chapter  2
31 Pages

Cosmetic multiculturalism and contemporary Japanese cinema

Us, we look Japanese, but we ain’t. … Then again, we look Chinese, but we

ain’t. That is us who are not really anything.

In his 100 Years of Japanese Cinema (1995), a documentary film about the history

of Japanese cinema, O


shima Nagisa remarks that the most visible change in

Japanese cinema occurring around the 1990s was the frequent appearance of

non-Japanese characters. As O


shima suggests, one of the themes which seem to

have attracted many Japanese film-makers since the late 1980s onwards has

been foreigners (mainly non-Japanese Asians) in Japan. Needless to say, this is

closely connected with the more general trend in Japan allegedly promoting

multiculturalism. As I argued in Chapter 1, Japanese multiculturalism in this

period is, in many cases, ‘cosmetic’. This is to say, it is a multiculturalism which

on the surface celebrates cultural diversity, but at a deeper level does not sub-

vert the dominant structure of Japaneseness vis-à-vis ‘others’. The present

chapter explores how this kind of ‘cosmetic multiculturalism’ is manifest in

contemporary Japanese cinema. I shall start with Swarouteiru [Swallowtail

Butterfly] (1996), directed by Iwai Shunji, as a typical example of ‘cosmetic

multiculturalism’ and then move on to a more complicated case, by using some

of the films of Miike Takashi as examples.