Turning Japanese

Kirsten Dunst, McG & Takashi Murakami (2010)

Takashi Murakami may be the most interesting, vital pop artist since Andy Warhol. Perhaps best known for his work with Kanye West. His latest project is for an exhibition called “Pop Art: Life in the Material World” for the Tate Modern in London.

As part of the project, Murakami has created one of the more unhinged mash-ups the Internet has ever seen. The video below was directed by McG and features art direction care of Murakami. It stars “Spider-Man” and “Marie Antoinette” star Kirsten Dunst, who is dressed up as some sort of Japanese Anime superhero (not unlike Sailor Moon) and frolicks around the geek-heavy Akihabara section of Tokyo. All the while, she’s singing along to the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” a one-hit wonder from 1980 that actually has little to do with Asian culture and everything to do with masturbation.

It’s a totally bizarre but utterly lovable combination of things, including confused Tokyoites, splashy colors, manic camera moves and Dunst’s strange performance as the magical blue-haired sprite. If nothing else, it will give the Vapors’ tune a bit of a reprieve, as it’s one of the most infectious (and subversive) one-hit wonders of the ’80s (or any decade, quite frankly).

Turning Japanese is a song by English band the Vapors, from their 1980 album New Clear Days. It was an international hit, becoming the band’s most well-known song. The song prominently features an Oriental riff played on guitar.

The one man who can say for certain what Turning Japanese is about is the man who wrote the song, David Fenton. He had the melody, he said, but he needed lyrics. Then in the middle of the night, he woke up and…

“I had that ‘turning Japanese’ line, so I wrote it down and fell asleep again. It could have been anything! It could have ended up as Turning Portuguese.”

David Fenton

The song has nothing to do with Asians or facial expressions. And it certainly has nothing to do with “self-love.” Fenton said, “It was weird when people started saying it was about masturbation. I can’t claim that one!”

As for what “Turning Japanese” is about, Fenton says it’s simply a love song about a relationship that ended. All he was left with was a photograph of his beloved, and an empty feeling.

4 Comments

  1. Yeah, I enjoy the video and Kirsten Dunst in it, and I think blue hair and a sailor moon costume is somewhat of a good look for her, or she at least plays it well. But the concept for this video is not what the Vapors envisioned when creating the song. I believe Turning Japanese is a metaphor for the feeling you feel when someone you love leaves you. You feel not yourself. IDK;)

  2. Both the song and the video are the epitomy of pop. It’s strange to see a live action person dressed as an anime character. I took a different message from the turning Japanese aspect but that’s ok. My favorite part of the whole video was when the ordinary-looking guy smiled and he had a mouth full of metal teeth.

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