March 18, 2011
With the aftershocks receding and Fukushima stuck in a FUBAR remake of Groundhog Day, NHK ran out of new news and has been running time-filling weather graphics and soothing background music all day (all night in Japan), with semi-regular programming scheduled to resume at three this afternoon with Good Morning, Japan (6:00 AM in Japan).
So, let's discuss the semi-artistic angle.
The typical anime natural disaster serves to realign the social order in more "interesting"--libertarian--ways, such as creating a society where everybody's armed like in the Wild West. It's rarely framed in the more Christian "end-times" sense, and people adapt to the new order while seeking out new business opportunities, like battling evil robots and exorcising demons.
It's eerie but purely coincidental that I'm translating a fantasy series right now that begins with the destruction of Shinjuku by the "Devil Quake."
Japan went through a huge social upheaval in the mid-19th century, and a physical and existential cataclysm in the mid-20th century, so it's nothing new. As in those times, these events may lead to a welcome political realignment, providing an incentive, for example, to couple Japan's structural debt problem and reconstruction efforts with overdue austerity measures.
And perhaps the stark realities of actual suffering will put a deserved end to a recent, rather loathsome, flirtation with the angsty, sociopathic anti-hero. As Hiroki Azuma writes in the New York Times,
While many will revert [after the crisis passes] to their indecisive selves, the experience of discovering our own public-minded, patriotic selves that had been paralyzed within a pernicious cynicism is not likely to fade away.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a slew of dramas in coming years about the heroic nuclear plant worker struggling against all odds. The relatively minor 2008 Iwate-Miyagi earthquake has already produced a feel-good film about a bunch of brave puppies, valiant JSDF rescuers, and resourceful kids.
I think the most compelling future developments--the biggest opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking--will be tsunami hardening, how Japan prepares for the next "big one." The Patlabor series, for example, is premised on the building of a massive sea wall to protect Tokyo from rising oceans. This "can-do" fiction may yet turn into fact.