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.

Fleischer Studios (1935)

Betty flies to Japan to do a show, and sings the title number. She then dons a kimono, and sings it again in Japanese.

Got a language all my own known in every foreign home! You surely know it is Boop-Doopy-Doopy-Doo-Boop-Oopy-Doop-Bop!

Betty Boop

Betty Boop flies to Japan and takes her stage act on the road, and plays to great acclaim, and sings the title number “A Language All My Own” in both English and Japanese. After singing to a cheering New York audience, Betty sets off in her plane for the Land of the Rising Sun, depicted literally as such with an emblematic sunrise over Mt. Fuji. When Betty arrives in Japan she sings for her cheering Japanese fans.

Mae Questel as Betty Boop

Animation by Myron Waldman and Hicks Lokey

Music by Sammy Timberg

Hayao Miyazaki (1984)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a 1984 Japanese anime film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, based on his 1982 manga. It was animated by Tokuma Shoten and Hakuhodo. Joe Hisaishi composed the score. The film stars the voices of Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Yoji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, and Iemasa Kayumi. Taking place in a future post-apocalyptic world, the film tells the story of Nausicaä, the young princess of the Valley of the Wind. She becomes embroiled in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle full of mutant giant insects.

Ikuo Oishi (1933)

A farmer walking in the woods is frightened away by a shapeshifting fox, who then disguises himself as a samurai and makes his way to a temple, haunted by a young shapeshifting tanuki whose various attempts to frighten the fox/samurai away fail. The young tanuki telephones his father, and they join forces against the samurai.

In old Japan, foxes and tanuki (Asian raccoons) were considered to have almost mystical powers of disguise, deception, and trickery. In this cartoon, a fox disguised as a samurai uses its magic against a mother-and-child pair of tanuki at a ruined temple. The drawing style shows the influence of Max Fleischer on early Japanese animation.

Picture Book 1936

Komatsuzawa Hajime (1934)

Very little information exists pertaining to this short animation.

Mickey Mouse is represented here as something completely different:

Pure American imperialist evil.

At least he does in this 1934 animated propaganda cartoon Omochabako series dai san wa: Ehon senkya-hyakusanja-rokunen (Toybox Series 3: Picture Book 1936) by Komatsuzawa Hajime. It’s a convoluted title, but pretty simple in plot. An island of cute critters (including one Felix the Cat clone) is attacked from the air by an army of Mickey Mouses (Mickey Mice?) riding bats and assisted by crocodiles and snakes that act like machine guns. The frightened creatures call on the heroes of Japanese storybooks and folk legends to help them, from Momotaro (“Peach Boy”) and Kintaro (“Golden Boy”) to Issun-boshi (“One Inch Boy”) and Benkei, a warrior monk, to send Mickey packing. The not-so-subtle message: Mickey Mouse may be your hero, America, but our characters are older, more numerous, and way more beloved. Our pop culture is older than yours!

Hiroyuki Kitakubo & Katsuhiro Otomo (1991)

An experimental machine designed to care for the elderly transforms itself into an unstoppable robot.

Japan’s population is aging considerably, and caring for the elderly has become costly. The government proposes a solution: an electronic bed that can provide the patient with everything essential (and non-essential) that a real nurse can offer. Haruko is one of these nurses, just as Mr. Takazawa is his patient, who was chosen as a guinea pig for the electronic bed. Sensing that her protégé is suffering from a lack of love, which a mechanical bed cannot offer, she tries to save him from what he thinks is martyrdom for him.