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Pynchon's New Worlds

International Pynchon Week 2017

La Rochelle, June 5-9, 2017


'This ole world in Minerva’s dreams’: An Animated Adaptation of The Crying of Lot 49
Richard Moss

Scheduled in the Auditorium - Médiathèque: Thursday 8 June, from 14:00 to 14:30

For International Pynchon Week 2017 I propose a paper that could only be presented to a delegation of Pynchon scholars and enthusiasts; an analysis of the 2006 animated feature Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space, directed by the Japanese artists t.o.L (Tree of Life). Largely considered to be commercial failure and a niche cult hit, Tamala 2010’s retro visuals and surrealist narrative are heavily influenced (by the director’s own admission) by The Crying of Lot 49. In a world where Pynchon has finally reached the Hollywood mainstream with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, it is important to look at an earlier (and far stranger) attempt to bring Pynchon to the screen.

This paper aims to cover three distinct things about Tamala 2010: First, I will cover to what extent the fidelity the film has to the source material, how it deviates and adds to the themes of Lot 49 and how it draws from other work like Gravity’s Rainbow and V. As well the obvious similarities between the texts, I aim to explore (via extensive use clips from the film) how Tamala 2010 translates Pynchon’s themes into particularly modern Japanese concerns. Pynchon’s preterite characters are reconfigured to explore specific cultural touchstones, such as the idea of the hapless ‘salariman’, while the sexual liberation and fetishism seen in Pynchon is reformulated to explore the sexual politics of a twenty-first century Japan. Racial tensions are also addressed; capitalism and consumerism, the importance of iconography, and notions of conspiracy (both capitalist and theological) are all filtered through a modern Japanese sensibility. The goal here to see what a western author like Pynchon can offer contemporary Japan. What is it about these postmodern, avant-garde texts of the American counter-culture that translate to the contemporary Avant-Pop of the Japanese art scene? How does Pynchon’s own (later) interest in Japanese culture translate backwards? This analysis will work closely with the work of Takayuki Tatsui (author of Full Metal Apache), whose seminal work explores the cultural exchange of the West with Japan.

Second, the story behind Tamala 2010 is worthy of mention. The film was - for all intents and purposes - a “hustle”. Despite its reliance on a very Pynchonian sense of cynicism of the iconography of capitalism, it was developed to promote Tamala as a marketable symbol to be sold on lunchboxes, clothing and tote bags. The integrity and potential artistic statement of the film when faced with this is something I am currently working through. I am in the process of arranging contact with t.o.L, and hopefully much of this paper will be informed by any forthcoming interviews.

Third, I will end the paper by looking into the literary merit and value of Tamala 2010 as an adaptation of Pynchon’s work. There is a strong argument to be made for considering Tamala 2010 a more valued adaptation than Anderson’s take. While Inherent Vice offers us a direct translation of actions from page to celluloid, t.o.L’s work takes developed themes and extrapolates them. The film uses Lot 49 as a springboard to talk about similar notions of conspiracy, counter-culture, meta-text and capitalism within a different cultural perspective. What we have in this film is a flawed, strange, but ultimately fascinating take on familiar texts that is more than worthy of our attention as readers of Pynchon.