An anime that has been quite popular in the last few years is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. For those who have lazy fingers or object to/cannot access Wikipedia for some reason, Code Geass is a mecha anime (featuring giant humanoid robots), set in an alternative present where the empire of Britannia (situated in North America) had invaded and subjugated Japan to mine an energy resource called sakuradite. A prince of Britannia, Lelouch, had been exiled to Japan as a hostage when he was a young child, in part due to his witnessing his mother’s assassination in the royal palace and anger at his father, the Emperor, for not trying to prevent it. The entire anime and its sequel surrounds how Lelouch obtains an ability to make others follow his commands from a witch, CC, and how he uses this ability to stir up world politics with the intent of overthrowing his father and his father’s social Darwinistic ideals.
I remember attending a seminar on anime at Ryerson university a while ago, where Professor Jaqueline Berndt compared Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and the anime Samurai 7. A main point in her lecture was that anime often presents Japan and Japanese-ness in a setting outside real time and place. I don’t know whether she has or will ever watch Code Geass, but I am sure she will find it chock full of stuff to talk about. Mount Fuji being mined for sakuradite…Japanese culture at the age of globalization being “As long as one still possesses the heart that is the root of their culture, no matter where we are, we will always be Japanese!”*…and why does a Britannian military engineer enjoy cooking bad Japanese food…?
The list goes on. But I am not well-acquainted with Japanese culture, and I will leave those matters to more capable minds. There are a couple of things that I do believe I can discuss, and that is Pizza Hut’s constant presence in the anime, which this post will discuss in comparison to Coca cola in the film Bladerunner. A following post will look at the treatment of a fictional China in this Japanese anime and Chinese viewers’ responses.
Bladerunner is arguably one of the best science fiction films made, based also on a very good science fiction novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The film and the book are set in a futuristic world with layers of refuse, technology, and reality, with the city of Los Angeles as a quite unrecognizable metropolis. One short scene of a ship’s flight is backlit by a skyscraper-tall video commercial of a Japanese woman drinking Coca cola. In the equally unrecognizable Tokyo of Code Geass, an airship flies above an advertisement of Pizza Hut hanging at the top of an office tower.
A blog post I came across describes how the familiar ad for Coca cola makes the otherwise alien landscape of Bladerunner a familiar one. No doubt the familiarity is a little jarring. We had talked about the ironies of this ad in class – edited staged hyperreal TV commercial in the middle of a movie about the negligible difference between humans and artificial life? Coca cola didn’t know what it was getting into, advertising in this movie. We are desensitized towards how fabricated Coke is until we see it drunk by a 100ft tall geisha-makeup woman who is in a commercial which is shown in a science fiction movie which is based on a book. The familiarity with Coke in our everyday lives just makes the chain of fabrication so much more evident. Does this reinforce the message of how good Coke can be?
The stroke of familiarity when watching Pizza Hut appear in Code Geass is, for Japanese viewers, probably the opposite to the stroke of familiarity of Western viewers when seeing Coca cola in Bladerunner. The two food products are both real things in the world outside film and television; that is the familiarity. That they both appear in futuristic and alien landscapes brings familiarity to the setting but also take a foreign quality back from the setting. In Bladerunner, this is further reinforced by the image of the Japanese woman. Coke presents itself as even more exotic, even sexualized. Except Coke overdoes it, and the drink feels not so much exotic, but rather jarring in contrast to the world of Bladerunner, rather staged. Whether the feeling of foreign food chains being foreign is salient or not in Japanese society, I do not know, but Pizza Hut hanging over Tokyo doesn’t require a foreign guzzler to be foreign; Japanese viewers have the knowledge that even in the real world, it is foreign. Perhaps having CC, constantly hankering after Pizza in the anime serves a corresponding exotic and sexualizing effect to the Coke commercial, as CC is not a typical human. Pizza Hut probably didn’t know what it was getting into either, advertising in an anime series about the Western invasion of Japan. I am not saying that the creators of Code Geass deliberately roped Pizza Hut in with the intention of having viewers point fingers, but behind the Japanese ghettos and nationalist rebels dying in the anime, the Pizza Hut signs silently point back to the real world and shows how nations are currently being invaded. Like Coke in Bladerunner, the inclusion of Pizza Hut becomes slightly ironic.
If Japanese viewers watching a foreign company advertise in their own television series contrasts with North American viewers watching a home company advertised by a foreign woman in their own movie, then another contrasting perspective is North American viewers watching their home company being advertised in a foreign television series. Because the viewers are not Japanese, and Pizza Hut is not a foreign company, the irony of commercial invasion might not be as obvious; in which case, for us in North America, watching Pizza Hut in Code Geass is like watching the Japanese woman in Bladerunner drink Coke. The product that is usually so prevalent in our everyday lives suddenly becomes exotic. Maybe Pizza Hut did know what it was getting into. I would be interested to see whether instead of just increasing pizza sales in Japan, pizza sales increased as well in North America and Europe.
* Code Geass R2, ep. 8, Eclipse fansubs.