His theory of the fantasy of postwar democracy grew from his ambition to write fiction, he says. "I looked around and wondered, 'Why is there no compelling fiction or drama or movies?' I kept coming back to the postwar political setup and the stifling ideology it created." The root of the problem, he says, is that Japan never regained its national sovereignty after the war. The symbol of Japan's dependence on the United States, he says, is Article Nine of the postwar constitution, which states that "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation."
"The generous victor announced there was no need for the government to exercise power, no need for an army and no need for war. Japanese history could start over, from scratch, in 1945. Of course it was wishful thinking, but the Japanese embraced it and they embraced the ideology that went with it," Sato says.
As he sees it, politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party masterfully turned the pacifist constitution to Japan's, and their own, advantage. The United States took care of security, and the LDP took care of making Japan rich. "We have a democracy, but it doesn't work very well. It's a system that suppresses conflict. Since power is bad, we don't have politics; we have rule by consensus, which really means by bureaucrats."
As Japan's political life stagnated, so did literature, the arts and popular culture, Sato says. Make-believe politics began begetting make-believe culture. It is a connection that expresses weakness, dependence, passivity--in short, a nation of wimps.
Sato can be wickedly funny describing how Godzilla movies just get worse and worse; who can believe that Godzilla really threatens Tokyo when the skyscrapers of Shinjuku now tower over him? He's written an essay ripping apart the genre of romantic love stories in movies, books and television dramas as banal caricatures, stories of love paralysis between mama's boys and passive women. These stories usually end with someone else intervening to thrust the hapless couple together, and they live happily ever after--as brother and sister.
It is tempting to see much of culture and style through Sato's eyes: as reflecting a willfully juvenile sensibility. There is the architectural mish-mash of Tokyo that gives the impression of Disneyland or a movie set; the sugary pop songs; the twittering, high-pitched voices of television stars who act like schoolgirls; the salary men in their blue suits reading comic books on the subways and so on. After a while, the kaleidoscopic images of modern Japan give one the feeling of adolescent restlessness in which fashion, films, writers are devoured for a time as the latest fad and then abandoned.
"It's as if we have our own soft, Japanese-style Soviet Realism," Sato tells me one evening. There are plenty of artists and writers who challenge conventions--avant-garde painters on strike against society, \o7 butoh \f7 performances that are celebrations of mad erotica, ex-student radicals who make porn movies--but for Sato, they are Japan's cultural \o7 samizdat\f7 , utterly marginal and easily ignored. As for the rest, it's Japanese-style Soviet Realism, which replaces praise for the proletariat with praise for the postwar ideology. For starters, he says, that means utopian pacifism and the myth that conflict has been done away with, not just in the political realm but in the cultural realm as well. "Without conflict, there can be no good drama. How do you write good drama when the postwar ideology says there is no more conflict? Of course there is conflict, but it doesn't get expressed," he says.
The tables around us in the trendy Italian restaurant are filled with young people dressed in the latest designer fashions. "Just look around. We're all cut off from tradition," he says. "We were told that Japanese history could start anew in 1945. That absolved people of a sense of responsibility for the war, but it also meant we are cut off from our traditions. Without a sense of tradition, art just becomes pop. In my own writing, I can't turn to old stories or use images or metaphors from the past. No one would understand them. Instead, there's Hollywood or pop music."