Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas with The Patriots

squishing the fish with sis, gillette stadium, foxboro, ma. 12/23/07

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pete Townshend: The Japan Times Interview

Anime: Drawing a Revolution

If you happen to be reading this in the US, a broader, cinematic take on blissful trans-cultural misreadings can be found in the new anime documentary on the Starz Network.

Titled Anime: Drawing a Revolution (more HERE). It will air again tonight at 8 p.m., and likely later this month and/or early next.

The DVD screener I was sent is impressive. Though only an hour long--and thus insufficient for diehard otaku--the program provides a smart introduction and overview of the anime/manga phenomenon without avoiding mention of its challenges in the US. Hopefully it will inspire a future and more extensive doc featuring more interviews with folks on the other side of the Pacific.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daily Yomiuri Columning, Otaku and Anime Doc: Drawing A Revolution

Back in early August, I received an invitation from two editors at The Daily Yomiuri newspaper to contribute a bi-monthly column, the contents of which would be rooted in an international perspective on the Japanese pop culture phenomenon. Though I hadn't written a regular column since I was a college student, I opted to give it a shot.

I've now produced seven such installments for the Yomiuri, plus one related feature interview with Shinji Aramaki (included below), the director of Appleseed and Appleseed: Ex Machina.
The columns have been stimulating if not always welcome diversions from longer projects, forcing me to pursue musings, memories and occasionally old-school legwork to render 600-800 engaging words every two weeks.

Responses have been rich--from folks collaring and querying me about this or that item, to bloggers drawing a thread or two and stitching together full-fledged debates.

I've returned to New York to close out the year. On a stroll around town earlier today, I visited four nearby Japanamerican landmarks: the new Muji outlet on lower Broadway; the vast, brightly lit Uniqlo emporium; Nigo's BAPE NYC boutique on Greene Street; and the still-new Tokyo Bar on Church.

With the presence of Tokyo in New York fresh on the brain, I've opted to post scans of the Yomiuri columns for blog posterity (an oxymoron, I know).

The first one, posted here, falls under the 'musings' category: a reflection on a book tour experience during my visit to London. It's a fairly simple account of how trans-cultural exchanges are often based upon culturally misreadings--and blissfully so. More specifically, it's about what the terms "otaku" and "yaoi" might many thousands of miles away from their streets of origin.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My Grandmother

Chiyo Ebata Saeki, 1907-2007.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pokemon, Masakazu Kubo, Monster, Naoki Urasawa, Japanamerica, anime and manga

Last night I was blessed to appear in downtown Tokyo with Pokemon Executive Producer, Shogakukan editor and creative designer, Tokyo Anime Center founder and director, committee member for the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Tokyo Anime Fair (TAF)--Mr. Masakazu Kubo. Together we addressed members and guest of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators at the behest of director Holly Johnson.

Kubo-san is now involved in the development of a feature film of Naoki Urasawa's MONSTER manga series. Responding to certain questions, he urged audience members to "read Roland's book," Japanamerica. He believes I got it right--which is a considerable relief to me, as he is one of the book's key voices.

Meanwhile, it appears that Chinese and/or Chinese-Americans are helming several Hollywood versions of manga and anime titles. James Wong will direct the upcoming Dragonball Z live action film, starring Justin Chatwin and James Marsters. Joseph Chou is co-producing several Hollywood projects, and John Woo produced Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed: Ex Machina.

Question is: Are the Japanese losing out again? Will the Chinese scoop the spotlight, not to mention the big bucks, off Japanese originals?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Japanamerica with Pokemon Creator Masakazu Kubo

If you're in Tokyo tomorrow night, please join us:


The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

Made in Japan: What Makes Manga Japanese—And Why Western Kids Love It


Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica


Masakazu Kubo, Executive Producer, Shogakukan

Time: Saturday, November 17, 2007, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Place: Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Conference Room 2

5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (by the Children’s Castle and United Nations University)

For a map see www.scbwi.jp/map.htm

Fee: 1,000 yen SCBWI members; 1,500 yen nonmembers

This event will be in English.

This talk followed by Q&A will cover the nuts and bolts of the craft of manga and discuss the nature of its appeal beyond Japan.

Roland Kelts is author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. (www.japanamericabook.com). He is a lecturer at the University of Tokyo and writes about manga and anime for the Daily Yomiuri. He is co-editor of the New York-based literary journal A Public Space, and his first novel, Access, will be published next year. He currently splits his time between New York and Tokyo. 

Masakazu Kubo is executive producer of the Pokémon movies and TV series. After joining Shogakukan in 1983 he served as editor of the comic magazines CoroCoro Comic and Comic Gotta. Currently director of Shogakukan’s Character Business Center, he serves on the executive committee of the Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo International Anime Fair. He is executive producer at the Tokyo Anime Center, and he co-wrote the Japanese books Pokémon Story and The Future of Vibrant Content Business.

Contact info@scbwi.jp or see www.scbwi.jp for more information.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Shinji Aramaki and the Appleseed Ex Machina Opening

Got blogged down, I guess, but a few notes here from New York:

I was privileged recently to spend some time conversing with veteran designer and Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki in Tokyo. Aramaki is among the most candid and clear-headed of the folks I've met in the anime industry in Japan; he's also an ambitious and committed artist, one who retains faith in the future of his art form, even as he offers suggestions for its survival.

Portions of our conversation were published in The Daily Yomiuri on the eve of the Japan nationwide theatrical release of Appleseed: Ex Machina, the latest and most visually stunning film in the Appleseed series. The film will be released in the US in the form of a DVD disc set in 2008.

On the same day (Oct. 20, US-time), Kinokuniya will open its largest overseas bookstore in midtown Manhattan. The three-floor outlet will overlook Bryan Park in the very center of the city. Look for expanded offerings of manga, anime, and all books related to those media.
More on this later.

And finally, today marks the opening of a striking new exhibit of anime-inspired art in a gallery in Soho (downtown Manhattan): "How to Cook Docomodake." The exhibit features 16 young Japanese artists whose contributions were inspired by Telecom giant Docomo's mascot--a family of mushrooms with their mouths sewn shut.
(Imagine the same from AT&T: a cell phone mascot in the form of a family of fungi who can't speak.)
The exhibition will run from Oct. 19 to 28.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

afro samurai, tekkon kinkreet, girl who leapt throught time and the pink cow

been a great week. sorries for slow blogness:
here's me and leo at pink cow, and the new version of the old book.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Japanamerica JAPAN mini-tour

We're gearing up for the Japanamerica mini-tour of Japan in anticipation of the May 24 release of the book's Japanese-language edition, published by Random House Kodansha. Dates are being settled, but the first will be this Sunday, May 6, at The Pink Cow in Shibuya, Tokyo. The evening is billed as "Japanamerica Night," and will feature an exhibition of anime and manga artwork, DVD clips, live music and much talk and discussion among me, Leo Lewis of the Times of London and other writers, artists and producers on hand in Tokyo.

More info is on the invitation flyer posted above. If you are in this vast city of spectacle and sprawl, you are more than welcome to join us. Admission is free.

Other currently confirmed dates include:

In the works are some bilingual events in Tokyo co-hosted by author, translator and University of Tokyo professor Motoyuki Shibata, who reviewed Iyasu Nagata's excellent translation for final publication. The bilingual presentations will likely commence in June, when the Japanese edition is readily available.

I have now been in Tokyo for a few weeks since wrapping up the US tour. The days have been thrilling, if a tad dizzying. In addition to The New Yorker's Roz Chat's visit with Azuma-san, which I began to chronicle in an earlier post, the kind folks at GDH invited me to attend their world premiere screening of Afro Samurai, which is just now debuting on Japanese TV. The screening was the first of a two-hour version of the episodes, involving previously cut scenes and additional footage. While it didn't quite play like a feature film, the richness of the visuals combined with a more contiguous, commercial-free version of the narrative resulted in a spellbinding experience.

I believe the version I saw at a theater in Shibuya will be available on DVD in the US later this month.

Reports from Tekkon Kinkreet's week-long MoMA premiere screenings in New York have been equally gratifying: Screenwriter Anthony Weintraub notes that all were sold-out, and the responses of those who attended (including dear friends and family of mine) has been characterized by awe and and enthusiasm for the medium and its possibilities.

I also managed to squeeze in a lunch with the brilliant and prolific Susan J. Napier, whose forthcoming book, From Impressionism to Anime, promises to significantly expand discussion and understanding of the historical and critical relationships between the forms.

During our meeting in Tokyo, Susan said that she keeps expecting the rising Western interest in the manga and anime media--and in the contemporary culture in general--to peak. All evidence, however, points to the contrary.

Forthcoming are the Michael Bay/Steven Spielberg" big-budget blockbuster version of "Transformers", due in July and based on the assorted robot toys produced by Japan's Takara over 25 years ago; The Wachowski Brothers' (The Matrix series) version of Speed Racer, to which both Christina Ricci and Susan Sarandon have both committed, and based on the manga and TV series created by Tetsuo Yoshida in the 1960s; and new animated/CGI versions of both Astro Boy (Tezuka Osamu) and Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets, also by the Yoshida brothers of Tatsunoko Productions), currently being created and produced by the Hong Kong and LA-based Imagi International--whose very friendly folks invited me to a lunch meeting in LA, and described Japanamerica as "our business plan in a book."

Speaking of LA, if you happen to be there this weekend, do attend the special screening of Tekkon Kinkreet at the Visual Communications Festival. You won't be disappointed.

More to mention, but for now: Watch your back, Spidey.

Hope to see you Sunday in Tokyo.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A New York Necessity

Tekkon Kinkreet, the first Japanese feature film to be directed by an American, let alone the first anime to do so, has its US premiere tonight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The film will be screened at MoMA for five days straight.

I first heard about Tekkon during my initial research for Japanamerica, when my dear friend, New York filmmaker Stephen Earnhart, urged me to contact Tekkon director Michael Arias.

The resulting interviews and studio tours with Michael and veteran producer and studio founder Eiko Tanaka gave me the blueprint for the rest of the book, and I remain deeply grateful to them and to Stephen for the gift.

The film currently in production (and at a maddening pace) was Tekkon. Michael showed me some "dailies"--scenes that were more or less polished, but still disjointed--and I was sufficiently impressed.

But as in any narrative medium, a few good scenes in anime do not a good story make.

When I first sat down to watch Tekkon in a Tokyo cinema in January, I felt considerable trepidation: I'd devoted several pages to its makers (and harbored no regrets), but I also spent considerable time on this very title. It suited my trans-cultural, borderless theories to a proverbial T. How couldn't I?

I spent the next two hours mesmerized, sometimes shaken, sometimes shuddering.

I am half Japanese, yes, but I was raised largely in America. And while I prefer excessive ambition to conservative perfectionism in my arts, I have sometimes found the boundless leaps of some Japanese animation narratives sufficiently showy, but insubstantial.

Not so with Tekkon. Like the best of its kind (film, ultimately, which is visual and verbal storytelling), Tekkon takes enormous risks--and remains tethered to the yearnings and flaws of its characters, its humanity.

My first review of it is at the top of this page, from the gracious folks at Animation Magazine in LA.

Earlier this year I had lunch in Soho with Anthony Weintraub, the screenwriter who rendered Taiyo Matsumoto's brilliant manga series in film-able script. Anthony is also a partner in a film production company based in Manhattan, a-line pictures, who produced Capote two years ago.

You'll be hearing more about Tekkon Kinkreet soon, but if you are in New York now, you owe yourself a trek to MoMA.

Am still tethered to Tokyo and time-tested, but new events, projects, happenings are breaking through the soil ... ah, enough of the springtime blather. My glorious week with the New Yorker's Roz Chast, her daughter, and the affable Azuma-san, king of Manga, are introduced in my latest little column at TranNet.

May 6, Tokyo, is a Japanamerica Night. More on that later. Go see Tekkon.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 7

Am back in Tokyo, where books have trumped blog. Got three on the boil.

Still, the new book, Japanamerica, picked up some nice new reviews--both of which reference Mr. Peter Carey, one of which r's Peter Townshend:



More soon from springtime in Japan.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 5: LA-Bound

(Apple Quicktime only)

(Click speaker for audio playback)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 4

On Seattle NPR earlier today.

Lovely interview with Seattle Post-Intelligencer over lunch.

Japanamerica talk this eve at Japanamerica Society.

Sleepless and stellar night in Seattle.

LA shortly.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 3

Fantastic audiences on the West Coast. Roland Kelts will catch up and recount more--Tokyo, NYC, Boston, DC, Berkeley, SF--very soon. But for now:

Last night, Powell's Books in Portland, one of the best bookstores in the US, and as far as we know, and as far as we have seen, the world--and one of our best crowds so far. Packed house, excellent questions, kind compliments, genuine interest in the book and the future of the cultural interchange detailed therein. Not to mention an age range that ran from the teens to the 60s or beyond, plus RK's dear friend from Tokyo, Jun Kim, Haruki Murakami's brilliant and illustrious office manager.

We're writing to you from a condominium in Seattle at the behest of another dear friend, RK's sometimes editor and always heroic publisher, Bruce Rutledge. On deck tomorrow: a radio interview with Seattle NPR, a newspaper interview, and a presentation for the Japan America Society of Washington State.

For now: Here's Roland Kelts on a radio program that aired nationally on Tuesday of this week:
Japanese POP CULTURE on "The World," PRI/NPR

And a review RK penned of Matthew Sharpe's mind-blowingly brilliant new novel, Jamestown, for the Village Voice:
"Jackass for the Jacobean Set," The Village Voice

And here's his new monthly column for the Writer's House Newsletter in Tokyo:
Japanamerican Eyes

And now, because he is 7 cities into his 9-city tour on precious little sleep, RK will retire. Besides which, RK/Roland Kelts is not his real name. As I'm sure you know by now: If he tells you his real name, you will die.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 2: NYC Launch

Two guns, 100 rounds of ammunication, a fake beard. Hence the helicopters hovering downtown last night, the city in a sense of seige. Four dead:

NYTimes: Seige?

A former Marine. America trains them well. Stanley Kubrick, anyone?

I am still alive, though, so the obscenity of going on, going on, with the bottoms of my trousers rolled, goes on.

The temperature has slid, the icy rains precede predictions of 6 to 10 inches of snow. Just 24 hours ago I was celebrating T-shirts and sweaty socks.

Back on course: After preaching to the knowledgeable and converted at the brilliant and membership-only Nichibei Society in Manhattan and dining among the dogs at Fred's, Leo sadly had to fly back to Tokyo before the launch party at The Cutting Room.

Over 300 celebrated, including my lovely bicultural parents, and VIPs of varying stripes. Worth thanking here are Lee Guzofski, who planned the evening, Ajay and Amit Tandon, who paid for it, Steve Walter, manager of the venue, who cut us a deal, and the brilliant Gaijin A Go Go, the transcultural band who rocked and socked us into eternity for hours.

I signed a bunch of books for the very kindest of crowds.

Again, this is horribly backdated. Tonight I got to meet the Japanese translator of Japanamerica. His name is Iyasu Nagata. He seems brilliant and studied. He's also a bass player. With Nagata-san, I also got to see Matthew Sharpe read from Jamestown, a novel whose brilliance you'll soon hear about. Trust me.

Not dead yet,

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rol's Road Blog 1


It seems auspicious that I am commencing this blog on a March night in New York when the temperature is so high (70s Fahrenheit; 20-ish Centigrade) that I have been walking around town this evening in a T-shirt. I've also been wearing trousers, underwear, socks and my Cole Haans, of course, so I won't get arrested and/or stoned by passersby. But it's absurdly warm here, and everyone downtown (excepting me, likely) looks absolutely beautiful.

I'd intended to start this slog months ago. Like many things in my life, including me, it will be backdated. Sorry. Gomennasai.

I am now smack in the middle of what turned out to be a 9-city book tour in support of Japanamerica.

There are helicopters sweeping the city tonight, flashing broad spotlights onto the cavernous streets. I don't know if this is because another cleric has claimed responsibility for the carnage of 9.11, or because we are truly under siege. My windows are wide open. It's chaos out there.

A man with a long pony tail just advised me to "stay at home tonight." Apocalypse now, with kudos to Susan Napier.

My book is about the chaos and malleability of the world in which we live in the 21st Century. The first date on which I appeared to discuss it was late November, at the behest of the Nichibei Society in New York, whose members greeted both me and the indomitable Leo Lewis, Asia Correspondent for the Times of London, with great alacrity. Leo's work informs all of the economic analyses, business stats, et cetera, contained therein.

Thursday, January 25, 2007