While all Asian countries have arguably affected the Western world’s media to some degree, it is perhaps Japan which has created the longest lasting and most profound developments. From film to television and even gaming, we want to take a brief look at just how influential Japanese media has been, and why it remains such a powerful force to this day.
Japan was an early adopter when taking to the world of film, with the first releases arriving right at the end of the 19th century. While the initial focus of these films were documentaries based on the likes of Tokyo life and the geisha, releases quickly expanded into early versions of ghost movies.
Of all the different genres and subjects which Japanese movies quickly covered, none were as immediately captivating to the Western world as the stories of the samurai. These took off during the 1920s with films like A Diary of Chuji’s Travels by director Daisuke Itō. Undoubtedly the most important in terms of popularizing samurai in the West, however, were the movies of Akira Kurosawa.
Samurai movies from Japan were similar to cowboy films from the West, in that they offered a romanticized version of the past which, in many cases, was more fictional than historical. Samurai movies were nostalgic, even to those in the West without the context, as they related to a bygone age of respect, honor, and dignity.
While maybe not as popular now as when they were at their height, the concept of samurai still draws consistent numbers, though today’s film tends to aim for more modern interpretations.
Manga – and anime, as two sides of the same coin – has proved just as popular, albeit on a much more unpredictable scale. When anime first rolled around to the NHK channel in 1960 with Three Tales, Western animation had already been around on TV for years.
The difference for Japanese style came from two primary avenues, its looks and its subjects. Anime took a very different tack than its Western counterpart, with a distinctive look and feel. While the iconic style is often associated with large eyes, it should also be noted that there has always been considerable diversity within Japanese animation.
In terms of subject matter, a big part of what made and makes anime so special is its range of subject matter. Some, like kaiju and mecha anime, have gone on to inspire enormous Hollywood hits like Pacific Rim. Others, like Toradora! exist more as slice-of-life stories, covering not the outrageous but finding success in how they approach real-life issues.
Over time, all forms of anime have become massively successful in the West. Initially, a lot of this was owed to unofficial subtitle groups, which would localize media on their own. Eventually, the draw of anime would prove so lucrative that it would create dedicated dubbing and subbing groups like Funimation and Crunchyroll.
This success also extended to anime video games, with direct interpretations of existing media and new anime products both seeing immense popularity. Even online casino games, a modern take on this formula, have gotten in on anime stylings. Slot games like Moon Princess and Hood vs Wolf owe a lot to anime’s legacy, showing increasing trends, which grow with each passing year.
Of course, these are just a few of the many examples of just how far Japanese media has come in shaping the entertainment of the Western world. As a two-way street, this relationship in increasingly collaborative, with directors, writers, actors, and artists becoming ever more global in their reach. Today, it’s extremely common to see the influence of Japanese media everywhere in the Western world, and this is a pattern most of us only wish to see continue.