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Filipino Komiks and Japanese Sex Tourism: Joe Gatchalian’s Clone Woman

I suspect that, if one were to comb pornographic manga magazines from the 70s and 80s, “sex tour” themed material would emerge en masse. With cheap and easy sex in the developing world such a major attraction for Japanese men, publishers could not but have tried to capitalize. Apparently, the Pan Pacific Publishing House in Manila thought the same: thus Clone Woman. Though clearly sold to Japanese men, I wonder where? Hotels, airports, bars? On the street at cigarette stands and tourist curio vendors?

The opening pages of Gatchalian’s comic book shows primarily old Japanese couples arriving at Manila airport – a misleading representation of the demographics of Japanese tourists to the Philippines if what writers say about the history of the region’s sex industry is true. Yet these respectable tourists are just background. The focus of the opening sequence is young Filipina Melinda spotting handsome Japanese reporter Yamada through binoculars and then whisking him away to his hotel. Love is slow but certain.

Might this not be the romantic version of what was probably a common practice: go for business, stay for pleasure? Instead of paying for it, in this nice version the Japanese man, in the very course of doing his job, meets by chance a smart and pretty local girl, the two of them falling in love.

Dr. Castro’s character is a bit more complex. Here we have a former Japanese military man who went native to avoid capture and potential trial or execution by the Americans. His attempts to become someone else are extremely successful – only at the end of his life is his cover blown. However, he is never fully that other person. There will always only be one true Castro. He is always, somewhere, Miyazawa. And so, as if to compensate for his own inability to become a full copy of another person, this Japanese man devotes his life to making true and complete copies of individuals through scientific means.

How to read this? Though marketed to Japanese, the comic book was created by Filipino men. It was written by someone with advanced Japanese language abilities, but definitely not a native Japanese person – for while the grammar is good, the lettering is horrendous, almost illegible in passages. One wonders who this person was. How did they gain knowledge of Japan? Like Dr. Castro, had they lived in Japan? Had they learned Japanese to service the contemporary tourist industry? Had they learned it under Japanese rule in the 30s and 40s?

From the Filipino perspective, I imagine it easy to perceive in Clone Woman the dark undercurrents of a history of Japanese power in the Philippines, stretching from World War II to the 1980 present. First, a former Japanese soldier poses as Filipino essentially in order to avoid being held responsible for his country’s and his own personal aggression in Asia. Second, this soldier eventually does return to Japan, but as an eminent scientist, not a dirty war veteran. While in Japan – the postwar Japan of rapid economic growth and rising science and technology – he begins to explore the possibilities of genetic engineering, initially for the purpose of fighting cancer. He then takes back his superior Japanese know-how to the Philippines, the former colony, and begins to develop it in a less than completely ethical direction.

Given the time in which this comic book was created, it is probably no coincidence that this ex-Japanese soldier should return to the Philippines and set about to clone specifically a Filipino woman, and succeed in producing one that is more servile and more sex-driven than the original. In real life, not only had the former colonizers returned to the Philippines precisely for sex with local women. The years surrounding the publication of Clone Woman were those (1979-81) in which plans for the pleasure island of Lubang were being hotly debated. The man behind the Lubang project had actually been associated with the Japanese since the war. One can easily imagine how Dr. Miyazawa-Castro’s cloning technology – capable of producing, potentially on an assembly line basis, beautiful and sex-driven Filipinas – might have fit into this picture.

Clone Woman, however, focuses specifically on the strained relationships between Dr. Castro and the two Glorias. Given that the two women are essentially the same person, this is no ordinary love triangle. It is not the choice between one lover and another, between an older lover and an exciting new one, but rather between a new versus old version of the same lover. Since Gloria and Dr. Castro live together, and seem to have been doing so for some time, the relationship has an unmistakable marital cast. In fabricating a new Gloria, is not Dr. Castro essentially fabricating a new version of his “wife”? The “clone woman” is the ultimate solution to the timeless problem of long-term relationships in which the bond is strong but the excitement gone: a new version of the same person.

Japanese business talk: “Hey cutie, how was Friday? Next time let’s paint the town red.” Top right, she declines, saying work is more important. Bottom right: “But he was persistent in his solicitations. That night . . .”

One imagines that many of the Japanese men arriving on sex tours, or arriving on business and then seeking prostitutes on their own, were either married or of an age that one assumes them to be married. If the reporter Yamada is the handsome and gallant single Japanese man still able to turn his youth and status to romance and seduction, then Miyazawa is the older quasi-married Japanese man doing all he can to escape his identity, and exploiting his wealth and professional expertise to find ways to reactive his sex life without leaving the base of comfort and familiarity. His solution is twofold. One, forsake your Japanese identity and hide out in the Philippines forever. Two, through sex with serial Filipinas make your old marriage new.

If these readings are valid, then I think Clone Woman not only, as an artifact, captures an interesting if problematic moment in the development of the Asian economy, but reflects the social dynamics underlying them in a way that expresses Filipino anxieties while still satisfying Japanese fantasy.

On a few occasions, I have come across Filipino comic books at used bookstores and online auction in Japan. Compared to the piles of yellowing American comic books in Jinbochō, their number is miniscule. Usually they are from the late 70s, 80s, or early 90s. Their presence in Japan didn’t really mean anything to me at first. I just assumed some curious tourist had carried them home after an extended weekend snorkeling and splashing around in the surf, or that maybe an Filipino immigrant had brought them over. But after finding Clone Woman, I started wondering . . . what was that manga-lover really doing in the Philippines?

Closing note: The style of Clone Woman I take to be fairly standard in Filipino komiks, from what I have seen online. If we consider both its style and content together, might not we be seeing the synergy between two overlapping spheres of influence in the Pacific?

The book is in Japanese, for Japanese readers, about the Japanese in the Philippines. But it is done in a style broadly derived from American comic books. This would not have become the dominant style of comics art in the Philippines had it not been for the American military presence there after World War II. American bases remained in the country until 1992.

As a close military and trading partner to the United States, Japan’s relationship to Southeast Asia was deeply affected by this Pax Americana in the Pacific. Were it not for the various trade deals set up under its own alliance with the United States, the penetration of Japanese capital and industry into the region would not have been nearly as great. Neither would the Japanese have had the kind of affluence to buy their way into the gigantic “industrial vagina” (to borrow the title of a recent book) that was Southeast Asia.

Furthermore, Japanese sex tourists were literally following in American footsteps. It is well known that wherever American military power goes, a base-side sex industry is bound to develop. “By far the most significant impact on prostitution in the Philippines,” argued Rene E. Ofreneo and Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo in a study from 1998, “was the establishment of United States military bases in the country.” In addition to the regular rotation of those stationed in the Philippines, there are those sailors passing through on ship. Demand increased manifold with the flood of servicemen on R&R from the Vietnam War. This expansion, according to T. Tranh-Dan, helped establish the infrastructure and supply for the sex tours of the following decade. Where enlisted Americans had gone, Japanese civilians later followed.

Clone Woman captures this history of overlapping spheres of influence: American-styled characters speaking Japanese in a comic book, published in Manila at the height of Japanese sex tours to the Philippines, about a former Japanese soldier who had fled the Americans and was now on the verge of mass-producing sexy and servile Filipinas.

General Douglas MacArthur had a Filipina mistress. Would he have recognized in Clone Woman reflections of the geopolitical order he helped to create?

 


2 Responses to Filipino Komiks and Japanese Sex Tourism: Joe Gatchalian’s Clone Woman

  1. Adam! says:

    That’s a very very good find, and a great analysis of it, too, although one major point you missed out on is the more important (maybe most important) historical context: that of WW2 Japanese soldiers assigned here in the Philippines rounding up all the local women and putting them in rape camps all over the country, labelling them as “comfort women.” Granted, this piece of history only reared up ten years after the publication of CLONE WOMAN, but there had already been stories about them making the rounds by way of urban legends. Much denied by Japan still today, even though there are historical records of it actually happening not only in the Philippines, but in Korea and China, too.

    That said, you give a good briefing of how our contemporary relationship with Japan has been these last thirty years: I was born in 1982, and had a lot of classmates who were Japanese-Filipino, illegitimately conceived with Filipina entertainers and domestic workers. Japan’s culture of denial continues here, as these kids – the oldest of them being in their early 30s on average – are denied by their fathers in Japan’s official registries of genealogy, thus denied of certain benefits that mixed race people have in most places (dual citizenship, for one), but all of the burdens (shame, disgrace, racism).

    Most of our komiks of the time were either soap opera stuff or sex stuff, with some horror and scifi stuff rounding it all out, and a couple of stuff for the kiddies. Some of the soap opera stuff proved to be complex enough to enjoy film adaptations, starting from the 1950s til probably the late 1980s (I’d describe them as a mix of Eisner’s superficial sappiness mixed with some Catholic moralising and Kirby’s bombastic melodramatics, only with mestizo hacienderos and country lasses). A great great great majority of these books are now gone forever, the komiks’ production values’s fault (as you may know first hand with your copy of CLONE WOMAN).

    Sadly, the majority of remembrances made of our local komiks are all focussed on the superhero and fantasy stuff, but a cursory viewing of local telenovelas would prove that komiks’s soap opera tradition and aesthetic are still pretty much alive and well.

  2. ryanholmberg says:

    Yes, thank you. The history of Comfort Women definitely something I should emphasize more strongly.

    Do you find Filipino comics dealing with, or even just touching on, either the comfort women issue, or the mixed race children issue that you mention?

    This reminds me: there is an early work by Shirato Sanpei titled “Ghost” (Shirei) from the late 50s. Unless I missed a recent reissuing, it is one of the few of his manga never to have been republished. If I remember the story correctly: it is set in contemporary Tokyo. A middle-aged Japanese man is being hunted by a “ghost,” who actually turns out to be a Filipino man he wronged during the war. I believe the Filipino man eventually kills him. The son cracks the case.

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