Masked justice: allegories of the superhero in Cold War Japan

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Abstract

I examine Gekkō Kamen (Moonlight Mask), one of the earliest postwar heroes, as a palimpsest of identity anxieties in postwar Japan. The turban-and-sunglass-wearing, motorcyclemounted, pistol-toting, shuriken-throwing hero dressed all in white drew as much on Captain America and Superman as it did on Japanese ninja stories and wartime hero stories, such as Golden Bat. Gekkō Kamen was also a template for a new kind of hero with a bike between his knees and a mask over his mouth.In 1958 when the series was launched, it may have been difficult to foresee Gekkō Kamen's future global impact as Capitan Centella, when translated into Spanish, but the local impact was immeasurable. Although the series was canceled after a child died attempting a stunt from the show, the cultural position of Gekkō Kamen continues today and can be seen in as varied venues as Ultraman in the 1960s, the Kamen Rider and Japanese Spiderman TV series of the 1970s, and Go Nagai's spoof Kekkō Kamen, the busty, underwear-clad female superhero. The hybrid and miscegenated figure of Gekkō Kamen represented a new mode of heroic selfidentification that carried with it nationalism pitched at the global level rather than national or regional levels. Close examination of the odd identities of the heroes and villains in the 1958 series reveals the fears endemic in the rebuilding nation and bipolar world order. As both a mirror and projector of masks, Gekkō Kamen provides stunning frame for focusing on cold war notions of heroism and bravery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-208
Number of pages22
JournalJapan Forum
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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