Friday, September 25, 2009

NYAF official schedule

My NYAF official sched is as follows:
NYAF Japanamerica sched:
9/25, 5:15-6:15, Yoshiyuki Tomino (GUNDAM)
9/26, 12:15-1:15, AKB48
9/27, 11:15-12:15, Yui Makino (Tsubasa Chronicle)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Gundam, girl-power AKB48 and this weekend's NYAF

My new column for the Daily Yomiuri (co-hosted by 3:AM Magazine) covers Gundam's creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino, and girl-power via AKB48--both of whom are in town right now to prep for appearances at this weekend's New York Anime Festival at the Javits Center in Manhattan. I'll be hosting panels with Tomino-san, AKB48 and voice actress Yui Makino. (Full schedule forthcoming.)

Special thanks to NYAF Director Peter Tatara for his time and insights.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Mecha auteur and mega girl group hit New York

This evening in New York, I will have the privilege of introducing and conversing with Yoshiyuki Tomino, veteran anime creator, director, screenwriter and novelist. Tomino is most famous for his now 30-year-old seminal mecha anime masterpiece, Mobile Suit Gundam. He has been making the rounds of late, granting public appearances and interviews both in Japan and overseas, and speaking out on topics as diverse as video games and world peace. Gundam, too, has resurfaced--most literally as a life-size, 18-meter-tall statue in Odaiba, Tokyo.

Organizers anticipated 1.5 million visitors to their gigantic giant robot. An estimated 4.15 million turned up over the statue's 40-day life span, which ended with its ceremonial dismantling earlier this month.

At least one couple even got married between its massive feet.

Tomino is in New York this weekend to participate in the third annual New York Anime Festival (NYAF), among the United States' largest and most media-friendly celebrations of Japanese popular culture. But while he and his giant robot are both consecrated classics at home, they may be yesterday's news--or not even newsworthy--for many of today's American otaku.

"Tomino is on the same level as Hayao Miyazaki," says Peter Tatara, NYAF's 26-year-old director of programming. We are at a folksy Japanese luncheon in Manhattan, where my shrimp-fry set is as much a sign of hybrid Japan's cultural presence in New York as the tower of nori seaweed perched atop his mushroom spaghetti.

"As soon as we knew he would come, we booked him," Tatara says. "But although he is legendary, the U.S. fan base is so young right now. They're 13 to 15, and skew slightly female. Tomino's name won't register at all with our younger fans."

To bridge the gap, Tatara has booked AKB48. [more here ; also at 3:AM]

Friday, September 11, 2009

@ NYAF, Sept. 25-27, w/Yoshiuki Tomino (Gundam), AKB48 & Yui Makino (Tsubasa)

from Medium At Large
Roland Kelts Comes To NYAF!

"I have the great honor of announcing that Roland Nozomu Kelts will be attending this year's NYAF! Roland is a half-Japanese American writer who divides his time between New York and Tokyo and publishes in both English and Japanese. He is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US. He is also a lecturer at the University of Tokyo, a contributing editor and writer for "Adbusters" magazine and "A Public Space" literary journal, and a columnist for "The Daily Yomiuri" in Japan. His essays and stories can be found in the books "A Wild Haruki Chase," "Gamers," "Kuhaku," "Playboy's College Fiction," "Art Space Tokyo," "Zoetrope" and others.

He is the Editor in Chief of the
"Anime Masterpieces" screening and discussion series.

His forthcoming novel is called "Access," and when he is not writing, reading, lecturing or traveling, he can be found playing the drums in his band.

Mr. Kelts will appear at NYAF to introduce Yoshiyuki Tomino on his Friday panel as well as moderate AKB48's Saturday panel and Sunday's Yui Makino Q&A."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My review of "Tears in the Darkness" in Bookforum

I've just reviewed Tears in the Darkness, a capacious, brilliantly narrated account of the Bataan Death March in World War II, featuring interviews with Japanese, American and Filipino veteran and civilian survivors. Former NYT correspondent Michael Norman and his wife, author and NYU professor Elizabeth M. Norman, spent ten years researching events surrounding and involving the largest ever US military surrender and one of the most brutal and sadistic POW horrors in recorded history. The result is a riveting book that is as artfully structured and well written as it is excruciating. John Dower (Embracing Defeat) and Herbert Bix (Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan), in particular, arguably raised the bar for English-language books on the Pacific War by conducting extensive research and interviews in Japan and with the Japanese. The Normans rise to the challenge admirably.
Tears conveys our capacity for stark inhumanity with novelistic intimacy. My review is out in this month's Bookforum.


Atrocity Exhibition


"The fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, remains the single largest surrender of United States military forces in history, with roughly seventy-six thousand soldiers (most of them Filipino allies) handed over to Japanese captors. Japan’s attack on America’s Clark Air Base in the Philippines destroyed an entire airfield of unprotected planes and unprepared men. While the Pearl Harbor attack of four months earlier is universally acknowledged as a watershed moment of US involvement in the Pacific theater, Bataan, with its less heroic mix of humiliation at the hands of the enemy and betrayal by those in command, has remained shrouded in shame.

The aftermath of Bataan’s fall brought an event arguably greater magnitude and horror than the troops’ surrender: the so-called Bataan Death March, a sixty-six-mile trek to prison camps in Luzon forced on the prisoners of war amid excruciating heat and murderous violence. The captives’ ordeal lasted well beyond the march proper—survivors were dispatched to hellish prison camps in the Philippines, and from there into overstuffed, underventilated holds of creaky transport ships bound for detention facilities on the Japanese mainland, where men were treated as slave laborers. Throughout, many died for simple want of water. The misery would end only with Japan’s surrender three years later, after the firebombing of its major cities and the decimation wrought by two atomic bombs.

Tears in the Darkness is far more humane and capacious than its often-brutal source material would lead readers to expect. Authors Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman frame their story in multiple contexts. A Montana-born cowboy type named Ben Steele is their protagonist, but to the authors’ credit, they never exploit his story for pathos or easy answers. He is a true survivor, with all the ugly guilt and second-guessing that entails: “It’s survival of the fittest,” Steele realized early on in the march while hoarding a single canteen of water. Nor does his individual saga obscure the key questions at the heart of the book: Why and how could this happen? ..."

[more here]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On Japanese simplicity and aesthetics in Adbusters

This is a short series of three related but discrete meditations on simplicity, minimalism and recycling commissioned by my editors at Adbusters magazine. The series was published to accompany a longer feature by my friend Amelia Newcomb, senior editor at the Christian Science Monitor, exploring the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, what some call 'the art of impermanence,' celebrating the bare essentials, humbleness and eloquent ruin. Amelia visits the town of Kamikatsu, whose residents seek to banish all waste by 2020. You can read her excellent feature story here.

Some readers of the online version of this series understandably seem to think the three segments comprise an organic whole, but that's not the case. The three independent short pieces were interspersed with Amelia's feature in the magazine's print edition, just as intended, and should be read separately. Had I written them as a single, coherent article, they would contain many more segueways and qualifications that the brief of 250-word shorts did not allow.

Here's the opening salvo, so to speak:

Japanese Simplicity

"Japanese architect Tokujin Yoshioka compared his native sense of design to a cube of tofu. Upon first encounter, the smooth, white, slightly pocked surface might appear inorganic or even inedible. But the first bite unleashes a richness of flavor and exquisite texture that can only come from hours of careful preparation.

From the outside tofu looks simple, almost unassuming: a block of soft pale stuff defined by its absences. There is no color, distinctive shape or scent to associate with it. But the act of eating fresh tofu – from the delicacy required when selecting a bite-sized cube with your chopsticks to avoid squishing it into bits, to the patience demanded of your palate to savor the subtleties of its taste – is unique and unrivaled.

So it goes with Japanese aesthetics, which are so often characterized by what’s missing. In traditional Noh theater (which dates back to the 14th century), the near lack of movement on the stage is critical to the desired dramatic effect. And there are no garish bouquets in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement: just spindly stems and the hollow spaces between them, accentuating the occasional touches of floral color. In a three-line haiku, the white spaces surrounding the text are as eloquent as the printed aspect of the poem’s expression.

It has become de rigueur in our age to speak of leaving “small footprints” on the planet. In Japan, an archipelago slightly smaller than the state of California, “less is more” has been a tenet for centuries. As a senior professor at the University of Tokyo once told me, “the only way to leave a smaller footprint would be to die.”" [read the other two here]

Sunday, September 06, 2009