A suitable replacement for America's arch-enemy

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The Independent Online
DURING Crocodile Dundee II there is a scene where Paul Hogan is in a New York subway station being pursued by a villain. He escapes by using an innocent pair of Japanese tourists standing by as unwitting aides - something to do with the taking of a photograph with their camera, as I remember. You are left with the feeling that the Japanese are lovably neutral.

In the Ninja Turtles film, the heroine goes down into a New York subway station and is set upon by gangsters. This time, however, it is the villains who are Japanese. She looks at them as they close in and says cheerily: 'What's the matter? Am I behind with my Sony payments?' You are left with the feeling that the Japanese are no longer amiable, but sinister and slightly hostile.

These films were made five years apart, and it seems to me that in the interval some shift has taken place in the film world's attitude to the Japanese. They have been promoted from joke nationality to enemy. Nothing wrong with that. The Americans are readjusting their attitudes to different nations all the time. Why, the chief interest of the original Crocodile Dundee was that it represented a basic shift in American attitudes to Australia: for the first time, most Americans registered that Australia existed.

Now something even more basic has shifted. The Americans have come to recognise that they may owe a lot of money to Japan. They have also noticed that Japan is buying up things that matter to America, like film corporations and historic parts of New York. And it is not just the heroine in the Ninja Turtles movie who thinks she may be behind with her Sony payments; America is behind with its Sony payments.

In other words, the Japanese are no longer tourists with cameras. They are now bank managers. And bank managers with the power to call you in and ask what you are going to do about your overdraft. In other words, the sort of people that nobody likes.

Meanwhile, something else has happened. The enemy that has kept the Americans going for 40 years, the Russian empire, has vanished. No longer can America shake its fist at Russia, aim its missiles at Russia and get Sylvester Stallone to go out in films and pulverise Russians in the ring. Russia has opted out of the Big Enemy stakes. It's sad, a bit like Sean Connery opting out of being James Bond. Well, not as sad as that, but getting on that way.

But, America being America, it doesn't mope around mourning the demise of Russia as a good first class enemy. It greets Russia as a new-found friend - and auditions nations for the new role of enemy. That's what's great about America. No messing about - get straight to the action. Act first, think later. Maybe just act first and not think at all. And that is why Japan is now grooming itself as the No 1 baddy.

I have made it sound as if Japan is stepping naturally into the shoes of Russia as the main enemy, but there must have been other candidates as well. Britain, of course. We have recently enraged America by supplying them with the editors of almost all the main magazines published in New York, which is quite annoying but not as annoying as becoming your major creditor. Europe is also a candidate for enemy No 1 because the Germans are the big business power, and the French always madden the Americans by being unreasonable and chauvinistic, and Europe as a whole has maddened America by not clearing up the Bosnian business when it would have been so easy for Europe to step in and sort it all out, much as President Clinton has done in Somalia - or was the trouble in Somalia caused by Mr Clinton trying to clear it up?

Anyway, the thing is that they are now making fun of Japan in films. Nothing wrong with this. They were making fun of Japan in films 50 years ago, when cartoons showed them as shifty-eyed, yellow-bellied murdering sons of the Orient. Fair enough. The Japanese were fighting us then, and torturing us to death. However, nowadays the Japanese are not torturing us to death, except in purely financial terms, so it seems a little unfair to single them out as No 1 enemy . . .

What am I talking about? It's poetic and fitting; the two of them are well-matched. I remember being in Greece about 10 years ago, visiting some ancient monument just before dusk when almost all the visitors had gone except an American couple and a Japanese couple. Ostensibly they had nothing in common except an interest in antiquity, but they drifted together as if they had some hidden bond. They had, because I overheard the American man say to the Japanese man: 'I see you've got the new Olympus camera, how do you find the shutter . . ?' They weren't interested in history at all, only in modern gadgets. Well-fitted, indeed. Either as allies or enemies.