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Bridging Cultures Through Animation: Exploring the Tension and Intersection of East Asian and Western Values in Contemporary Animated Features

Essay by Liya Hughes '24 for Animation and Media Course

Since the early 20th century, the early years of East Asian animation, the convergence of East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) and Western (American) cultural forces within the animation industry has influenced storytelling, aesthetics, and industry practices. Political opposition, outsourcing, and idolization of the West have shaped both Chinese and Japanese animation through limited and unequal cultural exchange (Du 2022). However, East Asia has still been able to differentiate its approach to animation and develop its own identifiable characteristics. Shaped by this dynamic interplay, 21st-century East Asian animations emerge as potent agents of cultural exchange when juxtaposed with Western values and expectations. The feature-length films Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002), Big Fish and Begonia (Liang Xuan and Chun Zhang, 2018), and Kung Fu Panda 3 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, 2018) exemplify the way East Asian animation first sets itself apart from Western animation, and then seeks recognition from it, through film adaptation and cross-cultural collaboration. This sparks a profound conversation around cultural values and philosophies, bridging diverse worldviews and illuminating the potential for cross-cultural dialogue and global interconnectedness in the animation industry.

East Asian animation’s most prominent feature is a deep involvement with memory, particularly as outlined by Victoria Walden in her essay “Animation and Memory.” Walden recognizes the relationship between memory and animation as unavoidable due to animation’s innate physicality. She posits that animation’s embodiment of the mark of the animator (e.g. fingerprints on clay), evocative motion, and subjective reality, uniquely situate it to address and depict three types of memory: traumatic memory, collective memory/national identity, and nostalgia (Walden 2018). East Asian animation is primarily situated at the intersection of the latter two but is not without the interjection of traumatic memory. 

Chinese and Japanese animation styles both originate from a desire to honor tradition. In China, animators developed both ink-wash and paper-cutting animation as forms of national style (Jiaxiang 2022). Duan Xiaoxuan, chief engineer of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, writes about this development: 

But how were we supposed to make something actually Chinese? After watching so many foreign animations, we wondered how to develop our own style… It explains why the first puppet film, Magic Brush (1955), was based on a Chinese folk story, so that all of the paintings and artistic creations would be national forms. (Xiaoxuan 2022, 35-36)

Chinese animation invoked the beauty, expressiveness, and attention to detail associated with traditional Chinese calligraphy, painting, and shadow puppetry. When the laborious and time-consuming natures of ink-wash and paper-cutting animation became unjustifiable, Chinese animation had to invoke cultural memory in other ways. Thus, it incorporated cultural integrity by embodying more abstract aesthetic values and historical conditions, such as those found in Chinese folklore. 

The expression of collective memory and national identity in Big Fish & Begonia is conveyed through various elements of the animation, including parallel sound, visual aesthetics, symbolic motifs, and storytelling techniques. The film's musical score, composed by Kiyoshi Yoshida, incorporates traditional Chinese instruments and melodies. Culturally inspired music enhances the emotional resonance of the animation and contributes to the overall expression of cultural identity. The animation’s character design is similarly evocative. Traditional Chinese attire, hairstyles, and accessories are incorporated into the character designs, reflecting historical and cultural influences. The choice of clothing and accessories often carries cultural significance, contributing to a visual representation of national identity.

Another visual characteristic of the animation is color symbolism. The red dolphins are culturally indicative, as in China, red is associated with good luck and joy. Furthermore, these dolphins along with other mythological creatures are portrayed with visual fidelity to traditional representations found in Chinese art and folklore. This incorporation of mythological elements reinforces the connection to collective memory and tradition. 

The storytelling techniques employed in the animation also contribute to the expression of cultural memory. The narrative is woven with themes that resonate with Chinese cultural values, such as self-sacrifice, honor, and the interconnectedness of nature and humanity. The animation is also artfully integrated with elements of Chinese philosophies, furthering the construction of a national identity that draws from a cultural past. There is a pronounced emphasis on Taoist principles, notably the concept of transformation and change. Through the animation, one girl’s journey to the human world becomes a metaphor for the Taoist idea of embracing change and navigating the dynamic nature of existence.

Animated motions play a key role in the portrayal of Taoist duality. This is exemplified through the protagonist, Chun (Guanlin Ji), whose ability to transform into a dolphin is animated to appear as an uninterrupted and fluid twirling motion, mirroring the fluidity and impermanence intrinsic to Taoist thought. Underwater sequences feature flowing and undulating movements, evoking a sense of flow and weightlessness that aligns with the aquatic setting. Conversely, scenes set in the human realm appear more grounded and realistic, replicating the conventional movements associated with terrestrial existence. In abstraction, the animation of normalized movements constructs an idea of going through the motions. Thus, the animation of Chun’s dolphin transformation also conveys the importance of ritual in preserving traditions and customs as part of Chinese cultural memory.

Central to Taoism is the notion of harmony with nature. Chinese animation in Big Fish and Begonia reflects this through the yin and yang interplay of the underwater realm and the human realm. The underwater environment is characterized by a vibrant and fantastical color palette, featuring deep blues, luminous greens, and shimmering purples. These hues contribute to the creation of a visually stunning and ethereal realm, setting it apart from the more subdued and natural colors prevalent in the human realm. These visuals draw on traditional Chinese landscape painting and contribute further to a comforting sense of cultural identity.

Beneath this concentrated effort to remember China’s rich cultural heritage is a sense of nostalgia that indicates an animatory goal of revitalization rather than the continuation of memory. By drawing from ancient Chinese myths and legends, the animation evokes a sense of longing for a time when these tales were integral to daily life. Its visual style, reminiscent of traditional Chinese art, bridges the gap between modern viewers and China's rich artistic heritage. Central themes of transformation and transcendence mirror traditional beliefs in the cyclical nature of life and the interconnection of all things, reflecting a nostalgia for a worldview that sees humans and nature as deeply intertwined. The film's emphasis on the natural world resonates with a yearning for a closer connection to nature, something increasingly distant in a rapidly urbanizing China. Additionally, it delves into moral and philosophical questions central to Chinese thought, such as the balance of duty and personal desire, echoing traditional Confucian and Taoist teachings. This not only creates a strong emotional resonance with Chinese audiences but also reconnects them with a rich cultural heritage, making Big Fish and Begonia a poignant narrative that is both timeless and reflective of contemporary sensibilities.

Similar elements of cultural arts, philosophies, and mythologies are reflected in Japanese animation, which also sought to distinguish itself from Western animation. Shaped by Osamu Tezuka’s establishment of the anime style and Miyazaki’s later application of anime style to complex symbolic narratives, Japanese animation has become a captivating and culturally significant art form (Tsugata 2013).

Like Big Fish and Begonia, Spirited Away intricately weaves various Japanese philosophies into its narrative fabric. The film's portrayal of the spirit world reflects the profound influence of Shinto philosophy, deeply rooted in the Japanese cultural ethos. Zen Buddhism's philosophical tenets are also evident throughout the narrative, particularly in the character development of Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi). The film underscores the importance of mindfulness, presence, and the transformative power of the journey. Chihiro's growth involves facing challenges directly, emphasizing the Zen notion that enlightenment arises from lived experiences and self-awareness. 

Spirited Away artfully incorporates the concept of "mono no aware," celebrating the beauty of transience and impermanence. The animation of the character Kaonashi (Akio Nakamura) recognizes this philosophy by changing his appearance and movements to externalize his internal conflict. For instance, when taken by gluttony he becomes increasingly large and grotesque. Thus, the animation visually transforms, underscoring the transient nature of life and metaphorically, national progress.

The film also touches upon the notion of "mottainai," expressing regret over wastefulness. Food animation is crucial to imparting this sentiment. When Chihiro’s parents come across food in the spirit world it is temptingly perfect. Deliciously rendered, the animation depicts glistening chicken that invokes rich, oily excess. Just as these types of food can be dangerous to your physical health, chasing excess is a dangerous mentality. The animation depicts this truth when the parents are transformed into pigs and the food into slop, the glisten now becoming a grotesque sheen of sweat on the pigs’ brows. This theme aligns with the cultural sentiment discouraging unnecessary waste and warns against the influences of Western commercialism.

The Japanese concept of "ibasho," a sense of belonging, is a crucial aspect of Chihiro's character development. Her journey in the spirit world involves finding her place within this unfamiliar environment, reflecting the importance of personal connections to a place or community. Additionally, the film incorporates themes of duty and social obligation, particularly evident in the characters working within the bathhouse. Themes of responsibility and fulfilling one's role within a community resonate with the traditional Japanese sense of duty. The film suggests that the journey itself, with its trials and tribulations, is an integral part of personal and spiritual development. In doing so, the animation becomes a self-reflective metaphor for the ongoing journey to strengthen national identity through conversation with the past.

 Deeply rooted in East Asian cultural traditions and values, Big Fish and Begonia, and Spirited Away call into question many of the animatory relationships and practices taken for granted in mainstream Hollywood animation. The first is the dialectic between spectacle and narrative, identified by Tom Gunning in his essay, “The Cinema of Attractions.” He postulates that film was born out of a desire to shock and surprise which was later synthesized with narrativization. This resulted in commercialized cinema of linear narrative continuity, and a persistent desire for exaggerated impact, like a roller coaster (Gunning 2018). Presumably, contemporary animation is a product of this cinematic structure. However, this is not fully true of East Asian animation. 

The culturally imposed schism between East Asian and Western animatory spectacle can be understood through Rob Nixon’s postcolonial theory of slow violence. Slow violence, as conceptualized by Nixon, refers to a form of harm or damage that occurs gradually and out of sight. It is a delayed destruction that is often not viewed as violence at all because it is dispersed across time and space. While quick to recognize the immediate spectacle of natural disasters, the Global North remains blind to the impact of their capitalistic deforestation which disproportionately impacts the socio-economic and geographic other (Nixon 2011). Westernization and progressive capitalism have similarly resulted in the subtle degradation of East Asian culture. 

East Asian animation is attuned to these socio-economic and cultural conditions. It reflects this in its attempts to revitalize folklore and harmony with the natural world. Moreover, East Asian animation often embraces a narrative style that aligns with Nixon's idea of slow violence. This approach is characterized by a gradual unfolding of events, deep character development, and a focus on the emotional and psychological aspects of the narrative. The slow spectacle mirrors the characteristics of slow violence in its subtle, progressive build-up of narrative tension and thematic elements. The storytelling in such animations might focus on long-term societal issues, cultural shifts, or personal transformations that are not immediately apparent but reveal themselves over time. This method of storytelling invites viewers to engage in a more reflective and contemplative manner, mirroring the nature of slow violence, where the impacts and consequences are dispersed and often only fully understood in hindsight.

In contrast, Western culture, particularly in the context of mainstream media and entertainment, often emphasizes commodification, where the focus is on creating products that are immediately engaging and commercially viable. This can be seen in the preference for fast-paced, action-oriented narratives that capture the audience's attention quickly. Western animation, therefore, privileges the immediate spectacle, where storytelling is often driven by a desire for quick consumption, vivid visual experiences, and straightforward narratives. While engaging and popular, this type of animation, like its patrons, may overlook the subtler, more complex themes such as the long-term impact of human actions on the environment or society.

A key visual component of East Asian animation’s slow spectacle is spatial memory.  East Asian animation often exhibits a deep engagement with space and setting, reflecting cultural values that emphasize harmony and interconnectedness with the environment. Spatial memory in these animations is not just about the physical layout of spaces but also about the emotional and historical resonance of these spaces. Locations in East Asian animations are often rich in detail and imbued with symbolic meaning, reflecting the characters' internal states or the broader thematic elements of the story (Chow 2013). For example, the bathhouse in Spirited Away is a representation of a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring bath) culture. This setting is a cultural element that conveys the importance of cleanliness, relaxation, and community in Japanese culture. Spaces in East Asian animation are not just backdrops but integral components of the narrative, often evolving alongside the characters and the story.

In both Spirited Away and Big Fish and Begonia, the concept of "ma" or negative space, significant in many East Asian art forms, also plays into this animatory spatial awareness. It is the idea that the empty or quiet spaces between objects or scenes are just as important as the objects themselves, encouraging contemplation and a deeper engagement with the narrative. This approach to spatial memory can be seen in the animations’ pacing and visual composition of everyday environments, natural landscapes, and even fantastical settings, where pauses and silent moments are used effectively to convey emotion and meaning (Chow 2013).

Western animation often approaches space more as a stage for action and plot development. While environments can be detailed and visually impressive, they are frequently designed to serve the immediate needs of the narrative. In Western animations, spatial memory might be less about the emotional or symbolic resonance of a place and more about its functionality or aesthetic appeal. The focus is often on creating visually striking, dynamic settings that enhance the action or comedy of a scene. The use of space in Western animation can be more flexible and fluid, changing rapidly to suit the pace and style of the storytelling. This can result in memorable, iconic locations, but these spaces often lack the deep, evolving connection to the narrative and characters seen in East Asian animation (Chow 2013).

The spatial context provided by East Asian animation contributes to yet another cultural divide, that of how to approach the uncanny. This is not uncanny in the sense of photorealistic verisimilitude but, “a kind of ‘psychical uncertainty’: a sensation in which what we perceive might be fleetingly at odds with our rational understanding about the way things are'” (Bode 2018, 62). Lisa Bode’s “The Uncanny Valley” assumes a semi-universal conception of the uncanny, determined by a mixture of biological impulses and promotional paratexts. However, she fails to consider the effects of an internalized collective memory. East Asian animation’s relationship to the uncanny has been culturally determined so that it does not fit as easily into Western conceptions. East Asian folktales and ghost stories often present a world where the realms of the living and the supernatural are closely intertwined, creating a unique juxtaposition that contrasts with Western depictions of the uncanny. 

The spirit world depicted in Spirited Away is not a distant dreamland but a tangible, interwoven part of the protagonist Chihiro's reality. This is evidenced by the changed spatial animation of the archway between the spirit and human realm. At the end of the film, the structure and forest show clear signs of the passage of time. The exposed stone is particularly important as it visually negates Chihiro’s father’s initial claim that the wall was fake, anchoring the spirit realm in reality. This claim to reality is also made in Big Fish and Begonia where the primary point of view is that of the spirit realm, and its inhabitants leave their mark on the human realm. This frequent overlap between the mundane and the supernatural in East Asian animation narratives presents the fantastical as something real and common, rather than an aberration or source of fear.

This interaction is depicted in Spirited Away, where the initial fear of the protagonist, Chihiro, towards the anthropomorphic spirits stems from unfamiliarity rather than inherent malevolence. The goal of such animation is not to evoke fear but to complicate the growing separation between myth and reality in contemporary times. For audiences still connected to Japanese folklore, these spirits may not be unsettling at all. As the narrative progresses, the comfortability of the animation parallels Chihiro's eventual acceptance of the fantastical, transforming the spirits from unsettling figures to humorous and sympathetic characters.

The narrative complexity of the uncanny in East Asian animation complicates Western stereotypes, particularly in the portrayal of animated bodies. In many Western narratives, characters' moral standings are often indicated by their physical appearances – for instance, Cinderella's stepsisters are ugly and, therefore, evil. However, a monster to Western eyes might be a spirit with a complex nature in Eastern stories, deeply rooted in ancient folklore. Age, too, is portrayed differently, often seen as a sign of wisdom rather than decrepitude. This is exemplified in Spirited Away through the character of the old woman, Yubaba (Mari Natsuki), who, despite her moral ambiguity, is ultimately a learning opportunity for Chihiro. 

The concepts of good and evil in East Asian narratives are more nuanced and overlapping compared to Western dichotomies. Traditional East Asian philosophies recognize that all beings have the capacity for good, and therefore, good and evil are choices with complex motivations and not simply inherent traits. This perspective allows for redemption arcs and a more multifaceted view of character motivations. As a result, the East Asian narrative hero may differ from one in the West, especially when notions of self-sacrifice and collectivism are applied (Shah, Ahmad Rafi, and Perumal 2022). 

In portraying these intricacies, animated bodies are alternatively simplified and exaggerated. This is evident in the distinct facial features of characters, such as their eyes, which are often used to convey a wide range of emotions and inner complexities. The exaggeration of physical features serves not just as a stylistic choice but as a tool to highlight the inner life and emotional states of the characters. In addition, the geometric simplicity of anime bodies makes them more transmutable; they are never just one thing. In both films, the youthful female bodies of the protagonists also serve as reflections of their respective countries’ struggles and transitions in a modern, globalized world. They embody contemporary national identities by showcasing how traditional values and modern challenges coexist and influence each other. Chihiro, in particular, resists the forgetting of her name, as Japan must prevent the stripping of its identity amidst the challenging task of balancing the past with modernity. This self-reflexive portrayal provides a rich narrative that has resonated with modern audiences while staying true to cultural roots. 

Despite cultural differences, these two films, and thus East Asian Animation, have been exported to transnational audiences. The import and adaptation of East Asian animation into Western culture is a multi-layered process that often involves significant changes to make these works more accessible to Western audiences. This adaptation can manifest in various ways, such as dubbing, which may consequently reassign meaning to fit Western values, and cutting scenes which can alter the film's format, focus, and meaning.

One prominent example is the adaptation of Spirited Away. In its Western version, changes were made to the relationship between visual elements and sound. As they leave the gate to the spirit realm behind, Chihiro’s dad asks, “A new home and a new school? It is a bit scary,” to which she replies, “I think I can handle it” (Miyazaki 2002). This concluding line is unique to the adaptation and leads to a more neatly concluded plot, as opposed to the more open-ended and interpretable nature of the original (McCarrick 2021). The silence of the original animation implies that Chihiro, like her parents, does not remember what happened in the spirit realm. She reflects the national and collective trauma associated with the loss of cultural identity to Westernization and the subsequent hope that these memories will be reclaimed in the future. The filling of this silence strips the film of its national identity and downplays the negative impact of globalization on Japanese culture.

This watering down is a necessary step towards building a bridge of cultural exchange. Adaptation allowed Spirited Away to be successful locally and internationally. Released at a time when animation was often seen as only for children, it broke through cultural and genre barriers, resonating with a global audience. Upon its release, it set a new record for the highest opening weekend in Japan, earning $13.1 million in three days, and eventually became Japan's highest-grossing film, holding this record for 19 years. The film's success extended to screenings at film festivals and releases worldwide. It has continued to reach new audiences over the years through its availability on international streaming sites (Moon 2021).

The success of these Westernized adaptations allows foreign audiences to engage with East Asian culture and philosophies within familiar cinematic structures. An example of the positive progress of this bridging effect is Big Fish and Begonia. With its success in China, the film was presented to Western markets with its ambiguous and didactic ending intact. However, there was still pushback against the feature animation: 

…it is a puzzle without a particularly interesting (to my Western eyes) solution… Perhaps the cultural chasm is too wide, in this instance, for anyone not Chinese to find a connection and see profundity in what plays like a fever dream, too personal to be accessible… “Big Fish & Begonia” is a sobering reminder of the gulf that exists between Western storytelling traditions and the still-mysterious East. (Moore 2018)

This blogger’s review reveals that East Asian animation and Western society have not yet been able to overcome the divisive river of Orientalism that insists on misting its Eastern bank with claims of mysterious otherness. Nonetheless, Big Fish and Begonia’s presence in the West is itself a sign of the slow growth of authentic cultural exchange.

Today, the prevalence of adaptations like Spirited Away reveals an increasing Western appreciation of East Asian animation, inaugurating a period of collaborations and co-productions. Kung Fu Panda 3 stands as a notable example of East-West collaboration in animation. The franchise was developed by DreamWorks Animation, but for the third installment, a significant partnership was formed with Oriental DreamWorks (now Pearl Studio) to infuse more authentic Chinese elements into the film (Chan 2018). It uses animation to blend Western and East Asian philosophies, narratives, and aesthetics, paving the way for cross-cultural exchange. At the same time, it draws attention to the pitfalls of inauthentic cultural exchange.  

In Kung Fu Panda 3, the film draws from East Asian culture, imbuing the same sense of revitalized cultural memory as in Spirited Away and Big Fish and Begonia. The animation pays homage to traditional East Asian art forms, notably in the paper-cutting and ink-washing styles evident in the 2D layeredness of the introductory montage. This aesthetic is then blended with high-quality graphics and 3D effects, hallmarks of Western animation studios.

Eastern culture and history, framed by Western sensibilities, is particularly prevalent in the character animation of Po (Jack Black) His character design as a panda is significant; Po is not a zodiac animal like the other kung fu warriors, but, as a native inhabitant of China, he does belong. Pandas have long been associated with China from a foreign perspective and have notably been on loan to zoos across the West. This cultural context explains the otherness of Po despite his native status. He embodies the displacement of East Asian culture much as Chihiro does in Spirited Away. Yet, as the protagonist and Dragon Warrior, Po’s symbolic nature also suggests that the Eastern and Western cultures may coexist under the right circumstances, forming a superstructure of cultural exchange.

Po, the animatory Westernized Chinese, is stereotypically bumbling but with good intentions, the ultimate American underdog. Characterized by slapstick comedy and situational humor, he brings Western comedic sensibilities and pop culture into the film. Entrenched in Western customs, Po struggles with concepts inherent to East Asian culture, but what he lacks in cultural memory is found in his surroundings. Cultural motifs and symbolism are thoughtfully incorporated throughout the animation. Yin-yang symbols, Chinese lanterns, and traditional attire are not just visual elements but are contextually significant, reflecting their importance in Chinese culture. The color palette and textures in the animation are carefully chosen, with vibrant reds and yellows playing a prominent role, symbolizing joy, prosperity, and good fortune in Chinese tradition.

Further utilizing Eastern concepts, the film delves into spiritual and philosophical realms, particularly in its depiction of the spirit realm and the concept of qi. These elements are animated in a way that aligns with Chinese spiritual beliefs, imbued with a sense of mysticism. Even the environmental details, such as the specific flora and fauna, are reflective of China's natural landscapes, adding Taoist authenticity to the setting.

The importance of landscapes and architecture in the film echoes the East Asian animation’s emphasis on spatial memory. Stylized landscapes resemble classic Chinese paintings, characterized by distinctive brush strokes and color palettes. Traditional Chinese architecture is depicted in temples, palaces, and the quaint Panda Village, featuring curved roofs, ornate decorations, and a dominant red and gold color scheme. However, these landscapes are also designed to cater to a Western audience's preference for visually spectacular and high-impact cinema. The spirit realm battle between the antagonist, Kai (J.K. Simmons), and Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) exemplifies this melding of styles. The scene is not only a memorable setting; it is also a platform for showcasing an intense battle and the dramatic transmutation of Oogway. The use of vivid colors, dramatic lighting, and powerful visual effects in this sequence reflects a Western influence, turning a culturally rich setting into a backdrop for a high-stakes, visually arresting confrontation.

This cultural mixing is also found in the animation of characters. Like the spirits in Big Fish and Begonia and Spirited Away, the uncanny has been normalized through the repeated rendering of anthropomorphic animals in culturally real settings. Even within the diegesis, there is little distance between the mortal realm and the spirit realm. Kai easily traverses the separation between realms and is no less real or impactful for being part of the spirit realm. This culturally East Asian suspension of disbelief creates a comfortability that resists the uncanny.

The character design in Kung Fu Panda 3 also draws on Chinese folklore and mythology with animals that are not only symbolic in Chinese culture but also stylistically represented to reflect this heritage. The animation uses movement as a character trait, drawing from East Asian animatory practices where movement signifies character depth (Jiaxiang 2022). This concept is combined with a Western tendency to equate a character's appearance with their personality. In this way the kung fu warriors move and fight per their innate animality; the snake is elastically flexible, the tiger is sharply graceful, and the bull is brutally forceful. 

Kung fu lends itself to both the Western spectacle and Eastern depth and complexity. The animation creates fluid and precise movements that mirror the real-life physical and visual impact of kung fu. Derived from the animal-based kung fu styles, the animation not only captures the Western eye for immediate spectacle, but also the Chinese eye for complex internality (Augustyn 2019). Through kung fu, the animation explores the idea of harnessing and balancing qi, the life force or energy flow. In the context of the animation, qi is portrayed as a powerful, mystical energy that can be harnessed for both creation and destruction.

Po's journey with qi is a central element of the storyline, blending elements of traditional Chinese philosophy and modern storytelling. Narratively, Kung Fu Panda 3 follows the structure of the classic hero's journey. Po undergoes a personal transformation, faces challenges, and eventually overcomes adversity, a theme common in Western narratives emphasizing personal growth and triumph (Shah, Ahmad Rafi, and Perumal 2022). However, this traditional narrative arc is complicated by and then combined with Confucian values.

In Kung Fu Panda 3, the animation plays a pivotal role in conveying themes of Confucian filial piety, the master-student relationship, and collectivism. The detailed and emotive character interactions, particularly between Po and his fathers, visually emphasize the depth of filial piety through expressive facial animations and tender moments. Additionally, the animation captures the essence of the master-student relationship between Po and Master Shifu, and later between Po and the pandas, using visual metaphors like the passing of the scroll to highlight the transfer of knowledge and respect. The vibrant and bustling scenes of the panda village, animated with a sense of community and shared purpose, visually reinforce the theme of collectivism. This is especially evident in the climactic battle where the collective strength of the pandas is depicted through the pooling of their qi, symbolizing unity and communal power. In this way, Western themes of individualism are intertwined with the Confucian concept of communal learning and teaching, depicting Po's growth not just as a lone hero but within the context of his community. 

This narrative fusion not only enhances the storytelling but also serves as a cultural bridge, facilitating a greater understanding and appreciation of foreign film and philosophies. Po's journey of self-discovery and his connection to both his biological and adoptive families mirror the broader theme of connecting with one's heritage while also embracing new cultures. His character embodies a fusion of Eastern and Western identities, appealing to audiences from diverse backgrounds. The collaboration behind Kung Fu Panda 3 not only enriches the film’s animation but also marks a significant step in the convergence of Eastern and Western animation traditions.

However, just as with the Western adaptation of Spirited Away, there are legitimate concerns around the convergence of Eastern and Western animation and whether it results in an unequal partnership. While Kung Fu Panda 3 makes concerted efforts to respect and celebrate Chinese culture, some might argue that it still appropriates cultural elements for entertainment purposes without fully engaging with their deeper significance. The film, like many others, might be using cultural elements superficially, thereby failing to contribute meaningfully to a genuine understanding of the culture it represents.

Kung Fu Panda 3 may be seen as perpetuating cultural assimilation, a process where elements of a minority culture are absorbed and transformed within the dominant culture (Loader 2018). The film, set in a fantastical version of ancient China and steeped in Chinese folklore and tradition, is primarily tailored to suit a global, largely Western audience. This adaptation leads to a narrative that aligns more with Western ideals of individualism and heroism, rather than authentically representing the collective values and philosophical depths of traditional Chinese culture. The simplification of complex cultural elements, such as the intricate philosophies behind martial arts and the spiritual significance of qi, into easily digestible plot devices for a Western audience, is indicative of this assimilation. 

The portrayal of characters as anthropomorphic animals can also be viewed through the lens of animalistic dehumanization. While this anthropomorphism is a common trope in animation, it can carry underlying racial connotations. This choice can be seen as a form of 'othering', where East Asian culture is represented through a lens that is safe and familiar to Western audiences, but potentially exoticizes or simplifies the real and diverse experiences of East Asian people. For example, the use of certain animals to represent East Asian characters or to embody East Asian cultural elements can be seen as a form of racialized animality, where the characteristics attributed to these animals might inadvertently reflect or reinforce racial and cultural stereotypes. 

The issue of visibility and representation also warrants critique. While the film brings elements of Chinese culture to an intercultural audience, it does so primarily through a Western lens. The predominantly Western and non-Asian voice cast may also contribute to a sense of cultural dissonance for Asian and Asian American audiences. This approach can be seen as a missed opportunity for providing authentic representation and visibility for Asian actors and storytelling styles in mainstream media. The film's success highlights the appeal of Asian culture in global entertainment, yet it simultaneously raises questions about the extent to which this representation is authentic and respectful towards the source culture. For Asian American viewers, especially the younger audience, navigating their cultural identity amidst such representations can be challenging as the film may reinforce a sense of otherness or an oversimplified view of their heritage.

Despite these representational critiques, Kung Fu Panda 3 can be seen as part of the ongoing globalization process in animation. The dynamic exchange between East Asian and Western animation weaves a rich tapestry of cultural dialogue and artistic innovation. Films like Spirited Away, Big Fish & Begonia, and Kung Fu Panda 3 exemplify this interplay, showcasing the depth of East Asian philosophies and storytelling techniques while influencing and reshaping Western animation practices. However, this exchange is not without its challenges. The adaptation and collaboration between Eastern and Western animation spheres raise issues of cultural appropriation and assimilation, reflecting the delicate balance needed in such intercultural interactions. While these collaborative efforts have successfully brought diverse cultural narratives to global audiences, they also underscore the importance of respectful and authentic representation of cultural elements. As the animation industry continues to evolve, the ongoing dialogue between East Asian and Western animation promises further exploration and enrichment of global storytelling, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of diverse cultural perspectives.

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