ANJIN 1600 by David Trigg
'Blandy’s project represents an ongoing attempt to comprehend the way in which self is formed by the prevailing mass culture.'
In 1688 the Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer coined the word 'nostalgia' to describe an acute homesickness he had observed in soldiers and other displaced Swiss nationals. Indeed, for many years nostalgia was considered a disease, one that could be treated with medication and even surgery. In her 2001 book The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym offers us a contemporary definition, writing that 'nostalgia (from nostos — return home, and algia — longing) is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has ever existed'. Boym demonstrates that nostalgia isn't necessarily grounded in historical, lived experience but can also relate to a fantasised or mythic past. Nostalgia, then, is not only understood as a sentiment of loss and displacement, but also as a romance with one's own fantasy. It is this understanding of nostalgia that seems to lie at the heart of David Blandy’s animated film ANJIN 1600 (2012).
Fusing 16th century history with Japanese anime, Anjin 1600 re-imagines the story of Jacobean seaman William Adams (1564–1620) as an epic space adventure. Adams is believed to be the first Englishman to set foot on Japanese soil, when, after twenty months attempting to reach the East Indies, his ship unexpectedly washed up in Japanese waters. Taken under the wing of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, Adams became a key trade advisor, helping to build Japan's first Western-style ships. That Adams experienced a profound homesickness — or nostalgia — is evident from the letters he wrote home. Yet despite this, he became fully assimilated into Japanese culture, developing a deep understanding and respect for local customs and traditions that earned him much respect from the native people. Indeed, Adams, whose name in Japanese is Anjin-sama (meaning ‘pilot’) became the first and only officially recognised foreign samurai.
Recasting Adams’s story as an intergalactic space voyage, Blandy transports this displaced sailor into the world of 1980s anime, nodding to cult films such as Dagger of Kamui (1985), Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (1985), and the 1981 television cartoon series Ulysses 31, which is itself a futuristic retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in space. The treacherous Pacific Ocean is replaced by asteroid fields, while Adams’s Dutch sailing ship, De Liefde, becomes a steampunk starship on a quest to conquer far-off planets. After crash landing on the highly advanced planet of Edo (a reference to the eponymous period in Japan’s history), Anjin, like Adams, longs to return to his native land, which in this case is the ‘all-conquering’ planet of Albion. But with its period stylings, retro aesthetic and 1980s-inspired theme song, ANJIN 1600 also denotes Blandy’s own nostalgic longing to return to the past. This past however, is an enchanted, mythic one, informed by the popular culture of his childhood and adolescent years. With black-rimmed spectacles, the character of Anjin is clearly meant to represent Blandy; thus the artist is projected into a nostalgic fantasy, becoming assimilated into a virtual world.
Propelling Blandy’s practice is a fascination with the process of identity formation, specifically the extent to which his own identity has been shaped by popular culture. Raised on a diet of kung fu films, video games, manga comics and anime, Blandy proposes that his understanding of the world today would be profoundly different without them. By highlighting the tension between fantasy and reality in his own experience, Blandy’s project represents an ongoing attempt to comprehend the way in which self is formed by the prevailing mass culture. We see this played out time and time again in the artist's work, most notably in his growing cast of alter-egos such as the Barefoot Lone Pilgrim, the White and Black Minstrel, and now Anjin-sama.
ANJIN 1600, then, is understood as a projection of Blandy’s personal fantasy; a vehicle by which he enacts a virtual performance in anime reality. It is an exploration of the artist's own history and identity via an eccentric re-imagining of another Englishman's story. As a manifestation of a nostalgic impulse, it conjures dreams of another place and another time. In the words of Svetlana Boym, the film can thus be read as 'a mourning for the impossibility of mythical return, for the loss of an enchanted world'.
David Trigg is an art writer based in Bristol and a member of the International Association of Art Critics. He is a regular contributor to Art Monthly and has also written for Frieze, Art Review, Art Papers, Flash Art International, Untitled, Circa, Metro and MAP. He has a first degree in Fine Art (Bath School of Art and Design) and is currently studying for an MA in Art History (University of Bristol). David has previously worked as Reviews Editor for Bristol based arts publication Decode, as well as holding positions at the Arnolfini Gallery and the University of Bristol.