Japanese Surreal Comedy and the Ends of Progress
I examine the shūru-na warai (“surreal comedy”) subgenre of late 20th and early 21st century Japanese media and frame its ambivalent laughter as an expression of time’s opacity at century’s turn. In my analysis, I examine the evolution of surreal comedy in Japan, from its roots in earlier decades to its culmination in the 1990s and 2000s as a full-blown subgenre. With its aesthetics of indeterminacy and irresolution, shūru-na warai offered an aesthetic complement to the unsettled cultural mood that arose in the wake of collapse of Japan’s 1980s-era asset bubble. Namely, shūru-na warai’s suspended comedic aesthetic gave voice to an impression that, while time and history had seemed to halt their forward march, they had not simply begun to move backward. Instead, like shūru-na warai’s comedy, they hung uncertainly, suggesting but never providing the satisfaction of resolution.
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