Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

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Katsuhiro Otomo / AKIRA Exhibition – Gengaten

For me this must be the exhibition of the century: a 3,000 piece gallery display of the work of Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the legendary AKIRA manga and, of course, animated adaptation. Also on display will be Kaneda’s famous red bike, and I’ve heard they even let you sit on it! The red jacket is also available, and you can wear it too apparently. Included in the exhibition are ALL of the original pages and drawings that were used to create the whole manga series of books, some 2,300 of them. The exhibition is being held at 3331 Arts Chiyoda which is a gallery converted from a high school located not too far from Akihabara, north of Suehirocho metro station on the Ginza line. It runs until the end of May, so surely this one is not to be missed. It’s probably worth coming from overseas especially to just see this exhibition! All proceeds will go to charities supporting victims of the Tohoku disaster.

 

Illustration in Japan

Japanese Illustration

Looking through a collection of recent photos, I realised I had quite a few pictures I’d taken of signs and logos where I really liked the illustration they used. That lead me to realise that this is a major reason why I choose to live in Tokyo. The visual language of the Japanese would be considered so esoteric by people back in the UK. For me, it’s enigmatic and familiar at the same time, often incorporating European and American iconography that is then twisted or exaggerated or even overlayed with oriental elements to align with the tastes of the Japanese. The above rabbit motif for example I saw on the sign above a cleaners, and the below image is stuck to the door of my elevator in my apartment building.

Japanese Illustration

It’s basically warning you to avoid getting your hand trapped in the elevator door. This overlaps somewhat with another area of visual communication loved by the Japanese: diagrams and infographics. These can be found everywhere, from leaflets to toilets, even on restaurant menus. Here’s a typical example:

Japanese Illustration

Although the above diagram looks pretty hard to fathom, there are much worse to be found, especially in pamphlets and promotional material from banks and mobile phone companies. I don’t think anyone understands them, they just look reassuringly informative. The next one I took outside a restaurant in Kayabacho. It’s obviously a Sumo wrestler, so often associated with food, but I just liked the style of the way it was drawn. If you were so inclined, you could easily create a flickr set full of interesting restaurant signs from Tokyo. Sometimes you even get robotic crabs or mechanized moving chopsticks lifting noodles out of a ramen bowl. White, back-lit boxes like this one are very common though.

Japanese Illustration

One place you might not expect to find good illustration is on a carton of milk, but in Japan it even finds its way onto those. Like in the following example which is a mark for the Japanese milk industry. It’s similar to the rabbit at the top of this post in the sense that it’s got all the hallmarks of vector-based illustration software written all over it (literally). Even so, it’s well executed and I liked it when I noticed it on the side of my carton of milk I bought from the supermarket. I think it was Meiji brand.

Japanese Illustration

One final one I wanted to post is one I’ve been seeing everyday on the train since Suntory started this new campaign to promote its black oolong tea as a health product. According to the scary looking guy in the next picture you can reduce the amount of fat your body gains when eating fatty foods by drinking it. Love this character. He’s obviously from an old animation show but I don’t know which one. Please let me know if you know who this guy is:

Japanese Illustration

UPDATE: I’ve been told that this guy is actually a slightly modified version of Boris Badenov from 60’s animation Boris and Natasha. He may also have appeared in Rocky & Bullwinkle? Thanks to Melissa Pouridas for the info.

UPDATE 2: Another reader (check the comments thread) has told me that this character is from a manga and anime and his name is The Laughing Salesman or Warau Serusuman (笑うセールスマン). I watched a couple of episodes and this guy is seriously disturbing. Whether or not the character was inspired by Boris Badenov is open to debate. Warau Serusuman first appeared in the manga BIG COMIC in 1968 as Black Salesman and Boris Badenov first appeared in Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1959. Boris’ hat and trenchcoat is very generic so it could be argued that the link is tenuous at best. Thanks to British artist Wil Overton for the info this time.

Here is an episode for you:


TV アニメ「笑ゥせぇるすまん」 第1話 「たのもし… 投稿者 spyagent0011

UPDATE 3: On the salesman’s business card, his name reads Moguro Fukuzou – a very strange name in Japanese, but his real name all the same, and his occupation reads Kokoro no Sukima (ココロのスキマ) which I think means cleansing of the heart. So, he’s a quasi-supernatural character who spiritually purifies base and vulgar salarymen!

 

New Studio Ghibli Movie, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara

Kokuriko Zaka Kara

When I was at the cinema this week, I saw the trailer for the new Studio Ghibli movie Kokuriko-Zaka Kara (From Kokuriko Hill), due out in Japan this summer (2011). Unfortunately UK, US and the rest of the world probably won’t get to see it until much later – as much as a year judging by what’s gone on with The Borrower Arrietty, which has now finally got a cinema release date for 29th July 2011 in the UK.

It would seem that this new movie is about the life of a girl living in Yokohama, the large port city conjoined with Tokyo. In the story, based in the 60’s, her father had gone missing at sea and her mother often worked abroad as a photographer so she spends her time hanging out with friends in the many school clubs and after school activities common for students in Japan. When the time comes for the school clubhouse to be demolished to make way for preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the friends unite to defend it from the wrecking ball.

There’s absolutely no way of passing judgement on this until it comes out this summer, but I’m disappointed by the lack of supernatural themes, wizards, giant beasts, airships, robots, ghosts and so on, and there’s more than an outside chance that this could be a schmaltzy and overly sentimental offering from the once great studio.

EDIT: I’m just messing around because actually, I was a big fan of Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro-Poro.

 

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato

If you hurry to the cinema in Tokyo now, you can still catch the live action version of the original animation series Space Battleship Yamato. It was released in cinemas around December 1st but will continue throughout January. I’d actually meant to post something about it before Christmas, but forgot, what with the mayhem of celebrations. Not that it’s a big deal though, as I’ve heard negative reviews and, looking at the trailer, it seems like it’s going to be one hell of a cheesy movie! On the other hand though, the design of the Yamato stays roughly the same, adhering the uniquely Japanese tendency in sci-fi to give existing or traditional technology futuristic capabilities. On the bridge of the Yamato is the captain compete with naval uniform and hat, after all, the Yamato was based on the real World War II battleship of the same name. And if you take a look at Galaxy Express 999, you can see an intergalactic steam train. You can also see blimps and propeller planes from a parallel universe in some of the works of Studio Ghibli. This is something I really like about Japanese anime and sci-fi, although I probably won’t be going to see this live action version of Space Battleship Yamato. Steven Tyler has done the soundtrack and it’s full of cheesy rock ballads, which is an immediate fail. Here’s the trailer:

 

Karigurashi no Arrietty

Karigurashi no Arrietty

There’s a new Studio Ghibli movie coming out and it looks to be loosely based on the classic, British children’s book The Borrowers. This isn’t the first time a Ghibli movie has been based on children’s books written in the UK either; Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones.

The title of the movie is going to be 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (Karigurashi no Arrietty) which translates as Arrietty the Borrower – the official website is here, for what it’s worth. It will be directed by Hiroaki Yonebayashi, and not by the great Hayao Miyazaki, although Miyazaki will be responsible for writing the script. Apparently, the idea for the movie has been discussed before a long time ago by Miyazaki and his team, but only now is it being put into production. Miyazaki stepping back from the directing duties is interesting, as he has already retired once before and looked to be trying to appoint individuals capable of carrying his legacy forward, most famous of which being his son, Goro Miyazaki who took directorial duties on the movie Gedo Senki – Tales from Earthsea (which was also loosely based on a series of books by American author, Ursula K. Le Guin). As he relinquishes control on Karigurashi no Arietty it will be interesting to see if he will be able to keep his hands off the drawings and animation all the way through production, without seizing control of at least one of these aspects as he has been alledged to have done on past features (where he was supposedly not going to be involved in either).

Finally, the story (in a nutshell) is going to be about a boy living in a house in Koganei, Tokyo (the real-life location of Studio Ghibli) who has a tiny girl called Arrietty living under the floorboards of his house, and presumably she ‘borrows’ stuff.

 

Miyamoto Musashi Anime

People who know their Samurai will know who this guy is. Famed for being a ferocious swordsman who fought with a long sword and an oar used for rowing, he most famously slayed Sasaki Kojiro in a duel of swords. Now, the studio behind the anime cutaways in Kill Bill vol.1 returns to tell the story, writing courtesy of Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell)! Can’t wait. Here’s the trailer for now.

 

Darling wa Gaikokujin

Darling wa Gaikokujin

Darling wa Gaikokujin (ダーリンは外国人), which roughly translates as My Darling is a Foreigner, is a manga series that deals with the author Saori Oguri’s life as a Japanese woman married to an American man living in Japan. The reason I’m writing about it is that I’ve been watching an animated version on the JR line trains just recently, and the animation style is really nice. The animation has been on the trains since last year. In the most recent installment the couple have a baby. Watch out for it if you’re on the Yamanote line in Tokyo anytime soon.

 

UT Harajuku

UT Harajuku

Uniqlo’s ever popular T-shirt project UT has been going for a while now, but as a recent addition to their plethora of usual outlets, they’ve added this dedicated UT store in Harajuku. It was opened last April, but this is the first time I’ve been there. With temperatures the way they are at the moment I wasn’t planning on buying any T-shirts, I just wanted to check out the store itself. The shop consists of a few racks of T’s and other items, surrounded by a wall of vending machines, above which you have the ticker-tape displays with lines of text making laps of the room as you shop. The vending machines contain the bulk of the T-shirt stock. You choose the one you want, and then out pops the T in the trademark tube-like plastic packaging. I get the feeling they will need an iron once you get the back to your house though. Generally I like the store, so I’ll be back in the spring to pick up some from the manga series.

 

VHS Format R.I.P.

VHS Format R.I.P.

Some bad news for children of the 80’s: The VHS format has finally officially died. There were loads of VHS tapes in my house when I was growing up, most of them had stuff recorded off TV. The ones that got the most rotation were Watership Down, Wind in the Willows, Ghostbusters and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These were not allowed to be recorded over. The little tab had been broken using a bic biro to copy protect them! The fondest memory I have of VHS is the Manga range of UK released Japanese Anime features. I remember Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue, Fist of the North Star and Ninja Scroll with the bad dub and garish colours adding to the VHS tape feel of blurry images and white line interference. Wonky sound was also hilariously lo-fi. VHS died on Christmas Eve, 24th December 2008.

 

The Praying Machine

The Praying Machine

There’s been some new output from Tokyo Plastic recently, in the form of two short animations. I wasn’t keen on The Electric Koi, but there was something satisfyingly 90’s about their other offering The Praying Machine. It’s a piece of animation set to decidedly Photek-inspired music. There isn’t much meat to the plot, but it’s good visual nourishment in the Tokyo Plastic style rendered in a mix of cell-shaded 3D and illustrations. Have a look.

 

Face Your Manga

Face Your Manga

This site isn’t exactly great, as the avatars you create here don’t look particularly manga at all. Still, it’s a good laugh making one of yourself and your friends. I found I couldn’t easily make myself, but I could do my friends no problem!

 

Live Action Akira!

Akira!

This is bound to be a total disappointment when it finally comes out in 2009, but Warner Brothers have made it official; They will make a live action version of Akira, and they’re going to adapt it from the original manga graphic novel, not from the anime. Actually they’re going to span the story over two films, but production starts right away. The reason I’m not as positive as I could be about this news is the appointment of a fledgeling filmmaker and a debuting screenwriter. The director will be Ruairi Robinson who’s most recent short film you can watch on YouTube or on his website. Personally, I wasn’t keen on the short film. I’m measuring it by the Chris Cunningham yardstick, so this may be a harsh review, but see for yourself. The other very worrying rumour that’s flying about, is that the film might be set in America in a so-called ‘New Manhattan’ instead of the infinitely cooler ‘Neo-Tokyo’. Say it aint so! I hope the film proves me wrong because it would be a great thing to see at the cinema in 2009.