Geek Cultural Anthropology: Avengers Age of Ultron Posters in Japan

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Geek Cultural Anthropology can be fun. We can explore cultural differences taking a look at Avengers Age of Ultron posters in Japan. Unlike the US, Japanese movie promotions tend to focus more on the emotional side of the movies than the action that might be inside. Stressing emotion and drama more than action gives hints on what’s expected from the characters within society. A trailer or a poster in which we see too much action can stress the Japanese audience. But, why is it so?

Time and space are understood in different ways in different cultures. A Superhero movie can be too quick for certain audiences, while a samurai movie could be regarded as too slow for others. How space is treated by the camera can be seen as full or empty depending on the eyes that are looking at that scene. In fact, even in posters like this, we can find a hidden dimension where space and time are key to understand why there are some changes when marketing a movie in a country or another.

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Space is treated in a different way depending on the culture. Space communicates: how far or how close we place ourselves from another when speaking is different from culture to culture. Thus, personal spaces varies accordingly. For example, let’s take a look to the poster of Iron Man in Japan (on top) and the US (right above). While both seem focussing on Iron Man, one looks “empty” and the other looks “full.” In Japan, “ma (間)” relates to blank spaces, very much as silence relates to temporal spacial gaps. Both “ma” and silence have meaning that is filled by Japanese. While for a westerner the Japanese poster might look with empty spaces, for the Japanese viewer it is plenty of meaning.

The way in which Iron Man is presented to us is also significant: he, as a member of a group, seems guilty of what he’s done, as the poster states on the edges. ‘It’s all my fault, thus I will end it.’ This poster is focusing on the feelings on one of the avengers, in this case Iron Man. But he is not presented completely alone. To support him, we can see the rest of the team, him included, just at the bottom of the poster. In here we can see how the ‘community’ focus of the Japanese society is shown in equal parts on the poster as the individual traits of one of the characters.

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We must also compare the color palette between the Japanese posters and the US ones: there is a lot of brightness in the Japanese posters. The focus on the poster is that of who is in the movie and which are their roles within the story, creating a sense of hope within the team. However, in the US version we can see the team filled in darkness and only we can see some hope from the Vision who is surrounded by light.

As a whole, US posters are more full of details and darker, while Japanese are “empty” in comparison and brighter. Japanese posters are inviting the viewer to think, to fill the “ma,” to fill the gaps, the silences within the picture that come from those gaps. Bright colors are focusing on feelings and the team, more than mere individuality.

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Another poster, using the same pattern of team supporting individuals, presents us with Captain America, Thor and Nick Fury. The titles on the edges read “my last wish is to trust my mates.” Here we are presented, again with the feelings of the characters while remembering us that they are pieces of a team. What we’ll see in the movie is their roles within the Marvel society.

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Hawkeye is presented as the hero of the family, and he will “protect at all costs, using his own life.” He is their protector and one member of a team who will protect the Earth. Here Hawkeye seems to perform the ideals of a good Japanese father: to fulfill his role within society and within the family, to protect the family as well as society.

In the Japanese traditional idea of “ie (家),” household, the hierarchy dictates that the one on top, the man, must take care of his family, while the rest of members must follow the wishes of the chief of the household. Even though society is changing, you can find that language still keeps the hierarchy. For example, many women use “shujin” (main person) when they talk about their husbands, however men use “kanai” (inside the house) when they refer to their wives. These are traditional concepts that are kept through language, but also with images.

According to the traditional system, women should obey their fathers in youth, their husbands in maturity and their sons when old. It is interesting to find the levels in which Hawkeye and his family are portrayed. On a top position Hawkeye, the second closer to the top is the male son, then come the daughter and his wife.

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In this poster we can see Black Widow and the Hulk. On the edges we can read “even if I loose you, this love will be eternal.” Only Black Widow has her name written on the poster, as if what’s written on the edges are her thoughts. We can see an image of the ideal Japanese woman on the poster: loyal to her love, and doing whatever is expected from her regardless of what happens.

In this poster we are presented with an attentive, nurturing Black Widow. While in western posters Black Widow is presented as a strong figure, this poster embodies the Japanese traditional ideals for the role of women within society.

In these posters we can see reflected Japanese ideals while using space, color and disposition as a way of conveying information along with titles reinforcing the message. Their roles within society, their roles in the story are the important issue about the film, or this is how it is presented to the Japanese audience. Not only these posters use the Avengers images in a very smart way, they’re capable of embodying Japanese ideals in subtle ways.

The gaps into the Japanese posters are inviting the audience to reflect on what’s presented on the posters. “Ma” is here like a silence in a Japanese conversation: it is filled with meaning and key to stress the intended meaning. Much like the gutter functions between panels in a comic, the “ma” functions among space. In fact, these gaps function as a type of oil that makes communication in the posters flow, very much in the same way silence works within Japanese conversations. Sometimes the silence is there to punish, and others it is there to soften the environment.


Recommended readings:

Interesting concepts:

  • Ma*間: space in Japan. The “gaps.”
  • Ie*家: the traditional household system.
  • Chinmoku*沈黙: silence in Japanese communication.
  • Danjo kankei*男女関係: male and female relationships in Japan.
  • Giri*ぎり: obligations within Japanese society.
  • Gutter and panel: in comics, the function of the gutter and panel within a page.
  • Closure: how audiences interpret comics, also how they interpret images.


Image sources: Rinkya, flickering myth, and den of geek.

Copyright: Images on this post (C) Marvel

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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