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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Animation and "otherness" : the politics of gender, racial, and ethnic identity in the world of Japanese anime Yoshida, Kaori


In the contemporary mass-mediated and boundary-crossing world, fictional narratives provide us with resources for articulating cultural identities and individuals’ woridviews. Animated film provides viewers with an imaginary sphere which reflects complex notions of “self’ and “other,” and should not be considered an apolitical medium. This dissertation looks at representations in the fantasy world of Japanese animation, known as anime, and conceptualizes how media representations contribute both visually and narratively to articulating or re-articulating cultural “otherness” to establish one’s own subjectivity. In so doing, this study combines textual and discourse analyses, taking perspectives of cultural studies, gender theory, and postcolonial theory, which allow us to unpack complex mechanisms of gender, racial/ethnic, and national identity constructions. I analyze tropes for identity articulation in a select group of Disney folktale-saga style animations, and compare them with those in anime directed by Miyazaki Hayao. While many critics argue that the fantasy world of animation recapitulates the Western anglo-phallogocentric construction of the “other,” as is often encouraged by mainstream Hollywood films, my analyses reveal more complex mechanisms that put Disney animation in a different light. Miyazaki’s texts and their symbolic ambiguities challenge normalized gender and race/ethnic/nationality representations, and undermine the Western Orientalist image of the “Asian Other.” His anime also destabilize the West-East binary, by manifesting what Homi Bhabha calls a space “in-between”—a disturbance of the dominant system of identity categorizations. This suggests that media representation acts not only as an ideological tool that emphasizes conventional binaries (e.g. “Western”=masculine, “Oriental”feminine), but also as a powerful tool for the “other” to proclaim an alternative identity and potentially subvert dominant power structures. Miyazaki’s anime also reveal the process of Japan’s construction of both the West and the rest of Asia as “others,” based on the West-Japan-Asia power dynamic. I argue that this reflects Japan’s experience of being both colonizer and colonized, at different points in history, and that Japan also articulates “other” through anime to secure its national identity. My dissertation will contribute to the understanding of mechanisms of subjectivity construction in relation to visual culture.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International