Saturday, November 21, 2009

My latest for the Yomiuri: Obama and Perry bow

My latest column in the Daily Yomiuri in Japan--on Pres. Obama, Commodore Perry, and the new Asia:

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Soft power evolution from Perry's day to Obama's

Less than a week before U.S. President Barack Obama touched down in Tokyo last Friday, I took the train to Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, the tiny port city at the tip of the Izu Peninsula famous today for its beaches, seafood and hot springs. But 156 years ago, Shimoda earned fame for another reason: It was the landing site of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry and his Black Ships, a squadron of four military vessels equipped with threatening cannons and aiming to open Japan to international trade.

At the time, Japan's Tokugawa shogunate had successfully shut the nation's shores to the world for nearly 300 years. Perry, with his technologically advanced hardware and a letter of peaceful intentions from U.S. President Millard Fillmore, succeeded in his mission. The first Japan-U.S. treaty was signed, and Japan opened to world trade, partly in response to Western technological prowess, and partly in reaction to the press of what we now call globalization.

Today, Shimoda is a quiet place, and I was warmly welcomed by smart hotel clerks who helped me visit the area's major historical monuments and museums. My hotel room overlooked the ocean. The food was excellent, and a hot spring was offered at no extra cost on the top floor, with a picture-perfect view of the Pacific.

Among the displays of early encounters between the Japanese and Americans, I focused on the graphics--numerous mangalike watercolor portraits of big-nosed, hairy-faced Americans with long legs and vast heads of wild hair wandering amid lean, spindly-legged Japanese. One sequence is particularly memorable: American soldiers laughing at a display of Japanese strength, featuring two sumo wrestlers grappling on a beach, and a subsequent portrait of a sumo wrestler flipping an American soldier over his shoulder--eliciting laughter from all on hand. [more HERE, and co-hosted by 3:AM magazine HERE]

US Commodore Perry bowing before the Tokugawa shogunate/Samurai, circa 1853.

US President Obama bowing before Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, circa 2009.

the PONYO watch ...

... courtesy of Studio Ghibli.

new review of Japanamerica

Big thanks to Mr. M. Douglas for the latest enthusiastic review of Japanamerica, recently posted by the kind folks at

Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded The U.S.

Author: M. Douglas
Published: 10/19/09

Roland Kelts is a fiction and nonfiction writer, an editor of the literary journal A Public Space, and a lecturer at the University of Tokyo. His 2007 book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. explores the conceptual history regarding the use of Japanese pop culture and its influence within the Western world.

Serving as both an insightful and personal take on the infatuation of Japanese pop culture within the realm of Western consumers, author Roland Kelts’s book Japanamerica gives a broad overview of the what, how, and why of the American experience regarding the Japanese pop culture phenomenon. While not attempting to answer every question concerning the matter, Kelts selectively chooses various key areas to address and fundamentally builds upon factual truth amidst personal stories. From cosplaying to the Japanese domestic animation market, Japanamerica gives the reader a plethora of topics to delve into and think about. [more HERE]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monocle radio interview w/Tyler Brule on manga and Japanamerica

Had a blast this weekend chatting on the radio with Tyler Brule, founder and editor of Monocle magazine, based in the UK, about manga in Japan and Japanamerica--and my forthcoming novel, Access. You can hear it here, with the intro @ 1:00 and the entire conversation @ 22:00:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Redline" anime from Madhouse--in ANIMATION MAGAZINE

Koike and Ishii in Locarno, Switzerland

Ribbon-cutting for debut of "Redline"

Heart Like a Wheel -- ANIMATION MAGAZINE

Sunday, October 25, 2009 By: Roland Kelts

Redline, Takeshi Koike’s heady new anime feature, embraces the car culture of the West.

Two years ago the staff at Madhouse, one of Japan’s most adventurous animation studios, sat me down in a screening room in west Tokyo. A sequence of spasmodic images blazed across the screen: long sleek race cars burning past elaborate robots and rubber-faced aliens; mechanical ships soaring, bursting into flames and smashing into skyscrapers—and, most memorably, contorting humanoid faces with bulging eyes and curdled lips, grimacing and shrieking. The action ended as abruptly as it began: with a slashing crimson silhouette of a drag racer and a thin red band bearing the title, Redline.

The five-minute trailer soon appeared on the Internet and at successive Tokyo International Anime Festivals. Buzz and curiosity swelled. And after six years in development, Redline finally had its world premiere this summer at the prestigious Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. [Read more HERE]

Friday, November 06, 2009

Japanamerica in VANITY FAIR: How Japanese cute conquered America

“There’s no doubt that cuteness has been a part of the Japanese aesthetic since the postwar years,” says Roland Kelts, the author of the 2006 book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. “One theory, which has been proposed by a lot of Japanese artists and academics, is that, after the humiliation and emasculation of Japan in the postwar years, Japan developed this quasi-queer position of ‘little brother’ or ‘little boy.’ If you become ‘little brother’ or ‘little boy,’ the only way you can get big brother’s or fat man’s attention is by being so cute or puppy-like that he has to take care of you.” [more HERE]