Have a look at this video (note: NSFW due to anime tits), it’s called “Akihabara Majokko Princess,” and stars Kirsten Dunst singing “Turning Japanese” while she visits Tokyo dressed as a magical school girl. The video was directed by McG, and was produced by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
At first glance, the video appears to be a fun, Japan love session from the perspective of a western visitor, with the Dunst character having found the place of her dreams. Having watched the video an unhealthy amount of times at this point, however, I think there’s significantly more to it than that. I view the piece as telling the story of a westerner enamoured with an imaginary Japanese culture constructed in the west and existing in her head. The Dunst character from the early parts of the video may also be representative of the west more broadly.
Dunst is dressed up as a truly outlandish “magical schoolgirl,” and that may seem like the perfect get-up for fitting in in Akihabara, but if you pay attention to the people she’s interacting with, no one is even close to her level of insanity. The video opens with people getting on the train for work, and, I think importantly, a young man yawning. These things indicate to me that this is every day life in Tokyo, and the people living there enjoy themselves as much/as little as people living anywhere else. Enter Dunst: she struts around like she “gets” this place, and immediately starts acting like a total lunatic while a bunch of very bored locals look on. At one point, she even chases around an old guy in a grey suit who appears to have no interest in her shenanigans. The whole thing is reminiscent of a person who doesn’t get the “tone” of a party, walks in, starts slamming drinks and screaming while everyone else just feels put off.
Eventually, the Dunst character gets a few people to play along with her antics. This includes some street performers wearing track suits and masks from western entertainment (like Dobby!), and some random girls who look like they got pulled out of their jobs at maid cafes. These scenes contribute to the “fun” outer layer of the video, but they also illustrate another misunderstanding by the Dunst character. Our magical schoolgirl and the others are dancing around in the middle of a wide open road while dozens, if not hundreds, of “normal” people look on from the sidewalk. These events suggest that while the wacky elements of Japanese culture which the Majokko Princess wants so badly to be real do exist, they are smaller and less pervasive than she has imagined them to be.
The significance of the song Turning Japanese should not be overlooked. As Zeek Slider points out, “the cliché of East meets West is a rabid as herpes in this video.” Japanese and western popular culture intermingle and double back on each other in the video, with a Japan fused with western culture (see: the Dobby mask) being visited by a white girl seeking a place outside of the west. Her fetishising of Japan mirrors a past (or is that present?) fetishising of the west by Japan.
At about 3:15 into the video, Dunst falls to her knees while the camera pans around, but the street around her is empty and grey. She appears to be deluded, her body language suggests she is enraptured, and she exclaims “turning Japanese I really think so,” as though she has finally made it, she has become Japanese and it is exactly as she imagined it to be. Sadly, no one is around her, she still doesn’t “get” the culture which she desires so badly to be a part of, and she is missing the fact that she’s still living a masturbatory reimagining of Japanese culture invented in the west.
The video is spliced with scenes in a white room of Dunst playing with some colourful plush toys. At some point, these objects assemble to form a giant living toy, seemingly thanks to the magic of Dunst’s wand. The two characters dance around this room, having fun, until the end, when Dunst waves her wand one last time and makes her friend disappear. The symbolism should be obvious: the room is the princess’ imagination, she created this make-believe friend for herself, and the friend represents the Japan of the Majokko Princess’ dreams. When Dunst finally puts an end to her imaginary friend, it may be that she has now seen the real Japan and matured past her fantasy. The video suggests that the west need only visit Japan to find that the country is not so deserving of othering, and that the two cultures are not so different.