Ask John: Why Do Some Artists Deny Their Anime Inspirations?
Like Darren Aronofsky on Black Swan vs. Perfect Blue, Ms. Suzanne “Hunger Games” Collins is trying to pretend she only reads dead white people’s literature [Darren has only acknowledged Dostoevsky and Moebius, and thrown a bone to Kurosawa, but couldn't seem to give Perfect Blue its due.], and never saw the Kinji Fukasaku movie. Never mind that Battle Royale was one of the most imported and pirated movies of the early 2000s, so much so that Quentin Tarantino name-dropped it and cast one of the actresses from it for Kill Bill. Not to mention that major Hollywood studios were trying to get the home video and remake rights for years. And, of course, the manga and novel were also published in English and got prominent promotion and mention. So, for someone to have not heard of Battle Royale would mean they were living under a rock all this time.
Since at least the Wachowskis after the Matrix, many prominent, and not-so prominent, people in American entertainment have admitted to seeing and/or being influenced by anime and/or notable Japanese live-action films. Japanese entertainment is clearly no longer a niche geek fad, even though some people still want it to be that way. So why are there still industry people deferring to Eurocentric tastes instead of being honest about their inspiration? Do they think it gives them more respectability? Or are they just trying to cover their asses by citing works conveniently available in public domain?
To an extent, Hollywood must be credited for its acknowledgment and respect of Japanese animation. Disney has injected Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, and Ghibli’s Totoro logo into mainstream American awareness. Chronicle creator & director Josh Trank has stated his debt to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. James Cameron continues to insist that he’s not abondoned the idea of filming Gunnm. Twentieth Century Fox produced a major theatrical Dragon Ball movie. Warner Bros. produced a major theatrical Speed Racer movie. However, at the same time, Darren Aronofsky has tacitly denied that his film Black Swan was inspired by Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, even though parallels seem far too obvious and prominent to be dismissed as coincidence. Suzanne Collins’ best-selling 2008 book and 2012 movie The Hunger Games has been cited as an American remake of Koushun Takami’s 2006 Japanese novel Battle Royale although Collins has not stated any awareness of the earlier, exceptionally similar work.
I don’t know and have never met creators including Darren Aronofsky and Suzanne Collins, so I can’t vouch for their honesty or transparency, although I’d like to trust in the positive in all people. If, indeed, such high profile creators are unwilling to concede their awareness of and inspiration from Japanese popular media, their motivations may be rooted in the exact same dispositions that affect countless avowed American otaku. While manga and anime may be far more respected in the West now than they were thirty and even twenty years ago, they’re still comics and cartoons. And a serious artist is far more respectable and respected among Western society when his or her influences number among the recognized artistic, literary, and academic luminaries of Western civilization.
Literature undoubtedly has gradations of quality. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire have greater literary merit than Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing. Even internationally published Japanese authors like Haruki Murakami & Banana Yoshimoto are tremendously more respected than otaku-favorite Japanese authors like Nisio Isin & Kinoko Nasu. And admiting fondness for one variety of creator or the other can dangeously pigeon-hole an individual. I’m absolutely of the opinion that popular culture media should not be immediately disparaged because art, whether fine art made for the sake of personal expression, or commercial art are still creative art and deserve fair criticism and respect as creative art. But simply due to innate human nature, someone versed in Molière will be more respected than someone extensively versed in moé. A writer that cites Shakespeare as an inspiration will invariably be taken more seriously than a writer that cites Satoshi Kon as an inspiration. Pop culture artisans like Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers who unabashedly admit their inspiration by anime are consciously connected to disposable, commercial pop culture and tied to making commercial popular entertainment. Serious artists like Darren Aronofsky create fine art. Even a “respectable” juvenile fiction author like Suzanne Collins will inevitably find the transition into serious literature easier than a typical Marvel or DC comic book writer will. Although people are not defined by their interests, people that work in a field like Hollywood, where reputation and perception are potentially more important and valuable than reality, may find that cultivating a well-groomed persona is much more advantageous than acknowledging creators that aren’t looking for personal endorsements and annoying amateur fanboys who have no appreciable impact on the individual’s life or livelihood. If, indeed, Darren Aronofsky or Suzanne Collins was consciously influenced by Japanese media, admitting the inspiration may be ethical and commendable, but it’s not necessarily advantageous to their career aspirations. Maybe someday Japanese manga and anime creators apart from Hayao Miyazaki will be cited and respected in the same breath as respected contemporary creative literati including David Mamet, Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Amy Tan.