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  • Oshii Mamoru’s Patlabor 2: Terror, Theatricality, and Exceptions That Prove the Rule

In foregrounding controversy surrounding the Japanese use of military force, Patlabor 2 (1993, Kidō keisatsu Patoreibaa 2 the Movie) is a work that participated in the widespread early 1990s Japanese questioning of Japan’s postwar settlement with the United States. It specifically raises questions about the qualification of Japanese national sovereignty that flowed from Article 9 and the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty.1 It thus questions Japanese complicity in postwar U.S. “global police” violence (the most immediate context was the Gulf War conducted two years before the film’s release), dramatizing what critics began to suggest was a mistaken conflation of Japanese and U.S. security as institutionalized in the very one-sided U.S.–Japan security relationship. In Patlabor 2, the boundaries of Japanese identity and security strategy appear riven and contested, with a range of conflicting approaches to controlling and resolving these claims depicted. In addition, the film connects analog and digital media to competing perspectives on the status of 1990s Japan as a nation and Tokyo as a globalized city. In sum, Patlabor 2 offers an exploration of the shifting status of media, sovereignty, and warfare in the Pacific in the post–Gulf War era. [End Page 75]

Patlabor 2 stages a series of attacks—it is initially unclear if the attacks are the military acts of governments or terrorist acts—that are depicted as too singular to be framed within the established rules and procedures of the Japanese security bureaucracy, the security police, and the Self-Defense Forces. The film depicts opportunism and moral abjection in the civilian leadership of Japanese security. It argues that Japanese security has reached a state of emergency that its legally responsible leadership fails to recognize as such. It dramatizes the efforts of competing factions of the Japanese security state to determine the exception to the rule of Japanese law. In this respect, to use Carl Schmitt’s terms, the film shows how factions within Japan struggle to determine the location of sovereignty with respect to Japanese security.2

The media and technologies of perception that Patlabor 2 relentlessly foregrounds are implicated in the theatricality of such attempts to both challenge and unify the space of Japanese national and personal identity, strategic theaters of conflict, and national law and order. The first domestic attack depicted is on the Yokohama Bay Bridge (Figure 1). Visually, as Ueno and Fisch have noted, the attack scene is reminiscent of video footage from “smart” munitions deployed by the United States during the Gulf War.3 As if to confirm the associations with the Gulf War, the accompanying news report uses language that nearly elides the term for the bridge attack with that for the Gulf War (Wangansen/Wangan sensō). Thus the film indirectly but provocatively invites the viewer to associate what is at one point feared to have been a U.S. fighter jet’s unprovoked peacetime attack on a Japanese bridge with U.S. conduct of the first Gulf War.

During the Gulf War, many critics decried the dearth of images and the manipulation of images from the war zone, which contributed to a sense that the war reporting conflated spectacle and war, and in a manner that implicated viewers in its mendacity and manipulation. It was widely seen as a spectacle in which obvious strategic interests were routinely disavowed and misrepresented: namely, it was reported that the United States fought for Kuwaiti freedom, not for control over and access to Kuwaiti oil; that the war was for democracy, not to restore the Kuwaiti aristocracy to power or further the subjugation of Islam within the capitalist world order; that Saddam was Hitler reincarnated, not a former client of the U.S. intelligence [End Page 76] state whose interests began to diverge from those of the United States. Some commentators stressed that the media staging of the war barred communication between those on opposite sides of the TV screen on which the war was depicted.4 In general, the spectacle of war was construed as a degradation of war, in which war had become a “war-like event” made to fit into the media programming and advertising requirements of a consumerist society. Information seemed to generate the event, where one might have expected or hoped the event would guide the information.5

Figure 1. This video from a Hellfire missile closing in on the Yokohama Bay Bridge closely resembles video from the “smart bombs” that memorably defined the Pentagon’s carefully orchestrated presentation of the first Gulf War.
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Figure 1.

This video from a Hellfire missile closing in on the Yokohama Bay Bridge closely resembles video from the “smart bombs” that memorably defined the Pentagon’s carefully orchestrated presentation of the first Gulf War.

Many called for an interrogation into the status of the war as an event, describing it as a simulation, a fraud, and a farce.6 For some critics, the real warmongers were those who were willing to pretend that the Gulf War was a traditional or conventional war rather than acknowledging it to be a new variety of promotional campaign on behalf of weapons sales, U.S. international authority, and militarized globalization. For others still, it reflected a new coimplication of media, the military, and the state, which had restructured the very concept of a theater of war, making it subject to real-time media coverage that reduced the significance of territorial spatiality.7 The Gulf War was also identified with a deference of military will to an international legal order [End Page 77] divorced from justice on the part of the U.S.- and UN-aligned forces, given that they effectively permitted and oversaw Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of Kurdish and Shiite Iraqi resistance subsequent to the end of formal hostilities between Iraq and UN forces in the name of respecting the principle of national sovereignty.

Patlabor 2 opens with scenes three years prior to the present of the film. After mechanical failure debilitates a Japanese mecha, several other Japanese mecha from the same unit stationed in Southeast Asia with UN markings come under fire from tanks and rocket-propelled grenades presumably controlled by local forces. The Japanese pilots request permission from UN officials to return fire, but permission is twice denied. The pilots are instructed to wait until armed Canadian assistance arrives. The unit leader, Tsuge Yukihito, ultimately defies these orders, killing the most immediately threatening enemy target, a tank. But he is too late to save his men. As a direct result of dysfunctional rules of engagement that prohibit Japanese peacekeepers from exercising their right of self-defense, all members of the Japanese unit appear to lose their lives, with the exception of Tsuge.8

Contemporary action in the film begins with the destruction of the Yokohama Bay Bridge by air-to-surface missile from an F-16 fighter.9 News reports announce that the fighter appears to have been a plane from the Japan Self-Defense Force, but the JSDF directly denies this. The two protagonists, Gotō and Nagumo (captains of the second section of the security police whose units are responsible for the mecha referred to in the title as “patlabors”), meet with a JSDF intelligence officer, Arakawa. Arakawa informs them that the plane in question was stolen from a U.S. base in Japan, and the prime suspect is Tsuge Yukihito and the group associated with him. Arakawa delivers an extended disquisition on the hypocrisy of Japan’s current pretense to be at peace and to represent an alternative to the rule of force in international affairs. His point is that this makes accepted understandings of Article 9 and the U.S.–Japan security alliance illegitimate, even anti-Japanese. Shortly afterward Tokyo comes under threat of attack from three Japanese F-16s (detected on JSDF headquarters radar), but the attack proves to be a phantom attack produced by hackers who compromised the JSDF network.10

As Gotō and Nagumo begin their search for Tsuge, their work is interrupted by an order from their superiors to mobilize the police around a JSDF base at Nerima. Gotō and Nagumo deploy their personnel, but in a manner that their bosses interpret as defiant. While civilian leadership initially creates difficulties by falsely impugning the JSDF, it proceeds to compound the error by blaming the police for the standoff created by its own actions. [End Page 78] It then declares martial law, mobilizing select units of the SDF throughout the Tokyo area.11

Under interrogation by their civilian superiors, Nagumo and Gotō express their contempt for the behavior of civilian government officials who have sacrificed the reputation of the Japanese military and police, and whose desire for personal political gain has obfuscated responsibility and thus endangered the people. Both officers are then relieved of duty and taken into custody. At the same time, the Tsuge group has mounted an attack on Tokyo with three helicopter gunships. Several bridges are destroyed, and JSDF command and control connections are taken out. Gotō and Nagumo physically attack the officers who detain them, escaping in a patrol car while Tsuge’s attack copters strafe the police building.

While suspended from duty, Gotō and Nagumo organize a paramilitary, extralegal response to Tsuge, using the manpower and resources of their security police section to capture Tsuge by force. They eventually succeed in placing him under arrest. In the meantime, Tokyo is held hostage by three airships circling over the city and carrying poison gas. In defiance of direct orders, Gotō and Nagumo ultimately prevail over Tsuge by force of arms in a paramilitary action, which all concerned know to be illegal and unapproved. The JSDF intelligence officer, Arakawa, is arrested while the vigilante action is in progress, but the arresting officers never question the legality of Gotō and Nagumo’s ongoing activities. The film ends with Tsuge in detention and no hint of legal sanctions or consequences for the actions of Captains Gotō and Nagumo.12

Theatricality and Patlabor 2

Sam Weber writes that, insofar as a medium may not be construed as self-contained or self-regulating, an element of theatricality accompanies the spread of the contemporary electronic media. The electronic media are relational and situational; they constitutively depend on extraneous elements such as spectators or audiences. The media involve not only a delocalization of physical settings but also a change in the structure and function of such settings in their relation to the physical; including physical bodies. Consequently, there can be no delocalization of media or of modes of perception without a corresponding relocalization.13

Weber suggests that the military sense of the term “theater” speaks to a salient trait of media: it is a medium in which conflicting forces strive to [End Page 79] secure the perimeter of a place in dispute. Theater implies the imposition of a border rather than a representational-aesthetic genre. That means theatricality is a problematic process of placing, framing, and situating rather than a process of representation.14

The opening sequence of Patlabor 2 presents a highly mediated experience of combat, which is depicted largely via digital control screens in conjunction with overwrought, near hysterical radio communication between the participants. This is followed by a sequence of what appears to be a less mediated and more spontaneous depiction of testing a “labor,” that is, a labor mecha. But we later discover that it is simulated operation of a labor for the purpose of pilot training. Early in the film, then, we confront the paradox whereby simulated civilian experience appears less mediated and more “real” than the highly mediated real-life experience of contemporary warfare. For viewers of the film, the boundary between simulated experience and real experience (albeit highly mediated) of characters becomes extremely difficult to distinguish.

The film also systematically stages the delocalization and relocalization of visual experience that occurs with analog broadcast television: the screen before the viewer depicts television monitors carrying news broadcasts.15 The film shows the news broadcast announcing military mobilization and a state of emergency by following it across TV monitors of various sizes over a range of private and public settings, from homes to offices to shop windows to enormous outdoor displays in public squares. At other points, the viewer is presented with videotape produced for a karaoke video being replayed and digitally manipulated as evidence for the purpose of surveillance. The tape directly contradicts visual evidence on a public news broadcast.

In other words, there is visual evidence that suggests the official broadcast presentation of national reality is at best dubious or unknowable, at worst simply false.16 Patlabor 2 thus shows corporate TV news broadcasts as a powerful site for the manipulation of public opinion by forces as yet unknown. Broadcasts effectively function as weaponry within a public sphere that is somehow broken and no longer rational or coherent. The visual evidence casts doubt on the veracity of both the Japanese state and news authorities, hinting that they routinely lie.

On the more typically cybernetic side of things, the film vividly depicts smaller military theaters entailing individual weapon-targeting systems, and larger-scale theaters of national and regional military conflict. Much of the screen time is taken up with emulation of weapons and reconnaissance monitoring systems little distinct from the computer graphics technology used [End Page 80] to produce segments of the film itself. The film sutures viewers into the virtual reality of a broad range of perceptual machinery: labor sensors operating in the jungles of Southeast Asia and on the streets of Tokyo; the calibration of sensors and cybernetic feedback systems; the camera’s-eye view of a camera-guided air-to-surface missile as it closes in on its target in Yokohama Bay; night-vision goggles; binoculars; jet fighter and attack helicopter targeting systems; an unmanned airship cockpit; computerized architectural blueprints utilized in the course of tactical planning; and, the most spectacular, a JSDF radar system on which the viewer observes a phantom attack on Tokyo led by three JSDF fighter jets, organized by hackers.

Patlabor 2’s persistent focus on the mediation of experience has understandably led critics such as Ueno Toshiya to read it in terms of a Baudrillardean hermeneutic that foregrounds a purported blurring of the boundary between the simulated and the real, between image and fact. Ueno submits that in Patlabor 2 the simulated and the real are mutually implicated. He seemingly follows Baudrillard in suggesting that the simulated and the real remain so inextricably intertwined that it is no longer meaningful to attempt to distinguish the two. He reads Patlabor 2 as making the implicitly Baudrillardean point that all contemporary experience is mediated to such an extent that, while we need to reflect on how this is changing our life/world, there is no meaningful “outside” to the media and simulation to which we might turn in order to draw the distinction. He describes Tsuge and Gotō’s projects as efforts to alter the balance between the two, concluding that both characters are quixotically trying to influence forces far beyond their control by attempting to discriminate orders of reality that cannot be effectively distinguished from the vantage point of contemporary human experience.17

In an effort to outflank the Baudrillardean problematic, Christopher Bolton turns to the phenomenological approach to film analysis developed by Vivian Sobchack.18 He follows Sobchack in positing two regimes of visuality, a traditional experience of film viewing that inscribes a conventional sense of embodied, human corporeality, and a disruptive digital experience of digital media that inscribes a flattened, disembodied loss of human corporeality. While he finds both modes operative in Patlabor 2, he shows a preference for the filmic regime he evokes in criticism of an allegedly disembodied regime of digital media.19 [End Page 81]

For all my appreciation of Bolton’s analysis of Patlabor 2, and as a sign of that appreciation, I would like to insist on some of the key differences with my analysis. Methodologically, when Sobchack incorporates Guy Debord and Fredric Jameson’s notion of a pervasive and inescapable mediation of spatial experience into her phenomenological reading of cinematic embodiment, she imports with it their take on digital experience, which follows from Baudrillard’s reduction of the real to simulacral virtuality.20 In their analysis, however, the category of digital media runs counter to the phenomenological frame of reference, which Sobchak evokes to characterize her analysis. As a result, the experience of the digital falls outside Sobchak’s analysis, and she ends up capitulating to Baudrillard, insisting that, in the case of digital media, any notion of a bodily schema is effectively evacuated.21

Because Bolton adopts Sobchak’s take, his reading of Patlabor 2 remains within the interpretive horizon of Baudrillard’s simulacrum. His manner of thinking the digital is ultimately very similar to that of Ueno Toshiya, with which he takes issue.

In contrast with Sobchak, Weber’s approach has the advantage of insisting that both analog and digital media involve a delocalization and relocalization of the corporal position of the viewer. Weber persuasively argues that the status of theatrical spectatorship is more effectively approached through an analysis of framing and the imposition of contested boundaries, rather than through an analysis of aesthetic representation in the manner of Sobchak and Bolton.22 If we refuse to grapple with the role of media and spectacle in contemporary terrorism/warfare, we fail to recognize the challenge that Patlabor 2 extends to us in presenting an event that blurs the line between a military and a terrorist event. I would argue that the film makes a strong case that it is no longer possible to distinguish the spectacle of contemporary interstate warfare from the mediated spectacle that constitutes the regime of contemporary terrorism and, analogously, that it is no longer possible to distinguish war from peace. An analysis of war and media centered on representation will inevitably ignore the problematic that organizes the film as a whole, the blurring line between terror and warfare and thus between war and peace. [End Page 82]

Patlabor 2 comprises two basic visual modes, the emulation of conventional camera movement and the emulation of weapons and reconnaissance systems. The film is a visual tour de force that insistently foregrounds the challenge that emulation presents for human perception. Patlabor 2 features animated emulation of conventional camera movement such as tracking, crane, and helicopter shots. The extraordinarily sophisticated emulation of lighting effects includes dazzling, dynamic reflections of light on polished animated surfaces and the impression of multisource “natural” lighting in urban settings. The natural lighting effects include the blinding flash of a train passing at night and the stroboscopic effect of highway lights from within a darkened, moving car. The effect of this vast array of visual modes on the viewer ranges from a sense of hyperreality in the attention to the detail and dynamism of virtual reflections to the sheer physical challenge of processing nearly blinding flashes of light and stroboscopic set pieces in the midst of ongoing action and dialogue. The film is literally stunning in that it consistently strains or overloads the optical capacity of the viewer.

Visual technology figures prominently in the efforts of various characters to distinguish truth and falsehood. Characters frequently call on visuals to challenge what they perceive to be falsehoods concerning the status of contemporary Japan. For instance, the JSDF intelligence officer Arakawa uses videotape in his attempt to persuade security police officers Gotō and Nagumo that the official news media account of the bridge attack is misleading and distorted. The implication is that the public media is a site for manipulating perception rather than solving problems or sharing information. News reports of SDF responsibility for the Bay Bridge attack explicitly set the stage for the later decision of civilian security bureaucrats to unfairly scapegoat the air branch of the SDF. But these reports may well be false. Subsequently, the broadcast media provide cover when the bureaucracy chooses to shift blame to the security police. This is part of the public declaration of emergency by which the SDF is mobilized in the name of militarizing a purportedly ineffective police operation.

The public sphere of the broadcast media is implicitly depicted as a site of public manipulation. We see how news broadcasts act on behalf of forces that are never overtly acknowledged. Arakawa, Gotō, and Nagumo consistently reiterate that politics and civilian control is the problem with rather than the solution to Japan’s paralysis regarding security issues. They imply that, contrary to the received wisdom in postwar Japan that holds civilian control over security to be intrinsically democratic, civilian control is seen to open the public sphere to bureaucratic manipulation. Civilian control does not brake [End Page 83] the abuse of state powers.23 Patlabor 2 implies that broadcast news and the public sphere are an emergency broadcast system in waiting. This system purports to do other things while in fact serving its only effective purpose, that of emergency mobilization of the population in accordance with bureaucratic intentions. Bureaucratic intentions are directly realized through the declaration of emergency by way of the broadcast media and the deployment of SDF forces in the streets of Tokyo.

The JSDF air defense system serves as yet another stage upon which Tsuge and Arakawa’s demands for Japanese strategic sovereignty clearly founder. The virtual air attack on Tokyo by three phantom JSDF F-16s purportedly stationed in Misawa allows Tsuge to reveal that the JSDF security network is compromised by its alliance with the United States, and thus Japanese security and sovereignty are undermined. Ties to the United States are consistently shown to sabotage or fatally expose Japanese strategic control over its territorial borders and airspace. In both the dramatic and military sense, Tsuge directs a series of virtual and physical attacks on Tokyo. His attacks constitute an attack on media spectacle per se intended to produce an effect on its audience, the Japanese people, by removing them from their status as spectators, as an audience. To the degree that we may discern any logic at the heart of Tsuge’s project, his goal appears to be an attack on spectacle, rather than achievement of a conventional strategic objective such as capture of government ministries or state power.24

The Competing Positions in Patlabor 2

Patlabor 2 presents an unusual combination of plot-driven action with lengthy discussions of abjection, national sovereignty, and social authority. Director Oshii Mamoru and writer Itō Kazunori have characters hold forth to a degree rarely seen outside nonfiction documentary or academic lecture. How do the competing rhetorical positions articulated within Patlabor 2 variously seek to contest, unify, delimit, or control competing projections of national and metropolitan space?

On one hand, the film does not have its characters denounce the attacks on legal grounds, which would entail a simple reiteration of the prewar responses to attempts at military coup that typified the 1930s, such as the 2-2-6 Incident (a coup attempt in Tokyo undertaken on February 26, 1936) that was linked to the Japanese takeover of Manchuria. The character Ōta, for instance, unambiguously embodies a spiritual devotion to martial values often [End Page 84] associated with wartime militarism. The film develops a contrast between Ōta and other characters, to assure that we do not mistake Ōta’s perspective (or theirs) for that of the film. Ōta appears as a danger to Japanese security, due in part to his indifference to economic concerns, but above all due to his irrational and willful lack of interest in the military technology that is otherwise fetishized throughout the film. Gotō explicitly asks his boss to speak to Ōta about his misguided and irrational understanding of both police work and training.

On the other hand, the police recruit Ōta for the unit that attacks Tsuge’s heavily fortified position on Lot 18 when Gotō and Nagumo’s police unit prepares for its final and illegal paramilitary action at the end of the film—even after Ota has been arrested and detained by military officials for attempting to organize a military rebellion against offending civilian officials. The implication is that the security police have replaced the military as the site of lawless and potentially authoritarian action in contemporary Japan.

At the same time, the film presents a series of uniformed military and police figures—Tsuge, Nagumo, Gotō—as martyrs and victims of spineless, abject, out-of-control civilian bureaucrats and politicians. In sum, rather than contest special police operations on legal grounds, the film takes seriously the stance associated with rebellious military figures of 1930s Japan. One of the premises of the film is that claims on the part of the civilian leadership to defend the public from the nonexistent threat of a 1930s-style military rebellion are malicious and self-serving. Ultimately, however, the film sends a very mixed message on this score. Events in the film are apparently supposed to give the lie to the suggestion that civilian seizure of authoritarian power serves any cause beyond delaying and obstructing public understanding of the incompetence of the civilian leadership as well as its danger to the public itself. Yet civilian control and postwar democracy per se are relentlessly depicted as absolute shams that effectively invite authoritarian action through a failure of will and principled concern for the Japanese common good, views that actually were important to 1930s-era military terrorism at home and adventurism abroad.

New-Fashioned Military Autonomy

The evocation of Angkor-Thom in the initial action scenes clearly situates the events in Cambodia (Figure 2). Japan’s first UN peacekeeping mission in the early nineties was to Cambodia, and on that mission, two Japanese lives were [End Page 85] lost.25 The opening sequence, culminating in the decimation of Tsuge’s unit, thus alludes to the loss of Japanese lives in this early 1990s UNTAC mission to Cambodia, in which the rules of engagement were widely held responsible for their demise. The same legislation concerning rules of engagement was still in effect at the time of Patlabor 2’s release. This explains why Tsuge presumably feels the loss of Japanese life in Cambodia reveals the danger to which civilian rule exposes Japanese security.

Figure 2. This statuary evokes Angkor-Thom in Cambodia. It is a sculpture of the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (in Japanese, Kannon), who was identified with compassion and attending to the cries of the suffering. He refused to leave this world until all sentient beings had been freed from the illusion of samsara.
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Figure 2.

This statuary evokes Angkor-Thom in Cambodia. It is a sculpture of the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (in Japanese, Kannon), who was identified with compassion and attending to the cries of the suffering. He refused to leave this world until all sentient beings had been freed from the illusion of samsara.

Tsuge’s airships hovering over Tokyo carry the phrase ultima ratio in enormous black letters. Ultima ratio means “the last argument,” which is associated with the phrase ultima ratio regum (“the last argument of kings”) that the French King Louis XIV famously engraved upon his cannon. The implication is that Tsuge thinks that laws mean no more and no less than the force available at any given moment to enforce those laws.26 Tsuge thus implies that, without the threat of force, adherence to the rule of law is a dangerous and false pretense, which situation he intends to correct. For Tsuge, the 1990s legal status quo under which Japanese security personnel lacked the right of self-defense at home or abroad is a dangerous illusion that must [End Page 86] be forcibly shaken in order to cease risking Japanese security personnel and the safety of Japanese citizens for the sake of legal fictions. This motto thus implicitly serves as an indirect criticism of UN and Japanese doctrines of international law that purport to apply it without acknowledging the strategic requirements that would be realistically required to make Japan’s UN-associated, wishful half-measures a reality.

Arakawa identifies Tsuge as a member of the “national defense tribe” (kokubōzoku, also bōeizoku), with which Arakawa himself is identified later in the film. This term refers to an actual group of individuals who constitute an important political link between state and society on defense matters. Such individuals have exhibited an ongoing interest in Japanese defense policy and a general support for increased defense spending. They include bureaucrats who have served in the Japan Defense Agency, former civilian or uniformed officials in the Japan Defense Agency, and Diet members whose electoral districts include military bases.27 Evidently, Tsuge’s actions constitute an attempt to communicate an essential truth to other Japanese: that the contemporary Japanese state mistakenly continues to act as if domestic security and international security remain clearly distinguishable. Tsuge argues, in effect, that the institutional demarcation between law and force is a false and unreal boundary, and that reality has bypassed these statutes and policies. Given that the legislation governing the status of Japanese forces under UN command follows legally from Article 9, Tsuge’s position ultimately requires the abolition of Article 9 or its legal reinterpretation, which would amount to the same thing. Tsuge’s actions strive to show that these issues intersect at both ends, and that the official Japanese position will necessarily lead to failure in both international and domestic security contexts.

Quasi-religious associations accompany Tsuge’s actions. The opening scene, for instance, lingers on Buddhist imagery, the statue of a bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara, who attained enlightenment yet refused departure from this world until all sentient beings had also been freed from the delusion of samsara.28 This bodhisattva was particularly concerned with the cries of the suffering. Thus the film establishes an analogy between the Buddhist concern with freeing oneself from this world of illusion and Tsuge’s quest to free Japan from modern, technologically driven forms of illusion, as if to allow Japan at last to hear foreign cries of suffering. [End Page 87]

Presumably, Tsuge’s terrorist act is calculated to make visible the loss of Japanese life in Cambodia for civilian Japanese on Japanese soil, and thus to allow his men’s actions to take on a significance greater than that of this particular conflict or moment. Tsuge’s response holds out the hope of a future Japan in which the frailty and finitude of his mission’s abjection and failure will be sublimated and overcome by greater Japanese force of will. He seeks to awaken contemporary Japan from its delusion so that in the future perhaps Japan may survive and ultimately triumph over the death by which it currently continues to be threatened. Tsuge’s personal refusal to die for his cause may also be read in Buddhist terms as the ethic of a bodhisattva who refuses to move on to the next life until he has done his part to save others in this one.

In addition, Tsuge’s letter to Nagumo expresses in Biblical terms a concern with restoring unity to Japanese relations.29 It is important to note, however, that this passage’s discussion of familial/national dissension also implicitly evokes a falling away from the ideals of a founding document of the Japanese family-state in the Meiji era, the Imperial Rescript on Education. Similarly, Arakawa states that men will act where gods do not and that, with contemporary technology, any man can be a god. Tsuge also uses Biblical text as computer code. In sum, Tsuge’s disruption of modern communications technologies and weapons systems takes on distinctly religious connotations, related to the Japanese imperial cult, to Buddhism, and to Christianity.

Significantly, the passage from the Bible functions both as computer code and as a commentary on lost Japanese national unity. Tsuge’s actions thus recall Baudrillard’s ideas about symbolic protest in Symbolic Exchange and Death. Tsuge’s actions operate as a symbolic protest against the contemporary and secular codes of Japanese modernity, in which the translation of the Bible into computer code functions as an anagram, with Tsuge’s terrorist acts working to bring the contemporary system crashing down around its own contradictions. But I lack the space to fully explore such a possibility in this essay.30

Lastly, Tsuge designates as illusory (maboroshi) those conceptions that resist the sense of immersion and empathic mutual existence he would purport to restore to Japanese modes of life in Japanese space. His actions imply that the notion of a meaningful boundary between post–Second World War Japanese peace and the globalized violence undertaken by its U.S. ally during [End Page 88] the same period, and from which Japan profited, is illusory and false; they imply that the international legal order sustaining such a boundary is illegitimate.31 In this respect, Tsuge’s critique deeply resonates with Carl Schmitt’s mid-twentieth-century challenge to the legitimacy of Anglo-American centered “peace” whose maintenance demanded colonial and imperial violence. Significantly, when we finally hear Tsuge’s own words, he expresses his concern for the future of Tokyo, rather than a concern for the nation of Japan. While his Biblical quote implies a concern with national unity, his own words almost immediately link him with metropolitan media networks rather the nationalist project.

Arakawa has the longest extended monolog in the film. Along with the sequences of military mobilization in Tokyo, Arakawa’s speech on peace, war, and the use of force is accompanied by the most emotionally haunting soundtrack music in the film.32 Arakawa observes that the responsibility of the SDF and the security police is to maintain peace, but he challenges conventional understandings of peace as superficial and hypocritical. He asserts that conventional understandings assume an illusory integrity of Japanese space that disavows Japanese implication in international, strategic, and economic relations. For Arakawa, claims to defend Japanese peace are simple-minded, false, and self-serving because they entail a disavowal of Japanese complicity in global police violence.

Arakawa argues that Japan is today implicated in postwar U.S. militarism, much as it was in prewar militarism. Globalization implicates Japan in the violence used to sustain the global order from which Japan profits. For Arakawa, Japanese protestations of pacifism entail faith in a fiction of Japanese control and unity. He argues that Japanese must come to understand peace as something more complex than “not war.” He argues that, given the brutality that defines the international status quo, the defense of “peace” constitutes a particularly dangerous illusion.

Arakawa broadens the discussion of peace and war to questions about international order and legitimacy. There does not exist, in his opinion, an international order that does not ultimately ground itself in force. He insists that any peace grounded in observation of the law requires enforcement. To counter how the Japanese state has made a fetish of peace, Arakawa offers a larger view that reveals Japan’s implication in regimes of force; Japan relies on such regimes but continues to disavow them through its professed adherence to Article 9 and its refusal to fully participate in UN peacekeeping missions.

Arakawa builds on the widespread sense that the Gulf War was a war that featured a failure of communication across the televisual media to portray the [End Page 89] Japanese television viewer’s relation to military conflict and international relations as a mode that includes foreign affairs within broadcast television news coverage, but by way of exclusion, that is, through a logic of relation as nonrelation:

While we steadfastly reap the benefits of these conflicts, we banish war to a realm beyond the [TV] screen, forgetting that—no, pretending to forget—that we are on the rear lines of that struggle. If we continue to deny our responsibility, in the end we’ll receive a great punishment.33

Arakawa thus lays out a critique of Japanese media and war suited to the global televisual theater of war. His insistence that foreign war is included within media by way of exclusion recalls Giorgio Agamben’s reading of the state of exception in domestic and international law (Figure 3). Agamben argues that a state of exception emerged in the domestic and international law of developed nations since the First World War, which constitutively incorporates individuals and groups within the law and sovereignty by way of their exclusion. This “exclusive inclusion” builds on the logic of relation as nonrelation, which is manifest in the logic of the ban.34

Arakawa’s speech requires us to account for the state of exception to international law as instituted by U.S.–Japan security policy in the immediate postwar years.35 Because of Japan’s formal lack of military forces, the 1951 Japan–U.S. Security Treaty was a completely unilateral affair. The treaty did not proceed from the United Nations, which meant that the terms for the deployment of U.S. forces were subject only to the unilateral discretion of the United States; it did not require consultation with the government of Japan and thus did not even rise to the status of a mutual security treaty.36 It entailed, in effect, the institutionalization of a state of exception in international law, wherein unilateral U.S. security interest took the place of UN auspices. The 1960 revision of the treaty made reference to the UN and allowed for a very loose, formal process of U.S.–Japanese consultation, but the treaty remains one-sided and toothless.37 To make matters worse, it is primarily the United States that has exerted extreme and unrelenting pressure on Japan to field a military force, tirelessly demanding that Japan violate the very peace constitution imposed on it under U.S. military occupation. Both Oshii and Agamben show an awareness of this problem, which opens the possibility for a substantial critique of unilateral U.S. power. Ultimately, however, both Oshii and Agamben also share a narrowness of focus that prevents them from directly connecting their criticisms of media and sovereignty to a broader critique of [End Page 90] the biopolitical aspects of capitalist exploitation, either in Japan specifically or in East Asia generally.38 Even as the very idea of the relation as nonrelation Oshii deploys opens out onto a broader, less nation-centered problematic, the film’s main characters nevertheless remain centrally concerned to reinstitute effective Japanese national boundaries and sovereignty.

Figure 3. The visual logic of this shot parallels Arakawa’s claim of foreign affairs being included in Japanese media by way of exclusion, the relation of nonrelation. The billboard depicts a foreign land stereotyped and commodified for the purpose of promoting long-distance telephone service, yet any connection of the territory in question to contemporary power politics is entirely elided.
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Figure 3.

The visual logic of this shot parallels Arakawa’s claim of foreign affairs being included in Japanese media by way of exclusion, the relation of nonrelation. The billboard depicts a foreign land stereotyped and commodified for the purpose of promoting long-distance telephone service, yet any connection of the territory in question to contemporary power politics is entirely elided.

To some extent, Arakawa’s criticisms of the U.S.–Japan security alliance reflect a general Japanese questioning of the U.S.–Japan relationship in the early 1990s. With the end of the Cold War, a Japanese public opinion poll conducted in July 1991 reported that more Japanese saw the United States as the primary threat to Japanese security for the first time since 1945.39 Similarly, Arakawa stresses that the U.S.–Japanese security relationship undermines Japanese sovereignty and the integrity of the Japanese security apparatus. For Arakawa, Japanese security is compromised by U.S.–Japan politics: agreements made with the United States sabotage Japanese strategic agency and autonomy. Arakawa’s emphasis reflects the consensus view of security professionals in Japan during the 1990s. SDF policy is set by civilian ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which places high priority on [End Page 91] meeting the demands of the U.S.–Japan relationship, sacrificing the desires of SDF commanders for the sake of maintaining that relationship.40

Arakawa repeatedly submits that integration of the Japanese security apparatus within U.S. networks debases Japanese sovereignty and fundamentally compromises any effort to defend Japan from any given enemy, even if that enemy is not necessarily an agent of the U.S. per se. He argues that Japanese policy dangerously conflates U.S. and Japanese interests, even in contexts in which they demonstrably do not correspond. For Arakawa, Japan’s only option is either to rely on the military force of the U.S., whose security interests already diverge from those of Japan, or to take responsibility for the use of military force on its own terms. The effective premise of nearly every word of Arakawa’s speech is that genuine concern for Japanese security requires the abandonment of Article 9 and a restoration of Japanese military sovereignty, which would require a serious Japanese challenge to the U.S.-imposed state of exception in the international law of the Pacific.

Police Power in the Japanese Police State

Arakawa intimates that he chose to confide in Gotō because the Kanagawa police have a reputation for indulging in extralegal domestic security activity. He consequently sees them as useful allies in a common effort to expose how the exception operates in the application of Japanese security law. Gotō dismisses Arakawa’s analysis as a misunderstanding, but their exchange alludes to an actual incident.

In November 1986, Kanagawa security police wiretapped the executive leader of the Japanese Communist Party, illegally, in defiance of Japanese law. Despite two separate recommendations for prosecution, the Tokyo Prosecutors’ Office decided not to prosecute due to sympathy for the guilty policemen and fear of bureaucratic retribution.41 The incident highlights how, in stark contrast to contemporary Japanese military forces, the Japanese security police are almost entirely shielded from political supervision of any kind.42 Indeed, former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, a former police inspector, was part of a new trend in Japanese politics in which former police officials reached high political position and began to comprise a very powerful faction within the government, connecting the cabinet to the bureaucracy.43 This trend became pronounced from the 1980s.

Gotō describes the civilian security leadership’s response to Tsuge as a theatrical farce played by characters who are miscast, who would not normally [End Page 92] choose to play their assigned parts. Gotō claims that the civilian leadership has effectively militarized state functions under the aegis of defending the state from the (phantom) threat of military subversion. Gotō’s points echo the polemics of General Kurisu, who was the head of the Joint Staff Council during the 1970s. Kurisu insisted that Japanese law, as regards the civilian chain of command and response to surprise attacks, was inadequate, requiring carefully tailored legislation that allows uniformed military officers to respond in real time. Without such legal reform, Kurisu insisted, a real-world security emergency or surprise attack would surely require extralegal military response. Kurisu was made a scapegoat and forced to resign, for his remarks were seen as evocative of 1930s-era military rejection of civilian control. Yet the policy remedies that Kurisu advocated essentially called for restructuring the Japanese Defense Agency chain of command along the lines of the U.S. Department of Defense.44

In response to Arakawa’s long speech on the increasingly blurred distinction between peace and war at the center of the film, Gotō recites a long excerpt from James Dunnigan’s How to Make War: the farther a decision maker is from the theater of battle, the greater the degree to which decisions on strategic questions become detached from reality; such a tendency is even further exacerbated when a nation is on the losing side of an ongoing war.45 Dunnigan, a war game designer and historian, has served as a military consultant to the CIA and the U.S. War College. Elsewhere in the book, Dunnigan presents historical research concluding that military rebellions have more frequently been instigated by civilian rather than military authorities. The Gotō–Dunnigan connection demonstrates the degree to which the screenwriter Itō and the director Oshii impart to Gotō a transnational and avowedly apolitical perspective that is characteristic of the contemporary military professional.

While Gotō comes to agree with Arakawa that war is already underway and that the peace the civilian authorities imagine they are defending is now illusory, he also criticizes Tsuge’s event—his “little war”—as even more false or illusory than the falsehood of the postwar peace that Tsuge and Arakawa lament. Gotō states that destruction is the goal of Tsuge’s actions, not a byproduct. Gotō’s remark resonates with Naomi Klein’s recent argument that postwar neoliberalism is ultimately a political project grounded in destruction.46 By suggesting that American seizure of power would mean Japan has to start all over, Arakawa frames the U.S. occupation of Japan as one more byway on the path of destruction charted by postwar capitalism centered in the United States. [End Page 93]

Gotō and Nagumo’s contempt for the fecklessness in civilian response to emergency is yet another point at which the film alludes to public Japanese debates. Fear of military takeover along the line of the various coup attempts of the 1930s had made emergency legislation so politically charged in the postwar that the Diet did not even consider emergency legislation: “One observer pointed out in 1975 that Japan’s military defense lacked a mobilization plan, a military court system, emergency legislation, and a civil defense system.”47 As of the early 1990s, it still lacked all of those things. News reports featured in the film relate this information in passing.

Gotō consistently regards Tsuge as a target for coercive paramilitary action where necessary, and for arrest where possible. In violating the social order, Tsuge becomes a criminal who must be stopped before he endangers more people. For Gotō, targeting, arresting, and preempting Tsuge’s further action resolves the challenge that he poses to Japanese social space for the time being. In other words, Gotō aims to reintegrate Tsuge into the Japanese social order.

Gotō’s speech on the two kinds of government figures who violate the law could have come out of a silent-era jidaigeki: “There are those who are forces for justice (seigi) and those who are forces for evil.” Yet the speech also resonates with Walter Benjamin’s discussion of law and force in “Critique of Violence.” Gotō advocates what Benjamin describes as law-preserving violence, the suspension of the law and the use of force for the sake of restoring the rule of law.48 Gotō purports to violate the law for the sake of restoring normality and the rule of law, the rule of the state, and the public interest. In effect, Gotō arbitrarily delimits the apparently unmanageable network that Arakawa and Tsuge have spun between law, force, and legitimacy. Gotō makes it thinkable in simple terms, in the terms of criminal justice and the restoration of law and order.

In effect, however, Gotō’s actions constitute an exception even to the state of exception—they violate the very terms of the state of exception laid out by his superiors in the security hierarchy of the Japanese state. Gotō and Nagumo’s actions can be seen as a coup within a coup. They present a decision that effectively decides the exception in the context of the nonstate threat with which the film presents us. Their decision determines that the sovereignty of the Japanese state vis-à-vis security resides with Gotō and Nagumo’s unit, the SV2. The implication is that civilian bureaucrats are not capable of defending Japan; therefore security professionals must step into the breach even when their civilian superiors have expressly prohibited such action. While Gotō and Nagumo thus shut down many of the larger questions [End Page 94] raised by Tsuge’s action, they are ultimately in agreement with Arakawa that Japanese civilian leadership is incompetent and untrustworthy. One of the primary targets of the film is the Japanese bureaucrat. Where postwar Japanese popular opinion has sometimes deprecated Japanese politicians and idealized bureaucrats as unselfish civil servants, Patlabor 2 aims to smear bureaucrats and politicians interchangeably as “civilians” who are unworthy of authority in situations where Japanese security comes under serious threat.

Nagumo, like Gotō, directly challenges civilian Japanese security leadership as opportunistic, incompetent, and dangerous. She also takes issue with Tsuge, advocating that the citizens of Tokyo possess existential value as concrete living creatures. She implies that his insistence that Tokyoites live in an illusion seems to discount or abstract the value of their lives as such. She implies that Tsuge reduces the citizens of Tokyo to pawns in a contest over the parameters and unity of contemporary Japanese space. Tsuge’s actions suggest that he believes an increased militarization of Japanese security is necessary at home and abroad and can only be undertaken by Japanese security professionals, not civilians who will surely botch the job and endanger everyone else in the process. In Nagumo’s opinion, however, Tsuge’s approach cheapens or even erases the value of human lives as such.

The Menagerie

The recurrent depiction of nonhuman agents such as fish, dogs, and birds may serve to reinforce Nagumo’s explicit challenge to Tsuge’s terror plot: war is of flesh and blood as well as of images and symbols. Birds, for instance, interfere with security police targeting of Tsuge’s remote-controlled airship. Security forces aligned with the state thus express an explicit disregard for the fate of nonhuman life.

The overwhelming visual domination of thousands of seagulls over Lot 18 both on the ground and in the air in the final sequence of the film—over land reclaimed by humans from the ocean—vividly raises the issue of the unintended consequences of human action on nonhuman life as well as human life, on life as such (Figure 4). On the one hand, the seagulls’ status as a form of life on Lot 18, seemingly disconnected from direct human control, stands as a trace of life that at least momentarily falls outside the relentless economic imperative to organize all forms of matter and life for the purpose of the reproduction of capital. On the other hand, the process of land “reclamation” that produced Lot 18 from what was previously part of Tokyo Bay is a [End Page 95] form of technological destruction of natural habitat pervasive in modern Japan, frequently catastrophic for both human and nonhuman life from an ecological perspective. It is tempting to draw a connection between the assault on nature that creates Lot 18, where Tsuge takes his stand, and the smashup between nature and technology staged in the first Patlabor film, where the Ark project turns ocean into land and raises towers (monuments to modern construction technology) that create unintended effects—under tidal wave conditions, resonance created by wind interacting with the buildings is designed to trigger a rampage of Patlabor mecha with the HOS operating system. In both cases, technological human assault on the environment leads to a sort of revenge. In Patlabor 1, Hoba’s cyber-terrorism utilizes a natural environmental trigger that requires destruction of the Ark built on Tokyo Bay. In Patlabor 2, Tsuge’s actions also appear to be somewhat inspired by a concern for nature. He seemingly calls for a less technologized and more empathic relation to the environment and other creatures both human and nonhuman, and he directs his plot from the newly installed landfill that is Lot 18. The very name of the location communicates the transformation of an ocean habitat into a unit of land that produces economic property at the expense of the environment and that is now ripe for manipulation and exploitation.49

Figure 4. Seagulls visually dominate the scene at Lot 18 where Tsuge made his headquarters and where he is captured by Nagumo’s band of vigilantes.
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Figure 4.

Seagulls visually dominate the scene at Lot 18 where Tsuge made his headquarters and where he is captured by Nagumo’s band of vigilantes.

[End Page 96]

For all its consistent association with the character of Tsuge, animal life thus seems to represent a surviving form of organization and perception not yet drawn into the fierce demands of social reproduction largely enforced by the forms of technology and altered perception more predominantly featured in the film. Baudrillard offers a seagull soaked in oil as an emblem of the television viewer’s implication in the media manipulation of the Gulf War.50 Oshii seems to offer the seagull, the fish, and the dog as animals that have avoided abjection by what Tsuge at least appears to consider the pathological mediation of contemporary Japanese experience (Figure 5). Oshii’s work thus raises the issue of speciesism, the role of the animal in sustaining or challenging humanism, and the possibility of challenges to this mode of thought from the subject position of nonhuman animals.51 The film thus in part seems to actively champion a mode of mutual empathy and cobelonging it depicts as characterizing the behavior of nonhuman animals as an ideal to be aspired to by human animals, and that would have positive consequences for all life forms, including other humans. Rather than arguing that animals are much more human than previously realized as more liberal animal-rights activists would have it, the film on the contrary uses the behavior of animals as a criterion by which to judge human behavior and find humans seriously wanting.52

Figure 5. Along with various birds and fish, this basset hound is one of several dogs Oshii depicts in the film as possessed of a gaze and a power of vision that is seemingly uncontaminated by the mendacity of the mass media that corrupts human perception.
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Figure 5.

Along with various birds and fish, this basset hound is one of several dogs Oshii depicts in the film as possessed of a gaze and a power of vision that is seemingly uncontaminated by the mendacity of the mass media that corrupts human perception.

[End Page 97]

Patlabor 2 in 2008

Patlabor 2 screens Arakawa and Gotō acknowledging, with Tsuge, a blurred boundary between war and peace. The film depicts a world that reinforces Arakawa’s thesis that the Japanese media relate to foreign affairs by way of a strategy of inclusion by exclusion. The former is foundational for claims of a state of emergency that has become the norm. The latter mirrors the logic of Giorgo Agamben’s reading of the state of exception as informed by a logic of relation as nonrelation.

On one hand, the film conveys an important and useful warning to Japanese regarding their own implication in the catastrophic international destruction of postwar U.S. imperial practice. Nevertheless, the film’s insistence on the collapsed boundary between war and peace and the rise of a permanent state of exception is also quite congenial to the contemporary neoconservative Japanese national defense tribe’s own variant of the “war on terror” grounded on just this premise. In effect, Patlabor 2 ultimately appears to advocate militarizing Japanese foreign and domestic policy and saving it from what the film depicts as ultimately the greatest threat of all—civilian rule that refuses to recognize an ongoing and potentially permanent state of emergency.

Given the general identification of so much of Patlabor 2 with the perspective of the Japanese military professional, much of the argument seems to be driven by a variety of technological determinism. The technology of the weapons Japan deployed in the 1990s seamlessly pulled the JSDF from a posture of defending Japanese territory to a posture of projecting power as far as Korea and the Taiwan Straits for the purpose of a greatly enlarged notion of self-defense.53 In this sense, it is the technology fetishized by most of the film that sustains a theater of security operations that reaches far beyond the geographical boundaries of Japan and thus presents a theater of Japanese security interests that causes Article 9 and the Japanese constitution to appear obsolete in the manner suggested by Tsuge, Arakawa, and, to a lesser degree, Gotō.

With the advent of the Koizumi administration, the Heisei militarization foreshadowed in Patlabor 2 intersected with Japanese reception of the Bush Doctrine. In the event, Japanese neoconservatives have gleefully [End Page 98] retrofitted outstanding demands of the Japanese national defense tribe as the only natural and appropriate response to a global war on terror. Japanese neoconservatives have used the spectacle of a missile threat from North Korea and media-fueled hysteria over decades-old kidnappings of Japanese by North Korean intelligence as a screen memory to generate Japanese self-righteousness, erase all memory of Japanese colonial oppression of millions on the continent, and to clear the Japanese public conscience regarding remilitarization.

Just since the turn of this century, Japan has joined the international coalition to cooperate with international police and intelligence efforts to track terrorist groups. It has proclaimed a right to preemptively attack North Korea. An Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law was passed that led to deployment of Japanese air and maritime SDF troops in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S. operations outside a United Nations peacekeeping force structure. The Koizumi cabinet announced its intention to deploy U.S.-built missile defense systems.54

In other words, Japan’s “defense” posture has been militarized in the meantime, but by way of further deepening U.S.–Japan cooperation rather than by moving away from it as Patlabor 2 strongly advocates. From the perspective of Arakawa, this would mean that Japanese security has been further endangered and abjected. During televised debate over deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq on the Fujisankei network, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) representative wholeheartedly supported Bush administration objectives of Japanese deployment while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) opposed deployment as a violation of Article 9 and Japanese legislation requiring the troops to be stationed in a pacified area. Only the nationalist manga writer Kobayashi Yoshinori consistently advocated the longer-term project of articulating Japanese security objectives distinct from those of the United States. He was repeatedly derided by the moderator for being hopelessly naïve as regards the reality of U.S. power.55 The Japanese public sphere thus currently presents a competition between a neoconservative Japanese nationalism that identifies Japanese and U.S. security interests for the purpose of advancing Japanese militarism, a legalistic pacifism that fails to address neoconservative claims of an unrecognizably transformed security environment, and competing varieties of Japanese nationalism that insist on distinguishing between the U.S. and Japanese interests such as advocated by Ishihara and Kobayashi. To date, Japanese leaders have managed to institute and expand militarizing policies despite consistent and widespread popular opposition to them among the Japanese voting public. [End Page 99]

In sum, Patlabor 2 stages an intersection of the theatricality of cybernetics with the theater of military operations as a contest for control over national and metropolitan space. It concludes that the overarching and decisive outcome of this development is an abolition of the boundary between war and peace, that Japan now lives under a permanent state of emergency. It further suggests that, in the wake of the first Gulf War, it is now virtually impossible to distinguish between interstate warfare and nonstate terrorism as modes of terrorist spectacle. While the film distances itself from the revival of 1930s wartime militarism in some respects, it depicts an alternative threat of authoritarianism in the security police, and an abject irresponsibility and failure of civilian democratic leadership. It follows hegemonic professional military understandings of the technology it so consistently features in effectively demanding increasingly militarized Japanese foreign relations, though it also challenges certain premises of Japanese neoconservatism and speciesist humanism.

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is the author of Japan and the Specter of Imperialism.


1. To my knowledge, Michael Fisch was the first to seriously explore Patlabor 2 as a commentary on Japan’s international position. Fisch argues that what emerges is ultimately a voice of anti-American Japanese nationalism. While I find Fisch’s reading a bit U.S.-centered, I think most of what he has to say on the subject is insightful and important. I would distinguish the project of this article from Fisch’s reading in two respects: (1) Where Fisch is primarily concerned with the vicissitudes of Japanese nationalism, my own analysis is grounded in the assumption that postwar and contemporary Japan has not been a sovereign nation in many respects, and thus I also attempt to address the question of Japan’s domestic and international status in terms that escape or fail the national project. (2) My analysis is grounded in a methodological approach that assumes the media are as implicated in contemporary warfare and international affairs as they are in film study. I would say that this essay attempts to conceive film study and international affairs as more intrinsically interrelated than Fisch’s approach would seem to suppose. See Michael Fisch, “Nation, War, and Japan’s Future in the Science Fiction Anime Film Patlabor II,Science Fiction Studies 27, no. 1 (March 2000): 49–68.

2. This sentence alludes to a passage in Carl Schmitt: “Sovereign is: He who decides on the state of exception” From Politische Theologie (Berlin, 1990), translated in David Dyzenhaus, Legality and Legitimacy: Karl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, and Hermann Heller in Weimar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

3. Fisch, “Nation, War, and Japan’s Future,” 12; Ueno Toshiya, Kurenai no metaru sūtsu: Anime to iu senjō (Metalsuits the red: Wars in animation) (Tokyo: Kinokuniya Shoten, 1998), 41.

4. “Fine illustration of the communication schema in which emitter and receiver on opposite sides of the screen, never connect with each other.” Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf [End Page 100] War Did Not Take Place, trans. Paul Patton (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 44, 48.

5. Noam Chomsky, for example, concluded that the Gulf War was not a conventional war involving fighting between opposed sides, but came closer to a combination of mutual state terrorism and mass slaughter. Noam Chomsky, “The Media and the War: What War?” in Triumph of the Image: The Media’s War in the Persian Gulf—A Global Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992), 51.

6. Ibid., 58, 59, 63.

7. “Detection and deception forming henceforth the foundational couplings of the American Air Land Battle strategy . . . the question of remote detection becomes crucial . . . From this revolutionary pursuit comes . . . a physical form of the materiel of war . . . which depends nearly exclusively on its remote image, its ‘radar echo’ or ‘thermal signature’” (Paul Virilio, The Virilio Reader [Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 1998], 167). “It is somewhat as if the image in the mirror were suddenly modifying our face: the electronic representation on the screen, the radar console, modifies the aerodynamic silhouette of the weapon, the virtual image dominating in fact ‘the thing’ of which it was, until now, only the ‘image’” (ibid., 168). “The strategic and political importance of the control of public and private televisions in the war of real time, even beyond that of the Gulf, is now more evident than ever” (ibid., 169). “Arms of communication prevail for the first time in the history of combat over the traditional supremacy of arms of destruction . . . We will attempt therefore to identify and analyze this new ‘site,’ this so-called ‘milieu,’ to the degree the technologies which compose and organize it are those which tomorrow will structure the city, the global village” (ibid., 170).


Christopher Bolton has argued intriguingly that this scene depicts an alienation of the mecha pilots from a visceral sense of threat and the necessity of their own selfdefense as a result of the mediation of their experience by the digital control displays through which they control their mechas. He suggests that this also instances a fear of dehumanization that pervades a significant segment of science fiction more broadly.

While Bolton has a quote from Oshii himself in support of this reading, my own repeated viewings of the scene in question find the experience depicted fairly terrifying and the depicted response of the characters in the scene as closer to hysterical than distanced or delayed (including heavy breathing and frantic shouting on their radios), a sense that forces me to question the degree to which one can argue that this particular scene depicts digital mediation as a cause of distancing from the immediacy of danger. On the contrary, I receive a palpable sense of the alienation of justice and force from the law in this scene, but experience the depicted digital control displays during the scene as anticipating, marking, and if anything magnifying the imminent threat rather than diminishing it.

Rather, what I think Bolton’s intuition here points toward is an alienation and distancing from the possibility of being immersed in a mutual relation with one’s surroundings associated with aural and audio experience. This alternative mode of experience is screened when Tsuge emerges from his mecha, removes his helmet, and hears the sound of a bird’s cry and feels the wetness of falling rain, sounds and bodily stimuli that draw him into a mutual relation with his surroundings in a manner precluded by the visually oriented digital display and isolation that characterized the previous scene in the mecha. The Angkor Thom–type statuary toward which our attention is then turned depicts [End Page 101] Avalitokesvara, a Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva known for being open to hearing the cries of the suffering who have not yet found Buddhist enlightenment. The bird’s cry on the soundtrack just as Tsuge removes his helmet surely pushes Tsuge and the audience toward an aural position enveloped by the surroundings that is starkly different from the narrow instrumental relationship with the environment staged in the immediately preceding fighting sequence. I would argue that the Buddhist symbolism of the statuary (which also poses a nostalgic aspect of the romantic ruin) fairly directly associates these distinct types of experience with one’s ability to maintain concern for the suffering of others and more particularly, with one’s ability to listen empathetically rather than to act based on technologized and emotionally distancing visual cues.

Like Fisch, I would argue that the mechas at least in part signify a Japanese technological superiority over the threat so profound that the scene requires the viewer to conclude that only a self-inflicted lack of will or effort at self-defense could have resulted in the meaningless sacrifice of Japanese lives we witness. This is pretty clearly meant to be a commentary on the failure of will codified in Japanese arrangements with the United Nations. I do find Bolton’s suggestion that the film presents a reversal of the picture of Gulf War–style war as war game to be very insightful as regards later sections of the film but don’t find the argument persuasive as regards the opening scene. See Christopher Bolton, “The Mecha’s Blind Spot: Patlabor 2 and the Phenomenology of Anime,” Science Fiction Studies 29, no. 3 (November 2002): 453–74.

9. Bolton curiously refers to this weapon as a “cruise missile.” In American English, the term “cruise missile” typically refers to a Tomahawk missile, an enormous long-range strategic missile that can only be deployed from a ship or, in the case of other cruise missile types, from the largest bombers. Perhaps this is a question of dialect. The missile attack in Patlabor 2 gives every appearance of being a Hellfire air-to-ground missile launched from an F-16. Hellfire missiles are most commonly launched from attack helicopters such as the Apache, but they may also be fired from an F-16 fighter jet. Hellfire missiles have more recently become the weapon typically launched from the Predator drone that has become such a central aspect of the Obama administration’s military strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

10. Not only are the planes in question explicitly identified as JSDF fighters from Misawa Air Force Base, but the film previews this issue by earlier informing us in a newscast that F-16s were adopted by the JSDF in the fictional past of the film, 1998, and that 190 are stationed at Misawa. At present, Misawa Air Force Base houses both Japanese and U.S. air units, but only the JSDF units currently deploy F-16s. Interestingly, the fighters mustered to intercept the three phantom jets are F-15s, a distinct type of fighter jet that is actually deployed at the JSDF air bases referred to in the film.

11. Fisch suggests that the occupation of Tokyo by the SDF somehow evokes Japanese occupation by the U.S. army. I’m not persuaded. Given the weather depicted, surely the most immediate association would be with mobilization of the Japanese army in Tokyo on Feb. 2, 1931 in response to the most famous of a series of attempted coups d-etat in the 1930s, the 2-2-6 Incident. It strikes me that a difference in the identity of the occupying army of such stark proportions as domestic vs. foreign troops must surely be decisive in shaping any historical associations evoked by the sequence.

12. Their accomplices from the SV2 security police unit do, however, discuss how [End Page 102] participating in the final paramilitary action against Tsuge in violation of direct orders from their superiors is destined to end their professional careers, so it is possible that untoward consequences not depicted on screen are in store for Gotō and Nagumo.

13. Samuel Weber, Theatricality as Medium (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 42.

14. Ibid., 314–15.

15. Christopher Bolton curiously tries to subsume centralized analog TV network broadcasts transmitting government propaganda within the category of distributed digital media that hold uniquely digital, disembodied properties for the viewer. This strikes me as a category mistake.

16. This is somewhat reminiscent of the first George Bush administration’s production of satellite intelligence showing Iraqi troops massed on the border of Saudi Arabia that later investigation by the Miami Herald based on satellite evidence from private services demonstrated to have been entirely fabricated.

17. Ueno, Kurenai no metaru sūtsu, 40–45, 50–64.

18. “My reading of the film declines Ueno’s ‘invisibility’ and its associations with the epistemologically undecidable or unknowable, opting instead for the metaphor of an obstacle to vision that insulates us from an outside reality without rendering that reality irrelevant, an obstacle that can be partially if never totally overcome” (Bolton, “The Mecha’s Blind Spot,” 461). “Sobchack’s work offers a considered framework for looking at explorations of mediated experience in contexts (like film) that are already more or less mediated themselves . . . These two ideas come together in Sobchack’s larger phenomenology of film experience, a theory that speaks directly to the differences between electronic and cinematic presence, and by extension to the differences between the experience of animation versus live-action cinema” (ibid., 466).

19. Ibid., 469.


“In ‘Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (the essay that critically informs both the structure and emphasis of this present chapter), Fredric Jameson tells us that we are in the midst of ‘a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realism’ . . . Immersed in media experience, conscious of mediated experience, we no longer experience any realm of human existence as unmediated, immediate, ‘natural.’ We can only imagine such an experience . . . Through the last decade, even our bodies have become pervasively re-cognized as cultural, commodified, and technologized objects.” Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 236–37.

“Digital and schematic, abstracted from reproducing the empirical objectivity of ‘nature’ that informs the photographic and from presenting a representation of individual embodied subjectivity that informs the cinematic, the electronic constructs and refers to a ‘virtual reality’—a meta-world in which ethical investment and value are located neither in concrete things nor in human lived bodies but in representation-in-itself. As Guy Debord has eloquently and succinctly put it, our electronic culture experiences its historical moment as if ‘everything that was lived directly has moved away into a representation.’

“The materiality of the electronic digitizes existential durée and situation so that a centered and coherent investment in the lived-body is atomized and dispersed across various systems and networks that constitute temporality not as an intentional flow of conscious experience but as an unselective transmission of random information. The existential, [End Page 103] bodily situation of ‘being-in-the-world’ becomes itself digitized, becomes a conceptual and schematic space that is both compelling and inhospitable. That is, the lived-body cannot intelligibly inhabit it . . . In an important sense, electronic space dis-embodies.” Vivian Sobchack, The Address of the Eye (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 301.

21. “But with the advent of electronic technology, from video tape on, cinema’s ordering of space and time gives way to dispersal and discontinuity, an alternative and absolute world that uniquely incorporates the spectator/user in a spatially decentered, weakly temporalized, and quasi-disembodied state” (Bolton, “The Mecha’s Blind Spot,” 466). “The film imitates or simulates both the unified cinematic body and its electronic dissolution, resulting in an oscillation between cinematic and electronic vision” (469).

22. Bolton’s analysis certainly fits with Gotō’s stance, insofar as Gotō also seeks to distinguish between a shooting war and a war designed to recreate a wartime state of emergency in Tokyo. Several problems appear in Bolton’s analysis, which follow directly from the Sobchak-inspired incorporation of Baudrillard in conjunction with an emphasis on representation. First, Sobchack’s dichotomy of filmic and digital experience encourages Bolton to see a (false) parallel between the very present danger of the enemy depicted on digital screens in the opening scene of the film and the absence of any clear depiction of war and its violence on the TV screens of Japanese living in Tokyo alluded to in Arakawa’s extended disquisition on postwar Japanese affairs. Second, by centering his analysis on modes of representation, Bolton ends up sustaining a modernist dichotomy between reality (international power politics) and representation (media) at the very moment when Patlabor 2, like the Gulf War, demands some reckoning with the co-implication of media, violence, and power. Third, Bolton strives to distinguish Tsuge’s attack on Tokyo from a conventional shooting war, concluding that Tsuge’s attack was not a war. Yet the strategic and tactical lesson of the Gulf War was that modern warfare incorporates deception, and that media strategy and attacks on command and control comprise its very essence. While we overhear Tsuge’s forces repeating orders to kill as few people as possible, their scruples do not necessarily distinguish their project from newer, more contemporary command and control–oriented modes of warfare. While allowing for the possibility of a continuum between a deliberate shooting war and a war on mediated spectacle, I think it is also important to think through the global shift in contemporary military tactics. There has been a move from an older tactics organized around a territorial conception of the theater of war to a newer military tactics that assume a more virtual and global understanding of the theater of war that effectively incorporates attacks on command, control, and media as central aspects of state-of-the-art tactics. In other words, there is something of an uncanny convergence between Tsuge’s avowed war on mediated spectacle and run-of-the-mill contemporary strategic doctrines that self-consciously focus on command-and-control systems (often including mass media) as high-value targets in what now passes for a conventional military attack. The primary difference would appear to be that, whereas the latter are typically directed at a foreign power, the former is directed at Tsuge’s own country of origin. In this restricted sense, it can be seen as running counter to the conscious development of home-front media spectacle so prominent in contemporary visions of military strategy.

In his insistence that Tsuge’s attack is entirely on the media, Bolton runs the risk of making claims like those of the Pentagon during the Gulf War, which insisted that the Gulf War was a clean war involving surgical attacks aimed exclusively at targets of strategic [End Page 104] value and producing minimal casualties. The number of casualties depicted on the screen can hardly be presumed to be decisive in the context of this film. After all, the film explicitly criticizes the apathy of a Japanese public that does not understand that war produces casualties whether those casualties actually make it to the TV screen or not. A character in the last scene of the film makes the point perfectly explicit: he states that the number of casualties and the extent of the property damage caused by Tsuge’s actions remain incalculable. It is precisely such evidence of the co-implication of war and media that Bolton overlooks due to his emphasis on representation.

In sum, by drawing a line, however tentatively, between a “clean” media war and a conventional shooting war, Bolton ignores the film’s presentation of a war–media event that overtly blurs the boundary between an act of war and an act of terrorism, which also serves to blur the boundary between war and peace.

23. Fisch suggests that the film criticizes particular leaders rather than the system as a whole, but my viewings suggest that the delegitimation of civilian control is pervasive and done with a very broad brush.

24. It is difficult not to see a significant aspect of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq as having involved similar psy-ops aimed at the American people and as having been conducted at the expense of claims to democratic political process in the United States and the achievement of more genuine strategic objectives that were long ignored for the sake of sustaining the spectacle of the neoconservative fantasy of the administration’s choice.

25. “An example of the rules Japan has placed on its SDF forces is that, until recently under Japanese law, officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) were not permitted to order their troops to fire or withhold fire. This rule effectively prevented the SDF troops from acting as a unit in any combat situation, thus destroying their effectiveness. The reality of the situation was that the commanders in the field ordered their troops to fire only when ordered to do so. If an incident occurred, the field commanders took full responsibility for violating Japanese law. The field commanders were told by their superiors that they would be protected as much as possible but that they might have to take the fall if the incident caused a backlash. No incident ever took place, and in spring 1999 the Japanese Diet amended the law to permit its troops to act as a normal military unit for self-defense.” Kevin Cooney, Japan’s Foreign Policy since 1945 (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2007), 47–48.

26. In this regard, Tsuge’s position resembles that of Alfred Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, avowed models for the unilateral exceptionalism of the Bush Doctrine: “The trouble with law is that, being artificial and often of long date, it frequently is inapplicable to a present dispute . . . The settlement, therefore, is insecure, its foundations are not solid; whereas in the long run the play of natural forces reaches an adjustment corresponding to the fundamental facts of the case . . . There can be little doubt that these matters will be settled in a manner far more advantageous to the world by leaving them to the play of natural forces. It will be better to depend upon the great armaments, as institutions maintaining peace, which they have done effectually for forty years in Europe itself.” Alfred Mahan, Arbitration and Armaments, or The Place of Force in the International Relations of States (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912), 13.

27. Peter Katzenstein and Nobuo Okawara, Japan’s National Security (Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1993), 44–45, 62.

28. The figure depicted in the film resembles statuary at the Angkor Thom complex in [End Page 105] Cambodia. Such figures are generally believed to depict a Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara. Dawn Rooney, Angkor (London: Odyssey Publications, 1999), 59 and 170. Avalokitesvara is translated as “sound perceiver,” an apparent reference to his mission to listen and respond to the cries of unenlightened beings in distress. Alexander Studholme, The Origins of “Om Manipadme Hum” (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 55.

29. I find Fisch’s reading of the passage quite persuasive. He suggests that Jesus argues against the Pharisees’ collaboration with Rome just as Tsuge’s actions implicitly argue against Japanese collaboration with the United States. Fisch, “Nation, War, and Japan’s Future,” 10–11.

30. “We will never defeat the system on the plan of the real . . . We must therefore displace everything into the sphere of the symbolic, where challenge, reversal and overbidding are the law, so that we can respond to death only by an equal or superior death. There is no question here of real violence or force, the only question concerns the challenge and the logic of the symbolic . . . to turn the principle of its power back against the system itself . . . To defy the system with a gift to which it cannot respond save by its own collapse and death . . . the terrorists’ demands amounted to a radical denial of negotiation. It is precisely here that everything is played out, for with the impossibility of all negotiation we pass into the symbolic order, which is ignorant of this type of calculation and exchange . . . The police and the army, all the institutions and mobilized violence of power whether individually or massed together, can do nothing against this lowly but symbolic death.” Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: Sage Publications, 1993), 36–38.

31. Michael Fisch also touches on this very important point.

32. It should be noted that the soundtrack music has been significantly rewritten and reedited for the second DVD release in terms of atmosphere and pacing.

33. This is my own translation of Arakawa’s monologue. Both Fisch and Bolton discuss this monolog at some length.

34. “What is the relation between politics and life, if life presents itself as what is included by means of an exclusion? . . . In Western politics, bare life has the peculiar privilege of being that whose exclusion founds the city of men . . . The fundamental categorical pair of Western politics is not that of friend/enemy but that of bare life/political existence, zoe/bios, exclusion/inclusions. There is politics because man is the living being who, in language, separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time, maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion.” Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998), 7–8.

35. I would like to acknowledge that Jon Solomon’s article “Taiwan Incorporated” was important for arriving at this reading of sovereignty in the Pacific as a unilateral, U.S.-centered state of exception. See Jon Solomon, “Taiwan Incorporated: A Survey of Biopolitics in the Sovereign Police’s Pacific Theater of Operations,” in Impacts of Modernities, Traces 3, ed. Thomas Lamarre and Kang Nae-hui, 229–54 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004).

36. Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 132–33.

37. Ibid., 133–34.


I consider Aiwha Ong’s Flexible Citizenship (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, [End Page 106] 1999) and Neoliberalism as Exception (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006) to be outstanding examples of scholarship that connects the issue of biopower to transnational institutions in a more far-reaching way than do Oshii or Agamben. “There are two conceptual problems with this exclusive focus on the legal and the simple bifurcation of the population into two halves: political beings and bare life. First, this axis discounts the validity of other universalizing moral discourses—the great religions, in particular—that pose alternative ethical norms of humanity . . . Agamben’s fundamental reference of bare life in a state of permanent exception thus ignores the possibility of complex negotiations of claims for those without territorialized citizenship . . . But in this rigid binary opposition, Agamben seems to preclude the possibility of non-rights mediation or complex distinctions that can buttress claims for moral protection and legitimacy. It is politically and ethnographically incorrect and even dangerous to present the concentration camp as the norm of modern sovereignty. The shifting legal and moral terrain of humanity has become infinitely more complex.

Economic globalization is associated with staggering numbers of the globally excluded . . . legal citizenship is merely one form of human protection . . . The nonstate administration of excluded humanity is an emergent transnational phenomenon . . . Indeed, bare life itself has its own moral legitimacy, and its relationship to ethics and to labor is always open to neoliberalism as exception” [italics added]. Ong, Neoliberalism, 22–24.

Agamben’s tendency to reduce the state of exception to a quasi-universalized and relatively ahistorical opposition between Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin strongly tends to obscure the competing matrices of power and agency with which Schmitt and Benjamin were often in dialogue. In my own research, this binary tends to obscure the degree to which Schmitt’s own theorization of the state of exception responded to various Japanese intellectuals’ earlier identification of a state of exception in international law (frequently involving the Monroe Doctrine and Japan’s Monroe Doctrine for Asia) in the Pacific and was itself later widely discussed in the context of Japanese efforts to legally theorize the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. In addition, Agamben’s binary tends to obscure the degree to which Schmitt’s own position was a polemic response to the United States’ positivist insistence that there was no significant conflict between a League of Nations charter that proscribed wars of aggression and the clause in the charter that specifically excepted the Monroe Doctrine from the charter such that it effectively did not apply to U.S. action in the Western Hemisphere or, indeed, anywhere the United States chose to claim their action was inspired by the Monroe Doctrine as foreign policy that did not rise to the level of codified international law.

39. Wall Street Journal, 1991, cited in Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 1.

40. Japan’s security policy is formulated within institutional structures that bias policy strongly against a forceful articulation of military security objectives and accord pride of place instead to a comprehensive definition of security that centers on economics and political dimensions of national security. To the extent that it is purely domestic, this institutional structure subordinates military to economic and political security concerns . . . The key unity of MOFA dealing with security policy is thus placed in an organization that happens to have considerable autonomy in policy-making and accords great importance to good relations with the United States.” Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 21, 29. [End Page 107]

41. Peter Katzenstein and Yutaka Tsujinaka, Defending the Japanese State: Structures, Norms, and the Political Responses to Terrorism and Violent Social Protest in the 1970s and 1980s (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell East Asia Series, 1991), 71.

42. “Political supervision of the MPD and the other prefectural police forces by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other prefectural governments is almost non-existent.” Ibid., 64.

43. “Under Prime Minister Nakasone, himself originally an Inspector in the MPD, many former police bureaucrats who entered politics have been given important offices . . . Over time it has been the police rather than a revived MOHA that has created a link between the cabinet and politics. This key role of the police is evidence for a qualitative increase in police power.” Ibid., 80.

44. Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 54.

45. “Secrecy is a goal that governments pursue at all times. During a war, secrecy is a veritable article of faith. The temptation to manipulate the news during a war is frequently overwhelming. The farther away from the slaughter, the more optimism replaces reality. Reality is often nonexistent at the highest decision-making levels. This is especially true when you are losing a war.” James Dunnigan, How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare (New York: Quill, 1988), 344. I would like to thank the subtitle translator of the Bandai Visual USA DVD release of Patlabor 2, Dan Kanemitsu, for identifying this quotation.

46. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: First Edition Books, 2007). Tom Lamarre has recently connected Klein’s point to a reading of Japanese atomic anime as a genre. This thesis also strongly resonates with Walter Bello’s thesis that much global economic development since the Second World War in significant respects has been a function of capitalist overcapacity. In recent human history, wars and depressions have been the only effective means of countering the fundamental irrationality of this aspect of global capitalist development short of state-administered production controls.

47. Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 56.

48. “All violence as a means is either lawmaking or law-preserving. If it lays claim to neither of these predicates, it forfeits all validity. It follows, however, that all violence as a means, even in the most favorable case, is implicated in the problematic nature of law itself.” Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913–1926 (Cambridge, Mass.: The Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996), 243.

49. Ueno touches on the issue of “constructed nature” in Kurenai no metaru sūtsu, 39.

50. “The war . . . watches itself in a mirror . . . And this uncertainty invades our screens like a real oil slick, in the image of that blind sea bird stranded on a beach in the Gulf, which will remain the symbol image of what we all are in front of our screens, in front of that sticky and unintelligible event.” Baudrillard, Gulf War, 32.

51. “Now my point here is not to harangue you about animal rights, but rather to point up that current critical practice, for all its innovation and progressive ethical and political agenda, takes for granted and reproduces a rather traditional version of what I will call the discourse of speciesism . . . As Cavell’s early work suggests, the traditional humanist subject finds this prospect of the animal other’s knowing us in ways we cannot know and master simply unnerving. And in response to that ‘skeptical terror,’ we have mobilized [End Page 108] a whole array of prophylactics.” Cary Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 2, 4. Patlabor 2 is shot through with examples of the animal gaze, occasionally even involving shot/countershot structure. My research on the wartime films Miyamoto Musashi (1942) and Sugata Sanshirō (1943) suggests that wartime conceptions of a uniquely Japanese bildung confront the specter of coloniality and varieties of hierarchical and transnational sovereignty in the guise of conceptions of the savage, the human/animal boundary, and religious enlightenment. Unpublished research by Tom Lamarre has revealed that the deployment of animals in Japanese anime must also confront these issues of coloniality and qualified sovereignty on much the same ground.


Glen Mazis’s Humans Animals Machines (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008) sketches a notion of emotionally driven perception that seems to capture the qualities Oshii appears to associate with nonhuman animal perception generally: “We have spoken, however, as if there is a human subject—a perceiver or thinker. If we are embodied beings who first through perception and its emotional depths are connected to and oriented within a surround that becomes an extension of our body, then the dimension we have not articulated yet is that this emotional sense is a shared sense with others with whom we are emotionally interwoven” (109).

“If approached from this perspective, then instinct could be seen as part of the rhythm in which immediate flows of affect, sensation, projection, and kinesthesis are drawn toward a vaguely unattainable but highly charged and meaningful direction that pulls animals beyond themselves into an encounter with the embrace of the world. I use the word ‘embrace’ to indicate a kind of dance between animals and the world, a moving out of themselves in recognition toward a partnership with the other that may be fevered, and on the part of the animals might be a throwing of themselves toward the irresistibility of the other (191).

53. “The GSDF is no longer a paramilitary force with a primary mission of containing internal subversion. It has become instead a military force that, in the pursuit of “selfdefense,” is driven by technology and geography to project its power offshore . . . it broadens this meaning and practice of the notion of “self-defense.” Katzenstein and Okawara, Japan’s National Security, 176.

54. Richard Tanter, “With Eyes Wide Shut: Japan, Heisei Militarization, and the Bush Doctrine,” in Confronting the Bush Doctrine, ed. Mel Gurtov and Peter Van Ness (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), 157–58.

55. This observation comes from a policy debate on Fujisankei I taped during live network broadcast on the evening of December 31, 2003, and the morning of January 1, 2004. [End Page 109]

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