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South Korea and the Sub-Empire of Anime: Kinesthetics of Subcontracted Animation Production

From: Mechademia
Volume 9, 2014
pp. 90-103 | 10.1353/mec.2014.0019

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South Korea and the Sub-Empire of Anime:
Kinesthetics of Subcontracted Animation Production

The relationship in the animation industry between Japan and South Korea has been as close as the geographic distance between the two countries. Since the mid-1960s, South Korean studios and workers have manufactured Japanese animation in a mode of production referred to as hacheong in Korean and shitauke in Japanese, both of which mean “to subcontract.” In the global anime wave that started in the 1990s, this material condition of production has often been neglected or ignored, by academics as well as fans. Meanwhile in South Korea, since the mid-1990s when the government started to promote film and animation as a new national industry, the Korean term hacheong has been replaced by the English acronym OEM (original equipment manufacturing), despite no substantional changes in the condition of subcontracted production, as the former term seemed likely to offend many South Koreans’ national pride. Indeed, the issue of internationally subcontracted animation production in South Korea has long been viewed and spoken of from a nationalist perspective. While intentionally ignoring the material reality of subcontracted work that has acted on the majority of the country’s animation industry, the South Korean mass media has not hesitated to propagate the notion that South Korea is the third-largest producer of animation in the world. [End Page 90]

Subcontracted production in the Japanese animation industry, which I will explore in the main part of this essay, was encouraged by politico-economic factors that included location, diplomatic agreements, wage levels, and exchange rates, and then materialized by a Taylorist work organization that went along with technologies of celluloid animation. My focus is, however, not on the perennial issue of developed countries’ transnational exploitation of underdeveloped or developing countries’ labor. Rather, subcontracted production is widely experienced at a domestic, as well as international, level, and the Japanese animation industry has long used a subcontracted production system within the territory of Japan. What I will bring into focus in this essay is the dominant discourse in this mode of animation production that places manual labor and laborers at a lower rank in the artistic-production hierarchy of brain over hand. Imagined and reproduced internationally through the animation subcontracting between South Korea and Japan (and possibly going further to the United States), this cerebral/manual dichotomy is a discursive construct I wish to call into question, with regard to animation’s aesthetics as well as its kinesthetic processes. 1

ANIME SUBCONTRACTION IN HISTORY

Subcontracted production in South Korea for foreign animation industries traces back to Ōgon batto (Golden bat) and Humanoid Monster Bem (Yōkai Ningen Bemu), first broadcast in Japan in 1967 and 1968, respectively. These were animated TV series produced by the Japanese animation company Daiichi Dōga and subcontracted to a South Korean TV station named TBC (Tongyang Bangsong); this station was part of the South Korean mega-conglomerate Samsung and is currently one of the state-owned TV stations, KBS 2. However, TBC stopped animation production a few years later. As suggested by Jeong Wook in a documentary television program about the South Korean history of cartoon animation, Lee Byung-chul, then chairman of the Sam-sung Group, did not judge animation to be a promising business because it was contingent on manual labor, noting in particular that Tōei employees in Japan had gone on strike at that time. 2 Today, the Samsung Group is well known for its technology-intensive businesses and for not allowing the activity of labor unions. 3

Tōei Animation also prevented employees from forming a union. Yamaguchi Katsunori suspects that the Tōei management was concerned about such a movement because it was looking to coproduce animation with the U.S. [End Page 91] film company MGM.4 In 1961, however, Tōei employees succeeded in organizing a union, and management stopped them from coming to work, eventually ordering a lockout. Many employees were forced to leave the studio, and some moved to Mushi Production, established by Tezuka Osamu in 1963.5 In 1965 Tōei Animation stopped employing regular workers, turning to the policy of hiring temporary workers...