Monday, July 23, 2018

Feminism, motherhood and anime: Mari Okada's MAQUIA

Motherhood in modern anime


Screenwriter, author and newly minted anime director Mari Okada shrugs and smiles as she and her entourage burst through a door behind me 15 minutes late for our meeting. We’re in a conference room on the ground floor of The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in downtown Los Angeles, a building famous for its cameos in hit films and TV series (“True Lies,” “CSI”) and for its bewildering interior layout.

“We didn’t know there was another entrance to this room,” explains one of her handlers. Okada, sporting a floral print dress, puts a hand to her lips and emits a giggle.

It’s not what I’d expected. In her autobiography, “From Truant to Anime Screenwriter: My Path to ‘Anohana’ and ‘The Anthem of the Heart,'” recently published in English by J-Novel Club, the 42-year-old Okada tells her coming-of-age story as a rural hikikomori (shut-in) in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. She was awkward and unhygienic, endured sporadic bullying, got into fights with boys, dropped out of school, and was nearly knifed to death by her divorced and disapproving mother.

Self-loathing humor bleeds through the book (“Okada, you’re a failure of a human being,” she is once told and continues to remind herself), an unsparing portrait of the artist as an asocial and ill-equipped young woman.

Mari Okada

NHK is adapting Okada’s autobiography into a live-action TV special starring former AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda and set to air in September. Okada is writing the screenplay, which will also feature footage from her anime films and series.

But that’s not why Okada is in LA. Her directorial debut, the anime feature “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms,” had its U.S. premiere on July 6 at Anime Expo, North America’s largest anime convention, before it rolled out in limited release around the country last Friday. The consummate loser — who spent her youthful years hiding in her futon, wearing days-old underwear and T-shirts while ingesting a mix of manga, video games, and Camus and Tanizaki novels — has embarked on a promotional tour, stepping into the spotlight for the first time to sell her work. And when she is finally seated across from me at a small round table, she is disarmingly candid.