Friday, April 11, 2014

On AnimeJapan 2014 for my Japan Times column

Anime industry reunified at expo, satellite events

AnimeJapan 2014, the rebranded and reunified annual industry trade show, exceeded organizers’ expectations last month, hosting 110,000 producers, publishers, journalists, cosplayers and public visitors. What a relief.

Since 2010, the anime industry’s political divisions meant two separate shows: one in Chiba called the Anime Contents Expo (ACE), the other in Odaiba, the original Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF). Dashing between the two had become an annual headache. AnimeJapan brought domestic and overseas players together again under one cavernous roof at Tokyo Big Sight on March 22 and 23.

It wasn’t perfect. “AnimeJapan was a huge success as a B2C (business to consumer) event,” says Yuji Nunokawa, chairman of the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA). “From B2B (business to business) aspects, however, there were some unsatisfactory elements, such as meeting-space shortage and lack of preparation.”

The so-called business days of industry-only meetings that precede the show’s public opening were dropped this year to save money, leaving producers, distributors and journalists to fend for themselves, ducking into small rooms above the show’s main halls or arranging for separate meetings in downtown Tokyo. The official tally of visitors from abroad was 546, a figure Nunokawa calls “an unprecedented success. It is AJA’s hope to promote anime’s presence to the world and make AnimeJapan the world’s best anime event.”

The rift within the industry prompting the creation of two separate shows four years ago was caused by then Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s legal interference. His passage of the vaguely worded Bill 156, otherwise known as version 2 of the “nonexistent youth bill,” restricting the sale of particular manga, anime and video games deemed “harmful” to youths and society at large was met by fierce opposition from artists and major producers, publishers and organizations, including the AJA.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tilted on tour in Toronto for Japanamerica

Toronto Japanamerica tour interview, via Torja magazine.

『Japanamerica』著者、Roland Kelts氏に訊く日本と北米のマンガ・アニメ産業

Roland Keltsさん

Roland Kelts
日本のポップ・カルチャーがアメリカに及ぼした影響、そして互いに切磋琢磨しながら変革するマンガ・アニメ業界を鋭い視線で分析した『Japanamerica』の著者。他にもThe New YorkerやThe Wall Street Journalをはじめとする数多くの新聞・雑誌に記事、エッセイなどを寄稿。



Thursday, April 03, 2014

Haruki Murakami tells me about American literature

>an excerpt from my interview w/Haruki for A Public Space.

Haruki Murakami’s translations include: Raymond Carver’s short stories, Truman Capote’s short stories; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Mikal Gilmore’s Shot in the Heart, John Irving’s Setting Free the Bears, Tim O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age, Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; and Mark Strand’s Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories.

ROLAND KELTS You and I once discussed how difficult it is to be an individual in Japan, how lonely.

HARUKI MURAKAMI It’s still very difficult, but things have changed drastically in Japan over the last ten years. You know, when I was young, we were supposed to join a company, join the office or the academy. It was a very tight society. You had to belong to someplace. I didn’t want to do that, so I became independent as soon as I left college. And it was lonely.

But not these days. People graduate and immediately become freelancers. There’s a good and bad side, but I look at the good side. It’s a chance to be free.

RK Do people need to look to America today-—or can they stay at home?

HM These days, young Japanese are also looking to Asia and Europe. America isn’t the only one any more. When I was in my teens in the sixties, America was so big—everything was shiny and bright. When I was fifteen years old, I went to see Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, in Kobe. That was my first encounter with jazz; I was so impressed. Those were very good days for American culture.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Toronto & silence

>latest column for Paper Sky magazine. 

I spend most of my time in cities – big ones.  Mostly New York and Tokyo, the biggest in their respective countries, but also Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, where my parents have a home. I have visited cities throughout Europe and Asia, and in Australia and South Africa. I have lived in London, San Francisco and Anchorage, Alaska.

In the 21st century, most cities share common elements: taxi and public transit systems, vast and anonymous airports, traffic jams, tall buildings, hotels, tony restaurants and cheap eateries.  I often tell friends that there is less culture shock to be had in flying between megalopolises like Tokyo and New York, London, Singapore or Shanghai, then there is in driving from any of those cities a couple hundred miles into rural environs.

My life didn’t start with cities.  Though I was born in one, I was raised in small towns in upstate New York and New England.  When I first lived in Japan as a six year-old, I stayed with my grandparents in Iwate, on the outskirts of the relatively small northern city of Morioka. My childhood memories are of countryside exploits – netting insects in summer fields and yards, ice-skating on ponds and rivers, fishing still lakes, hearing raccoons and rabbits scurry beneath porches at night, June bugs and moths fluttering into screen doors, crickets, loons, and silence.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Anime Japan 2014

The Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) and the Anime Contents Expo (ACE) finally reunited this past weekend in Odaiba.  It was called Anime Japan 2014, and it worked.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fukushima and distrust

Japanamerica contributor, Eve Pearce, on the ongoing complexities of the Fukushima meltdown.

Don’t blame it all on the tsunami

The fallout from the Fukushima disaster is more than a matter of dealing with the results of the devastation caused by the tsunami, the explosion in reactor number 4 and the resulting meltdown and radioactive contamination. Amid the widespread destruction and disruption to life in the affected areas, the need to maintain economic viability has resulted in, among other emergency measures, the support of local food production by the lowering of permitted radioactivity levels, which has helped to create distrust of the government and its policies. This is not allayed by government secrecy over the results of radiation monitoring and decontamination measures, despite demands for greater openness. In these situations, where there are also conflicting reports about how long the cleanup will take and how serious and widespread the contamination will be – just as in wartime, ‘truth is the first casualty’ – in this post-disaster situation, the truth is increasingly difficult to pin down.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Katana collectors in the USA

Japanamerica contributor, Danica Davidson, on Japanese sword-love in the US.

The Japanese sword is unique in the world for its creation, durability and aesthetics. There is no sharper sword in existence, but they are not simply weapons: their detail and craftsmanship also make them works of art. While the sword is a significant cultural icon in Japan, interest in it is also alive and well in America.

Each year hundreds of people travel to America’s main Japanese sword shows in Chicago, San Francisco and Tampa. This past year the Chicago show, known as Midwest Token Kai (“Sword Group” or “Sword Club”) was put on by Mark Jones and Marc Porpora. Roughly 70 vendors were there selling swords, sword fittings, and various pieces of Japanese artwork.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On the "King of Kawaii," Sebastian Masuda, in NYC, for my Japan Times column

Masuda’s mission to take Harajuku art global

New York is not a city one automatically associates with the Japanese concept of kawaii — lovably, irresistibly, dependably cute. But if Sebastian Masuda, the so-called “king of kawaii,” has his way, the mean streets of “Goodfellas” may one day emanate a candy-colored glow.

Or at least his street will. Best known for founding the iconic Harajuku fashion shop-cum-global brand 6%Dokidoki in 1995, Masuda wears many hats, both career-wise and atop his head. Before becoming a fashion guru, he was an actor in Tokyo’s avant-garde theater scene, which is where he picked up the Western moniker for his persona, “Sebastian” (he keeps his Japanese birth name unpublished). In 2009, he led a tour to promote kawaii fashion in cities across Europe and the United States, hosting workshops, seminars and events to explain what he calls its “uniquely Japanese aesthetic appeal.” And since 2011, he has been the artistic and conceptual director for global pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, helping create the mega-hit YouTube video for her single “Ponponpon” (nearly 62 million views as I write).

On Fukushima, 3/11 & "Nuclear Nation" for NPR

My conversation with Madeleine Brand on her show, "Press Play."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On the 3rd anniversary of Japan's 3/11 disasters for The New Yorker

I first saw “Nuclear Nation,” a haunting documentary about the Fukushima meltdown, at its New York première, late last year. It felt very Japanese to me. Instead of looping the most sensational footage—frothy waves demolishing harbors and main streets, exasperated talking heads—“Nuclear Nation” chronicles, through three seasons, the post-disaster struggles faced by so-called nuclear refugees from the tiny town of Futaba, one of several officially condemned and abandoned communities near the site of the disaster.

The opening sequence of the movie is eerily similar to that of “Akira,” Katsuhiro Otomo’s award-winning animated sci-fi epic from 1988. In both films, a howling wind sounds in the middle distance as the camera focusses on and fetishizes elaborate industrial infrastructure. When the wind suddenly fades to silence, catastrophe ensues: in “Akira,” we see the nuclear cratering of eighties-era Tokyo urban sprawl; in “Nuclear Nation,” it’s the implosion of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the subsequent poisoning of farmlands, fisheries, and rural homes. One is a harrowing fiction echoing Japan’s historical nightmares at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the other is a somber document of an ongoing and very present horror in and around Fukushima, one whose third anniversary is being marked today in Japan with moments of silence and prayer, official memorials, and televised updates on the most current statistics and predictions.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On tour in Toronto, 2/24 - 28

Official page here
a pop culture lecture series with
Roland Kelts
author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.

The Japan Foundation, Toronto is delighted to announce another special guest during our pop culture-focused month! Roland Kelts, author of the bestseller Japanamerica: How Japanese Culture Has Invaded the U.S., will share his insights on Japan's greatest manga artist, Osamu Tezuka, and the mutual influence of Anime and Hollywood. He will also join our manga artist-in-residence, Nao Yazawa, for a dialogue on the state of pop culture in Japan.

The Life and Works of the God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka
Monday, February 24, 7 pm (doors 6:30 pm)

Anime and Hollywood (the dance of rivals seeking to embrace)
Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 pm (doors 6 pm)

Roland Kelts in Conversation with Nao Yazawa
Thursday, February 27, 6:30 pm (doors 6 pm)

Location: All events will take place at The Japan Foundation, Toronto
Address: 131 Bloor St. W., 2nd Floor of the Colonnade Building
Admission: FREE

Friday, February 14, 2014

Anime, games & retro "Wonder Momo" -- latest column for The Japan Times

The symbiotic relationship between anime and games

Japan excels at making you play. From its flower arrangements to tea ceremonies to karaoke, nothing much happens until you get into the game, and a big part of Japan’s appeal to non-natives is its invitation to engage.

Tourists and expats gleefully bear floats on their shoulders during Japanese festivals, don kimono for photo shoots and pound rice cakes for the New Year’s holidays. The otaku (obsessives) who gather for AKB48 shows in Akihabara pay to touch their idols’ hands, reenact choreographed dance moves and snap photos of the girls. At anime conventions in North America, Europe and Asia, attendees hand-make costumes to inhabit the roles of their favorite anime characters, performing skits tailored to the series they love.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Solomon & Otomo

Our dear friend, animation critic, author, scholar and Disney historian Charles Solomon presented the Winsor McCay Career Achievement Award to "Akira" creator Katsuhiro Otomo at the 41st Annie Awards in Los Angeles earlier this month.  And all we got was this not-so-lousy pic:

Solomon meets Otomo in LA.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Anime giant Otomo in LA 2/1 for Annie Awards

Katsuhiro Otomo (AKIRA) will be in Los Angeles today (Sat., Feb. 1) to receive the Winsor McCay award for career achievement at the Annie Awards.  My good friend Charles Solomon, who wrote the story below, will present the trophy. (from The Los Angeles Times)

Annie Awards to honor animator Katsuhiro Otomo for career achievement

The cyberpunk “Akira” in 1988 brought global acclaim to artist Katsuhiro Otomo. (FUNimation Entertainment )

By Charles Solomon

Legendary Japanese animator Katsuhiro Otomo is known around the world for his work, particularly his groundbreaking cyberpunk action feature "Akira." But Otomo doesn't spend time watching his own films.

"The truth is, I don't read or watch my own creations," Otomo says. "When I'm creating something, I'm 100% immersed in that universe, so when I'm finished, I'm ready to journey to a different world. Once a work is completed, it belongs to the readers and viewers."

One of the most influential artists working in animation today, Otomo will receive the Winsor McCay Award for career achievement at the Annie Awards on Saturday. Frank Gladstone, president of the Assn. Internationale du Film d'Animation, or ASIFA, said that "for the board, it was an easy decision to present Mr. Otomo with the McCay Award: His influence and achievements have been consistent and unparalleled."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Otakon redux

Pic just sent to us by an American reader.  Thanks.

Friday, January 24, 2014

'The Wind Rises': the beauty and controversy of Miyazaki's final film

The World War II biopic sparks an animated debate

By Sam Byford

Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises is a lot of things. It's the final feature-length film from one of the all-time greats of Japanese animation. It's a gorgeous, Oscar-nominated work that brings prewar Japan to life in ways that have never been seen before. It's Miyazaki's most pointedly adult movie, with a slow-burning tragedy replacing the magical realism and cute characters that have made Studio Ghibli's films appeal across generations. And it's the most controversial animated movie in recent memory.

That's because The Wind Rises is a sympathetic biography of a man whose work contributed to Japan's brutal campaign of imperialist aggression during World War II. Jiro Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane that Japan used in Pearl Harbor and countless other assaults; the Zero was feared for the unparalleled range and maneuverability bestowed by Horikoshi's considerable engineering skills. Although its subject matter is linked to a violent past, The Wind Rises follows in the tradition of Japanese works that eulogize artisanal passion and dedication to one's craft — it could almost have been called Jiro Dreams of Fighter Planes.