Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

A Life Lived in Comics Day 26: That Time I Went to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum

May 15, 2012

Despite my listing the several manga series I follow in Day 24, Japan itself has always held less fascination for me than it seems to for many in the nerd set. Don’t get me wrong—my years of fandom for and later assistance on Usagi Yojimbo has instilled an interest in Japanese history in me, you can’t go through film school without cultivating a love for Ozu and Kurasawa, and I think everyone I know enjoys Miyazaki. But it’s not like the people I’ve known who seemed almost to find in Japanese culture the answer to their own alienation from America’s. Japan the place has never seemed more or less interesting than any of dozens of parts of the world that I’d like to visit.

So it was strange during the years that I dated and briefly lived with a Japanese woman that the first question people would ask me when I mentioned her was, “Oh, do you speak Japanese?” It was just assumed that her ethnicity and culture were part of the attraction, when in fact they were incidental. Though born in Japan, she had come to America at the age of three, and her unaccented English, I gathered, was far stronger than her Japanese, which was frozen at about the middle-school level. In our years together I learned maybe three words, and Japan wasn’t high on her list of priorities either, unless it was to argue that the food is the best in the world and the horror films the scariest.

But so it was that I ended up visiting Japan in October 2006. She went to see her extended family about every year and a half, and it had never really occurred to me to go, as some far more enthusiastic friend or other was always eager, but on this particular trip she asked me to come. My attitude towards travel is, whether I’ve long desired to go or not, if I get the opportunity and can afford it, I should. This is the same reason that a year later I accompanied a friend on a road trip from San Francisco to Fort Bragg, NC, and why, in 1998, I had gone on a school-sponsored summer trip to China for a couple weeks. Similarly, I had never given traveling to China much thought, but had an incredible time, and I’d actually be much quicker to return there than to Japan, for the dual reasons that it felt more different from home and because, 14 years later, I suspect that it’s massively changed from when I was there.

In the years since we split up, Japanese culture has become a bit more present in my life, between assisting on Usagi and starting to read a lot more manga, but at the time my main touchstone was my passion for the work of Osamu Tezuka, whose Phoenix and Buddha had changed my concept of comics during college. Asked what I wanted to do and see while we were there, I deferred to her with one exception: we must visit the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Takarazuka, Tezuka’s hometown. We did a lot of the standard things, too: visited the Imperial palace and the Tsukiji fish market, saw lots of temples, ate takoyaki and Osaka ramen, toured the Sapporo brewery and the Tōei Kyoto Studio Park, where samurai TV shows are filmed, walked Akihabera Electric Town, all that stuff.

But the thing I anticipated was the Tezuka museum. Considered in Japan the God of Manga, Tezuka’s importance to manga and anime has no direct American comparison. It is as if Jack Kirby and Walt Disney were a single person, producing a fantastically outsized number of comics pages (estimates go as high as 150,000) that reinvented the way stories were told in the medium, and going on to become one of the most beloved producers in animation, running a studio that created many of the classics of the genre. At once a brilliant entertainer of children, Tezuka also created strange, dark, experimental work I read again and again when they finally came to America. I’ve since learned that the average manga reader in Japan focuses primarily on what’s new, and older works are not widely read. The exception are Tezuka’s classics like Astro Boy and Black Jack.

We turned out to be perfectly situated for a visit to the museum, as our home base was in Osaka prefecture, and Takarazuka is a short distance away in neighboring Hyōgo prefecture. I remember it being a fairly brief train ride. We had been primed a few days earlier when we discovered the Tezuka Osamu World store in the Kyoto rail station, and there we took pictures with statues of Astro Boy/Tetsuwan Atom and Black Jack, whose series had yet to be published by Vertical, meaning I was only vaguely aware of it (I’ve been rendering Tezuka’s name surname last in Western style, but of course in Japan it’s the other way around).


Walking the Warrior Pilgrimage with Stan Sakai

December 9, 2009

Seems that I’ve been on a Stan Sakai kick of late. (Actually, I have several reviews, not to mention a couple of interviews, that probably should have come before my second Sakai post in as many months, but I am too lazy. Such a bad blogger).

Today, I’ve got an interview with Sakai that I conducted for in May, but which went live today to publicize the recent release of Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo twenty-fifth anniversary graphic novel, Yokai. It’s somewhat shorter than my usual interviews, a little more rigorously edited, and, for obvious reasons, a bit more promotionally minded, but there are still lots of interesting details about Sakai’s artistic process, his influences, and the evolution of the Usagi series.

Plus, in keeping with my last post, another exclusive back-of-the-art doodle!

Usagi Yojimbo’s twenty-fifth anniversary demanded something truly special, and what could mark the occasion better than taking the opportunity to break new ground? Stan Sakai’s covers for the Usagi book collections have showcased his incredible talent with watercolors, but Stan rarely has the chance to paint entire stories. Recently, Stan talked to me about the inspiration for Yokai’s story and the process of taking Miyamoto Usagi’s world from black-and-white to fully painted color. A shorter version of this interview ran in the Yokai graphic novel, but this is the whole deal.

Was Yokai a story you’d been planning for the regular Usagi series, or did you come up with it once you knew you’d be creating this color graphic novel?

I wrote it for the color graphic novel. I wanted the story to be special, because I had never done a painted story on this scale before. Two stories came to mind. One was the return of Jei, one of my more popular characters, and this story about the yokai, the ghosts, goblins, and haunts of Japanese mythology. I needed a standalone story that those unfamiliar with Usagi could enjoy, but that would satisfy the longtime readers as well.

Continue reading at Dark Horse’s Usagi Zone . . .


PS: I promise not to use The Wright Opinion to shill for Dark Horse, but will continue to draw attention to interviews I myself conduct if they’re interesting on the merits, should I do any more.