Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Red and Blue: The Politics of Astro Boy

One of the biggest talking points brought up in reviews of the Astro Boy movie is that it has an American political message.

While I personally don't see it that way, a lot of people do, and seem to be deeply offended by it, saying that this sort of thing has no place in a children's movie.

Rather than try to get to the bottom of what must be a personal issue for every individual viewer, I'll simply write some of my own thoughts on the topic and leave the comments section open for discussion.

Be warned, spoilers are afoot!

Do keep in mind that I came into this movie from the mindset of an anime fan who already knew the story of Astro Boy. I've also been following the film for two years via this blog. As such, my viewing experience going into the film was more about those kinds of story elements, not political ones. Someone who come into the film at a different angle may be more susceptible to seeing a political side of the film than I am. I'm also Canadian, so while I understand some of the political situation in the United States, I am very much detached from it.

It's interesting looking back to the months leading up to the film now that it seems to have sparked a political debate. At a certain point it became clear that Astro would be powered by the Blue Core energy, rather than more factual scientific atomic power in Osamu Tezuka's original story. Naturally, the use of atomic power in Tezuka's manga stems from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II and the bomb tests that followed afterward. The word "Atom" carried a lot of weight at the time and had public recognition, hence its inclusion in that story. Tezuka hoped that atomic energy could someday be harnessed in positive ways, but always warned against the over-reliance on science and technology.

So, at first, it seemed to me that using the Blue Core energy as plot point for the film was a way of stripping a complicated and potentially controversial topic from the movie and simplifying the story for a more general audience. And perhaps there is some truth to that, as atomic energy isn't in the public eye today as it was in the 50's and 60's. For its own reasons, the Spider-man movie did the same thing, swapping out the traditional radioactive spider that bites Peter Parker for a genetically engineered one.

I felt that the atomic power was an important part of the Astro Boy story, and felt that it was a bad move taking it out. Astro Boy was Japan's way of taking something bad, turning it into something good, and embracing it. To remove that, I thought, would leave out something that makes the character so intriguing. However, s time went on and more of the movie's plot became public, I began to see things a little differently.

The blue and red cores are more symbols than anything else, representing the positive and negative uses of science and technology. Using these symbols, rather than explaining the science behind everything, makes the issue more easily understood by younger audiences and more universal for international audiences. But understand that the issues raised by Tezuka have not been removed entirely. Instead of outwardly talking about them, they are covertly included in the film. I found this aspect to be rather clever once I saw it that way. The outright use of atomic power may be missing, but a similar interesting concept seems to have developed in its place.

As an artist, I understand that colors have meanings and generate feelings, whether the average person realizes them or not. Blue can represent water, calmness, and tranquility. Red can represent fire, blood, and rage. I suppose the cores could have been any colors, but blue and red seem to be the most obvious choices. The use of red = evil and blue = good isn't exactly a new one. It seems odd to me that people are stuck on this issue being a politically motivated one, as if blue is supposed to represent Democrats and red is supposed to represent Republicans. It is as if a part of the original manga story that was changed for the film to avoid a political issue may have unwittingly started one anyway!

When it comes to President Stone and the Metro City election, I'll grant you that there is a political theme to that part of the plot, obviously. The "It's not Time for Change" banner is a clear reference to the Obama election campaign, though I see it as a visual gag more than anything else. But to say that this has anything to do with the current state of politics would mean that President Stone would have to be analogous to a real political personality. That I can't logically stand behind. President Stone is an unabashedly evil character, who declared war on a whim and bragged about how many ex-wives he had. He is not standing in for George W. Bush or anyone else. He is, quite simply, the villain of the movie. He's just too impossibly evil to be anything else.
We may have disagreements over who's doing what in Washington, but is there anybody who is as honestly as rotten to the core as President Stone? I don't think so. His level of villainy is so great that it'd be totally ridiculous if it weren't so entertaining.

The original Astro Boy stories do contain of issues that, I suppose, one could label as political. However, the way I see it, these are not "red vs blue" issues. They are more clearly basic morality issues of right vs. wrong. And these issues are definitely woven into the film. Discrimination is wrong. Pollution is wrong. War is wrong. Is it really so bad to put this in a movie for kids? At the heart of the matter, there's nothing political about it.

While I am surprised at the attention this issue is getting, it really should come as a surprise to no one who is familiar with Tezuka's works that there would be some kind of issue like this in the movie. I know some people say that when they go to watch movies, they go to leave the "real world" behind, and they don't think that kids should be exposed to such complex themes. Well, Tezuka never thought that way when he made his comics. He added all sorts of important issues into his manga. It's only fitting that this movie would do the same. It's too bad that a handful of folks are missing the point entirely and looking in the wrong direction.

But hey, if you see things differently, please leave a comment below and have at it!


Anonymous said...

Myself, I had read comments by film critics about the political symbolism of the red and blue cores. When I saw the film, though, they seemed to be no big deal. What disgusted me was the "not time for change" banner. That to me was the height of Hollywood arrogance - to ram in an obnoxiously partisan political message into a film that, up to that point, had been wonderful. It stopped the movie's storyline in its tracks. I heard a few angry comments from people around me in the theater when they saw that banner. The movie is a family film, not a political documentary for crying out loud. I'm not sure what the motive was in including that banner, but it definitely hurt the film. And that really sucks, because the movie is otherwise so good.

Anonymous said...

Cybotron said
"....The city of Hong Kong was given over to Chinese Communist control some years ago. And the Chinese have been involved for sometime in the diminishment of "Red Power" the genocidal and violence laden elements of pure communism. The film is a work of the New Hong Kong advanced "Cyber Artistry..." The Red and the Blue cores need no explanation. The RLF needs no explanation. The message of the film and the reality of it, requires no explanation and the delving into it by the uninitiated will avail nothing. You saw Astroboy made in the New Hong Kong not Hollywood, yet Hollywood...

Manetoys said...

I seriously do not see the big deal in the so called "Poltical agenda" in this movie. Has no one actually sat down and READ the manga? Or other works of Tezuka? The original Astro Boy manga had him fall into Vietnam in the 60s, fighting American soldiers to protect a village. (yeah, nothing political about that) And another Manga (I think it was Metropolis) had a scientist trying to warn the world leaders about an alien invasion but the leaders ignored him in favor of angering each other into World War III. And quite frankly, if Astro Boy were to be on any side of a political debate, it would be the left

F-Man said...

I'm interested in knowing why the "It's not time for change" banner is brought up so often. Of all the political nonsense in the movie, this is the one that I thought was the least harmful, and maybe one of the funniest. So I get a shock every time someone mentions how wrong it is.

I got from the story that President Stone is running for re-election, and is stubborn, thick-headed towards his ideas. He's the type who wants to set things his way and keep them like that. So the banner to me just made sense considering his character. Is there something I'm not seeing, or maybe other people are looking too much into it?

felix ip said...

I think people paid too much attention to that part, I don't think Director has indention to express those political message you guys mentioned. He just want to make the Character Stone more funny

Ninjatron said...

Thanks for the replies everyone!

Yes, I also agree that much of this political stuff was just to enhance the character of Stone. I think he was pretty much the most fleshed out character of the whole movie, because of those moments.

That banner might mean something right now to some people because of recent political events, but it's innocent enough that in 10 years time it won't harm anything having been there. It'll just be a gag.


Anonymous said...

The "Time for Change" slogan has been used by political candidates all over the world for many decades. President Stone's slogan is clearly a play on this old cliche. Only the ignorant can take offence to it.

Manetoys said...

"Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar" -Sigmund Freud
(Might've misspelled his name. Sorry)

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in hearing the input from a true (American)conservative who saw the movie. I strongly doubt that anyone who has posted so far falls in that category--at least not the people who are scoffing at the political innuendo. If it's not there, there's no backlash from viewers. Liberals tend to be the folks that show the least amount of tolerance and tend to rage the most about perceived imbalances and 'unfairness.'

V said...

"Liberals tend to be the folks that show the least amount of tolerance and tend to rage the most about perceived imbalances and 'unfairness.'"

And yet you Freepers own 90% of all talk radio, and constantly rage against the dead horse known as the Fairness Doctrine. Who has the least tolerance here?

cybotron said...

I thank you again for raising this crucial issue.No time for change is the mantra of reelection. And why people expect astro to be a kids program all mindless and cute is beyond me.I look forward now to seeing Pluto. Then we'll some metaphor some social commentary! Some real discussion. Keep up the good work.!

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