Andrew Osmond finds terror tactics, national disasters and rogue states in King of Eden.
[Spoiler warning: this piece gives away some story points from the original Eden of the East TV series
.] The story begun in the anime serial Eden of the East
continues in King of Eden,
the first of two feature film sequels by director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex
) and Production I.G. Of course, we’re mainly watching to find out what will happen next to the main characters: Akira Takizawa, the daffily spontaneous player of a game to save Japan, and Saki Morimi, who fell into his adventure and then for him. Of course, we do
find out what the pair do next; but Kamiyama also wants to show us what’s been happening to Japan.
At the end of the Eden
TV series, the Japanese villains launched a missile strike against their own country. One of the perps was an angry young man taking revenge on a system that let him down (as it let down Saki in the series). Another had a grand scheme to “redo Japan from the postwar era,” downsizing the country, removing the idlers and gerontocracy and increasing Japan’s global competitiveness. The missiles launched, but Akira and his allies blew them up before they hit their targets.
In King of Eden,
Saki tells us what action films rarely do; what happened next. “The politicians started getting nervous. The markets tanked... All across the globe, Japan was ridiculed for trying to commit ‘national suicide.’ As a result, we lost all influence on the global stage... For the younger generation, who never lived during Japan's bubble economy, this was the first time their own country’s problems mattered to the international community. Somehow, not knowing what will happen tomorrow is both nerve-racking and refreshing. No-one said it out loud, but ever since that day, the lingering, suffocating feeling had changed into a quiet optimism.”
We’ll have to wait to see how this is extended in the second Eden
film, Paradise Lost.
However, the speech is something to treasure for any anime fans interested in how Japanese people view their own country. Not that Kamiyama represents “the Japanese,” of course; he’s very much his own man. According to him
, he spent years feeling like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye,
and trying to understand dissidents and “terrorists” such as Yukio Mishima and the teenage Otoya Yamaguchi (who murdered the head of the Japan Socialist party in 1960). In the Eden of the East
serial, Akira compares going NEET, the state of not being in Employment, Education or Training, to an act of terror. “Naw, I wasn’t doing anything so cool!” simpers his companion.
Several films prefigure the ideas in King of Eden
. Kamiyama’s thinking was also shaped by Mamoru Oshii, with whom he worked at Production I.G. Eden’
s political dimensions echo those of Oshii’s 1993 Patlabor 2
, another film which features smoke-and-mirrors terrorism and state-of-Japan monologues (Oshii mocks Japan’s phony “pacifist” status in a world of war). The more recent Vexille
, directed by Fumihiko Sori,
presents an extreme vision of Japan going it alone in the world, becoming a North Korea-style evil empire. One of the most intriguing things about Vexille
is that it switches to a foreign viewpoint, with an American
heroine investigating the inscrutable country.
Meanwhile, uncomfortably close to reality, there’s the live-action The Sinking of Japan.
It’s based on a 1973 novel by Sakyo Komatsu, who imagined a quake to end all quakes, threatening to destroy Japan completely. But if Japan were to be annihilated, Komatsu asks, could the Japanese still be Japanese? For Komatsu, Japan’s volcanoes, hot springs and wooded mountains created the Japanese character, along with the constant threat of earthquakes and tidal waves. Komatsu wondered if a disaster could erase what’s essential to Japan; for Kamiyama, more than a quarter-century on, the uncertainty of a national disaster might be liberating. In the months and years after Japan’s worst twenty-first tragedy, who will prove more right?
Eden of the East: King of Eden is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.