Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Tacky "Shakespeares" in Japan

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Tacky "Shakespeares" in Japan

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that Shakespeare is "the flagship commodity" (Dromgoole and Taylor) in the globalized cultural market. The fact that his works are being studied, performed, and admired, or, adapted and parodied almost all over the world, would surely testify that his works are great sources to be capitalized on (both culturally and materially) in the consumerist society in which we live, where everything, including "Shakespeare," is a commodity.

Alternatively, could it be argued that the brand logo, "Shakespeare", no longer holds such a privileged status, that it is merely one of numerous cultural artifacts that can be used and recycled, and that one of the few convenient things about "Shakespeare" is that it can be reproduced, copied, and parodied without the need for any royalty payments being made? Some popular, global, tacky "shakespeares" seek to destabilize the presupposed notion that "Shakespeare" is the dominant, central, hegemonic icon by juxtaposing "Shakespeare" with other cultural artifacts, which are presumed to be of minimal capitalist and cultural value.

In strange combinations of reverence and irreverence to the global brand of Shakespeare, pop culture in Japan has been keen to make Shakespeare tacky, trashy, sleazy, and gaudy, as well as cute and queer. In one of the earlier examples of tacky "shakespeares," Yasuko Aoike's manga, Sons of Eve (1977- 79), a sissy Romeo makes love to a drag queen. More recently, in a manga story of a delinquent boy's becoming the owner of a huge host club chain, he starts his career at a host club named "Romeo," where hosts welcome customers shouting, "Welcome, Princess Juliet, to our club Romeo!" (Kurashina: 2003). This "tradition" of making Shakespeare tacky goes a long way back, at least into the early 20th century, when Masuda Taro Kaja transformed Othello into a farce, in which an old man tries to keep up with the latest fashion out of jealousy (New Othello [Shin Osero]: 1906); or when Takataro Kimura (1870-1931)-a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University, philosopher, philologist, historian, translator of Plato, Shelley, and Byron-published his Shakespeare's Hamlet as a Mere Compilation of the Oriental Materials, Chiefly Japanese (1914); or when Baron Shidehara, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was caricatured as a Hamlet, after his hesitation relating to military expansion (the Ashahi, Dec. 7th, 1932).

These tacky "shakespeares" were made in defiance of Shakespeare's "Western" authority, or of serious, classy, and Westernized representations of Shakespeare in Japan that replicate "as close a copy as possible of 'authentic' English Shakespeare" (Minami 78). Tacky "shakespeares" are also reactions to Japanese high culture that has successfully appropriated Shakespeare to establish itself in a local or global cultural market, as is illustrated by Kurosawa's or Ninagawa's Shakespearean productions. "Authentic" or "authorized" Shakespeare in Japanese forms can be "too Shakespeare": drab and dull. Shakespeare desperately needs an injection of B class bad taste, hilarious laughter, stupidity, cool fashion, the latest music, and risqué clothing, or, in short, tackiness, in order to survive and prosper in today's Japan.1

The orthodox textbook version of the history of Shakespeare in Japan might tell you how, in Japan, until fairly recently, even such genres as manga, anime, and graphic novels (such as Robio to Robietto, a manga by the "manga god" Osamu Tezuka, adapted as a tragic love story between two robots: 1965) tried to adapt these Japanese forms into storytelling that was appropriate to Shakespeare. However, in fact, tacky "shakespeares" in Japan have a much longer history than authoritative or orthodox Shakespeare, as Shakespeare has been one of the readily available, copy-right-free, source materials for plagiarizing and rewriting.

Buccaneering the Flagship

Looking back into the earliest periods of Japan's encounter with the Bard allows us to see how "ripping off" rather than faithful replication founded itself as Japanese "tradition. …

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