Tanaka Romio’s Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita is making an early bid for show of the season. It is poignant, witty and belligerently hostile towards the excess of modern society. There’s a lot of stuff covered in the short 20 minutes of Episode 1, so I will do my best to unpack (hopefully all) of the salient themes contained within. In addition, I will attempt to track them throughout the series. Hopefully, by the end of the summer season, we’ll be able to better understand the show’s various influences. Most of these will feel very obvious to readers, as the show is a definitely on the spoon-feeding and preachy side.
The pastoral/urban dichotomy plays a fundamental role in Jintai‘s setting. The opening shot of the show contrasts with other “stock openings” featuring a bird’s-eye flyby of urban sprawl, although if one looks closely, one can almost see that the country itself is organized in much the same way a cityscape would be― a central “hub” featuring “spokes” branching out into wilderness.
I find Jintai‘s lack of sentimentality regarding the pastoral to be fascinating. In both Western and Japanese media, the pastoral is often portrayed as a desirable alternative to the harms of urban living. Clean, spacious and quiet, the pastoral frequently features all the comforts of urban living without any of the smoke and noise. Even in series where the countryside is portrayed as backwards, it is still intimate and peaceful. In Jintai, however, the countryside is, well, backwards. That, and nothing more.
Even more fascinating, there is a distinct reversal in the roles of the pastoral and urban in Jintai: in modern society, we often think of the country as producing and the city as consuming. However, the country produces virtually nothing in Jintai. Farmers (or, what we think are farmers) are unable to keep control of their own chickens, and must rely in turn on industrial production for meat. It’s an intriguing role reversal, one which puts the humans at the mercy of others, denying them self-sufficiency.
Deference to Authority
Moving on, we see Watashi moving into the village, enthusiastically greeted by the villagers. Their constant cries of sensei symbolizes their deference to authority. Their earnest cries for meat, followed by their unwillingness to slaughter the chickens themselves, confirms our suspicions that they are both unthinking and useless. Later, as they attempt to catch the chicken, they look again to Watashi to provide guidance and support.
In like manner, the villagers’ meeting again exhibits this theme of deference. When a villager proposes to “split up and search the area”, he is repudiated by his peers. After many hours of fruitless quarrel, Watashi’s grandfather, a learned man, steps in and offers the exact same solution, which is accepted immediately. The masses are willing to do whatever those in power tell them to do, and also rely upon those with knowledge and power to guide them throughout life and make decisions for them.
Industrial Food Production
There is a step (well, a few steps) between “live chicken” and “juicy chicken nuggets”, but as Watashi suggests, no one really knows what they are. It’s a common problem in industrial society. We would rather not see images of food production (as a lawsuit in San Francisco aimed at stopping the live slaughter of chicken in Chinese street markets would indicate), preferring the lie that is pre-packaged, industrially-produced meat. This problem seems to be especially acute in Japan, where children are said to have drawn pictures of chicken nuggets when asked to draw chickens― similar to how a headless, skinless chicken was still positively identified as “chicken” by the village girls despite bearing almost no resemblance to the live chickens at the episode’s beginning.
Industrial food production is a nasty business. One can smell offals and blood from miles away. No wonder we don’t like to think too much about it! We almost unquestioningly eat anything that’s on grocery store shelves without really pausing to think about the origins of our food, and Jintai critiques industrial food production by taking it to its logical conclusion― food directly produced from food waste, in the form of bread made from garbage. As in a real factory tour, Watashi is given a chance to “try” the bread, despite hearing about its dubious origins; the invitation to try the mysterious synthetic bread represents an attempt on the part of the corporation to assure consumers of the safety of its products, despite blatantly lying about its quality. Which brings us to our next theme…
The Evils of Corporation
The evils of corporation are many and varied, or so claims Jintai. This is one of the biggest themes in the show, and there are many different angles that Romio takes when critiquing our beloved engines of capitalist growth.
First, there’s the bureaucratic nature of corporation. The meeting called by the villagers to discuss the chicken incident illustrates this point:
Meetings often ramble on without agenda. Unwittingly, they turn into monsters with all sorts of hidden costs.
As it turns out, the meeting is pointless. Underlings squabble among themselves until finally, an authoritative figure appears and offers a solution to the problem. People gobble it up without thinking, with everyone praising the decision. The outcome of the meeting had, of course, been decided already, but the illusion of due process holds an important position in our modern world. This point is emphasized by Watashi’s sarcastic quip that she should write a book on management to warn everyone of the dangers of holding meetings. (As a side note, Watashi’s quip itself is a parody of the plethora of useless books on management which seem to sell like hotcakes, taking up much of the space in Japanese bookstores today.)
Watashi’s visit to the factory sheds further light on the absurdity of corporation. The factory is occupied by a single man who knows nothing about it. His incompetence and ignorance underscores a fundamental problem in today’s methods of production: the disconnect between production and management. It is rare that people who run companies have any kind of perspective on the particulars of production. In addition, the man’s recent arrival to the factory can be read as an allusion to outsourcing, which only further distances management from production. In any case, what is clear from Episode 1 of Jintai is that the employees of Youseisha do not really have any idea what goes on in their own company.
Finally, the attempt at portraying Youseisha’s (undesirable) products as desirable critiques the corporate tendency to manipulate its consumers. Calling synthetic bread “cheap and healthy”, claiming that it has a place on “the honor roll of foods” all culminates in a (hilariously failed) attempt to convince Watashi that synthetic bread is, in fact, safe and edible.
In fact, Watashi and her entourage are not free from this vicious cycle of doublespeak. Her assistant can only assign three grade qualities to goods, “Excellent”, “Good” and “Fair”, a result of his training which stressed “positive re-enforcement.” (Humorously, in one of my friend’s firms, the associates are taught to say “It’s unclear” as opposed to “I don’t know”, a real-world example of this kind of corporate-speak.) As a person in a position of authority, Watashi also uses her knowledge in an attempt to manipulate people who are reliant upon her, in a failed attempt to cover up the headless processed chicken fiasco.
But What About the Fairies?
I haven’t yet spoken about the fairies, as I find them difficult to read. Bitmap posited that they represent present-humans (plausible, given their name), as they are greedy, self-centered and bored― certainly three salient features of modern culture. With nothing better to do, they are even willing to attempt death by starvation, claiming that it could become a new fad, underscoring the severity of their boredom.
I will go one step further. Fairies represent the urban class― consumers of goods, provider of services, perpetually bored and always chasing new fads. Possessed of immense technological prowess and almost wanting for nothing (other than sweets, which the producers (humans) do not have― echoing a similar situation in cities when farms fail to produce enough… produce), they are willing, literally, to bore themselves to death. They also live in cramped quarters, separated by nothing other than a thin wall of wood, yet fail utterly to interact when placed in such living arrangements. To me, this evokes a passage from the Tao Te Jing: “Neighboring countries see each other, roosters and dogs shriek and bark, yet the people, from birth to death, never speak and never meet.” A truly sad state of affairs!
A Loss of Autonomy?
Perhaps the thread that ties together all of these different strands together is the loss of autonomy. People have declined because they’ve stopped being able to think for themselves and provide for themselves. Farmers have forgotten how to slaughter their chicken, people can no longer hunt, the masses cannot make decisions for themselves, and even fairies, with their superhuman technology, still rely on people for food and entertainment. It is far to early to proclaim any of these themes as the “main theme” of the work (if one even believes that Jintai has a main theme to begin with), but I will definitely be following this series as it continues.
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