Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Episode Four)
SMITH AND LARK
Early on in this episode Jung-Freud discovers that coach Ota has been training Noriko for the super weapon Gunbuster, and she challenges her to a duel. Noriko accepts, but before the duel can begin she has a flashback of Smith Toren’s death and becomes hysterical. Jung-Freud backs down, and although she makes a number of mean comments, she does not challenge Noriko again. Soon we see her being friendly again and this attitude will last until the end of the show.
Noriko spends a lot of time in this episode mourning the loss of her first love, Smith. For about twelve seconds starting in minute 9:13 we see her sitting down with a number of vending machines to her left [see 15]. One of them sells a Yamaguchi Prefecture brand of sake (I will deal with it properly when it reappears in Episode Six). The most visible of the machines, however, says “CIGARETTES” on the top and “LARK” at the bottom. Lark Cigarettes is an American brand and it might thus seem a fitting backdrop to Noriko’s musings on Smith. There is more to it than this, however. Lark is one of the best examples of a transculturated product in Japan, and this aspect of the brand puts it in a similar category as Smith’s character and the Exelion’s name, to name two.
1 – Lark cigarettes / 2 – Yamaguchi sake
Lark was never very popular in the United States but its success in Japan has been remarkable. Due to its charcoal filter Lark was seen as milder than the usual American cigarette. A Philip Morris report pointed out that Lark seemed to be viewed as halfway between a Japanese brand and an American one. Advertising was key: “Philip Morris aimed to capture ‘share of mind’, the extent to which consumers thought that a brand was popular and frequently smoked” (according to the report here). A survey conducted in 1987 revealed that most Japanese believed Lark was “the leading brand in the world”.
The phenomenon of transculturation is very complex but let me quote from Tymoczko’s Enlarging Translation, Empowering Translators: “…it is easy to see that a person can receive and incorporate into life patterns a particular cultural form with little or no awareness that it has originated in another cultural context and has been transculturated into the receiving context”. Tymoczko brings up pizza as an example of a food many around the world enjoying without knowing it comes from Italy. But what is fascinating about the case of Lark in Japan is how even though knowledge of the source was never lost (the Japanese still considered the cigarette American) a (false) perception of the brand’s worldwide popularity had become so prevalent that the cigarette was guaranteed a place as a fully transculturated product even though it was not smoked as often as Japanese brands, simply on the basis of its (ethereal) prestige.
The survey I mentioned above was released in 1988, that is, the same year Gunbuster came out, and what these facts indicate is that far from being an example of American commercialism and thus a counterbalance to Japanese imperialist imagery aboard the Exelion, the presence of Lark cigarettes in this episode is another indication of how this series shows the world remade in the image of Japan. The real link between Smith and Lark cigarettes is in the way that Japanese consumers perceive both as being suitably mild.