Sunday, August 25, 2013

Billy Bat #12

The latest piece in the puzzle that is Naoki Urasawa's (浦沢直樹) Billy Bat takes us to New Jersey in 1981. A young artist who bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson is drawn into the web of Billy Bat.

After the recent events in volumes 10 and 11 it seemed like the story was slowly drawing toward a conclusion with a few clues to the origin of Billy Bat. Although the latest volume draws us closer to Disney-esque Chuck Culkin, and sheds light on the faked moon landings that appeared much earlier in the story. Volume 11 also marks the first appearance by Hitler, another historical figure chasing Billy Bat and the mysterious scroll with the power to alter history.

Although the previous volume hinted at the death of Kevin Yamagata, if 20th Century Boys and Monster have taught me nothing else it's 'don't expect that to be the last we see of Kevin Yamagata.' Now is the rise of a new artist to carry the torch of Billy Bat, Kevin Goodman.

Related Links:
Billy Bat's Morning Comics site:

Saint Young Men #9 + Bonus DVD

The latest volume of Saint Young Men (聖☆おにいさん) hit the shelves this week, and if you get in early there is a special edition that includes a short anime DVD produced by A-1 Pictures. The DVD includes two short animated sequences and promotional material for the DVD release of the Saint Young Men anime that will be released on October 23rd.

I'm actually a few volumes behind with this series, but I picked up volume 9 for the bonus DVD. It's nice to see that my Catholic primary school education came in handy for something, a few Japanese friends who aren't as familiar with christian theology have a bit of trouble picking up some of the Jesus references. But the world that Hikaru Nakamura (中村光) also draws on a wide range of Buddhist, Shinto and cultural references. We see Jesus and Buddha navigate an impromptu Momotaro play, enjoy their first setsubun, and hina matsuri. There are recurring themes and characters that appear, but each episode is a self contained story.

Related Links:
Saint Young Men Website:
Hikaru Nakamura on Twitter:
Saint Young Men movie on Twitter:
A-1 Pictures on Twitter:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beat Child 1987

I've been looking for a reason to post a Blue Hearts clip for a while. They will feature in an upcoming documentary about the Beat Child rock festival from 1987.

Over the last 20 years summer festivals have grown to dominate the world music landscape. From Woodstock, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, All Tomorrow's Parties, The Big Day Out, to Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. They can shape the music of a generation. And everyone who has attended a summer music festival, especially one of the multi-day events that involve camping in crusty flood prone swamp, will grow to forget the cold damp misery of incessant rain, the mud caked shoes and socks, and no sleep. The fond memories of friendship and music remain.

One such legendary festival in Japan, called Beat Child, was held in Kumamoto in 1987. It was Japan's first all night music festival, and it rain non-stop, the music thrived, and 72000 attendees were soaked though. This event has gone into Japanese music history for the rain, and the passion of not only the drenched spectators, but the tenacity of the performers.

The line up consisted of The Heart, The Blue Hearts, Up-Beat, Red Warriors, Yasunobu Komatsu (小松康信), Yasuyuki Okamura (岡村靖幸), Takako Shirai and the Crazy Boys (白井貴子&Crazy Boys), Hound Dog, Boowy, The Street Sliders, Yutaka Ozaki (尾崎豊), Misato Watanabe (渡辺美里), Motoharu Sano and The Heartland (佐野元春).

Titled "Baby, Are You Alright? Beat Child 1987" (ベイビー大丈夫かっBEATCHILD 1987), the documentary will be in limited release from October 26th.

Short Peace

Short Peace is a collection of 4 short animated films by 4 acclaimed directors, plus a 5th opening sequence by Koji Morimoto (森本晃司).

The film was the idea of Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo centered around the theme of Japan. Otomo directs the first short, Combustable (ひのようじん・火要鎮), which takes place during the 18th century Edo period, and tells the story of a woman who starts fires after becoming obsessed with firemen. The second short, Tsukumo (九十九), by the director of the FREEDOM series Shuhei Morita (森田修平), also set during the 18th century, tells of a man lost on a mountain path who comes across a small forgotten shrine. The third film GAMBO directed by Hiroaki Ando is set is 16th century north eastern Japan and tells the story of a demon who is transported to the human realm and battles with a giant white bear. The final film directed by Hajime Katoki (カトキ・ハジメ), Buki Yosaraba (武器よさらば). The title is taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel A Farewell to Arms, and is set in the ruins of a near future Tokyo. The film shows a military encounter between 5 men and unmanned weapon system.

Short Peace was released last month on July 20th to limited theaters around Japan.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


A bit of a change in direction with this next post. I've been reading a few text on translation studies recently, and some of the topics raised have been relevant to the novel I just finished reading, David Mitchell's second novel number9dream.

David Mitchell is a British author that spent many years living in Japan before her return to England to pursue writing full time. Along with his wife, Keiko Yoshida, he recently released an English translation of Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump, Naoki's autobiographic insight into the condition of Autism. David Mitchell decided to the translate the book after gaining valuable understanding of his autistic son's life, and way of communicating with the outside world. I have friends and relatives involved in special education, so I'm very interested in checking out the book when I get a chance.

But there are another couple of common themes in the book that piqued my interest. I wrote last week about the latest Hyakuta Naoki movie, Eien no Zero (永遠の0). It deals kamikaze pilots and weather they were heroes making the ultimate sacrifice, or terrorists blinded by an unhealthy ideology. Similarly, number9dream deals with the lesser known kaiten (回転) manned torpedoes, and the commitment, sacrafice, or madness of the men who volunteered to drive them.

The protagonist is 19 year old Eiji Miyake who is searching for his father. Written from a Japanese perspective, it reads like a translation of a Japanese novel. There are multiple references to Japanese culture and terminology that are untranslated and mark the story as non-English, even though it was originally written in English. A translated novel from a source that never existed.

There are some phrases that I'm sure if I weren't so familiar with Japanese that would have passed me by without a second thought. The first of which is the waving of one's little finger. Back in Australia, it's a bit of an insult, and indicates a man who is lacking in "size", but in Japanese culture it refers to girlfriends, as in "are you single?" The second was the phrase "daughter in a box", which is pretty meaningless in English, but is a direct translation of the Japanese 箱入り娘. It refers to a daughter who is raised in a very socially restricted manner, and doesn't have much experience with relationships. What comes across as a rather unclear expression in English is much easier to understand if you're familiar with the phrase being translated.

But this quasi-translation is used rather inconsistently through out the novel. One moment people are eating yakiniku, jankening, and playing pachinko but the next chapter is all octopus balls and rice balls (not takoyaki and onigiri). First Eiji is reading manga and later in the story he reads comic books. This inconsistency threw me a bit, but maybe I'm just being pedantic.

This comes back to the role of the translator, are they supposed to translate the story so that it is relateable to the target culture which reduces the foreignness, or do they retain the foreignness of the story, keeping localized words, phrases, and sentence structures, which all mark the work as a translation. Personally I'm on the "keep it foreign" side of the fence. When the story is taking place in Tokyo, I want to feel and breath the crammed trains, the smoky pachinko parlors. The setting is an important character of any novel, I don't want it erased and painted over to become Sydney, New York or London.


It's 18 months old, but I came across this interview with Yoshimi (aka Yoshimi P-We, real name Yokota Yoshimi 横田佳美) of OOIOO (and Boredoms) fame. Or western audiences might know her as that Yoshimi from the Flaming Lips song. The most interesting part of the interview for me was her reaction to the idol groups that are dominating the Japanese music scene these days. Subtitles are available in English for those that need it.

And so I have been listening to my OOIOO records all weekend. A favourite of mine is the song UMO from the 2006 release Taiga. It reminds me a lot of the Sepultura song, Ratamahatta, both musically and the stop motion clip.