Techno-orientalism: A new form of orientalism for a changing world

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.

 

References:

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

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Techno-orientalism: A new form of orientalism for a changing world”

  1. Hi there, I love your use of examples in this blog post. Bladerunner, The Matrix and Looper are all great examples of films that highlight the techno-orientalist ideology. You have highlighted very well how stereotypes of different cultures are often exaggerated through film. Do you know why it may be appear to be less prominent now than during the 80s and 90s?

    1. Hey there, thanks for the great comment. In regards to its prominence today, I think it might be less prominent due to what happened with 9/11, but that is just my belief. It could also have to do with the disappearance of the Cyberpunk phase.

  2. Hi! Congratulations on writing such an interesting post, I found your analyses of techno-orientalism evident in Blade Runner, The Matrix and Looper to be very insightful!
    Using Blade Runner as your first example was an excellent way to introduce the concept of techno-orientalism. The film’s combination of traditional Eastern imagery with a space age, dystopian cityscape enables those who are unfamiliar with the concept of techno-orientalism to immediately understand this phenomenon. Through blending Japanese writing, Chinese food and a fictional Asian language with a high-tech cityscape, Blade Runner serves as an ideal representation of America’s anxieties about the global economy being dominated by the Japanese in the 1980’s. One has to ponder if Blade Runner was released today instead of in the 1980’s, whether there would be more of an uproar over the film’s blatantly racist stereotyping and generalisation of Eastern cultures.

    Although still techno-orientalist, The Matrix’s more positive representation of Oriental elements provided an interesting contrast to Blade Runner’s explicit warning to Western audiences about the potential for a dystopian Asian future. Personally, I feel as though The Matrix’s use of Chinese culture as an individual culture, and not just a mish-mash of Asian icons (like Blade Runner) presents a less offensive instance of techno-orientalism.

    Looper is also another great example of techno-orientalism, even though it may not be as obvious as Blade Runner and The Matrix. I found it incredibly interesting that Looper’s location was changed from Paris to Shanghai due to the involvement of a Beijing film company. This really begs the question of whether Western films will increasingly involve Asian countries in the production of their films as Asia is definitely an expanding and relatively untapped market. For example, the latest Transformers film (another good example of techno-orientalism) was incredibly successful in China, as it was filmed in Hong Kong and included famous Chinese actors (you may be interested in reading this article about the success of this film in China (http://time.com/2965333/how-transformers-4-became-the-number-one-film-in-chinese-history/).

    Personally I think that Western filmmakers are moving away from Orientalising Asian cultures by merging them together, and are instead choosing to represent these diverse cultures as being unique. Whilst I’d like to say that this is a result of globalisation making us more racially aware and sensitive to cultural differences, the cynic in me can’t help but assume that it is the filmmakers’ desire to target untapped Asian markets. I’d be interested to hear your opinion on this issue!

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