The Literary Source Material For Metal Gear Solid.
Director Hideo Kojima has a devoted fan base due to his injection of postmodern tropes into his videogames. As a result, the series comes up frequently during discussions on videogames as an art form.
Although, he liberally cites his influences from American films in interviews, fans rarely discuss his literary inspirations from Japan. This is peculiar given that he wrote a collection of essays in a book on the impact of Japanese fiction on his career.
Why does this matter? Despite its relatively Americanized presentation, players take for granted that the franchise originated from Japan and past and contemporary issues in the country enter the series’ plot.
Nuclear deterrence is one example. Japan’s one of the few country’s to suffer multiple nuclear disasters in the past century and I’ve argued in a previous blog post that a higher awareness of its domestic politics is required to appreciate the franchise.
Fans have long touted that there are multiple thematic layers to his videogames. Yet, a survey of the books that inspired his ideas is regrettably absent.
A partial overview is long overdue.
Kojima described Abe as one of the two novelists whose deaths affected him the most. The novel, The Box Man, was the source of the iconic cardboard box in the series. He further named The Woman in the Dunes and The Face of Another as other influences.
Abe’s novels dealt with the nature truth, lies, modernity, perceptions of reality, and social isolation in Post-War Japan. Kojima himself said that Abe’s ordinary and lonely characters that confront the extraordinary appealed to him. The issue of national borders and militarism’s oppression against identity in the video games is reminiscent to Abe’s essay collection, The Frontier Within. MGS2:SOL incorporates similar avant-garde techniques as Abe’s stage plays.
Critics like Thomas Schnellbacher credit Abe as one of the earliest pioneers for Science Fiction in Japan. For example, Inter Ice Age 4 featured a computer that assumes the personality of its protagonist, aquatic clones, and a corporate conspiracy. Readers might also detect some similarities between the villain, “Skullface,” in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and the psychologically scarred narrator from The Face of Another. Abe’s novel, Secret Rendezvous, also features audio-surveillance tapes in its narrative structure much like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
Most of these tropes may feel clichéd to contemporary audiences, but were innovative when Abe commenced his career. In other words, Kojima is tapping into Japanese Science Fiction’s essence and form.
Contrary to belief, Kojima hasn’t read much Haruki Murakami. He did, however, read one of his peers. He named Ryu Murakami’s novel, Coin Locker Babies, as a book that left an impression on him. Other developers in Konami shared a similar sentiment given that the novel served as an inspiration for Silent Hill 4: The Room. It’s recommended for readers interested in what Kojima’s generation read during high school and college.
“Kaz” Miller cited the death of novelist Yukio Mishima as one of his inspirations for leaving Japan during a recorded conversation.
“The way he questioned the status quo really hit home for me,” Miller said. “Not that I admired his vision or anything. But it did get me thinking, that’s for sure.”
To which Big Boss recognized Mishima as the author of the novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Mishima was fiercely hated in Leftist circles for his alleged Right-Wing politics. Despite this, Mishima, Kobo Abe, Jun Ishikawa, and Yasunari Kawabata publically condemned the Cultural Revolution in China together on Feb. 28th 1968 despite their ideological disagreements. (Abe and Ishikawa were both Marxists).
They took grievance, in part, with the Chinese Government’s suppression of academic and artistic freedom. Translator Hiroaki Sato observed that the writers had their own country’s history in mind when airing their grievances. It wasn’t long ago that the Japanese Government advocated for “patriotism through literature…as an instrument of political power.”
On November 25, 1970, Mishima staged an attempted coup with his private militia, The Shield Society, at the Japanese Self Defense Headquarters in Tokyo and delivered a speech before the JSDF soldiers.
“The nation has no spiritual foundation,” he said. “You will just be American mercenaries.
Genocide of One by Kazuaki Takano
Takano is a crime fiction novelist who briefly studied film in Los Angeles and worked under film director Kihachi Okamoto (The Sword of Doom). In that respect, there is a synthesis between film and literature in his writing.
Publishers approached Kojima to write a comment on the novel’s book jacket. A United States dispatches a private mercenary to assassinate a new species from humanity with an advanced enough intelligence to determine and manipulate future events. There’s only one problem. The target is only three years old.
Kojima promised that themes concerning “Race, hate, genocide, and revenge” will appear in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Science Fiction novelist Project Itoh (Satoshi Itoh) is a unique example. He was enthusiastic fan of Kojima’s before becoming a novelist. Here’s a brief description of how the two became friends.
In an interview, Itoh claimed that his debut novel, Genocidal Organ, germinated as a fan fiction for the Snatcher videgame and sprouted into something more. Harmony — as Kojima observed — incorporated the moral implications of a highly medicalized society from the Policenauts videogame.
Kojima noted the spirit of Metal Gear Solid dwelled beneath the surface of Genocidal Organ. The novel was published before MGS4:GOTP. Both employ the trope of nano-technology to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder and other tropes are in its pages. Like the trailer for MGSV: TPP, evolutionary linguistics configured into its plot as well. Because of this, the videogame may share more in common with Itoh’s novel than Orwell’s 1984.
On a related note, Kojima praised Itoh’s ability to read between the lines, understand its themes, and decipher some of the series’ mysteries before any one else. Due to this, Kojima approached him to novelize for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
Even after Itoh lost his battle with cancer, he claims to continue to imagine and consider Itoh’s opinions and expectations when he plans games.
Western anime fans know him as the author of Paprika and the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. In 1992, Tsutsui published Gaspard in the Morning. The novel was a “meta-text” about a player immersed in an online videogame. The novel appeared in an online serial sponsored by the Asahi net bulletin board. He accepted reader feedback to steer the plot.
Despite the unprecedented unorthodoxy of this novel, a separate controversy eclipsed Tsutsui’s achievement. Activists criticized Tsutsui’s lack of political correctness for his treatment of epilepsy in a separate work of fiction, “Unmanned Police.” The activists demanded its censorship or exclusion from high school anthologies.
Kojima mentioned Tsutsui’s novel, What the Maid Saw, under a brief list of Science Fiction luminaries. Readers may detect some similarities between Gaspard in the Morning and MGS2:SOL especially Kojima’s consideration of fan responses to the conception and creation of Raiden, the videogame’s unexpected protagonist. Furthermore, the Tsutsui’s personal controversy may have been the context for the videogame’s thematic plotline on censorship and information control.
(Japanese) Detective Fiction
On the topic of Japanese Science Fiction, Detective novels recurrently come up as one of its early progenitors. Mysteries are a staple of Anime, Japanese popular fiction, and even videogames. For instance, Kojima cited the Portobia Serial Murder Case videogame for the NES as one of his motives for becoming a developer.
He attributed Richard Levinson and William Link’s novelization of the “Columbo” mystery television series as his entry into books as a child. Seicho Matsumoto, one of Post-War Japanese progenitors of the genre, sits on Kojima’s bookshelf.
Matsumoto distinguished himself from other contemporaries by (re)introducing a political “social consciousness” to the genre in Japan. For example, the novel, Points and Lines, highlights political and business corruption in Japan. Kojima alluded to Matsumoto’s non-fiction book on the February 26th Incident during a radio broadcast.
The February 26th Incident occurred in 1936 between two factional and ideological rivals in the Japanese military. One faction attempted a coup in the Imperial Japanese Army. The Metal Gear Solid series frequently invokes an uprising within an army.
Other more direct touches from American Detective fiction entered the series. Characters from Paul Auster’s novels, The New York Trilogy, were originally intended to appear as Raiden’s codec support team in MGS2:SOL. Peter Stillman was the sole character to retain his name.
According to Satoru Saito, Detective Fiction was instrumental to the development of the novel as a medium in Modern Japan despite contemporary critics’ disdain for the genre. From the beginning during the Meiji Era, similar entities to detectives were agents of the state who operated within morally grey backdrop. Politics shaped the genre and the protagonists of the MGS series are akin to detectives as players guide them through puzzles and piece together clues.
“Altruism among blood relatives is a response to natural selection,” Liquid said. “It’s called the selfish gene theory.”
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins proposed this theory in his book, The Selfish Gene and used memes as metaphorical small units for how cultural ideas pervade and evolve over time.
Richard Brodie wrote on some of the subject’s darker implications in Virus of the Mind and its potential to lead to youth violence. Sakura’s books on evolution and sociobiology offer an insight into how Japan — and possibly Kojima — received Darwinism as a narrative.
Kojima received an advanced copy of P.W. Singer’s book, Wired for War, and featured its accounts of advancements in autonomous weapons in MGS4:GOTP. Singer’s previous books Corporate Warriors, concentrated on Private Military Companies in addition to the child soldier phenomenon in Children at War.
Other critics on Gamasutra observed parallels between the MGS series and French sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s philosophical treatise, Simulacra and Simulation. Baudrillard’s argues that capitalism, technology, and mass media have obscured truth and reality. Baudrillard curiously uses cloning and nuclear deterrence as examples.
Although Kojima hasn’t specifically cited the book or sociologist in any known interviews, cultural critic Asada Akira claims this book was popular among Japanese business executives during the 1980s. Further more, MGS:PW’s mission briefing files names Baudrillard amongst a list of famous French thinkers.