Friday, August 29, 2008

This Weekend's Daily Yomiuri Column: "Soft Power, Hard Truths"

From my latest column in the Daily Yomiuri:

"Last month's sudden bankruptcy filing by Yohan, Japan's largest and oldest distributor of English-language publications, has cast a shadow over American shores, despite its relative lack of coverage in the U.S. media.

Only a couple of years ago, Yohan announced life-saving investments in Stone Bridge Press and Cody's Bookstore, two San Francisco Bay Area institutions. The former is a smartly run independent publisher specializing in Japan-focused books, and the latter was a much-lauded independent local bookstore chain.

Both have long been landmarks of the Bay Area's book scene. Stone Bridge is soldiering on, but Cody's has closed.

The usual suspects are cited as catalysts--poor management, unsustainable investment and debt accrual, archaic labor structures.

But the demise of Yohan in the 21st century may signal something broader and even more worrying: a Japanese public turning increasingly inward, becoming more provincial and less global at a historical moment when it can ill afford to do so."

--Yohan failure a sign of larger worries (continued) ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Autumn in Japanamerica: Art Space Tokyo U.S. Launch

Herewith, a partial and preliminary list of autumn 08 bookings for Japanamerica-related events on the East and West Coasts:
More details forthcoming. Hope you can join us.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monster & Bird

Kaiju monsters battled in Brooklyn and Bird received his annual celebration in Tompkins Square this weekend. Met with NPR folks today in Soho and am looking forward to this autumn's events on both coasts.

On the heels of Gotham Knight, the bi-cultural Batman anime project, Marvel and Madhouse have linked up for a series of anime re-inventions of American comics heroes, due out in 2010. (Thanks to Andrew in Tokyo for the NY Times tip. Full story here.)

Beijing wrapped and the conventions commence. Fall is falling into place.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Japanamerican Devil" in PANDORA

A-G of the Japanamerican Devil's Dictionary, published by Kodansha in PANDORA. Just wrapped H-N for forthcoming Fall releases.

Illustrations by Taketomi-sensei; humble apologies to "bitter Bierce."
(click below to enlarge in two tongues)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Japanamerican KAIJU and Adbusters magazine

I received several calls from the restlessly independent and adroitly irreverent folks at Adbusters magazine at the start of this year. Their goal was to broaden and deepen their coverage of the Asian region in general, and Japan in particular, a goal I naturally laud.

I've now begun contributing stories from and about today's Japan for the magazine's globally-minded editors and readership. My first submission is here:
"We Grew Up Too Comfortable to Take Risks."

What's interesting to me is that I've received emails from readers suggesting that (a) today's Japan is not really as bleak as the nation I've described, and (b) that it's far, far worse. Most of the (a) responses emanate from non-Japanese. The (b)'s are overwhelmingly from Japanese nationals.

Is this a case of domestics overreacting to recent violence in a country whose comparative overall crime rate remains exceptionally low?

Of course, as a peripatetic writer whose anchor is currently planted in US soils, I find myself agreeing with both responses, with all of you, or each and every one of you--and I sincerely appreciate the intelligent, well-reasoned commentary. I'm learning lots.

Speaking of the US-scape: we're now lining up a series of events/presentations set for the autumnal rush, most of which have just been posted on the Japanamerica website. I hope to post additional info here in short order.

Before then, here's an event in which I will not directly participate, even if I want to. This Saturday (8/23) out in Brooklyn, don your gear and hone your moves for the Kaiju Big Battle 2008.

I have been assured by the organizers--practicing kaiju, every one--that the monsters and the fighting are rivetingly real. Hip-tosses optional.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Takehiko Inoue and Hayao Miyazaki for the Japanese

... or at least for those who read Japanese. I'm told by authoritative sources that you don't actually have to be Japanese in order to read the language. Yet I also hear from selfsame sources that you ought to at least know someone who is. Or you ought to try to get to know them. Or be nice to them, at least. Or show a flicker of recognition, like widening one eye, for example.

About a month ago, Brutus magazine, one of Japan's largest circulation twice-monthlies, devoted an entire issue to 40-something manga artist Takehiko Inoue, creator of Slam Dunk and Vagabond. Inoue's work now graces the second-floor walls of Kinokuniya's still-fresh New York outlet on Bryant Park, where he painted his mural live before an audience of entranced media folk.

A writer for Brutus contacted me in the early summer to obtain my comments on Inoue's aesthetic style and his burgeoning presence in the US manga market. The issue was apparently among the magazine's best-selling ever, going back to the printers several times--which had little to do with Inoue, said the eds, and largely reflected reader reaction to my scintillating insights--

(click on pics for larger, reader-friendly size)
--or maybe it was the other way around.

Shortly thereafter, I received a request from the editors of Dankai Punch, a monthly targeting Japan's boomers, for an interview about Hayao Miyazki's reputation in the US. Dankai devoted an entire issue exclusively to Miyazaki's work--timed for publication with the Japanese release of his latest feature, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (no, I'm not at all certain of its title upon its eventual US release).

Yet again I managed to buttress the Japanese print media by kick-starting stellar sales and smashing all house records, or at least all the records in my own house.

(Okay, okay. Maybe that hack Hayao had a hand in it.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back in the Dark Gotham Knight ...

... where it hurts oh so good.

A little Japanamerican riffing on the Batman here.

And the original Yomiuri column:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

SubVersion Anime

These days, anime Festivals, Conventions and Expos conjure images of masses amassing en masse, seas of sequins and flesh ... and so on.

But SubVersion's virgin run this weekend in downtown Portland, Oregon offered something fresh: an intimate venue (the lovingly restored Bagdad Theater above), cozy confines, free food--and a focus on the films over the peripherals. Cosplay contests, forums, panels and presentations are all fine. But focusing on the anime medium felt like a welcome respite from the chaos of trade show extravaganzas.

An additional respite for me: low humidity and temperate air as soon as I hit the tarmac. I feel like a refugee fleeing the stultifying summers of Tokyo and New York, and finding amnesty at last in the Pacific Northwest.

Plus: did I mention the complimentary cuisine?

(Organizers Extraordinaire: Jonathan and Meg.)