Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In three short years, Netflix Japan has changed not only how Japanese consumers view media content, but also how media platforms are discussed in the popular press. How has this arrival from overseas changed perceptions of the relationship between domestic and imported entertainment media and their audiences?
In its first year, Netflix Japan stated intention to increase Japanese content, especially Japanese Netflix originals, as part of an Asian regional push. Yet early viewing data suggested that Japanese audiences did not show a preference for Netflix originals. Rather, this new direction appeared to stem from criticism in the Japanese popular press of Netflix as a cultural imperialist vehicle, a “black ship” (kurofune) as many commentators put it, bringing US media content to Japan.
Netflix Japan grew and thrived despite criticism, and as of 2 February 2018 overtook Netflix US with the biggest content library to date. Anglophone viewers around the world fell for ambient shows like the gentle Terrace House, writing in the New York Times of its calming effect. Auteurs such as Kawase Naomi and Koreeda Hirokazu lauded the streaming company for funding risky and innovative new Japanese cinemas. This paper traces the reception of Netflix in Japan from black ship to cultural connection, demonstrating how the sea is invoked as at once barrier, threat, and opportunity for new media platforms. The sea as a classic metaphor is a means to historicize; as a concept-metaphor it fosters understanding of change in a connected world.