Since the eighteenth century, the perception of orientalism has gone through significant change. In addition, as time went by, various forms of orientalism began to emerge. A recent form to emerge being techno-orientalism, which is designed for the West to maintain its image through imaginative depictions of the future (Ueno, 1999).Techno orientalism is commonly associated with the ‘Cyberpunk’ culture which first originated in Japan in the 1980’s .Techno-orientalism is particularly prevalent in science-fiction films such as Blade Runner, The Matrix and Looper which all, to some extent, depict a dystopian and Asian-influenced future. Other forms of techno-orientalism include Anime, Techno-Trance music and literature. However, for this blog, I shall primarily be investigating the prominence of techno-orientalism in science-fiction films.
The 1982 film “Blade Runner” is often considered to be Hollywood’s first and most prominent display of techno-orientalist imagery. The film’s dystopian Los Angeles setting itself is almost entirely Asian influenced from the neon-lit street markets shown at the beginning of the film to the enormous image of a Geisha-resembling woman eating candy in a giant virtual billboard. These images are exaggerations of the U.S. fears that Japan was industrially and technologically superior and represent an orientalist perspective of a futuristic L.A. colonized by Asian Culture.
In the height of the Cyberpunk phase, the action sci-fi film “The Matrix” was released and also featured many techno-oriental elements, the most striking elements being the martial-arts fight sequences and production design. The scene in which the protagonist Neo demonstrates his newly acquired Kung-Fu abilities to his mentor Morpheus is the most obvious reference to East-Asian culture. The use of traditional Chinese décor and Kung-Fu choreography along with the techno-influenced score demonstrate a techno-orientalist style that Park (2010, pg.172) describes as “complimentary rather than antithetical”. In other words, Park suggests that the cyberpunk and techno-orientalist elements are used in a positive fashion as opposed to other similar films such as the fore mentioned “Blade Runner”.
The 2012 time travel thriller “Looper” also, but to a lesser extent, features techno-orientalist elements in its depiction of the future. Interestingly enough, an article in The Guardian reports that the film was originally meant to feature a futuristic depiction of Paris, but was changed to Shanghai when a Beijing-based film company became involved with the film. The brief scenes with Bruce Willis and his Chinese wife uses traditional East-Asian design, in addition to futuristic elements which contribute to create a techno-orientalist depiction of the future.
Techno-orientalism, today, seems to be less prominent than during the 80’s and 90’s, although it is still a common feature of many science-fiction films. Hopefully, any future attempts to depict East-Asian influenced futures will be more respectful in their approach.
Hoad, P 2012, ‘Looper bridges the cinematic gap between China and the US’, The Guardian, 28th August, viewed 29th March 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/aug/28/looper-china-us-dan-mintz
Park, J Chi Hyun 2010, Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Hollywood Cinema, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, USA
Ueno, T 1999, ‘Techno‐Orientalism and media‐tribalism: On Japanese animation and rave culture’, Third Text, Vol 13, no. 47, pp. 95-105