Made in Japan
Sixty years ago the label “Made in Japan” was synonymous with cheap and low quality goods - what “Made in China” came to mean more recently. With the passage of time the post-war label “Made in Occupied Japan” has made such goods mild collectibles - I saw some such when I was a boy in Canada - but otherwise, cheap and low quality is the rule. Then by the 1970s and 1980s the label had evolved to mean high quality manufactured goods like cars, and high technology home electronics. Now in the 21st century “Made in Japan” has developed further to represent internationally popular pop culture and even high fashion (Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, Takada Kenzo, Sachiko Hanai). Japanese under a certain age are largely unaware of this progression, however, because for their entire lives “Made in Japan” has meant only high quality, reliability and durability.
Now, consider the Bob Gale Back to the Future movies from the 1980s, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. By comparing different episodes in the history of the town of HillValley - 1885, 1955, 1985 and 2015 - three layers of jokes are laid down. First the running gags surrounding the characters and their ancestors: seeing one’s parents and grandparents as teenagers; hearing recurring phrases and jokes uttered by the same characters in different times, etc. Second, the humorous comparisons of lifestyle, ideas, fashion of the community between the contrasting eras. Third, the clash of old realities with new realities, highlighted best, I think, by the “Made in Japan” label.
In Episode III (1990) Marty McFly (Fox) uses the time vehicle (a converted DeLorean sports car) to travel back to the year 1885 (one hundred years before the original story is set) to rescue his friend Doc Emmett L. Brown (Lloyd) who was accidentally sent back there when lightning struck the car in 1955 at the end of Episode II. The 1885 Doc Brown buried the time machine in an abandoned mine that Marty and 1955 Doc Brown uncovered in 1955 and repaired by following written instructions left in the car. Using vacuum tubes and other contemporary technology that are quaint by 1990 standards and completely unrecognizable to today’s young people, the car is repaired in order to return to 1985. The 1955 lightning bolt caused a gigawatt overload that scrambled and then shorted out the time circuits. The flux capacitor (that makes time travel possible) was destroyed along with the flying circuits (Doc had a hover conversion done in the early 21st century, in Episode II), and it was impossible for him to repair it in 1885 because suitable replacement components would not be invented until 1947, thus leaving him stuck in the past. After discovering that Doc is killed eight months after his arrival in 1885 by notorious gunman Buford Tannen (the great grandfather of Biff Tannen played by Thomas F. Wilson) 1955 Marty resolves to return to 1885 to rescue his friend.
Inspecting the futuristic micro chip circuits with a magnifying glass while doing repairs, 1955 Doc Brown says,
“Unbelievable that this little piece of junk could be such a big problem. (Pause) No wonder this circuit failed. It says ‘Made in Japan.’”
“Whaddaya mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.”
And that was in the 1980s. No doubt “Made in Japan” means something different to today’s young Americans
- namely, the source of pop culture icons and fads.