Nationalism and Anti-Americanism in Japan (as expressed in art)

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

[Matthew Penney is an Assistant Professor at Concordia University in Montreal and a Japan Focus associate. He is currently conducting research on popular representations of war in Japan. He can be contacted at]

In 1967, Astroboy, the Japanese animation and comic book icon, died protecting a North Vietnamese village from American bombers.

[Manga images should be read in Japanese manner from RIGHT to LEFT][1]

After the carnage, Astroboy’s body was set adrift in the Mekong,

Despite this plot twist, Tezuka Osamu, Japan’s “God of Comics”, ensured that his most famous creation was brought back to life the following week. This narrative dodge did not, however, take away from the powerful condemnation of America’s campaign of indiscriminate bombing that Tezuka conjured. By locating Astro on the side of the bombed, Tezuka sought to build both outrage at the practice of indiscriminate bombing, and sympathy for the victims. Throughout the postwar period, progressive artists, directors, and authors in many countries, not least the United States, have represented the US in critical ways. Peter Katzenstein has described representations which criticize the United States for failing to live up to its often lofty human rights rhetoric, as “liberal anti-Americanism”.[2] While opposed to American wars and other international actions, it must be asked, however, if “anti-American” is the best label for categorizing such writing. In Japan, critical commentary has often been combined with deep reflection on Japan’s own human rights record, past and present. This type of discourse, at its best, seeks a universal standard from which the mass killing of civilians and other forms of violence can be condemned. In Astroboy, Tezuka’s critique of the American practice of indiscriminate bombing is part of his life-long condemnation of militarism and organized violence, which included probing looks at Japan’s war record. Criticizing American atrocities in this way is quite distinct from using the US as a convenient target to reify Japanese nationalist images. For Tezuka, the critique of US destruction of Vietnam was part and parcel of his dissection of Japan’s war crimes....

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