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.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Hollywood invests in anime and Asian Pop Culture, for Nikkei Asian Review

Big investment means silver lining for Asian pop culture abroad

[Story first published in The Nikkei Asian Review]

ROLAND KELTS, Contributing writer

NEW YORK -- 2013 went out with a bang for fans and creators of Asian pop culture, and the reverberations are being felt on both sides of the Pacific.

     In December, the deep-pocketed Chernin Group, founded by veteran Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin, announced it had taken a majority stake in San Francisco-based Crunchyroll, the world’s leading anime and Asian pop culture streaming website.

Peter Chernin

     Crunchyroll offers free and paid content from Japan and South Korea, including TV dramas, anime series and digital manga, alongside subscriber-only interactive features such as chat rooms, forums and daily discounts on pop-related merchandise.

    With an investment estimated at just under $100 million, Chernin Group placed a meaty bet on what its president, Jesse Jacobs, calls "the future of television."

    "The global demographic of Asian pop culture fans is young, early tech adopters who are super-passionate consumers of media," said Jacobs. "We’re huge fans of what (Crunchyroll is) doing."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What to sell; what to eat? On food from Fukushima for SmartPlanet / CBS

Scientists say Fukushima's food is safe. So why aren't the Japanese eating it?

Since the nuclear meltdown, the region’s seafood and agriculture industries have suffered -- largely because of mistrust of the government.

By Roland Kelts
TOKYO -- After Fukushima suffered the world’s worst nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl nearly three years ago, Japanese government officials say the region's food is safe to eat. Problem is, neither its producers nor consumers trust them anymore.

Irradiated "ton packs" roadside in Date. [photo by Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky]

While not quite the proverbial breadbasket of Japan, Fukushima was, for a long time, home to the nation’s fourth-largest farming area and has long supported itself through the production of rice, fruits, vegetables, tobacco and silk, in addition to a hefty supply of fish and seafood fetched from its 100-mile coastline.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The year ahead in anime, manga and Japanese pop culture for The Japan Times

CULTURE | CULTURE SMASH
Anime/manga experts hopeful for year ahead
BY ROLAND KELTS

Aside from Hayao Miyazaki’s sudden departure from filmmaking in September, the anime world saw some potentially hopeful developments in 2013.

Hayao Miyazaki and Susan J. Napier at Studio Ghibli, Tokyo, January, 2014.

As I reported here, the government’s multibillion-yen Cool Japan Fund was launched last summer, after years of empty promises. Following the lead of Crunchyroll, the profitable San Francisco-based online anime and manga portal, domestic startups such as Daisuki began streaming anime series globally. Crunchyroll itself opened a digital manga site — and got a Christmas-time jolt of Hollywood cash from big-ticket investor The Chernin Group. A bold new apocalyptic anime series, “Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan),” earned raves and fans, as did the virtual reality adventure, "Sword Art Online," and the  jazz-inflected new show “Kids on the Slope,” from veteran Shinichiro Watanabe (“Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo”).

“In the United States, perhaps the worst (for anime) is in the rearview mirror now,” says author and translator Frederik L. Schodt.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The joys of Tomoko for The New Yorker

TOMOKO SUGIMOTO’S MONOZUKURI
BY ROLAND KELTS
[Tomoko Sugimoto photographed by Chris Mosier]

The expatriate Japanese artist Tomoko Sugimoto’s first solo show in the United States, “Whirl and Swallow,” was held in Brooklyn on March 12, 2011, one day after Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Sugimoto got word of the disasters in New York, where she has lived since 1996. She didn’t think anyone would show up. The gallery owner in Williamsburg and her close friends urged her to see it through, and she did, preparing for the exhibition with one eye on the increasingly grim television footage from her native land. “At first, I was so depressed,” she said. “We already knew what was happening and could see these crazy scenes, and the numbers of dead kept rising. We were very upset. But so many people came. I think everyone came to see each other and talk to each other. And people kept saying to me, ‘I feel a little better now just viewing your work. I feel a happy energy.’ ”

That happy energy filled two small rooms and a narrow corridor last month, at Sugimoto’s first solo show in Manhattan. Cast in soft, auburn-yellow light, Sugimoto’s work—a deceptively plain combination of cotton-thread embroidery on canvas and sparsely applied acrylic paints and watercolors—looked both joyous and comforting. Some viewers (including this one) appeared perplexed at first, seeking out the conceptual and/or cultural codes embedded in much twenty-first-century art from Japan, whose most commercially successful practitioner, Takashi Murakami, dazzles with fun-house-mirror distortions of Japanese pop-cultural imagery, and whose reigning doyenne, Yayoi Kusama, pummels with polka dots.