Cyberpunk's Asian representation problem



Which is also why I tend to be a bit contrary in discussions about “representation” in American movies. The debate tends to be about proper representation of American minorities, which feels quite unimportant to me as a non-American.

I guess we all tend to categorize people into groups, but how we do so depends on our own culture. Americans tend to put the category “race” way ahead of other categories that I care about much more.

Star Trek does a good job of representing America’s racial diversity, but there are twice as many aliens on star trek crews as there are non-native English speaking humans. For reference, native English speakers make up about 10% of Earth’s population.

The newest series, Star Trek Discovery, features a milestone in representation on American SciFi TV. No, I’m not talking about the lead character. I’m talking about Captain Philippa Georgiou, who, as a non-native English speaker, gets to captain a space ship whose name is not taken from the naval tradition of English-speaking countries .Too bad she gets stuffed into a fridge right at the beginning of the series.

Well, I guess movies about the future will play in LA as long as there are people in LA making movies. Nothing wrong with that. If I want to see a movie imagining the future of Graz, Austria, I guess I’ll have to wait for the Austrian SciFi movie industy to get its act together (or more exactly: to appear out of nowhere).

There is still something wrong with the premise of Blade Runner, though. Whether or not Replicants are allowed to live freely or ruthlessly hunted down is not a local issue. You’ll either have all fleeing replicants trying to get out of LA and out of the US, or you’ll have replicants from other countries trying to get into LA. The level of persecution just won’t be uniform. “Everything happens in LA and other places or countries need not be mentioned” does not make sense.
This same problem happens a lot in American SciFi - some future world is imagined that is the consequence of some law passed by some American president at some point in the future - with not even a mention in passing of other countries. John Scalzi’s Lock In was another particularly bad offender in this respect.

I thought they get more representation than they want, seeing as they’ve been America’s favourite bad guys for a while now. India and Pakistan are former British colonies. My guess is former French colonies in Africa are much less represented in English-language media. Also, you don’t always need to make the stories about the big population centers - just pick the smaller country next to whatever comes into your mind.

“White” versus "European-American"

A post was merged into an existing topic: “White” is not really A Thing


For an ironic self-conscious representation of Asian people as background props, I refer you to Sophia Coppola’s post-modernist (yet ironically ironic classicist film) “Lost in Translation.”

(The Japanese film crew with whom they cooperated while doing production did a nice job of getting the documentary-style footage for the film).

Strangely enough, this film makes me sentimental for a simulacrum that I’ve already experienced in real-life.


Just very quickly:

That’s the opposite of representation - it’s stereotyping.

BTW, I was referring to the slash: Arab and Muslim are two pairs of shoes. (Which tend to fly in your face if you take one for the other. :wink: )


Um… Bill?



That movie was such shite, with its use of Japanese-ness and simplistic Japanese characters as mere props for a sad sack white love story. And if that’s supposed to be ironic racism, ironic racism is still racism.


Frankly i hated the movie. Saw it once ages ago and it struck me as a really pretentious movie that was trying too hard but didn’t have much to say. The reasonable thing to do would be to rewatch it and see how i feel about it now but i just don’t care. Pretty sure i would hate it, just for different reasons.


I kind of feel that way about much of Sofia Coppala’s films, honestly. I mean, she recently made a movie about the Civil War, set in the south, and managed to completely erase black women from the story…

Ugh. And no, Sofia, adding cool bands to a film doesn’t make it less vapid (in reference to her Maria Antoinette film).


Sofia Coppola is the definition of privilege. Coasting by on her name and connections that brings. From what little i recall about Lost in Translation i got the feeling that she was trying really hard to make something smart and artsy, but it was just pretentious and empty.


And all this time, I thought it was just that I wasn’t artsy-fartsy enough to like her work… I always seem to find each offering tedious and pretentious.






If someone does enjoy her films i would not give them grief about it, i know there’s movies i love that others dislike. But yeah, she just bores me.


While there is indeed a point that Asian characters are scarce or cookie cutter in American film, unfortunately this article had a number of problems which I strongly suspect are due to the author’s lack of familiarity with the genre and probably because the author was in diapers when the genre was relevant.

Like the original, 2049 uses Asianness as a visual cue for the future.

Those of us who

  1. saw the original in the theater
  2. spent any part of their lives in an urban environment

most likely understood the signage of the original and the availability of asian food as just part of city reality. Not too unlikely in L.A. where there is after all a large Asian population.

The reason why signs are bilingual; a future so outlandish that Japanese could be a lingua franca.

Except most of the signs are in Chinese, not Japanese.

Cyberpunk gained popularity, in part, thanks to Blade Runner and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which was heavily inspired by Japan. This was during the 1980s, amid Japan’s technological revolution.

First off Gibson has been very clear about the Japan of Neuromancer being entirely one of the imagination and part of the general feeling of the time that the collapse of manufacturing in the US had to be someone else’s fault, most likely the Japanese. Japan was certainly not having a technological revolution but a manufacturing revolution.

Some Asian cities did look futuristic, even then. Tokyo, for example, with its urban mosaic of fluorescent laneways.

Sure sign of a writer who’s never been to Tokyo except maybe for a short tourist stay including a very small part of Shinjuku.

Modern cyberpunk circles can perpetuate these stereotypes. Images uploaded to Reddit’s r/cyberpunk as canon often mimic the aesthetic of these films.

For anyone following along, that sub is probably literally the worst place to try and understand the SF genre in question.

Today, there’s no excuse for imagining a world that’s so regressively homogenous.

Speaking of Japan…


Just like how McD’s, Starbucks and so on are common here in Tokyo, look at how many American mommyblogs show pics of the bento box lunches the mom’s have prepared for their kids. Or how “spaghetti & meatballs” is “American food” and lets not forget gas station sushi! Everywhere does this stuff after all.

So does that mean our timeline will suffer from increasing plot problems and lack of a proper ending? :grin:

My sincere thanks for the correct word choice there.

Maybe both movies just represent the paranoias of their respective time.

Not in most of the original texts. The street lingo was unique to the first Blade Runner movie really.

Always in the background in crowd scenes.

How retro and disappointing.


While were on the subject of representation in SF, I can think of one cyberpunk movie that had actual Jews: Pi.


Lets be fair here. There weren’t any black characters in the original Don Siegel version either.

A movie which was far less arts and farts and more pulpy sexual thriller.


The plot was aimless. My wife found it an offensive depiction of Japan. Bill Murray had been milking the old lonely guy pathos bit since Broken Flowers and Rushmore.

But the lech in me refuses to hate on the film, for the simple reason that the opening shot was of Scarlet Johannson’s lovely rear end.


Um, there was though - see: