Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More on Murakami & 1Q84 for NPR

More expansive talk about Haruki's reputation in Japan and 1Q84 with dear friend Madeleine Brand for The Madeleine Brand Show on KPCC, the NPR affiliate in Los Angeles.  Audio here.

Extra: Cover of the now-defunct Studio Voice magazine featuring Haruki in the auspicious preceding year of 1Q83 (courtesy of Giant Robot):

Friday, October 21, 2011

**updated: Talk in Tokyo, Oct. 2011

[Sudo, McDonald, Kelts]

Manga and Anime, Japan's Most Important, but Hidden Industries

Time: 2011 Oct 27 12:00 - 14:00

Professional Luncheon
Tadashi Sudo, CEO of
Roland Kelts, Japanese pop-culture Expert & Author of "Japanamerica."
Christopher Macdonald, CEO& Publisher, Anime News Network

Japanese pop culture is on a tear worldwide. Manga and anime, long popular at home and abroad, are becoming an important export business, with even METI and MOFA throwing their support behind the genres. Universities are setting up study courses and archiving collections, while even the sober British Museum staged a manga exhibition recently.

But, once again, an industry that Japan created and developed is increasingly under threat, in particular from the content industries of South Korea and China. In addition, Internet distribution provides a huge audience - but one that is disinclined to pay for content, stunting the Japanese firms that produce it. What is the current situation surrounding one of modern Japan's most important -- but hidden -- industries? And what is its future?

The panelists include Tadashi Sudo, the CEO of; Roland Kelts, an expert on Japanese pop-culture and the author of the book "Japanamerica"; and Christopher Macdonald, the CEO & Publisher of Anime News Network.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

BBC interview on Haruki Murakami & 1Q84

My chat this week with the very sporting Anna McNamee about Haruki Murakami, historical amnesia and Alice in Wonderland on the eve of the release of 1Q84, Books 1 & 2, in the UK.  Book 3 in the UK and the single-volume US edition are due out Tuesday, October 25.

Audio is here.

New England

[rough-cut of latest column for Paper Sky]
Traveling to New England

I have lived in cities as disparate and different as Tokyo, New York, Osaka, London, San Francisco and Anchorage, Alaska.  From each city I traveled regionally, exploring Asia from Japan, Europe from England, the native villages of St. Lawrence Island from Anchorage, and so on.  I have repeated some of those journeys later in life, but most of them I have taken only once.  While I’d love to return to Savoonga, Alaska, for example, a Yupik village of 600 or so in the Bering Sea, I’m not sure if or when I’ll have time to do so before I die.

My most frequent destination, however, has been the six-state northeastern region of the United States known as New England.  Aside from my birth and a few early years spent in New York, and one term attending kindergarten in Morioka, my Japanese grandparents’ home, the bulk of my childhood happened in New England. 

Like much of the US, New England is largely rural, hemmed in by minor mountains to the West, and to the East, the North Atlantic.  I grew up in towns near large grass fields rife with insects and muddy trails, silent chilly brown sands and dull family restaurants.  My parents were never rich, but they spent and saved wisely, and they gave me a childhood largely bereft of conflict.  I spent a lot of time outdoors in safe natural environs.

Two towns became my destinations after I left home for college and for good at age 18: Exeter, New Hampshire and Andover, Massachusetts—small, locally historical communities that boast two of America’s most famous private schools: Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Andover Academy, respectively.  While I attended Exeter for brief periods as a student, and taught there for stretches as a young adult, neither institution had a claim on my family’s residency.  My parents just happened to choose the towns as safe and secure havens for convenient commutes and stable child-rearing.

When I attended college in Ohio, an exotically flat and uncluttered landscape to me at the time, dominated by sky, my awareness of New England became equally exotic.  I began for the first time to see my childhood home as a distinctive place.  The classmates I got to know at Oberlin were from other parts of the US and the world.  They commented upon my accent (an ‘r-less’ New England dialect), my worldviews (provincial), and my tastes in clothing and food.  At Oberlin, many students were card-carrying hippies or hipsters, wearing tattered blue jeans and accelerating their used Volvos with bare feet.  I wore dinner jackets, a beret, and a heavy dark Pea Coat in the winter.  For me, England and Europe were the models of fashion—not the laid-back US West Coast—a stance I’d inherited from New England, though I didn’t know it then.

My father drove me the epic 12 hours from New Hampshire to Ohio and stayed for an overnight.  One of my female Korean-American classmates I'd just met packed him a lunch and several cans of Pepsi for his solo trip home.  When I saw him off, I felt the first sting of a loss and separation that would gradually pierce and infect my life.  I now realize that when I helped him into the driver's seat of the family's Toyota station wagon and watched him drive to the nearby intersection, signal for a left turn and disappear down the highway, it was the first time I felt worried about my father's stamina.  But I didn’t know that then.  I just knew that I’d be traveling back to New England for the winter holidays. I’d see him soon.

Since then, my route back to New England has taken different forms.  I remember catching Amtrak trains from Cleveland to Boston amid snowstorms and multiple delays, alighting in Boston to see my father on the platform, graying and wide-eyed.  Sometimes I flew (how I had the money, I have no idea). On one takeoff, the shuddering plane returned to the runway in Cleveland with an oil leak.  A renowned African-American Oberlin professor I didn't know personally sat next to me and gripped my hand as we chugged through the air, jerkily, then landed smoothly, fire trucks swarming.   I was scared but eerily calm. Potential tragedy, when you’re in your late teens, is entertaining.  What I learned then was that the same event for an older man hints at death. 

I moved to California right after graduation.  Things went downhill—I ran out of money in Berkeley, felt alienated in San Francisco, and got held-up at gunpoint working as a video rental clerk by drug-runners in Oakland.  I returned to New England by air near Christmas, landing amid a snowstorm. 

I returned to my parents’ home in New Hampshire, told them nothing of my travails, and went for a walk in the snow with the family dog, a Welsh terrier, in a nearby parking lot.  I held him close to me as we watched the flakes fall.  He didn't want to run or walk or move at all, excepting his tiny heart beating against my palms. 

Thereafter I moved to New York and graduate school at Columbia.  Traveling to New England became shorter, but no less complicated.  I took Amtrak trains from New York’s Penn Station to Boston’s South Station, eyeing my reflection in the window as we eased away from skyscrapers and into maples, pines and choppy harbors in Connecticut, the longest state en route, however comparatively small.  I felt a mixture of regret and glamour—a newly minted New Yorker still entrapped by his roots in the leafy suburbs up north, no wiser, no richer, but with a Manhattan zip code on his mail. Surely that was worth something?

When I opted for a year in Japan in 1998, I was making a break from my life’s continuum.  Again, I had no idea at the time.  I moved to Osaka to write a story on commission, meaning I’d get paid for writing, not teaching or renting videos.  I considered myself a proverbial New Yorker, and was worried that Japanese cities would be too conservative and too inconvenient for my habits. 

Osaka, and later, Tokyo, would prove me embarrassingly wrong.  To this day, nowhere I’ve been or lived is more urban or convenient than a Japanese city.  Forget New York’s claim to be the city that never sleeps; Japanese cities are simply always, effervescently awake.

Still, whether I’m flying to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Brisbane or Paris, the trek to New England remains my traveler’s cornerstone.  Now it involves a 4-hour road-trip or 5-hour train ride from New York (as domestic flights have become more expensive and less convenient), a 14-hour flight from Tokyo, or a hop-skip-jump itinerary from Sydney to Los Angeles, New York and Boston—and an additional train or bus ride to a tiny town called Ballardvale, which is close enough to my drive-wary retiree parents’ house in Andover. 

Wherever I am, I travel back to New England, its looming pines and dusky sands containing the memories, and the now aged man and woman, my parents, that will be the closest I will ever get to a hometown.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My taidan/panel with Makoto Shinkai @ 2011 NYCC/NYAF

Video playlist here (courtesy of Lawrence Brenner).

Report on the taidan I hosted with anime auteur Makoto Shinkai at the 2011 New York Anime Festival/Comic Con, courtesy of Anime News Network:
[photo by Michael Vito]

Makoto Shinkai was in many places at the New York Comic Con. The director's previous films,Voices of a Distant StarThe Place Promised in Our Early Days, and 5 Centimeters Per Second were screened at the convention, and a showing of his latest, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, was held on Sunday. In between, Shinkai appeared on a panel to converse with Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica.
The panel was introduced by Crunchyroll's Japan office President Vincent Shortino, who announced that Voices of a Distant StarThe Place Promised in Our Early Days, and 5 Centimeters Per Second would all be streaming for free from Crunchyroll over the next week.
Kelts introduced Shinkai, calling him “one of the very few young anime artists who's compared favorably with Miyazaki in Japan.” Shinkai introduced himself in English, mentioning that this was his first time in New York, and that he hoped to visit the Apple store for an iPhone 4S.

[photo by Alex Ninamori]

The two discussed Shinkai's unconventional background, which stemmed from computer-graphics and video games as opposed to anime, where hand-drawn art prevails even when aided by computers. Kelts asked if Shinkai's experience in CGI made him a better director.

“When I first started making these videos, I was an amateur working at a gaming company,” Shinkai recalled. “But I really wanted to make animation, so I just used Photoshop and the other tools that I had. This was around 1998, cameras were really cheap, so I took photos on a digital camera, and I used images of cityscapes as a foundation for the images I needed. I had to do a lot of drawing.” 
[More @ANN here]

Friday, October 14, 2011

NYAF / NYCC Saturday schedule

Firmed up:

10:15 - 11:15 a.m., Japanamerica signing, Autograph Area, Table 7

12:00 - 2:00 p.m., Crunchyroll Live Stream, Both #858

2:45 - 3:45 p.m., In Conversation: Makoto Shinkai & Roland Kelts, Rm. 1A24

4:00 p.m., Japanamerica signing @ Kinokuniya Books, Booth #158

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Manga and jail in N. America

How Japanese manga can land international travelers in jail

A love of Japan and its comic books might get you locked up in North America
Japanese manga or anime character doll

Kinokuniya NYC hosts Japanamerica sales/signings

The fine folks at Kinokuniya NYC are hosting Japanamerica book sales & signings throughout NYAF/NYCC this weekend.  Swing by booth #158 (map) and say hello.

Japanamerica, Shinkai & Crunchyroll @ NYAFF/NYCC

Official Crunchyroll press release for events at NYAF/NYCC this weekend.  More details forthcoming, but it looks like we'll host a Japanamerica  signing and Q&A via their live stream midday Saturday, EST.  (Speaking of--you can check out and comment on their live stream from the Javits Center in NYC here.)

Press Contact:
Public Relations Department
Tel:(415) 796-3560
Fax: (415) 796-3561


Teaming up with legendary anime producer – Makoto Shinkai – and author Roland Kelts, the leader in Asian content distribution gears up for a series of events not to be missed

San Francisco, Calif. (October 11, 2011) – In the city that never sleeps, Crunchyroll is proud to present an exclusive panel and interview session with Makoto Shinkai – director of the stunning hits 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND and Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below at the New York Comic Con and Anime Fair.  To heighten the experience, lecturer and author, Roland Kelts – author of JAPANAMERICA, the incisive look at anime and Japan’s cultural influence on the West – will introduce and lead the discussion with Shinkai. More information can be found at

There will be a press event for Makoto Shinkai on October 15 starting from 11 am.  Following that, a special conversation between Makoto Shinkai and Roland Kelts will be held on October 15 at 2:45 pm EST in room 1A24. On October 16, there will be a screening of Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below starting at 11 am EST in the IGN room, followed by a public signing starting at 2 pm and a VIP signing at 3 pm EST.

Throughout the entire convention weekend, Crunchyroll itself will be hosting a number of events, including its live stream, which will run through the weekend at booth #858, directly across from the Marvel booth.  There will be surprise guests appearing on the live channel, including author Kelts in a real-time Q&A (details TBA), so it is to not be missed.

Crunchyroll will also host an industry panel from 12 to 1 pm on Friday October 14 in room 1A23, which will address recent titles to be seen on its site as well as updates on the company.  Concurrently, Crunchyroll will also be having the following screenings in Room 1A18:

Friday, October 14
Blue Exorcist #1-3

Friday, October 14

Saturday, October 15
Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi #1-3

Crunchyroll premium members have access to the largest anime and drama selection, same-day access for simulcasted titles, no advertisements and viewing up to 720p quality on selected titles. More information about the Crunchyroll membership plan can be found at:

About Crunchyroll, Inc.

Crunchyroll is a leading global video network and developer of social media applications for Japanese anime and Asian media. Through applications like Crunchyroll for iPad, Android and Naruto Shippuden Official, set top boxes, distribution partners and its own streaming site, Crunchyroll delivers officially-licensed content from leading Asian media producers directly to consumers.

Crunchyroll has offices in San Francisco, Calif. and Tokyo, Japan, and is a member of the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA) and Licensing International Merchandisers' Association (LIMA). Founded in 2006, Crunchyroll is funded by leading venture capital firm, Venrock, Japanese entertainment giant TV TOKYO, digital publishing leader Bitway and a group of angel investors representing some of the brightest and most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. More information can be found at

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Haruki Murakami and 1Q84 @ The Christian Science Monitor

[more on Haruki for The Christian Science Monitor]
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's prescient fiction
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami uses his novels to peel back the layered chaos of an uncertain world

By Roland Kelts, Contributor

In Haruki Murakami's world, fish fall from the sky near a Tokyo train station, backyard wells lead to personal and political violence, and a giant frog tells a businessman how to save Tokyo from its next major earthquake. The mundane mingles with the absurd, but neither offers solutions in a universe bent toward chaos.

Mr. Murakami cites Franz Kafka as one of his major influences, yet he warms Kafka's chilly detachment with Japanese earnestness, producing novels that anticipate apocalypse without succumbing to easy cynicism. In Murakami's world, chaos is softened by empathy – a quality in sorrowfully short supply, in fiction or in reality, in our 21st century.

"Everything is uncertain," muses Tengo, the male protagonist of Murakami's forthcoming novel, "1Q84," "and ultimately ambiguous." In Murakami's world, uncertainty is the norm. But once you accept it, his stories suggest, you can live and love accordingly. [more @CSM]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Japanamerica & Makoto Shinkai, Oct. 15, NYAF

@ NYAF/NYCC, this Saturday, Oct. 15, 2.45-3.45 p.m.
More info on full schedule TBA.  See you soon in NYC. 
[click for full size]

The US stomps on its own soldiers in Boston


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

genius in my dreams

[revised edition @ A Public Space]

The first time I mentioned the Nobel Prize to Haruki Murakami, he winced.  “I don’t really care about prizes,” he said.  “What matters to me are my readers.  That’s all.  Once you have your readers, you don’t need to worry about anything else.”

That was a decade ago.  Murakami has been a perennial Nobel candidate for a long time.  He has also treated his readers very well, delivering novels of varying length, short stories and personal essays at a steady clip, appearing in person on university campuses, at literary festivals and in bookstores, and occasionally corresponding directly with lonely souls via the Internet.

More recently, he has been awarded a clutch of literary honors frequently pitched as harbingers of the Nobel: the Kafka Prize in 2006, the Jerusalem Prize in 2009, and this past summer, Spain’s International Catalunya Prize.  Each time, the Japanese media wondered aloud whether the allegedly ‘reclusive’ author would appear to accept his prizes in person.  (More than a few reporters contacted me for an answer.  I never knew.)  And each time, Murakami did, giving speeches in English and suffering the clucking flashes of paparazzi.

In Israel, he braved political antipathy by speaking on behalf of the Palestinians.  In Spain, he criticized his nation’s na├»ve faith in nuclear power. 

Postwar Japan has garnered a reputation for docility, especially after the largely forgotten student uprisings of the late 60s and early 70s were effectively stamped out by the Japanese government abetted by the US CIA. Murakami was a student protester back then (“I battled the police,” he once proudly conceded), and has remained a proverbial outsider in Japan long after his generation’s dissidence died.  While his fellow protesters donned suits and joined Japan Inc, Murakami opened a jazz bar with his wife.  “I felt betrayed,” he says, suggesting roots for his avocation as a novelist.

Since then, Murakami has published 15 books in English (many more in his native Japanese), the latest of which, 1Q84 (partly a nod to Orwell, with the 'q' being both a homonym for the Japanese word for '9' and also denoting a question) is out in the US on October 25.  In keeping with his more recent novels, it’s a sprawling canvas focused on close-ups: a lonely middle-aged male writer whose professional fecklessness and dying father forces him to confront his perilous state, and a lonely female assassin, whose steely professionalism and success threaten to destroy her soul.  Both inhabit a world riddled with trap-doors of corruption, violence and everyday uncertainty.

Murakami is a seasoned pro: He has been publishing novels since 1979.  But part of his allure is that he rarely feels like one.  Brilliant narrative exposition and set pieces are wedged between amateurish snatches of dialog that go nowhere.  Characters digress carelessly, and their author often indulges them. 

This is clearly essential to Murakami’s appeal.  He is a genius who seems just like the rest of us.  The most common reaction to his work I have heard from readers on both sides of the world is: He knows my dreams.

We’ll know Thursday if the Nobel committee feels the same way.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Japanamerica @NYAF Oct. 13-16 w/Makoto Shinkai

On board for the 2011 New York Anime Festival / Comic Con, October 13-16.  I am honored to be conducting a taidan, or live onstage conversation/interview, with anime auteur Makoto Shinkai (5 Cm Per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices ...) on Saturday.  I will also be participating in assorted book signings/meet & greets.  Details forthcoming.

If you're in town and near the Javits Center, please join us and say hello -- or even just 'hi.'