Great tremors shook Japan's political world in the summer of 1993. The Liberal Democratic Party (ldp)'s solo political stronghold which lasted 38 years crumbled and a 'non' ldp coalition cabinet – which nobody could have foreseen a few months ago – came into existence. Of course this was partly due to end of the East-West cold war and its effects finally reaching this far-eastern island country. But it was actually the money scandal of former vice prime minister Shin Kanemaru that triggered the change. Ever since the scandal broke out, Kanemaru's presence has been fading, although just one year ago he was regarded as the potentate behind the ldp, where he wielded his power in a very pre-modern manner through close ties with the construction industry.
However, this Kanemaru is the model for the computer generated (cg) leader of a children's tv program which is seen by millions every morning. The title of the program is Ugo-Ugo Lhuga.The meaning of this title is obscure even in Japanese but it seems to be a phonetic anagram of Go Go Girl gou gou gahlu. Literally translated – in the Japanese sense of the word – the title would mean the slangish phrase, Go Go Babe = a fun-loving young woman who likes the night life. Ugo-Ugo Lhuga, as can be seen from the choice of its title, is an avant garde electronic children's theatre created by the digital generation for the digital generation; the program completely slips the bounds of normal children's programs which are preconcerted, harmonious, and moralistic.
Even the leader does not seem to be that of a regular program broadcast at 7:30 on weekday mornings by a major tv station.
The scene might remind someone who isn't well versed in Asia of the old Kowloon district of Hong Kong. But a closer look would indicate the scene to be a shopping street alley found in any Japanese city with the light of vending machines giving a Blade Runner-like touch. It takes time to realize that the scene is actually cg because of the dark tones of the images which are rendered in 3d. No, actually it is not the tone but the choice of scenery that misleads the viewer. It doesn't cross one's mind to make a cg rendition of a shabby alley which has no exoticism for the Japanese. However, when the scene changes to the point where the camera enters a tavern – the temporary resting place of the typical 'salaried worker' who has been the backbone of Japanese postwar economic growth – it becomes clear that the scene is cg. Inside the tavern, one of the customers sitting at the counter is a grouchy Shin Kanemaru. And to one's amazement a gleaming metallic robot bartender is standing behind the counter twirling a knife-like object in its hand as if lecturing to its customers. With a big noise, another customer enters the scene with a baby's rattle held in his hand. He furiously brandishes the rattle in a manner which displays the childish backside of the macho facade which emerges in 'common intimate spaces' such as the home or the tavern – a clear pointer to the culture of traditional Japanese men. Instead of the chef/therapist madam of the bar who listens to the man's gripes about home and work, there is this robot behind the counter which symbolizes the absence of gender. This also tempts iconological interpretation. However, suddenly the scene changes with a black out and the colourful pop-art Ugo-Ugo Lhuga logo appears in sharp contrast to the cg opener.
The viewer is not allowed even a moment to mull over the strange cg sequence and is plunged into the main part of the program where two children dressed in ridiculous costumes interact with fairy-like cg characters hiding here and there in a psychedelic cg room. Fairies they may be, not in the Disney animation sense of the word, but in the manner of Super Mario Brother characters. Characters, such as a slightly retrospective tv set, Shogun a feudal lord who tells stupid jokes in the Kansai area dialect, a strange tomato which looks like a 3d object with scribbled on eyes, '''Sur' (coming from surrealism) a character who skilfully uses the French language, engage the children in silly riddles and impersonations with no effort towards sending a moralistic message to the future generation. The only time an educative attempt is apparent is in the other sections which appear at a roller coaster rate, popping up at intervals lasting only tens of seconds each. For example in Morning Language Lesson, national costume-clad awkward animations – mostly from the third world – introduce simple phrases in their respective languages. These phrases are not like Hello, how are you? or My name is... but extremely colloquial phrases like the talk of the town. Also, in a section titled Sound Museum, all sorts of everyday actions are filmed close up using a household video camera and presented with titles such as the sound of rubbing toes or the sound of crumpling paper. Furthermore, although very few viewers are aware of this, the use of headphones reveals the fact that the sounds are broadcast as 3d sound with spatial movements from top to bottom, left to right. Finally in the section titled Morning Literature, ''entire classics from authors such as Tolstoy and Shakespeare are reduced to a series of shows lasting tens of seconds represented through a video game-like screen format.
I won't bother to introduce all the contents here.
The point, is of course, the artist who made this very unique cg and the technical platform he used – the Commodore Amiga. Ever since Ugo-Ugo Lhuga became a hit, other programs copying its production process have appeared. However most of these programs are not interesting at all. Thereby this raises the cliché chicken-or-egg question: is it the expression that needs the technology or was the technology – of integrating players from a blue screen and cg – there to begin with? Also, while one must not forget the passion with which artists continue creating weird cgs with their crazy imagination, one must also recognize the decisions taken by Shinji Fukuhara and Ikuko Sakurai, both directors of the tv station which actually broadcasts the program. In particular, Fukuhara said: The generation which grew up on video games is brought up with media adaptation skills, different from those of previous generations. That is why Ugo-Ugo is the tactically correct program for that generation and the cgs were never meant to be a display of eccentricity. Also the program is a message to the Japanese television world, which in its 40th year since the popularization of tv is now moving towards conservatism.
One year has passed since the program was broadcast in the autumn of 1992 and its popularity is now at its zenith.
With all its character goods sales, live events planned together with museums, entry into prime-time television, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to call it the largest item to hit this year's tv world. Despite the difference in ideologies, the disintegration of former communist counties and the ldp stronghold in Japan both have in common: the defeat of a system comprising inaccessibility of information = closed politics by the eldersto the realities of the parabolic, Nintendo generation. In the same way that cnn best displayed the faces of Hussain and Ceaucescu on the international stage, the fact that Kanemaru, a symbol of the old Japanese establishment, continues to be used in the 3d cg leader of Ugo-Ugo Lhuga is history's natural outcome.
translation didi hirokawa