Your Next Life Might Be a Dog, or a Robot?

- Japanese Perspective in Digital Media

Machiko Kusahara

Associate Professor of Media Study

Kobe University Graduate School of Science and Technology


When Japanese officials made their first tour to Europe in prior to opening its border, they were surprised by realistic European paintings. They had never thought that paintings could be so real.

In 19th century, Europeans were facinated by ombre chinoise while Japanese were enchanted by perspective drawings brought from Europe. Some painters learned perspective drawing as a new technique as well as shading. Now it is difficult to imagine that our ancestors did not even think of drawing realistic images with correct perspective and shading.

Our vision changes. Yet the essence of the traditional system because it is closely related to the basic elements of the culture. Japanese games and animation character design is an example. Flat color and deformed face is what we already had nearly thousands years ago only the direction of deformation is reversed. When a virtual girl friend smiles to her male user, her big eyes that occupy one third of her face might be effective.

However, the deformed face means more than that. When Japanese Ukiyo-e artists introduced perspective drawing, they often had more than two vanishing points on a single image. Of course it does not make sense. But froating gaze without an absolute viewpoint is another Japanese tradition.

What lies behind is sense of relativity. This also relates to the absense of critical distinction between human beings and other animal. Until recently old people believed that one might be re-born as a dog in his/her next life (or even as a robot, in future? )This explains why Japan produces many games featuring virtual creatures.

In this paper, analysis on traditional way of thinking embedded in Japanese digital art and entertainment will be discussed. Japanese vision and notion of life reflected onto digital media will be the main issue. They might be already influencing young generation in other countries that grew up with different cultural background. Conflict between parallel cultures might cause a future problem.

Nov. 1998

(Abstract for ISEA 99)