A lot of far right leaning American genre fans like to complain about the “false construct” of “wokeness” these days invading the media as if it’s some new creation of the left to ruin their film and television. But these properties are usually not simply being “woke”, but attempting to use these sci-fi and horror vehicles and tropes to explore or deconstruct things that would be nearly impossible if the filmmakers just made the film about what they were trying to, and probably would be a whole lot less entertaining. Some also like to think this is simply an American thing, but after closing out Kamen Rider Black Sun I have to say it’s most definitely not, and if you know how to read the subtext it’s a pretty normal thing in genre no matter where you go. I just didn’t expect it to be quite as on the nose as Black is in its take down of Japanese society.
Firstly let’s start with the premise that we have these creatures that are called Kaijin, who are essentially humans that can transform into humanoid animals, some with powers, some without. They are discriminated against in Japanese society and treated like second class citizens. You can take that as face value, as them simply being different and that is the reason for their prejudice, but if you know a few things about Japanese culture, this is very much a metaphor for the way the xenophobic conformist society deals with foreigners. Even the word “Kaijin” seems a thinly veiled variant of “gaijin”, a word used disparagingly to label foreigners as outsiders. Take for example a scene where a Kaijin is turned away from a cafe because it doesn’t serve Kaijin, there are various establishments in Japan that have signs posted that they do not serve or allow foreigners in. You could be completely foreign looking and a Japanese resident with a passport, speak perfect Japanese and based on your looks alone you would be turned away or be discriminated against.
That’s simply the first layer, and you could argue that’s just a superficial coincidence, but as the show goes on we discover that the Japanese government is experimenting on humans to not only create Kaijin, but weaponize them. One of the most tragic and terrifying war atrocities to happen during World War 2 opposite the Nazis, was possibly committed by the Japanese who were experimenting on “foreigners” — Chinese and Korean prisoners doing some horrific things all in the name of science, this was something documented in the film series Men Behind the Sun. In Black Sun we also see people who are on welfare and the poor, killed, ground up and used as food for the Kaijin because they would not be missed. It’s dark and says a lot about the current classism of Japanese society, and could be simply written off by those just superficially trying to enjoy some gritty monster suited drama, but it’s there for those looking for something a bit more tough to chew on.
See being “woke” is to attempt to be fully “aware”, or awake if you will of the impact of repercussions of something outside of your own personal beliefs or demographic. Simply put, it’s being conscious and considerate of others and their points of view, and that is not a bad thing. Now those who have a problem with this concept usually have something to gain or to protect by keeping the current narrative, since exploring other points of view will often cause one to question, or completely invalidate beliefs by confronting them; think Christopher Columbus. Of course here in America conservatives are against this idea, because that echo chamber is so paper thin, that nearly any media that could lead to one realizing these organizations and systems that govern our society are only there for profit and maintaining the status quo could tear right through it.
In Kamen Rider: Black Sun this wokeness is leveraging this story of a rubber suited masked rider created by experimentation of a secret government organization to explore the country’s issues with racism and inequality. If you think this is simply an American thing invented by the “liberal media”, think again. I mean this is a super violent and somewhat cheesy Japanese Tokusatsu show and it’s extremely woke trafficking in some heavy ideas, you just have to know the geo-socio/political issues to unlock it. My point is art that is challenging the status quo and makes you ponder what is and what could be, is universal and you should be really suspicious of anyone who is against art that makes you question your reality. By showing you the world through different perspectives whether it be different races or sexual orientations, you’re able to understand and empathize those with beliefs that are not your own and understand your fellow man or rubber suited bird monster.