Saturday, April 22, 2017

KOTSUAGE, my story about grief in 2 cultures, for ENDPAIN


KOTSUAGE, by Roland Kelts
Photos by Yuki Iwanami

The doctor's pencil drawing reminded me of one of those Etch A Sketch toys from the 70s. Its gray lines were asymmetrical and squiggly or squared off like sidewalk curbs. Other times they looped from what I guessed were the body’s nether regions back up to the heart.

He held the sheet of paper to the window’s hazy light. “It’s really just plumbing,” he said.

He was the handsome younger surgeon, swarthy and Mediterranean-looking, and what he was showing us, my younger sister and me, was a solution to the problems they’d found in our father’s chest. Until our meeting that morning, the problem had been singular: an ascending thoracic aortic aneurysm, a swelling of his heart’s central artery that could be life-threatening if untreated.

But when they injected dye into his chest to get a clearer sense of the problem, the problem became plural. The procedure was called a cardiac catheterization, and it transformed his arteries into a multi-colored subway map, where you could see the blood routes that were slowed or nearly blocked.

Monday, April 10, 2017

On Hollywood "whitewashing," Scarlett Johansson & "Ghost in the Shell"

My interview with NPR's Eric Molinksy on Hollywood "whitewashing" in casting Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action adaptation of "Ghost in the Shell." (NB: Her mother will be Japanese, Kaori Momoi.) For Eric's podcast, "Imaginary Worlds."






Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Anime goes rural with P.A. Works, for The Japan Times


For the past few years, the beginning of July has found me on a flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles to attend Anime Expo (AX), the largest annual North American convention devoted to Japanese popular culture, and its related industry-only event, Project Anime (PA). Both continue to break attendance records. This year, AX tallied 100,420 unique attendees, while PA brought together 102 international anime convention organizers with studio executives and their staff from Japan.

Aside from the personal encounters with the latest crop of cosplayers (anime and manga fans dressed in costume) and other fans, the events afford valuable opportunities to network with industry players and learn how the cultures and their media are changing.

Among first-time participants this year was Progressive Animation Works (P.A. Works), an anime studio unusually based in rural Nanto, Toyama Prefecture. The president and two employees were on hand to celebrate the company’s 15th anniversary, promote the July 4 Netflix worldwide debut of its first mecha series, “Kuromukuro” (Black Corpse), and see what anime’s future may look like outside of Japan.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Frederik L. Schodt and new manga biography, "The Osamu Tezuka Story," for The Japan Times

Drawing on the past of Osamu Tezuka


By ROLAND KELTS

In 1977, American author and translator Frederik L. Schodt and three friends formed a manga translation group in Tokyo, with the then-quixotic dream of introducing Japanese comics to a global readership. Schodt had arrived in Japan in 1965, courtesy of a father in the United States Foreign Service. He returned in 1970 to attend university after a short stint in the U.S. At the time, manga were everywhere in Japan, he says, and a lot more fun to read than textbooks.

Schodt became addicted to the gag-and-parody series published in boys’ magazines. But one day a friend loaned him a copy of Osamu Tezuka’s epic 12-volume “Phoenix” — and he was stunned. “It made me realize that the work of Japanese manga artists was sometimes approaching the best in literature and film,” he says.

So he and his translation team went straight to Tezuka Productions to get permission for their debut project. To their surprise, the artist, already a celebrity in Japan, known as “the god of manga” for hit titles such as “Astro Boy” and “Black Jack,” greeted them personally and said yes.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Godzilla returns to Japan after 12 years

Godzilla Resurgence: Japan Reboots Its Most Iconic Monster

After a twelve-year hiatus, Godzilla returns to theaters in Japan this July, and could be more relevant than ever.

By Jonathan DeHart


If the trailer released in April is anything to go by, Godzilla Resurgence (Shin Gojira), could set a new bar for the series.

Set to a dramatic musical score and devoid of dialog, the minute and a half of footage teases viewers with scenes of epic destruction, as Godzilla looms above, swaying what appears to be the largest tail in the series’ history. Fleets of tanks, helicopters and battleships unleash a vicious onslaught of firepower against the gigantic, irradiated lizard – to no avail – as panicked military and government officials frantically formulate a game plan and terrified citizens flee for cover.

As the 29th installment in the monster’s sprawling filmography is being met with widespread anticipation, it begs the question: What gives Godzilla so much staying power?

“Godzilla resonates because it’s a great character, visually, acting-wise, all the ways that characters become great. It is a great anthropomorphic representation of forces beyond human control,” Matt Alt, author of numerous books on Japanese culture, including Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide,  told  The Diplomat.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Obama, Hiroshima and the view from Japan, for The Christian Science Monitor

For Japanese, Obama's Hiroshima visit is historic – but complicated


Obama toured Hiroshima's Peace Museum Friday, a move strongly supported by survivors of the first atomic bomb. But his trip stirred up tough questions about how Japan treats its own history.

By ROLAND KELTS, Contributor

TOKYO — As Japanese parsed the meaning of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on Friday, virtually all agreed it was historic. But that is where the consensus ​ends.

The controversy in the United States over whether he would apologize for the bombs dropped in August 1945 over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was answered unequivocally: He did not. But here in Japan, ​the event was being received with considerable skepticism, even as the city of 1.2 million prepared for Mr. Obama's tour of its Peace Memorial Museum – called "gut-wrenching" by Secretary of State John Kerry last month – and his speech near its cenotaph.

​Japan is acutely sensitive to its history as the only nation to have experienced the devastation of nuclear weapons. Memorial ceremonies take place every August and are broadcast solemnly on network television. Yet Obama's visit shines a spotlight on uncomfortable and potentially unanswerable questions about a deeper national identity crisis stemming from World War II: Was Japan primarily an aggressor or a victim?​ And if the president’s purpose was not to apologize, then what was it?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Manga pioneer Viz Media's 30th anniversary, for The Japan Times


photo courtesy of Bjoern Eichstaedt

By ROLAND KELTS

This summer, Viz Media, LLC, North America’s first-ever distributor of Japanese popular culture, turns 30. Founded in 1986 by Seiji Horibuchi, who has since moved on to other projects, the company is now housed in the so-called Twitter building in downtown San Francisco, and boasts the largest library of Japanese media content outside of Japan.

But don’t expect buses festooned with Viz banners circling through town. Viz plans to celebrate through events with and for fans, says Chief Marketing Officer Brad Woods. That means special offers at North American anime cons, starting with July’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles and Comic Con in San Diego, and rolling out through autumn 2016.

“We’re not going to throw a ridiculous party,” Woods says. “We just want to thank the fan base. That’s what it comes down to. A high-five for the people involved who made us.”

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Live in NYC at Parsons New School on May 10: The Roots of Manga

Roland Kelts, May 10, 2016 at 7pm

The 156th meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday,  May 10, 2016 at 7pm at Parsons The New School for Design, 2 West 13th Street, in the Bark Room (off the lobby). Free and open to the public.


Roland Kelts on The Hybrid Roots of Manga:
How the influx of American and other Western cultural artifacts after World War II evolved into a form of expression whose visual and narrative characteristics are today considered distinctively Japanese.


Roland Kelts is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Japanamerica. His articles, essays and fiction are published in The New Yorker, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Zoetrope: All Story, The New York Times, Newsweek Japan, Guernica, The Guardian and The Japan Times, among others. He is also a frequent contributor to CNN, the BBC, NPR and NHK. He is a visiting scholar at Keio University and contributing editor of Monkey Business, Japan’s premier literary magazine. His forthcoming novel is called Access.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Live in NYC, 4/27 - 4/30

Authors: Hideo Furukawa, Mieko Kawakami, Rebecca Brown, Linh Dinh
Editors: Ted Goossen, Roland Kelts, Motoyuki Shibata
*All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

  • April 27 Wed, 6:30pm: New York University (7 East 12th Street, Room 321, New York, NY)
  • April 28 Thur, 6pm: Kinokuniya Bookstore (1073 Ave of the Americas, New York, NY) *Brown and Dinh will not appear at this event
  • April 29 Fri, 7pm: BookCourt (163 Court Street bet. Pacific & Dean Sts., Brooklyn, NY)
  • April 30 Sat, 2pm: Asia Society (725 Park Avenue at 70th St.) : Monkey Business: Japan/America Writers’ Dialogue. Ticket $15
MONKEY FB



Sunday, April 17, 2016

Anime goes live, for The Japan Times



By ROLAND KELTS

The first time I attended AnimeJapan, the industry’s annual spring showcase in Odaiba, Tokyo, it was called the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Members of the public couldn’t enter during the first two days, amateur cosplay (costume play) was prohibited, and while there were some presentations, most of the offerings were brochures, catalogs and swag bags. It was primarily a trade show and almost everything was printed in Japanese.

Not so at last month’s AnimeJapan 2016, where five stages kept the main halls booming with live music, variety shows, voice-acting demonstrations, panels and seminars. One stage hosted an anime career counseling center. Another presented a nearly nonstop lineup of mascots and singalongs for parents and kids under 12.

An expanded Cosplayer’s World section replete with dressing rooms, stage sets and an outdoor platform encouraged fans to pose and preen, then eat anime-inspired cuisine at an adjacent food court. Most of the signs and exhibitions had English translations, and often Chinese and Korean. The business area was in a separate hall entirely — soberly lit, filled with information booths and roundtables, comparatively hushed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Satoshi on Monkeys in Manila

Artist and writer Satoshi Kitamura's illustrated account of the Monkey Business team in Manila.