August 6th, 2006


Oh! Marxy

The productive two-year dialectic -- a battle for the soul of Japan, or at least a persuasive general definition of the nation -- between Click Opera and Neomarxisme may well have reached a sad end. Yesterday, infuriated by Marxy's refusal to offer any criticism of his own culture or any comment whatsoever on the war raging in the Middle East, I concluded that "by refusing to be relevant about what's going on outside Japan, you are unable to be relevant about what's going on inside it".

Marxy's response sounded weary and sad: "To be honest, I don't feel like getting sucked into this conversation or even trying to deconstruct your highly aggravating debating techniques. Sadly I am probably losing to your assault, but the constant barrage of this kind of unfair rhetorical sucker punching just makes my life worse and me more unhappy."

I apologized and, in a post-skirmish dialogue with a more sympathetic poster called Brown, ended up quoting Thomas S. Kuhn: "Advocates of mutually exclusive paradigms are in an insidious position: Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing... neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof."

It's certainly true that, although we seem to get on fine in real life, Marxy and I have different basic intellectual paradigms. But I wonder if proof is really completely irrelevant? Take one of our earlier, more polite skirmishes. Back in October 2004 Marxy responded to a Click Opera piece on postmodernism with a Neomarxisme piece called Post-modernism in retrospect. Its provocative, reductive and ethnocentric tone seemed guaranteed to enrage me. Contradicting my claim that "Japan is the society currently most at ease with postmodernism", Marxy told us that "Japan's postmodernism has always been accidental... Japan is a nation without content... All the great treasures of content-based Postmodernism - meaningful bricolage, subversive irony, and creative sampling - don't exist in Japan... The good parts of American culture lead to a certain kind of elevated dialogue or at least put people into camps to argue about the work's value. Japanese popular culture leads to no dialogue."

In the comments section, I responded to this outrageous claim with what now seems like admirable moderation: "Personally I don't think The Simpsons is a "better" postmodernism than Oh! Super Milk Chan or Oh! Mikey."

Well, Kuhn be damned, there is "proof" that the Japanese are totally able to do postmodernism in a completely non-accidental way. Directed and written by Yoshimasa Ishibashi, Oh! Mikey has been in production for just over four years. It's a brilliant series of short sketches revolving around the Fuccon family, American ex-patriots James, Barbara and their son Mikey. They've been sent to live in Japan, where they've morphed into a sort of surreal, satirical stereotype of what Japanese people are like.

Played throughout by showroom dummies wearing fixed grins and liable to erupt at any moment into manic, sinister, unbridled laughter, the Fuccon family are in a sense the absolute inverse of the sweet Japanese families we see in Ozu films. Here, everyone is horrifically rude to each other and appalling hypocrisies are rife. By using gaijin characters who act exactly like Japanese, Ishibashi manages to critique Japanese behaviour and Western decadence and selfishness at the same time (his point could be that Japanese have become this way because they've started to resemble Westerners the way the Fuccons have started to resemble Japanese). I'd say there's a closer parallel with Ren and Stimpy than the Simpsons, because this is more than social satire; it goes into much artier, more uncomfortable areas. I'd put it on a par, for sheer surreal nihilism, with David Lynch and Todd Solondz.

But I've probably said too much already. Got a couple of hours to spare? Here's a ton of Oh! Mikey, courtesy of YouTube and Google Video. You'll be laughing as you watch this stuff, I promise, but stick a couple of Post-It notes on either side of the screen saying "Japan's postmodernism has always been accidental" and "Japan is a nation without content" and you'll laugh even harder.

Let's Go for a Drive

Mikey's Future

Mikey's Diary

The Love Surgery

The Papillon Cafe

Saori the Lady Driver

Saori the Lady Driver Part 2

The Papillon Cafe Part 2

The Return

Mikey Peeps

Mikey Being Kidnapped

A Marital Dispute

Moving Away

Growing Mikey

Mikey's Illness

Mikey's Exorcism

The whole of Oh! Mikey Series 2
(35 minutes long)