In the world of Vexille, by the year 2077, Japan has become a lacuna on the world map. Earlier in the twenty-first century, the country had been a leader in advanced robotics. Due to worldwide regulations limiting the implementation [End Page 168] of such technologies, Japan has withdrawn not only from the United Nations but from social and political interactions with nearly all of the rest of the world as well via a technological shield called the RACE network. Nobody knows what is going on inside Japan, but one of its major corporations, Daiwa Heavy Industries, continues to dominate the global supply of robotic or mechanical devices for home and industry. However, when protagonist Vexille and the rest of her compatriots in the US military organisation SWORD learn that Daiwa has possibly developed some new illegal cyborg technologies, they decide to infiltrate Japan to try to discover the truth of what is really going on.
Vexille is an animated film directed by Fumihiko Sori, who is credited on the project simply as 'SORI'. Vexille distinguishes itself from the bulk of anime titles by developing a look of cel-shaded computer graphics, rather than attempting to mimic the look of either hand-drawn cel animation or photorealistic CG. Consequently, the scenes in Vexille look realistic while still providing a degree of abstraction. The use of such graphics is in keeping with Sori's background in digital filmmaking rather than Japanese anime – he worked as a character animator on Titanic (Cameron US 1997) and his directorial debut was the CGI-infused Ping Pong (Japan 2002). He also was a producer on Appleseed (2004), an adaptation of Masamune Shirow's manga of the same name which presaged Vexille in its approach to shaded CG animation. In the case of Vexille, though, SORI is credited not only as the director but also as writer and editor.
Although the title on the DVD case simply says Vexille, which is the name of the film's heroine, the full Japanese title gives a greater idea of the allegorical goals at which the director was aiming. Vexille: 2077 Nihon sakoku (rendered as Isolation of Japan in the US English-language release) alludes to a key point in the film – the fact that Japan has closed its borders to the outside world, allowing no audio, video or other electronic communication in or out. By 2077, Japan has been closed to all outside influence for a decade. It is as if the five dimensions of global cultural flow described by Arjun Appadurai, the fronts – the ethnoscape, financescape, technoscape, mediascape and ideoscape – on which he imagines contemporary globalisation to take place, have simply ground to a halt for Japan.
If such an event were really to happen, it would be the second time in Japan's history it has closed itself off from the rest of the world. From the first half of the seventeenth century until the late nineteenth century, Japan enacted a policy of sakoku (chained country). During this period, Japanese could not travel abroad and very few foreign traders were allowed into the country. The sakoku policy allowed Japan to control the influence of foreign missionaries that had been spreading in the country as well the flow of trade and technology into the country. The two centuries in which the sakoku policy was in place were relatively [End Page 169] peaceful, although it is often said that this came at the cost of cultural dynamism.
The presence of the term sakoku in the Japanese title of Vexille directly alludes to this period in Japanese history. However, this time around the isolation is more complete, since the only people who are allowed outside of the country are the operatives of Daiwa Heavy Industries. Once Vexille finally manages to sneak into the country, she makes a shocking discovery – the entire Japanese population now inhabits Tokyo, which looks like a refugee camp. The people there are also all cyborgs, slowly becoming more mechanical with each passing day.
A number of pundits, particularly artist...