Bolton compares vampires, Japanese politics

“I am a vampire. Then again, so are all of you,” said Christopher Bolton, associate professor of Japanese and comparative literature, as he kicked off the annual Faculty Lecture Series on Thursday with a 45-minute presentation titled “Vampire Samurai Schoolgirls and Other Demons: What We Can Learn from Japanese Animation.” Helga Druxes, chair of the Faculty Lecture Committee, introduced Bolton to the audience.

Bolton began his lecture by introducing Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), a Japanese horror film by Mamoru Oshii and directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo that used the traditional vampire story as a metaphor for various political themes.

Blood represented a transition in which Japanese filmmakers switched from analog to digital animation. Oshii employed techniques from both analog and digital animation; Bolton presented several scenes from the movie and noted the visual effect of two-dimensional and cartoon-like characters interacting with three-dimensional objects and environments.

According to Bolton, the setting of Blood reflects the social environment and political significance of parasitic predator-prey relationships in world history. The American soldiers occupy Japanese land and, in return, provide economic stimulus for the local Japanese.
Among the questions Bolton asked of the audience were: If Japan and America are so dependent on one other, then who is the vampire and who is the prey? Can both countries be vampires, as both contributed to the Gulf War in order to extract oil from the Middle East? During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Japanese contributed money, but not troops, to the United States. Japanese law prevents the government from sending troops in support of the wars of other countries. Who is the parasite in this case, Bolton questioned, when Americans feed on Japanese money and Japan “enjoys the shelter of America” without risking its own troops?

In addition, Bolton discussed vampires from other films and books, including Blade, Van Helsing and Twilight. He explained the prominence of vampires in popular culture and reasoned that the “foreign quality or outside-ness of a vampire is part of the vampire’s sex appeal.” Bolton quoted Donna Haraway, chair of the History of Consciousness Program at UC-Santa Cruz, who has published essays about gender, technology and race. Haraway theorized that “a figure that both promises and threatens racial and sexual mixing, the vampire feeds off the normalized human.”

Bolton explained the characterization of Japan as presented in Blood. “Japan can either sit by and give support to Americans in wars, or support independence and authority,” he said, “but it raises fears of being a monster itself.” According to Bolton, modern Japan is burdened by “historical, political [and] psychological demons” that need to be conquered.

Bolton concluded by analyzing Oshii’s suggested solution to Japan’s burden. He presented the climax of Blood, a scene in which Saya kills a two-dimensional Chiropteran, preventing it from attacking a three-dimensional American jet headed for Vietnam. The jet takes off and leaves behind Saya and her fantasy world. “We realize we are still the vampires,” he said. “We’re aboard that plane. We’re going to Vietnam – or Iraq, or Afghanistan. We’re leaving our fantasies behind.”

The lecture was followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session. The Faculty Lecture Series will continue this Thursday with a presentation by Associate Professor of Chemistry Amy Gherig, titled “From the Soil to your Medicine Cabinet: Understanding Streptomyces Bacteria.”

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