- Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan, and: Television, Japan, and Globalization
The two books under review here complement each other very well. Gabriella Lukács’s text is a detailed study of Japanese television dramas in the 1990s; the associated tarento phenomenon; the conditions of the conceptualization, writing, and production of the “trendy dramas” that are the main focus of her book; and the connection of the dramas to emerging consumer-oriented lifestyles and the aggressively consumption-promoting capitalism that came to dominate large sectors of Japanese life in the same decade. The parallel volume edited by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Eva Tsai, and JungBong Choi is a much broader treatment of Japanese television in the 1990s and the early part of the new century. The focus of the books is consequently somewhat different, with Lukács concentrating on a single genre and the edited volume ranging over a much larger agenda of issues, themes, and televisual styles. [End Page 190]
Both works, however, serve a common purpose. In the preface and introduction to the collected volume, Yoshimoto suggests the chapters attempt two major tasks. The first is to recenter the study of Japanese television as a legitimate scholarly subject among Japanologists and media scholars in the United States and elsewhere. He points out that whereas the subject is extensively discussed within Japan itself, not much of this leaks out into the wider academic community. Yet television is a dominant cultural force in Japan where it is without doubt one of the most accessed forms of media. The second task is to explore and problematize the “Japaneseness” of Japanese television and to investigate the relationship between the domestic dimension of Japanese television and the globalization of cultural markets. These two themes frame both books. It is indeed significant that while many aspects of Japanese popular culture, and particularly the ubiquitous anime and manga, have achieved widespread (and one might argue too much) international scholarly attention, other aspects of contemporary Japanese visual culture including television and perhaps also contemporary art are understudied in relative terms. Even Japanese film, although it remains in some respects a rather esoteric and specialized field, has probably generated a larger and more significant international body of literature than has television, although the latter is a much more widely consumed medium.
Given such glaring gaps, these books make a major contribution to the understanding of contemporary or recent Japanese popular culture. I now turn to a more detailed discussion of each of them, beginning with Lukács’s study of 1990s torendii dorama (“trendy dramas”). Recent changes in Japanese society have dated her material: the global economic recession, political changes including a quick succession of prime ministers and a historic change of governments, and the massive economic and social impact of the March 11, 2011, mega-quake and tsunami. Her book might best be read as a social history of an era now well and truly over. This is not to critique the validity of her claims for the period she does discuss, and in particular her argument that television drama during the 1990s abandoned the embodiment of sociocultural ideas in favor of the depiction and celebration, and indeed promotion, of consumption-oriented lifestyles and attitudes. She argues that television during this decade gave up its earlier enterprise of attempting to mold people of diverse backgrounds into a mass market and turned instead to compartmentalizing its viewing population into ever more distinct and discrete lifestyle categories. This is not only important for the inner workings of Japanese television but carries implications for how selves and subjectivities are formed and how senses of community are produced. Although she does not systematically pursue the political implications of this claim, there are in fact many—for conceptions of citizenship, for example...