Otomo´s Pre-Cyberpunk

In the section “Architecture without Architects”, I would like to file some information regarding the urban visions of Katsuhiro Otomo. The first of his many attractive urban stories is “Nightmares”(Dômu, 1983), first published in Spain by Norma Editorial in 1991. In this comic, Otomo begins developing stifling urban contexts which are the first graphic reference to cyberpunk (although “Nightmares” should not be understood as cyberpunk work)and culminates later with the Neo Tokyo of "Akira" between 1982 and 1990.

“Nightmares” raises big expectations after the first three pages that drop later as the story takes place. This is because of the suggestive story given at the beginning. Bizarre incidents are occurring in a social housing district of Tokyo, where bodies of people that seem to have jumped from the disturbing building mass have appeared, as if a supernatural force was giving a suffocating and hypnotic character to the architecture that was making these habitants jump to commit suicide.

This quality is influenced by an era of expansion and urban growth in Japan at the end of the 70’s, as Alfons Moliné transcribes from an interview with Otomo in the journal Yomiuri Shimbun: “When I was living in that area they carried out a new project of public housing. Soon, they got occupied by couples with low salaries and newborn babies.It looked like they would never adapt to this sort of congested urban life, but they ended up trapped in this world”. However, after this promising beginning that also inspired not only cyberpunk, but the so many times imitated Japanese horror cinema in examples like Dark Water (Honogurai Mizuno Sokokara, by Hideo Nakata, 2002), the story  becomes a battle between caricature beings with strange revenges and supernatural forces that actually leave much to be desired. I believe that this characteristic intends to find an anthropomorphic representation of terror and the effects caused by these urban environments, but the literal transcription of ghost characters generates a loss of the “onirism” with which “Nightmares” enraptures us at the beginning.

Public Housing in Tokyo
But the effectiveness of his architectural representations on the plot lays the foundations of Otomo’s urban importance. All the critics praise this characteristic and the expressive strength of his sketches but I haven’t found any insightful analysis regarding the opportunism produced by the environments of his vignettes: What’s the reason for this enormous effort in the representation of these environments so carefully in Otomo’s work? Why don’t they turn out to be stressful at any time? Furthermore, why do they become necessary?

Nightmares (Dômu, 1983), Katsuhiro Otomo
I recently found the answer in Slavoj Zizek, in his book Lacrimen Rerum (Debate, 2005). In this work, Zizek uses the concept, extracted from ideas of Lacan, from “Gran Otro”, like a ghost that some others call “The System” or “Above”. But this concept from “Big Other” makes more sense in this example, “Big Other” is not necessarily a tyrannical superstructure that pulls the strings of the social dynamics, but he is an external agent, the “remains of”, an amalgam, the whole swarm that makes things to be the way they are. It exercises power over the individual, from which all the political and subjective agents of a society take part in an almost schizoid way. All of them except the “I” that resists, from Foucault’s perspective, or flows, if it is Deleuze looking at it.
Although it is not time to deepen into this principle, the beginning of “Nightmares” makes you think that it is this concept, that consciously or unconsciously occurs in the urban sketches of Otomo, the representation and presence of “Big Other” in the course of the story and its influence over the characters, and somehow this “Big Other” is the one that Otomo tries to materialise in his narrative change, from the suffocating architectures towards the anthropomorphic ghost characters.

Nightmares (Dômu, 1983), Katsuhiro Otomo

Nightmares (Dômu, 1983), Katsuhiro Otomo
Text by Subterritorios

Original text HERE

Translation by Guillermina Lozano