Credit: Creative Commons/Battle Angel Alita Wiki and Michele Ficara Manganelli
(Cross-posted from New America Media)
Many years ago, before the age of cyperspace, I found a Japanese manga series at a specialty bookstore in San Francisco. Created by Yukito Kishiro, Battle Angel Alita is the story of a post apocalyptic world where humans scavenge to survive, many using robotic technology to replace lost limbs. These semi-automated humans live in a ruinous metropolis called Scrapyard, which smolders beneath the fabled floating city of Tiphares.
Fast-forward two decades and Tiphares is renamed Elysium, one of this summer’s box office hits. The film stars Matt Damon as Max, a reluctant hero trying to knock down the doors of Elysium to gain access to life-saving technology. In the process, Max becomes the key to bringing Elysium and its privileged elite down to earth.
Elysium is the latest in a series of American productions that show how the Information Age has become the Age of Appropriation, one in which ideas and stories exist side by side for the borrowing, the taking, and ultimately, the mixing. What it also shows is that after almost a century of imitating the West, the tables are indeed turning and Hollywood is increasingly looking east.
At first it was a trickle. The 1954 film Seven Samurai, by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, became the star studded Magnificent Seven, by John Sturges. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) turned into Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Then came the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 cult classic The Matrix, which defined a generation. Based on the Japanese manga series Ghost in a Shell and starring Keanu Reeves as the messianic Neo, the film initiated a torrent of cinematic influences originating from Asia.
The martial arts genre, especially, has long held sway here. Over the decades it has found great enthusiasts, more notably among them famed directors like Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction fame was “inspired” by Hong Kong director Ringo Lam’s much earlier City on Fire, which became the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. While he later claimed it was homage and not stealing, the reality is that in the Age of Appropriation, the line between the one and the other is fading.