The Objects of Creativity

Tomohiro (Tomo) Morisawa, ISCA, Oxford University
Last month I started my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Through an ethnography of the production process of anime movies in Japan, my research will look at how socially negotiated ideas of creativity, facilitated by the institution of copyright law, have come to articulate the terms with which animators evaluate one another’s work as well as their professional development. Through this project, I plan to engage with the emerging debate in anthropology about the concept and practices of creativity (Liep 2001, Hisrch and MacDonald 2005, Ingold and Hallam 2008) and intellectual property (Strathern 1999, 2006, Brown 1998, 2003, Myers 2005 etc.).
Whereas the analytical potential of creativity as a topic has been rather well discussed, I believe a more ethnographic engagement still finds ample space to be explored. The starting premise of the project is that ethnographic engagement with creativity does not yield much satisfactory result without turning to the legal and economic regime of intellectual property rights (Leach 2007). Both stem intricately from philosophy of John Locke and the Western liberalist tradition of possessive individualism (cf. Macpherson 1962). This point is brilliantly exposed in ethnographies of copyright, which look at how differing conceptions of authorship may prove to be a critical problem in determining ownership (Myers 2005). The ethnographic focus on creativity – the twin concept of authorship – where the local and the international regimes of copyright do not significantly differ i.e. Japan (but see for other examples Geismar 2005a, 2005b) will not only add on to the emerging literatures of creativity and intellectual property in anthropology, but also facilitate a connection between them.
Anime is a Japanese abbreviation for the English word ‘animation’, which has increasingly come to specifically mean animation movies produced in Japan and consumed worldwide. Currently, the estimated number of anime programmes broadcast on TV networks amount up to 80 per week domestically; the wide availability corresponding with its high visibility within popular cultures and media in Japan. However, the rise in the presence of anime related subculture also led to its polarized reception in public discourses during the past decade, oscillating between anime as the expression of creativity and that as arresting social malady.
Whereas the ideal of creativity in anime is personified in a few master animators such as Miyazaki Hayao, who has come to embody everything Japan aspires to as the master of personal creativity, malicious images of anonymous (more often than not male) consumers who are latent public offenders and social misfits also began to dominate in daily shows and sensational news media. This shift from creative individual to malfunctioning mass also traces a change in public imagination from the side of production to that of consumption. While ‘genius’ animators produce ‘creative’ art-like crafts, ‘anonymous’ consumers destroys the value by turning them into fetish commodities.
The government has promoted the anime industry as Japan’s core ‘softpower’, and the relative success of such anime films like “Spirited Away” and “Pokemon” abroad are shaking up something of its newly defined sense of cultural uniqueness verging on that of superiority. Yet, the daily work the professional animators actually carve out at the studio, as the result of their labour, is anything but spectacular. Rather, it is the banality of it all that may perplex the researcher on the first encounter – a thousand of stop motion drawings which are hard to make heads or tails for non-professionals. By focussing on how animators make use of the concept of creativity in articulating their work and personal ideals I will be able to examine the juncture between creativity, work, and personhood, onto which the larger ideas of national future have come to be staked.
Starting from October 2009, I will conduct a 12 month fieldwork at a yet-to-be-specified anime production studio in Suginami-ku district of Tokyo, where almost one fifth of the entire industry (approx. 80 studios) is concentrated. Ideally, I will work as an assistant to the production-management section of the given studio, which foresees the schedule management of ongoing projects and entails highly frequent face to face interactions with animators. In the field, I will pay particular attention to how references to the ideas of creativity entail the corresponding references to the material forms it is objectified. That is to say, when animators talk about their work, and actually produce their drawings, how personification, objectification, and idealization of creativity all play out in such a way to elude rather than cement the boundaries between them.