I could care less what’s on tv, I just wanna fix my eyes on something while I move my jaw up and down.
    Just my luck that when there’s a show I actually enjoy, like 探偵 Knight Scoop, I fall asleep in the middle of it… I doubt that my situation is a rare one, but it would seem that Marxy fancies himself a more sophisticated consumer by virtue of more wealth to blow on Ebisu and living in a place with many alternatives to sub-par television. (You’ve said that the era of white privilege in Japan is over, but understand that it appears you are living higher on the hog than a lot of Japanese, and even some honkies…)

  91. marxy Says:

    My Ebisu-drinking is more one of “quality > quantity” than a representation of my bountiful wealth. If I had a six-can-a-day habit, I wouldn’t be drinking Ebisu.

    Wait, wrong post.

  92. Momus Says:

    “I think it’s a bit silly to see the Japanese people as a tribe beyond economic realities… If this essay had any point is was to at least introduce the idea that there may be economic/industrial reasons for the reason Japanese TV looks as it does. Obviously, that’s not 100% of the explanation, but it at least has to be considered.”

    But doesn’t this set up a false binary between culture and economics? As if you could ever separate them? Every business or consumer decision is also a cultural decision. In other words, why assume that guys in a smoke-filled room deciding what kind of business to set up are not also “tribal”? Doesn’t the whole concept of oligopoly imply that there are kinship links between business players?

    One of this blog’s most consistent misapprehensions is the idea that “money has no odor” — that what you decide to buy, for instance, or what kind of business you decide to set up are somehow no longer cultural decisions because they’re economic decisions. Business is tribal too, and asserting that it shouldn’t be makes you waste too much time railing against relationships, loyalties and irrationalities (“oligopoly” or “conspiracies”) in the market which are structural and inevitable.

    These “tribal” business bonds are also useful. It’s precisely through business that “how we do things here” (in other words, culture) will be effectively maintained. That’s how Japan can continue to maintain its good difference, its good distinctiveness. (Something we don’t read much about on Neomarxisme; the good difference.) UNESCO can only do so much; the maintainance of culture has to be built into the ways people create goods and services, and shop for them.

  93. marxy Says:

    “Business is tribal too, and asserting that it shouldn’t be makes you waste too much time railing against relationships, loyalties and irrationalities (“oligopoly” or “conspiracies”) in the market which are structural and inevitable.”

    Inevitable as in “a decision by the central government”? Should Japan go back to zaibatsu because they are more in-tune with Japanese culture? Should Japan return landlordism because that’s the “Japanese way” of farming? Everything about the economy goes back to the state, history, and power – “the Japanese make oligopolies because they are collectivist and feminine” tells you nothing about the actual decisions made that determined today’s industrial structure. Did Honda make a vastly un-Japanese decision by bucking MITI’s request for them not to make cars?

    I find it hard to take a Culture-First/History/Economics-Second approach to any of these topics, when the conventional wisdom based on that approach – “lifetime employment” being a natural “Japanese” labor approach, for example – has time and time again been shown as fable by both Western and Japanese scholars.

    “the maintainance of culture has to be built into the ways people create goods and services, and shop for them.”

    If you believe culture is a product of economics, this statement makes no sense. Consumer culture in particular is a result of the economic arrangements in which goods and services are created and distributed and retailed. Behavior may converge with other traditions, but it doesn’t start there – especially in a country where companies and the media had to teach a mass of non-consumers how to consume for so long. Omiyage culture survives because it was convenient for marketing. The old traditional Confucian ideas against conspicious consumption had to be removed.

  94. Momus Says:

    “If you believe culture is a product of economics…”

    Is that seriously what you believe? That there’s no culture in economics, and that what culture there is is created by economics? Phew!

  95. Momus Says:

    This is basically the old base-superstructure argument within Marxism:

    http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/marxism/marxism02.html

    Needless to say, I’m a “culturalist”. One of my first sociology essays ended with the words “superstructure is base”. Especially in post-industrial, postmodern conditions (the “society of the spectacle”, the age of information, and so on), it seems increasingly reductionist to assert that base determines superstructure.

  96. Momus Says:

    It is worth pointing out that if you really are an economistic determinist, your argument that Rupert Murdoch’s ownership of Fox is irrelevant to the quality, nature and content of your favorite Fox shows is a gaffe:

    “The base/superstructure model as applied to the mass media is associated with a concern with the ownership and control of the media.”

  97. Momus Says:

    * Under the influence of Althusser, Stuart Hall and other ‘culturalist’ Marxists reject the base/superstructure formulation, arguing that there is a dialectic between what Marx termed ‘social being’ and ‘social consciousness’.

    * Marshall McLuhan: “We make our tools and then our tools make us.”

    * Hazel Markus: “We think about people as culturally-shaped shapers. So they’re shaped by culture as they engage with these patterns of meanings and practices — ways of doing everyday life — but they also shape the culture, in the course of behaving, in the course of talking to other people, in the course of acting, in the course of making products and putting them into the world.”

    This “mutual constitution” happens between business and culture too. Dialectical, innit?

  98. Momus Says:

    You’re in danger, I think, of advocating a “determinism without determination”. Because you want to say that something’s in control of social processes, but it’s not culture, and it’s not consumers, and it’s not tycoons like Rupert Murdoch either. So what is it? Money itself? Numbers?

  99. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    its amuzing seeing Momus talk about business when by his own admission hes never worked a day in his life at a “straight” job.

    BTW way back someone said something about US comics “rise in quality” (paraphrase?) being due to manga, I’d think really the change started in the mid/late 80s with the rise of Dark Horse, Vertigo and some DC imprints. Honestly I think Frank Miller’s work such as The Dark Knight and works by John Muth, Neil Gaiman and Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (among others) are really far more important than any Anime in terms of the rise in quality of comics compared to the 60s.

  100. Momus Says:

    Hang on, Chris, I’m on a roll here.

    In fact, Marxy uses just as many culturalist arguments as anyone else here — talk of Confucianism and oligopoly and beer-buying habits IS cultural talk. It’s just that these culturalist takes are generally portrayed here as “problems” which can mostly be solved by economic reform. To say, though, that culture is a “problem” is still a cultural argument, just as classic Marxism, which defines economic relationships as a problem, is still an economistic philosophy.

    This is why some of us think of Marxy as a weird sort of negative Nihonjinron — an arguer for Japanese exceptionalism — as long as it’s a negative exceptionalism.

  101. Tania Says:

    What’s with the Momus obsession with Marxy? Is it just plain old jealousy? That Marxy is two decades younger and two decades better looking? That he actually speaks Japanese and lives in Japan and can, like, read actual books in Japanese and stuff? That he also writes for magazines but better ones than Momus? That he also makes music that probably garners more critical response than Momus’s efforts these days – judging from the thunder of silence that accompanied Momus’s last release?

  102. check Says:

    Nations ultimately make cultural and economic decisions to augment their chances of survival within zero-sum games.

    One hand does not feed the other.

    Culture and business are separate hands, connected to a single body, with a uniform purpose of maintaining and increasing state power.

  103. Momus Says:

    If it were really as intellect-free and personal as that, Tania, Google Fight would solve everything:

    http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=momus&word2=marxy

  104. Momus Says:

    But the real answer as to why I’m here is, I suspect, the same for me as for everyone else. We’re here because Marxy is a provocateur, and his writing about Japan makes us think carefully about the place, whether we agree with his perspectives or not.

    As for the personal stuff, today on Click Opera I’m switched my attack to poor old Jean Snow and his beloved pecha kucha nights. He also writes for better magazines than me, you see, and I just can’t stand it.

  105. marxy Says:

    I have 71,000 results! Wow!

  106. Chuckles Says:

    […Well they also love the discman and MD player, right? Curse the Mission Accomplished iPod!…]

    Doesnt this invalidate the captive market argument? One could as well argue: Hey! Look at all those fancy MD Players! Whatever happened to the Walkman?
    The fact is that creative innovation *does* occur in Japan *for* the Japanese. It just doesnt happen at fast enough of a pace and grand enough of a scale to satisfy some folks. And No – the spectacular success of the iPod in really doesnt undermine this point: creative understatement/restraint as a cultural particular in Japan doesnt neccesarily violate the workings of its consumer culture. I still think what we are looking at here is a cultural dynamic and not oligopolies hell bent on keeping their young and neonatal wards on feeding bottles and Cerelac forever.

    […Consumer culture in particular is a result of the economic arrangements in which goods and services are created and distributed and retailed. Behavior may converge with other traditions, but it doesnt start there – especially in a country where companies and the media had to teach a mass of non-consumers how to consume for so long. Omiyage culture survives because it was convenient for marketing. The old traditional Confucian ideas against conspicious consumption had to be removed…]

    These arrangements are embedded in folk ways. It is hard to perform a historicist argument here; which is what Marxy intends to do, whether he realizes it or not. Economic arrangements in Papua New Guinea were not the same as economic arrangements off the coast of Zanzibar in Imperial days. Neither was this the case in India and the 13 colonies. These arrangements yield to folkways. What exactly does it mean for behavior *not* to converge with other traditions? The argument invalidates itself – the very notion of a consumer culture indicates that this convergence has already taken place. And I see that by raising the spectre of Confucian traditions as restraints against conspicuous consumption, Marxy is quite willing to appeal to a framework of culture and folkways when it suits him (as I see Momus has already mentioned)! So Confucius rebukes conspicuous consumption in the 20th century, but yields to FujiTV in the 21st?

    […This is why some of us think of Marxy as a weird sort of negative Nihonjinron…]

    After following this blog for a while, Marxy sounds like a closet Hegelian historicist with identity issues…His imperatives betray a frustration with apparent stasis (hence the yield to historicism, hence the change! change! change! message)- and the fact that the changes defer to systemic liberal capitalism (if not in word, in spirit) reeks strongly of Kojeve, in several flavors. I think that the anti Nihonjinron flavor here stems from the discomfort, at a subliminal level, with the notion that Japan is a land, not just apart; but outside the curve of history – and it is different not only because of its spatial relations with the rest of us, but also because of its chronological relations with the rest of us. To a historicist, that something exists outside history, is of course, quite an abominable concept. Hence the Hegelian imperative, the Kojevian despair, Quenauian view of Japanese stasis and Bataillean anguish couched in sarcasm. A paradox? No. All historicists long for stasis. When they cannot become emergent in the other as part of its self; they seek to change it – the stasis sought, really, is relativistic – when the other ceases to change relative to the self. So if we cannot wear Yukata and look good in it, the Japanese must begin to wear suits, and on it goes.

  107. Julian Says:

    *In this context, it’s hard not to see some of these Marxy entries as “Marxy vows to “complete Japan job””. It’s the same mistake: you cannot impose your values on someone else’s culture.*

    Woah woah woah I can understand both sides of the argument but let’s not kill it by dropping a Godwin ;)

  108. junior Says:

    “BTW way back someone said something about US comics “rise in quality” (paraphrase?) being due to manga, I’d think really the change started in the mid/late 80s with the rise of Dark Horse, Vertigo and some DC imprints. Honestly I think Frank Miller’s work such as The Dark Knight and works by John Muth, Neil Gaiman and Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (among others) are really far more important than any Anime in terms of the rise in quality of comics compared to the 60s.”

    Mutantfrog claimed that U.S. animation is improving due to anime, I don’t recall a discussion of U.S. comics on that point. (And I don’t really agree that U.S. animation is improving at all since its pre-anime influenced peak in the 1990s, unless we’re talking about the quality or abundance of adult oriented comedy shows))

    Improvements in the better U.S. comic of the eighties, of course, didn’t come from manga, Gaiman and Moore were inspired by movements in non-comics literature. (Although eighties creators Scott Mccloud and Frank Miller were influenced by manga, so maybe we should give Japan some credit) If there is going to be a manga influenced U.S. comic renaissance, it hasn’t happened yet. (Interestingly, one of the big vertigo writers, Mike Carey, is about to launch an anime influenced title set in Japan http://www.dccomics.com/comics/?cm=6277)

  109. Mutantfrog Says:

    Junior is correct. Someone mentioned how American superhero cartoons in the 90s and later were the same as the ones in the 60s, and then I said something about how they were in fact much better, due to the influence of anime. This is not my opinion, but well known fact that can be verified by reading interviews with any of the major creators of more recent animated shows in the US.

    While American animation techniques and style have been influenced to some degree by Japanese animation (more obvious in some shows, like Boondocks or Samurai Jack) I would argue that the more important influence is in terms of having both an audience and writers who, due to exposure to Japanese animation, are comfortable with more sophisticated narratives than the 1980’s era cartoon shows, which rarely even had continuity from one episode to the next, much less sophisticated season length plot arcs.

  110. Mutantfrog Says:

    Note that the 1980’s rennaissance in comics was due mostly to British writers. I have nothing in particular I can make out of this, except that visiting bookstores in England gives me the impression that people there are, on average, reading more science fiction and fantasy. I got loads of books by very well known authors that were at the time out of print and very difficult to find in the US.

    As far as I know, no Japanese comics were translted into English until after animation already had some level of popularity.

  111. Mulboyne Says:

    If we are interested in how Japan came to be the country it is today and how it might change in the future, it must be more useful to make an observation, look for supporting evidence and attempt to draw some conclusions rather than just declare “that’s the way the country is and how people want it to be”.

    Economic explanations are incredibly useful in cutting to the quick of many cultural quirks. Take those guys people handing out pocket tissues at stations all over Japan. That practice dates back to the oil crises which produced paper shortages. This led to widespread theft of lavatory paper from public toilets and a decision by transport authorities to stop supplying it. Look at the companies who first began to hand out pocket tissues and you’ll see that they were consumer lending companies and sex businesses who had no access to existing advertising routes and were actively seeking other options.

    On another note, there’s lots to be said about Rupert Murdoch and his efforts in Japan but it’s more interesting that John Malone’s Liberty Media is currently Japan’s largest cable TV provider. That’s the same John Malone who is a thorn in Murdoch’s side with a 19% voting stake in News Corp.

    “Leo Kirch likens Murdoch to a shark, always dangerous, always on the move. By contrast, Malone is a swamp alligator, content to lie secreted in the mud, to let the prey come to him.”

    Any explanation of Murdoch’s apparent failure to make an impression on Japan should also be able to account for Malone’s apparent success.

  112. junior Says:

    “Junior is correct. Someone mentioned how American superhero cartoons in the 90s and later were the same as the ones in the 60s, and then I said something about how they were in fact much better, due to the influence of anime. This is not my opinion, but well known fact that can be verified by reading interviews with any of the major creators of more recent animated shows in the US.”

    I find that hard to believe. I don’t believe that the American cartoons of the 90s were influenced by anime, and the 90s was when american cartoons really upped the bar.

    The pinnacle of American non- comedy animation was Gargoyles, which premiered in 1994, and had no anime influence to speak of at all. The fact that some stuff today might have anime influence is insignificant, its still not as good as Gargoyles, and today’s stuff owes far more to its American sources than anything in japan.

    You cited Justice League of an example of a “good” modern show. I’d be curious in hearing about any theme or plot line from that show that is inspired by Japanese animated storytelling, as opposed to old American comics from the 1960s or 70s.

    The creators can talk about their love of anime all they want, the proof is in the pudding, if it looks American, has American themes, draws from American sources, sits firmly in the American tradition, and is of less sophistication than recent American, non- anime influences sources, I find it hard to attribute any success to anime.

    “I would argue that the more important influence is in terms of having both an audience and writers who, due to exposure to Japanese animation, are comfortable with more sophisticated narratives than the 1980’s era cartoon shows, which rarely even had continuity from one episode to the next, much less sophisticated season length plot arcs.”

    I disagree. The creator of Gargoyles, still America’s smartest adventure cartoon, was asked about the show’s influences, and responded:

    “Disney’s Gummi Bears. Hill Street Blues. Yoknapatwpha County, i.e. the complete works of William Faulkner. The Complete works of William Shakespeare. The Simpsons. Various comic book universes. The novels of Tony Hillerman. Lots of myth, legends, etc, which I have always been interested in. ”

    http://www.s8.org/gargoyles/askgreg/faq/faq1.htm#2

    Its a really bad argument to claim that intelligent plotlines, must by default, come from anime. Most of the ongoing plotlines in today’s cartoons, indeed, are merely simplified versions of their comic book source material.

    Furthermore, Amerian shows in general have gotten more complex since the 60s. (As Marxy notes) To attribute the evolution of the medium to home grown sources, but assume that the American shows of the 90s grew up in a vaccum, and could only have developed via Japanese sources, is ridiculous.

    Hill Street Blues, an influence on Gargoyles, is one of the most highly influential American shows, ever, and it didn’t just influence live action tv.

  113. marxy Says:

    I appreciate all the hard-core, name-dropping Marxy psycho-academic analysis, but here’s the main thing in more simple language:

    Whether culture–>economics or economics–>culture, we should analyze any of these pop culture issues from historical, industrial, and “cultural” angles. I do bring in Confucius etc. because I think philosophical traditions tell us how peoples see their place in the world, justify the order around them, and for the elite, create the power structure. But I abhor the idea that you can just totally ignore anything “hard” behind the scenes so that you can just be all bad stand-up “Japanese drive cars like this; white people drive cars like this” and view things from this very distant superficial analysis of putting everything into really broad social categorization – especially when the whole intention is not to say “different” but make everything fit into these beautiful philosophical dispositions of peaceful collectivism that I have attributed to the Japanese nation as a whole.

    As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on all this stuff, and I find it incredible that anybody could get dogmatically offended about taking an opposite position or not properly worshipping the idea of “cultural relativism” – a concept that is a good base for initial understanding, but so easily becomes a blockade to thought. I went into all my Japanese studies as a young man convinced that Japan was near to a utopian state, but found that some of the underlying principles that produced the superstructure results went against many of the philosophical principles I believe in. The fact that the economy fell apart did not exactly add much confidence to their economic system (I used to think high consumer prices as social welfare was genius, but now I can see the drag.)

    My concern is always with those who cannot pronounce with bold lungs – state-backed elitist oligopoly is great! one-chance centralized education is perfect! yakuza/right-wing terrorist infiltration into the economy and politics is the ideal! – but decide to champion the Japanese system anyway. If we have come to any conclusions, it’s that these “quirks” are essentially imbedded within the system and not just superficial specks that can be brushed away.

    These are complicated issues that we are all trying to wrap our heads around. I had no idea this was all a “Google Fight” where the elders proudly thrash the young startups.

  114. Chuckles Says:

    […But I abhor the idea that you can just totally ignore anything hard behind the scenes…]

    Well, name dropping or otherwise, what I reject is that whatever we categorize as being *hard* and as being *behind the scenes* has to be so per se. Whatever we call hard or behind the scenes is something that is itself embedded in folkways whose sources reach into a tribal antiquity. Certainly, empirically, the Yakuza infiltrate the system, certainly, the education system has peculiarities, certainly, there are oligopolies – but to claim, as some have, that these things are *Japanese* per se, is to commit the same very culturalist fallacy that some have been accused of committing. So there are two options – either the argument falls apart, or the culturalist fallacy is no fallacy: It must be the end point of all discussion: Japanese folkways. I certainly agree that these things are embedded in the system, but that the substrate is one of folkways and habits instead of a nuts and bolts cabal of greedy and tyrannical neozaibatsu daimyos – for were I to concede the latter, I would merely end up again, in the former.

    So again, to clarify – it is not an argument against hard factors per se; it is simply a recognition that the nuts and bolts of the Japanese economy is embedded in folkways and its very easy to blame money grubbing media conglomerates for bland TV programming simply because one has discounted, say, the fact that the Japanese have altered several aspects of their culture already – the content of Japanese music has changed (are there no oligopolies in the music business?) the content of Japanese literature has changed (are there no oligopolies in publishing?) and so on. These are areas that require an audience, perhaps even more so – do we call all the content in these areas bland and lacklustre also?

  115. marxy Says:

    Everything changes, of course. But the pace and manner is a product of organizational culture. What you do see in Japan is a pattern of oligopolistic ownership in publishing, music, and TV (at least oligopolistic control of media access in the case of music production companies), and a certain pattern of slow-to-no change from the market leaders combined with a effort to keep innovative outsiders out. This can all be explained by Western economic theory – it’s not “Japanese” at all – but the fact that these oligopolies are condoned and expected is a cultural issue, one that at least should lead to a discussion of power.

    Just pinning everything on “cultural folkways” is a dead-end, especially if the concept’s supposed to represent a body of unchanged behavior. All of that discussion has to at least be historically-based, about how the folkways changed over time and what changed it.

  116. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Tania,

    Or as was said in some old rock lyric “What a drag it is getting old”.

    Momus,

    Well OK then. Youve swung your word hammer, but still I dont think you have anything really relevant to say about business in general especially in Japan. Pretty soon marxy will have tons more to say about Japanese business than you ever could. I personally am looking forward to seeing how life as a sarariman influences his thinking. I know that my years of working here have influenced mine. You may have things to say as an educated amateur on intangibles but your Golden Shovel style is no match for the Shigoto Fu of anyone who has worked a day in his life.

    re comics,

    very recent anime-esque comics just look like attemps to pander the same old crap to a new audience. the only comic series thats held my interests consistantly since the end of Sandman have beeh 100 Bullets and Hellblazer. Crime and Horror do fine on their own and dont need the characters cutened up with SD heads and big eyes. IMNSHO american comics are now mostly as dead as they were in 1980. I’m not so sure that Boondocks shows a visual or narrative influence of manga or anime really. I’d say the “eastern” elements of Boondocks have more to do with the chambara and kung fu movies of the 70s.

    marxy said “I used to think high consumer prices as social welfare was genius, but now I can see the drag.”

    Was there ever a Japanese equivalant to Milton Friedman? The world is a poorer place without him.

  117. Momus Says:

    You’re essentially defining culture here as a series of local stumbling blocks to the smooth operation of the kind of free market capitalism you’d like to see. This position is vastly reductive, but because it lies behind almost all your entries, it’s useful to have it spelled out.

  118. marxy Says:

    Nice work, Encyclopedia Brown, Sr. in digging up my true motives, but you must move post haste to battle new young people treading on your turf! Godspeed, Old Regulator!

  119. Momus Says:

    My turf would be traded freely and neutrally on the global market were it not for a sinister cabal using their tribal ties, their stubborn “culture” and scorn on their blogs to bar me from competition.

  120. marxy Says:

    When comments start going Momus-Marxy-Momus, it’s time to abandon ship.

  121. Momus Says:

    You can’t abandon your own ship! Pirates might take it over!

  122. Mutantfrog Says:

    Junior, I didn’t mean to say the plotlines were influenced by Japanese plotlines. What I meant was that the creators of American cartoons used Japanese cartoons, which had more sophisticated plots than American cartoons being produced at the time, as an example to show producers that kids could handle more complex shows. Many of the people responsible for the good American cartoons of the 90s got started on things like He-Man and always wanted to do something higher level, and it was Japanese animation that helped prepare the market.

    I’m not saying that writers of American cartoons were basing their storylines on anime, only that they had an easier time making what they already wanted to because anime had already proved that animation that wasn’t so dumbed down could still do well with kids.

  123. junior Says:

    “Many of the people responsible for the good American cartoons of the 90s got started on things like He-Man and always wanted to do something higher level, and it was Japanese animation that helped prepare the market.”

    This strikes me as very unsubstantiated. When Gargoyles premiered in 1994, was there any anime on American television?

    (If not, I’m not going to buy an argument that American television executives are anthropologists studying other cultures for the next big idea, and were somehow influenced by foreign markets)

    I also have to point out that a lot of the anime that first premiered on American television wasn’t all that complex. Shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle probably had more complicated plotlines.

    I think shows from the 90s owe much more than to the ongoing melodrama of writers like Stan Lee than Japanese sources, as well as American live action shows.

    I’d also argue that American animated shows today just aren’t that complicated. They may be more complex than Superfriends, but that isn’t saying much.

  124. marxy Says:

    By the way, I saw ER on NHK last night. It doesn’t have those fancy graphics on the screen like that neat SMAP show, but it’s still pretty technically complicated in the camera work, no?

  125. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Junior,

    There was anime on US TV going back to the 80s with Star Blazers & G Force and possibly back to the 70s with Astro Boy (yes I’m intentionally using the American names). So by the time Gargoyles came on, yes there was anime on American television.

  126. Ken Says:

    But the goal of Japanese TV isn’t to make good shows, is it? It’s one big infomercial, with Dentsu-controlled ad space. Companies pay to have their brands appear in shows, including product placement in dramas, and to have their restaurants visited by a bunch or ‘tarento’ who will pronounce it as ‘oishii.’

    I’ve seen Dentsu’s TV product placement list for January-March 2007. It’s pretty funny, actually, the cost involved in getting your jeans worn by someone in a show, or getting the mentioned by a character in a high school drama. At any rate, that’s the focus of TV – not good shows.

  127. shiny floor occupant Says:

    Ken hit the nail on the head. The advertising structure, and the degree in which Dentsu and Hakuhodo are able to influence control and planning of content is the point that needs to have a brighter light shone on it.
    The TV stations, government (who set licenses for terrestrial TV) and the ad agency cabal have a nice little incestuous money swirl going around – TV stations invest little in content development and earn huge margins (at least they pay their staff with this largesse), ad agencies get a cut (and input) of the types of services and programs offered, and the governement gets a nice predicatable means to reach the masses and their license fees.

  128. Mulboyne Says:

    sfo wrote: “TV stations invest little in content development and earn huge margins”

    Even allowing for the tendency of Japanese broadcasters to “lose” money in subsidiaries, they don’t generate particularly high margins. Certainly not huge. When you also take into account the role that 日本民間放送連盟 (The National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan) plays in keeping down the price of broadcasting rights for sports events, you could easily make a case that the companies haven’t been especially good at making money.

    Ken wrote: “But the goal of Japanese TV isn’t to make good shows, is it?”

    They don’t set out to make bad shows. All the networks want to have hits. Leaving aside the argument about technical standards, broadcasters have come up with some pretty decent ideas. They have also been a big factor in the recent revival of domestic films at the box office. The challenge is sustaining that success and transferring it to the overseas market. See the articles in English via this link:

    http://www.dmc.keio.ac.jp/en/review/0611_AFM4.html

  129. . Says:

    So anime is of world class quality and thus sells all over the world, but dramas and other live action TV is of very low quality and cannot be exported. But then the money to make higher quality anime also comes partly from the exports. Is it really just a question of quality that Japanese shows don’t sell outside of Asia? Isn’t only an issue of race? To the average westerner anime characters look white, and the shows are often adapted to hide Japaneseness, like changing the names of characters etc. But of course this is not possible to do that with live action.
    Isn’t this also why American movie companies remake Asian movies?

  130. Marcus Says:

    “News hosts often hold up hand-held graphics to illustrate their stories, or use a pointer and wall-board to provide detailed information”

    I seriously doubt that this would be because production values are low. I think Japanese simply prefer it this way. And there goes a LOT of time putting in all the subtitles, in different sizes, colours etc. Maybe it’s not up to American standard but it’s well above British productions (except the occasional more expensive dramas). I’d say the same is truth for other European productions as well.

    “Hey, wait a minute, nobody here is circumcised! Let’s analyze this and ascribe it to Japanese working patterns”

  131. junior Says:

    “But then the money to make higher quality anime also comes partly from the exports.”

    Not really. There’s been some very high qualty anime done on minimal budgets.

    Much of the energy from anime comes from the manga industry, and quality in comics obviously has little to do with budget.

  132. check Says:

    To add some concrete content to this discussion, I requested a Japanese co-worker burn me a DVD+R with NHK content.

    The following link displays six common uses of information technology on Japanese TV:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/60745848@N00/

    Do people truly believe these random screenshots are aesthetically pleasing, intelligent uses of technology, which capture their attention, and effectively deliver an intended message?

    What is appealing? What could be improved?

  133. marxy Says:

    I dunno. That Enka screenshot is pretty awesome.

  134. lauren Says:

    Ok, this is might be as good a time as any to ask this, but when I was in Kagoshima no weather report ever showed a radar ever. Either entire cities would be labeled with one weather condition or they would grid off the map and fill in the blocks blue where it was raining, grey for cloudy, yellow for sunny and stuff like that. I’m a bit of a weather junkie and that is just not enough information for me! Also growing up as in NC, we get hurricanes and snow (not too much snow, but just a dusting gets us out of school) and conditions for those vary a lot just over fairly short distances. The cutesy graphics are too simple to be helpful in cases like that.

    So, is the weather like that all over Japan?

  135. Laotree Says:

    Lauren, I think that has something to do with the geography of Japan, being a narrow island (I’m being Honshu-centric, forgive) with tons of mountains, which makes weather forcasting a dodgy affair. Because it’s fairly unpredictable, they seem to go for averages. While I do occasionally see a radar map, (you tend to see them much more during typhoon season) they are quite rare, and unless you live in one of the major metro areas listed on the map you have to assume some difference. A fold-up umbrella is my constant sidearm, cuz I tend to space out when the weather is on anyway…

  136. Mulboyne Says:

    Coming from London, where weather daily forecasts are regarded as no more than a best guess, I was quite surprised how accurate Tokyo forecasts could be by comparison.

    As far as weather graphics go, TV stations have to be wary about getting ahead of their audience. Weather reports are closely watched by the elderly who generally do not have the same visual literacy as the younger generation.