Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Anisongs! Anime & J-Pop cross the language barrier in Las Vegas, for The Japan Times

Lantis looks to woo a dedicated fan base with anisong tour


By Roland Kelts

As soon as the music starts, the language barrier at overseas expos of Japanese pop culture is breached. Legions of non-Japanese fans, most of whose knowledge of the language is limited to basic greetings and exclamations, burst into karaoke-style singalongs, mimicking dance moves and waving glow sticks. Their instant fluency lasts for about three to five minutes. Then the song ends and they retreat to their native tongues.

The Japanese music industry hasn’t had an international chart-topper since Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” (Ue o Muite Arukou) — released in the United States and the United Kingdom in 1963. And while contemporaries Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and virtual idol Hatsune Miku generate millions of YouTube hits, they are lightweights next to South Korean Psy and his one-off wonder, “Gangnam Style,” which is now famous for overloading the file-sharing site’s view counter last month.

The language barrier is what most Japanese industry producers cite as their chief obstacle to global success, especially in Western countries. But it’s also true that some managers seek to avoid associating their acts with established anime and manga fan bases abroad. In two recent cases in New York, I was told that management in Tokyo didn’t want “anime fans” or “otaku types” in the venues, at least not in the front rows, because the concerts were being filmed for Japanese DVD release. They targeted rock fans and club-goers instead, presumably seeking some kind of hipster sex appeal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Coming of Age in today's Japan, for Utne Reader

The Satori Generation

A new breed of young people have outdone the tricksters of advertising.
By Roland Kelts

[Photo by Flickr/Kathleen Zarubin]
Young Americans and Europeans are increasingly living at home, saving money, and living prudently. Technology, as it did in Japan, abets their shrinking circles. If you have internet access, you can accomplish a lot in a little room. And revolution in the 21st century, as most young people know, is not about consumption—it’s about sustainability.

They don’t want cars or brand name handbags or luxury boots. To many of them, travel beyond the known and local is expensive and potentially dangerous. They work part-time jobs—because that is what they’ve been offered—and live at home long after they graduate. They’re not getting married or having kids. They’re not even sure if they want to be in romantic relationships. Why? Too much hassle. Oh, and too expensive.

In Japan, they’ve come to be known as satori sedai—the “enlightened generation.” In Buddhist terms: free from material desires, focused on self-awareness, finding essential truths. But another translation is grimmer: “generation resignation,” or those without ideals, ambition or hope.

They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation’s economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force. They don’t believe the future will get better—so they make do with what they have. In one respect, they’re arch-realists. And they’re freaking their elders out.

Monday, January 05, 2015

On Haruki Murakami's "The Strange Library," illustrated by Chip Kidd, for The New Yorker

Illustrating Murakami


By ROLAND KELTS

Haruki Murakami’s illustrated novella, “The Strange Library,” arrived in the mail last month looking like a Christmas card from a bipolar ex. Two cheery and colorful cartoon eyes adorn the card’s top half; beastly fangs in sepia tone snap down below. When I slid open the envelope-like front cover, its button seal bearing the numerals “107,” I expected to find menace, and I did. One dark-rimmed emerald green eye glared at me from the broad interior fold, embedded in hair and encircling a black pupil. On the smaller bottom flap was the upside-down half-moon mouth of a smiling child, skin pink and over-bright, canines pristine.

Two realities trading places, the threat of violence in an uneasy state of play: classic Murakami, of course. But also vintage Chip Kidd, the associate art director at Knopf who has been designing U.S. first editions of Murakami books since the author’s 1993 short-story collection, “The Elephant Vanishes.”

Kidd’s designs contain eyes and other facial features, circular motifs that seem to swirl through kinetic colors, and bold, arresting closeups. In a display case in his Upper East Side apartment, Kidd devotes a shelf to his “Murakami face trilogy”—the covers of the author’s three longest novels, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” “Kafka on the Shore,” and “1Q84,” boasting, in order, a painted mechanical bird’s eye, a head that looks like an inflated golf ball, and a photograph of a young woman’s face, parts of which are strategically concealed behind the book’s title and dust jacket.