Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Scott Ferguson


after life, anime, black butler, manga, millennium actress


Through an analog between film and memory, I argue contemporary Japanese visual media constantly remediates this relationship in order to develop a more inclusive, plastic indexicality that allows media without direct material contiguity access to an indexicality not typically attributed to it. Amidst the early twenty-first century shift from old, mechanical media to new, electronic media, each Japanese text engages the West through intercultural discourses and intracultural responses, just as Japan has continually encountered the West since its forced opening by Commodore Perry in 1853. The plasticized indexicality figured by contemporary Japanese visual media implies the plastic nature of abstracted referents such as memory. I examine these issues through three texts, each representing three different contemporary Japanese visual media forms: the live-action film, After Life (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 1998), the anime film, Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon, 2003), and the manga, Black Butler (Yana Toboso, 2006-ongoing). Each text remediates film and memory as analogs in ways particular to their own medium to refigure indexicality as inclusive of their own medium, revealing a cultural discourse wherein contemporary Japanese visual media engage with abstracted realities such as memory.

By plasticizing and abstracting the index through its remediation of film and memory, contemporary Japanese visual media reveal visual media's, especially anime's and manga's, ability to relate to culture. Their refigured index is inclusive of all visual media, allowing each the opportunity to index subjective memory and experience. After Life introduces this possibility by privileging its memory-film recreations as a higher fidelity index to memory than documentary, though documentary's remediation informs this index. Both Millennium Actress and Black Butler extend After Life's inclusive possibilities to suggest that their painterly realities are not divorced from reality, but rather representative of its decentered reception as subjective experience and memory. As media technology extends human beings, through new media such as the internet, it also abstracts us from certain material interactions such as reading paperback books or speaking to friends rather than texting them. Contemporary Japanese visual media suggest that as old media make way for new media, we should readjust our preconceptions about media's relations to culture, for as our world becomes digitized, even animated, the painterly realities found in film, anime, and manga bear more relevance than ever to how we construct our worlds, inside Japan and across the world.