Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Multiplicities of Empire and the Libidinal Economy in Makoto Shinkai's the Place Promised in Our Early Days

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Multiplicities of Empire and the Libidinal Economy in Makoto Shinkai's the Place Promised in Our Early Days

Article excerpt

In Jean-Francois Lyotard's 'Lessons in Paganism', he suggests that 'history consists of a swarm of narratives, narratives that are passed on, made up, listened to and acted out' (134). These multiplicities, he argues, form the basis of 'what we call the culture of a civil society' (134) and are tied to the libidinal energies which are exchanged and/or controlled as part of a given social system: what Lyotard calls the libidinal economy or an economy of desires. These same concerns offer a compelling way to read the underlying imperial narrative of Makoto Shinkai's 2004 film, Kumo no mukô, yakusoku no basho (The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Japan 2004).1 Specifically, PPOED interrogates the question of empire through two meaning-laden objects: Sayuri (Yuka Nanri) and the Tower. These dual objects, when placed in conjunction with Lyotard's concept of a libidinal economy and other works, intersect as part of the same system of drives, exchanges and hegemonies that, I argue, occupy the colonial schema. In this paper, I will explore the system of desires entailed in the dual figures of Sayuri and the Tower as objects of colonial conquest, metaphors of the colonial schema and symbols of revolutionary action. These elements expose how empires are, at their heart, driven not simply by conquest and desire, but also by the underlying self-destruction associated with the death drive.

PPOED is set in an alternate 1990s Japan in which the Alliance (made up of Japan and the US) and the Union, or Soviet Russia, have split the Japanese islands - the Alliance holds the main southern islands of Honshü, Kyüshü and Shikoku, and the Union holds Hokkaido. During the course of the off-screen history, we learn that the Union has built an enormous tower with the ability to access parallel worlds and map their matter over our own. Surrounding these political elements is the story of Hiroki (Hidetaka Yoshioka) and Takuya (Masato Hagiwara), teenage prodigies who decide to rebuild a plane to fulfil their dream of seeing the Tower up close. Over the course of a summer, they befriend Sayuri, who repeatedly has visions of a disastrous future involving the Tower; she mysteriously disappears soon after. Three years later, Hiroki and Takuya, haunted by visions of Sayuri, learn that she has fallen into a coma and that her condition is intimately connected to the Tower, which has trapped her conscious self in a parallel future. In the end, both men determine to awaken Sayuri by finishing the Bella Ciela and flying her to the Tower, which has begun replacing matter in this world with that from one of the apocalyptic futures seen by Sayuri, threatening the entire world.

This summary draws attention to Lyotard's conception of paganism. Lyotard argues that

it is a mass of thousands of little stories that are at once futile and serious, that are sometimes attracted together to form bigger stories, and which sometimes disintegrate into drifting elements, but which usually hold together well enough to form what we call the culture of a civil society. ('Lessons in Paganism' 134)

Thus, a narrative about the Gulag contains the threads of the narrator, the narrated, the narrated by the narrated and so on - the object of the narrative, in other words, shifts multiple times at the same time. Imagining Lyotard's concept of the pagan within the fictional landscape of alternate history opens up the boundaries of interpretation by reminding us of the multiplicities that exist in any given 'moment'. For PPOED, the operative principle of paganism makes it possible to conceive of the film's themes as active at once. A passive viewing of Shinkai's film reveals two standout discourses: that of the Cold War encounter (Alliance vs. Union) and that of the romance (Hiroki and Sayuri, and the platonic romance of Takuya and Sayuri). But further exploration in the pagan mindset explodes the system of signs at work. The Union represents the coloniser, the fear of communist assimilation, occupier, aggressor and so on, while the Alliance represents the benevolent imperialist (a form of colonial governance), the capitalist assimilator, occupier, aggressor, etc. …

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