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  • Full Metal Apache: Transactions between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant Pop America
  • Thomas LaMarre (bio)
Full Metal Apache: Transactions between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant Pop America. By Takayuki Tatsumi. Duke University Press, Durham, 2007. xxvi, 241 pages. $22.95, paper.

As the title announces with its provocative juxtaposition of iconic references, this is a book about making and reading types, about typing or typography. The author revels in types that play against type, which thus promise to unravel the normative implications of cultural typing or stereo-types. Sometimes Takayuki Tatsumi finds that looking closely, even obsessively, at a familiar and apparently stable icon—Audrey Hepburn, Godzilla, Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton—is enough to twist or deform it. Sometimes it is a matter of mixing or remixing iconic types in order to generate strange new hybrid types—full metal apache, human cattle, drag gynoids, undead kappa, techno-sexual kamikaze, cyborg emperor. In types generally, but especially in iconic or generic types, Tatsumi consistently seeks something that goes beyond simple typing. He looks for their surplus, their generative and potentially transformative force. His account thus runs counter to analyses that see in the continual transformation of types a process of regulated difference or supplementation, in which variety and diversity are ever in the service of producing more of the same for the cultural marketplace. The emphasis is on the creativity, not the normativity, of popular culture and literature.

The challenge of the book comes from how Tatsumi works through [End Page 124] questions about typing in three registers: as a historical transformation in Japan-America transactions (toward synchronicity), as a kind of literature (paraliterature), and as a manner of reading literature (critical Orientalism). Historically, he posits an era of stereotypes, which he further characterizes in terms of "hardcore orientalism" and imperialist assimilation. Orientalist stereotyping also corresponds to the first of three stages of mimicry, the stage of imitation, in which there is a strong sense of the hierarchy of original and copy. Because this sort of exoticism allows for the establishment and maintenance of cultural hierarchies, it goes hand in hand with the construction of others to enable domination over them—hence the association of the stereotype with imperialist assimilation. In contrast, the twisting, deforming, and remixing of cultural stereotypes is typical of a subsequent stage of mimicry, that of synchronicity, which emerges in the 1980s in tandem with the promise of a Pax Japonica. Tatsumi intermittently characterizes this stage in terms of multiculturalism and "multicultural miscegenation" (p. 80).

Tatsumi also detects the emergence of a third stage of chaotic negotiations in the 1990s. Yet, because chaotic negotiations only make an appearance in the last pages of the conclusion, and because they follow directly from synchronicity, it seems fair to say that the focus of the book is the passage from imitation to synchronicity, from imperialist assimilation to multicultural miscegenation, which is simultaneously a passage from modern to postmodern.

For all of the book's historical gestures, however, its goal is not primarily to arrive at a historical understanding of Japan-U.S. cultural relations but to find a new manner of thinking about Japan. Consequently, the emphasis is on American and Japanese fictions about Japan. The sensibility of the book is largely that of postwar Japan. Although Tatsumi shows a keen awareness of Japan's history as a colonizer, the implicit point of reference is the postwar moment when the Japanese national economy and culture became organized primarily around Japan's relations with the United States. Because this quasi-colonial situation threatened to constrain Japan to a purely reactive role, Tatsumi looks for moments of Japaneseness that are not inscribed in advance in circuits of influence and reaction. In this respect, the trajectory of the book is ethical rather than historical. The idea is not to show how Japan in the 1980s finally succeeds in overcoming its reactive subjection to the United States. Rather, the possibility of Japan-U.S. parity or synchronicity spurs or enables a different way of thinking about Japan.

In sum, synchronicity is not so much a historical fact as a mode of ethical evaluation, grounding a distinction between bad and good Orientalisms...


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pp. 124-129
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