People all over the world flocked around the stage for the video game company Konami when director Hideo Kojima arrived to discuss the upcoming installment of the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise at the 2012 Tokyo Game Show.
This came at a time when journalists observed that the convention’s scope seemed to shrink with the absence of industry giants like Nintendo, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and Activision despite a record turnout of 223,753 attendees. You wouldn’t think the former was the case given that the number of people in the audience swelled to the point where security had to cordon spectators off to prevent them from obstructing the pathway to other exhibits.
There aren’t many remaining Japanese developers within the industry besides producer Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo who could garner such attention in Japan and from across the pond. This makes Kojima’s stature all the more relevant, amidst the recurring narrative of Japan’s decline in the past few decades.
Kojima started working for Konami during the 1980s, but carved his name across the face of entertainment history by meshing an American-influenced cinematic narrative into the story and game play of the “Metal Gear Solid” video game. Since then, Kojima’s remained a household name in a short list of “star-studded” developers amongst gaming enthusiasts.
The influence of American cinema is undeniable. “Metal Gear Solid” featured a stream of cut scenes and dialogue to narrate the game’s story of a soldier codenamed Solid Snake to infiltrate military base hijacked by terrorists in possession of a bipedal tank armed with a nuclear warhead.
Indeed, he’s quicker to cite Western directors such Luc Besson and James Cameron, among others, under his list of influences. What isn’t emphasized as often is that Japanese tropes are just as frequently used within the frame of his work.
He subtly references anime fans throughout most installments for “Metal Gear Solid” and the presence of cyborg ninjas and colossal bipedal robots is undoubtedly influenced by the medium.
What anime fans from both America and Japan who insist on the medium’s exceptionalism will never admit is that it’s a marriage between Western animation techniques and Japanese sensibilities. It’s no mistake that anime exploded into an international phenomenon given that it’s a byproduct of globalization. The same readily applies just as much to Kojima, who successfully reels in both Japanese and Western audiences.
It’s true that video games oftentimes attract a puerile consumer base. The same equally applies to anime. Yet, there’s no denying that the both mediums accrue a heightened degree of “soft power” to Japan’s cross-cultural armament. There’s no doubt that interest in Japanese studies at universities is connected to Westerners’ exposure to Japanese pop culture; anime notwithstanding. The decline in interest in anime and Japanese video games in the West places such academic programs in jeopardy. The continued interest in Kojima’s video games, in part, staves off such trends.
What’s more, Kojima infuses a direly needed intellectualism into video games with his ideas. It’s recurrently mentioned by fans that “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” is a post-modern video game. That isn’t too far-fetched given that the video game shares themes with philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s book “Simulation and Simulacrum” and mentions the author in the dialogue for “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.”
For that matter, he also cited Kobo Abe and his novel “The Kangaroo Notebook” as one of the other inspirations to the game. A further explanation of both authors and their presence within the game is worthy of an article or doctoral thesis alone. This merely supports the habit of gaming enthusiasts who recurrently erect the game as an example for the debate on whether video games can be art.
Even if the Japanese video game industry is in a decline as journalists describe, Kojima’s presence contests such notions. As Japan’s economic and pop cultural stance edges south, figures like Kojima offer assurance that its international stature is still a force to be reckoned with. For that matter, it’s difficult for me to think of anyone aside from novelist Haruki Murakami who can communicate and facilitate ideas between East and West.
Brett Fujioka writes from Japan and can be reached at [email protected] Opinons expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.