I was going to do a tweet-thread about this but then it got really long so I decided to repurpose this into a blog post. The main reason why I’m writing this is because of how the style of the documentary and some of the uninformed backlash from social media just rubbed me the wrong way.
So this thing happened in the past few weeks where BBC Three released a documentary titled “Stacey Dooley Investigates: Young Sex For Sale In Japan”. I first dismissed this documentary when I saw it on Twitter as another shallow and biased attempt from the BBC; a smear campaign that has been culminating in the past few years targeting anime and manga as the main perpetrator behind Japan’s problem of the sexual exploitation of children.
So here are my hot takes.
After giving in and deciding to watch the documentary in its full length a few nights ago (not because I couldn’t sleep, I swear!), the documentary is actually rather fair game than how I had expected to be. The documentary primarily focuses on the real life side of the problem, addressing the dangers and vulnerability of young Japanese women being tricked into the gravure and sex industry, the strange yet fascinating hostess/escort services where old Japanese men can pay to spend platonic time with young Japanese high-schoolers, and even interviewing a man who has a relationship with a sex doll.
Anime and manga surprisingly played a minor role in the documentary. The only parts where the hour-long documentary ever touches upon anime and manga is a 5-minute segment 40 minutes in where Dooley talks with Dan Kanemitsu, and it’s a pretty interesting debate inside an empty doujinshi shop where the two parties clash with their own ideals that just don’t seem to mesh. I can tell how Kanemitsu has experienced these sorts of discussions for a such a long time that he still finds trouble in trying to reason with people who are outsiders to this topic; hard to budge due to their moral compass. Kanemitsu’s takes are probably the only legitimate arguments for the human rights of fictional characters in the documentary which Dooley ever so conveniently ended the interview just as the conversation went to Kanemitsu’s favour; accusing Dooley’s arguments to be “thought-policing”; a thing that is ever-so rampant with the discourse of the pop-culture internet but I digress.
As a person who’s researched about semiotics and documentaries in university, the giant flaw with this documentary is that it is so agonisingly biased and distorted in reality. Throughout the interview Dooley persistently maintains her front, refusing to get off her high horse while constantly wagging her finger to all her interviewees telling them they are wrong and she does not approve. She never acknowledges the other side and even if she is confronted with an argument that doesn’t align with her’s she either dismisses them as a difference in culture or flat out turns a blind eye and move on in the discussion. This is perfectly demonstrated when she got caught up with the police when they were filming the girls handing out flyers in Akihabara. The interpreters should have or probably did warn Dooley the dangers of filming these girls and that there are bodyguards watching them from afar to safeguard them from any danger, but Dooley just took it head on; arrogantly confronting with the bodyguards and later the police causing a ruckus instead of going about it in a more incognito approach. This is absolutely the worst way to go about proving your point in a documentary. Heck, I find it repulsive to even call this a documentary, it’s borderline fearmongering and propaganda with an agenda.
One of the few merits that I do respect Dooley for however was how she was able to get her interviewees to open up and fish out the true reasoning behind the people’s actions she talks to; particularly the underaged prostitute and the producer of the photoshoot. The reasonings these people express all root back to Japan’s underlying problems from the flaws of conservative values to the workaholic culture in which the documentary never follows through to addresses.
Regardless of where your moral compass stands; documentaries should stay neutral on the issue at hand to allow the viewer make up their own minds (ie. a good example being Louis Theroux’s work). This documentary would have a longer lasting effect if Dooley took a more neutral stance rather than letting loose her personal feelings in a forceful authoritarian approach making the entire program feel shallow and confirmation-bias affirming. Documentaries should attempt to be a window to reality and while Dooley’s did succeed in getting her subjects to open up; what comes after falls short as Dooley fails to follow through and hops back onto her agenda.
I haven’t seen any of Dooley’s other documentaries to make a more resounding argument but you can’t blame Dooley for taking this approach. The discussion of sexual exploitation of children has never been more of a sensitive topic in the UK in recent years since the Jimmy Savile scandal in 2011. And with the BBC being involved in that case it really makes you think why they agreed to commissioned this documentary, as if it were an attempt to deter the blame onto Japan while the UK faces an influx of historical child sex-abuse claims… but I digress.
And now time to play devil’s advocate. Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the online backlash that followed. Because this was a British documentary with a smaller audience the feedback was more manageable to process. One of the things I noticed people bashing about this documentary on social media is how it labels animes like Love Live!, Yuyushiki and Girls und Panzer as “child pornography”.
The documentary never explicitly made these claims. The Yuyushiki claim only happens passively as a series of B-roll footage as Dooley sets up the premise of the programme; and that’s only contained in the trailer promoting the documentary. In the actual documentary it appears a few times while Dooley talks about a different topic.
The footage of Yuyushiki gracing one of the iconic billboards of Akihabara (which I just so happened to visit last Summer) wasn’t even filmed for this documentary, but rather taken from an BBC’s archives of video shots of Akihabara a few years ago.
I chuckled how Love Live! made it’s way into the documentary serving as B-roll footage in the opening shots while Dooley gives a bit of background to Akihabara
(which meant the filming crew stepped into presence of a LOVE LIVE SCHOOL IDOL FESTIVAL AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITY ARCADE CABINET AAAAA I’M SO JELLYYYYYYYYYY).
But in some ways these shots do perpetuate the binary notion of underaged anime characters (((regardless if they aren’t portrayed in an explicit manner))) = child pornography.
The Girls und Panzer claim stems from a string of tweets from Takeshi Nogami, known for his character designs in Girls und Panzer, who reported he did a three hour interview with Dooley; a discussions it seems to be quite similar if not more intense than Kanemitsu’s talk…
(These tweets were translated to English so there might be a little inconsistencies in the grammar and intent)
Nogami’s tweets was how I discovered this documentary on Twitter, and was mainly the reason why I watched it in the first place; only to find out his interview didn’t make it to the final cut. If these tweets are true then this is truly a flawed and extremely biased documentary possibly even being censorship; regardless if the default reason being they ran out of space for the 60 minute time slot. I guess the interview with the man and his doll would score more pitying points…
Of course, because this documentary discusses a sensitive subject, online harassment was imminent as Dooley’s Twitter is flooded with a torrent of all kinds of colourful messages; which is perhaps not the best thing to do to stand up against the BBC’s low-key anti-anime propaganda.
The truth is, Japan’s problem of the sexual exploitation of children isn’t one-dimensional. It is a complicated matter that involves many intertwining aspects of Japanese life and culture that has brought about this dilemma and (I hate mentioning this analogy) claiming that anime and manga causes real life child exploitation is objectively the same claim the older generations claim that violent video games causes gun violence in the United States. There is little to no evidence to support these claims. This is thought policing.
This post (which turned out longer than I had hoped) isn’t to bash, harass or shit on Dooley or explicitly take sides. I just had a few irks with the way the documentary format was abused to set an agenda. The programme has some legitimate key points in issue which Dooley addresses well but does it in a very bad and tainted way. Yes, Japan has a dire problem with the exploitation of real-life children that can’t be solved overnight but needs to be addressed. However, this one-sided documentary pointlessly bullying Japan and scapegoating anime and manga isn’t the right way to inform the British public at large who is all the more clueless to this area. Feeding cherry picked sets of information and misinformation is only going to make this matter worse – for both sides.