Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Japanamerica LIVE @ Fukuoka

[photo courtesy of FWU, International Center]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Makoto Shinkai

I first encountered anime auteur Makoto Shinkai's work a few years ago, when a friend handed me a DVD of his omnibus feature 5 Centimeters per Second. My friend urged me to pay attention to the visuals, to the way Shinkai blended photorealism with painterly effects, lending his frames the vivid surrealism of early morning dreams.

My friend was right. Shinkai's artwork was captivating, rendering the stark digital glare of a Tokyo station signboard and the soft pastel hues of cherry blossoms with equal intensity.

But what impressed me most were his stories: three interrelated short fictions narrating the near-miss romance of two would-be lovers, from tentative childhood affection to adult longing and loneliness. I later learned Shinkai was a literature major in college who was deeply moved by the novels and stories of Haruki Murakami.

Shinkai, 39, cites Evangelion, Hideaki Anno's coming-of-age epic of childhood betrayal at the hands of misguided adults, as having taught him "anime doesn't always have to be about crazy movement and a lot of action. Sometimes it is also about the words or even the lack of words, things not being spoken."

I was introduced to Shinkai a year ago at his Tokyo studio. Finishing his latest feature, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, he showed me one of the film's most arresting scenes: a crouching dinosaur-like creature consuming the two young protagonists in one gulp. It reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa, wherein fantastical other worlds threaten to overtake our realities.

Shinkai has been awarded best director by the Association of Media in Digital (AMD) and has taken the Tokyo International Anime Fair's highest honor, yet he remains relatively unknown beyond dedicated anime circles.

That began to change this past fall, when he toured the United States and Britain to meet fans at screenings of Children. Shinkai was forthcoming and self-deprecating while discussing his early days in the digital graphics and gaming industries, and the earth-shattering transformations in Children anticipating the disasters that struck Japan last March.

"I was making the film before the earthquake happened," he told me in an onstage interview in New York. "But things were changing around the world, like the earthquake in Chile, that made a lot of us in Japan think that maybe things would not stay the same. That's why the main character has to go to the underworld. Eventually she'll come back, but there is a sense that maybe some things will be lost forever."

Shinkai's vision of anime as a public art form, engaged with concerns beyond domestic otaku culture, is encouraging at a time when many in the industry have been churning out lightweight series of little consequence to salvage their bottom lines.

"After being alone for so long, I really want to go out and be in the world," he said. "A great way for me to make a commitment to society and participate is to collaborate and create something beautiful."

Arriving in London on his tour was a "triumphant return" for Shinkai. In 2008, after completing 5 Centimeters, he took a year off work to live abroad, largely at the urging of his staff, who thought he needed a rest. The time was transformative, he said.

While he struggled with the language, he found himself seeing the world anew. "The film festival [where Children was screened last fall in London] was very enjoyable, but I was even happier finding a favorite noodle dish in the supermarkets there."

Shinkai believes that today's global audience may possess an even deeper appreciation for anime directors who bother to court them. Japanese fans have grown accustomed to such appearances, he says, while "overseas fans seem more nervous and passionate. Maybe for them it's still a valuable rarity to meet anime directors up close."

Kelts is a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the U.S." (www.japanamericabook.com) and the forthcoming novel "Access."


...on Hayao Miyazaki's / Studio Ghibli's latest US release for my "Pacific Rim Diary" on The Madeleine Brand Show, KPCC/NPR in Los Angeles.  Audio here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Backstage w/ Akiko Yano & Keiko Matsui in NYC

[photo by Jack Leitenberg / Keiko Matsui]

Stellar musicians and performers.  Find Keiko Matsui here.  Find Akiko Yano here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Final Thoughts - The Global Salon: Cities in Japan in The Greene Space

Closing comments from last month's sold-out Japan event at the Jerome L. Greene Space, Soho, New York City, with Akiko Yano, Keiko Matsui, Ian Buruma, Yasuhisa Kawamura and me. Sponsored by WNYC, PEN World Voices and the Consulate General of Japan, NY.
(Had a great, extended conversation with Ian and my pal Kenji at a Soho bar afterward, but it was off the proverbial record.)

Aftershow: Cast and Crew:

Japanamerican reunion (via AP)

Brothers reunited in Japan after six decades apart

Minoru Ohye, right, toasts with his younger brother Hiroshi Kamimura during their reunion Monday in Kyoto, Japan.  AP photo
Minoru Ohye, right, toasts with his younger brother Hiroshi Kamimura during their reunion Monday in Kyoto, Japan. AP photo
KYOTO, Japan (AP) — They no longer speak the same language, but two brothers separated nearly 60 years each think the other hasn’t changed a bit.
Japanese-American Minoru Ohye celebrated his 86th birthday Monday with his only brother after traveling to Japan for a reunion with him.
The brothers were born in Sacramento but were separated as children after their father died in a fishing accident. They were sent to live with relatives in Japan and ended up in different homes.
The reunited brothers hugged in a hotel room and exchanged gifts of California chocolate and Japanese sake. The American brother wore his trademark baseball cap and jeans. The Japanese bother wore a suit and tie.
But the same bright eyes and square jaws were a dead giveaway that they were brothers. They both loved golf and had back pains. They thought the other hadn’t changed a bit.
“If we miss this chance, we may never meet. You never know,” said Ohye, energetic except for a sore knee. “Either he may die, or I may die.”
Separated across the Pacific, their only prior meeting had been a brief one in the mid-1950s when Ohye stopped by Japan while serving in the U.S. Army in the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula.
His brother, Hiroshi Kamimura, 84, was adopted by a Japanese family, grew up in the ancient capital of Kyoto and became a tax accountant. He married and had three sons.
Ohye joined the youth group of the Japanese Imperial Army at 13 and went to Russia, where he was sent to a Siberian coal mine when Japan surrendered. He returned to be with his mother in Yuba City in 1951, and worked as a bookbinder and a gardener.
He became homeless when he failed to collect payment for a restaurant he ran and later sold in the late 1950s.
About 10 years ago, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a welfare service organization for U.S. veterans, found him a spot in the Eskaton Wilson Manor home for the elderly in West Sacramento.
It was Eskaton’s program to grant a wish called “Thrill of a Lifetime” that got Ohye back to Japan.
While others wished for rafting trips and football game tickets, the only thing Ohye wanted was to see his brother again. Eskaton administrator Debbie Reynolds put together a fundraiser for Ohye’s trip.
Kamimura acknowledged it had been difficult to communicate with his brother through telephone calls because he didn’t understand English. They would exchange a lot of “hellos” and then their conversations ended, he said.
“I am happy. He is the only brother I have,” Kamimura said after watching Ohye blow out the candles on a birthday cake at a restaurant. “This may be our last time together.”
Brian Berry, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo who was approached by Reynolds to help with the reunion and got Ohye from the Tokyo airport to Kyoto, was relieved the brothers were together at last.
“Even over time, with all that has been gone through, still the only thing you are thinking about is your family,” he said. “Right when you’re near the end of your life, you are still thinking about your family.”
By Yuri Kageyama. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Why Japan won't f-f-fade away

My thoughts on the latest Japan population decline projections for Monocle radio (w/embedded nod to L'Arc~en~Ciel) @ 36:00 here.