The Attack

The story behind one of Finland’s most famous paintings.

A girl in a white dress is running along the sea shore, attacked by a two-headed eagle. At least, that is what Eetu Isto’s 1899 painting The Attack (Hyökkays) looks like at first glance. Unsurprisingly, this work of Finnish national romanticism comes loaded with heavy-handed symbolism, tied up in the struggles of the people of Finland to free themselves from their Russian overlords.

The girl in question is The Maid of Finland, a female shape suggested by the outline of Finland itself on maps – a girl with a billowing skirt. She is not merely wearing a white dress, but also a blue sash, foreshadowing the Finnish flag. The crest of Finland can be seen on her buckle. The two-headed eagle (Russia, of course) is not actually attacking her, but a hefty book of laws in her hands, symbolising the continuous assault on Finnish freedoms in the 1890s. For nearly a century, the Russian tsars had allowed the grand duchy of Finland relative autonomy; but now Nicholas II seemed intend of stripping Finns of their language, their money and their postal service, along with other rights.

Eino Parmanen, who chronicled the rise of the Finnish nation in his four-volume epic The Book of the Struggles (Taistelujen Kirja), identified a number of subtler cues in the painting. The Maid of Finland is not scared, but shows a demeanour of grim resolve. A lantern of “sacrifice” lies broken on the ground, its flame still sputtering with the fires of resistance. On the horizon, there is a faint glimmer of dawn, in spite of the stormy skies.

5istoEetu Isto (1865-1905) was the youngest of five children, and the only one to attend the newly founded Rauma grammar school near his parents’ farm. After demonstrating an aptitude for art with sketches of the local church, he drifted into a career as a painter and decorator in Helsinki. In 1895, just as the Russian authorities were clamping down on Finnish nationalism, he received a grant to study in Berlin. The money soon ran out, but he spent another four years there, struggling to get recognition as an artist, while working part-time at a menial clerking job. The Attack was the culmination of Isto’s Berlin work, although true to Finnish nationalist fervour, legend has it that he refused to make the finishing touches to the painting until he had brought it back to the land that birthed him.

At the time, the picture still didn’t have a name. It was hung in a house in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, and shown only to an audience of invited revolutionaries. “The observers,” wrote Eino Parmanen, “stood amazed and in deep affection, many even with tears in their eyes.” Isto solicited suggestions for the title in the visitors’ book, where also-rans included Fantasy, Allegory and Battle, before The Attack was suggested by a friend’s wife.

Would-be revolutionaries with an eye on the picture’s propaganda value were already determined to make copies. It was photographed, and the negatives were used to etch copper plates for heliogravure printing. But the police had already uncovered rumours of an anti-Russian art exhibition somewhere in the city, and Isto was forced to flee his Kaivopuisto hideaway, grabbing the two-metre-high portrait and escaping through the window of the house, running for the docks and safety in Sweden. Copies of the painting, however, were soon in production, trickling in to Finland from printers in both Stockholm and Berlin, including 10,000 smuggled into the country in heavy boxes marked “anatomical preparations”. A policeman actually stopped one crate on the dockside at Turku, demanding to know what could be in such a large and heavy box. He was assured by some nearby students that it contained geological samples. Several other shipments came in along the Finnish smugglers’ coast, where the thousands of islands and inlets afforded local fishermen with multiple opportunities to dodge Russian customs vessels and police inspections. The Attack also spread among American Finns in a postcard format, and somehow made it into Russia itself by 1903, when unknown sympathisers were said to be distributing a version the size of a postage stamp, for secretive supporters to cherish in their pockets.

The original Attack’s seditious status made it impossible for Isto to actually sell. He made 6000 marks by selling 20-mark lottery tickets with the painting as the prize, but the eventual winner, a Helsinki housewife, was so terrified of being caught with it that she sold it back to him. Several of Isto’s other paintings were also subject to censure, not because of his identity as the artiz41ch3po2yyl-_sy445_st, but because the circles in which he moved tended to be crowded with dissidents, who were themselves often subject to purges. On a visit to Siberia in 1902 to visit a vicar friend administering to Finnish exiles, Isto contracted typhoid fever. His health never quite recovered, and he died in 1905 from pneumonia, shortly before his 40th birthday.

After the Finnish revolution, The Attack ended up in the hands of one Niilo Helander of Heinola, whose widow eventually donated it to the National Museum in Helsinki, where it hangs today.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland, available now in print and on the Kindle (UK/US).

The End of Fantasia

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There have been some heartfelt eulogies in fandom for Studio Fantasia, which has declared bankruptcy after a generation in the anime business, most notoriously with its micro-skirted spies in Agent Aika and its panty-flashing operatives in Najica Blitz Tactics.

Fantasia itself was born under suspicious circumstances, by staff manning the lifeboats from the foundering Tsuchida Production in 1983. Tsuchida eventually sank in 1986, but to say it went down with all hands would be misleading – by the time it went, it was a name on a filing cabinet, without real estate, equipment or employees, while its former staff were already running Studios Comet and Fantasia.

It’s important when reporting the history of the anime business to understand the difference between a disaster and a simple change in circumstances. Studio Fantasia, from what I can see, appeared to shut down because it was little more than some signatures on paperwork that allowed a guy to get some bank loans. Tomohisa Iizuka, the man who led the exodus from Tsuchida all those years ago, set up a company that in its 2006 heyday was bringing in £2.7 million a year and had 43 employees. But if Iizuka wants to retire, and if there is nobody willing to take on the company and its liabilities… if the company itself has no intellectual property worth preserving, then Fantasia might as well cease to exist on the day that Iizuka puts on his golf shorts and heads out to the country club.

As the director Noboru Ishiguro put it in his memoirs: “It is so easy to create a TV animation subcontractor. That’s because 90% of the cost is labour and hardly any investment is needed. As long as you have money to rent a studio and to buy tables for animators, all you need is people. You could start an animation production company tomorrow. But they go bankrupt quickly, too – just like a pub. Because the production cost is cheap, subcontractors can never make large profits. You’re lucky if you are not making a loss. As soon as you start doing a different job and the efficiency level drops, or an animator quits, the business goes downhill.”

2006 wasn’t just a peak for Fantasia, it was a peak for the entire anime industry. The studio visibly slowed over the following decade, until it was just picking up a few bits of piece-work on a couple of recent shows. It was not, like Studio Ghibli, initiating and owning new content. But it was, like Studio Ghibli, very much the workplace for a group of guys who were looking forward to not having to work anymore. Except the guy who draws knickers, for whom it is still probably still a labour of love.

Then again, never say never. Who would have guessed at the beginning of last year that the “next Hayao Miyazaki” would turn out to be Hayao Miyazaki?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #159, 2017.

Empress Wu and Historiography

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Michelle Lam, a student in Australia, emails me with a bunch of questions about conducting historical research on infamous bad-girl Empress Wu. I’ve asked her if I can repeat the interview here…

Michelle Lam: Why did you choose to write a book about Wu Zetian?

Jonathan Clements: My editor had seen that Wu was cropping up on a lot of women-in-history curricula, but that nobody really knew anything about her. She asked me what a book about Wu would be like, and I said that it would be too obscene to read out in public. “Excellent,” she said…

Did you experience any difficulties accessing evidence?

No, the evidence is easy to find. We’ve got evidence coming out of our ears, along with reams of noise. The Old Book of Tang and The New Book of Tang are only a click away if you can read Chinese. There’s a surprising amount of material that survives from the 7th century. Wu’s always been a popular subject, although in recent years, books about her have gone through the roof. I don’t rate a lot of the new Chinese stuff from the last decade, though, as most of it’s just cash-ins, except Meng Man’s work. She’s good.

How much of the evidence was biased?

All of it. Everybody had an agenda when writing about Wu. She’s striking a blow for women. She’s an evil witch-queen whose children despised her. She was a living god who ruled over a golden age. She was the most beautiful woman who ever lived. She was a murderous bitch who staged a palace coup. Take your pick.

wu2How hard was it to discern the truth from evidence that was evidently biased?

There are plenty of issues blocking our path to understanding Wu. There’s a distance of 1300 years, there’s the lost materials that we don’t even know existed in the first place. There’s the ridiculous spin and propaganda of her own regime, and the regimes that replaced her, which seem awfully keen on “alternative facts”. These are common errors of historical practice, and they’re certainly there with Wu’s historiography.

You talk about how hard it is to discern the truth from “evidence that was evidently biased”, but it’s much harder discerning the truth from evidence that seems completely on the level. There is an easy temptation to cherry-pick the best material, not in terms of its persuasiveness, but in terms of how it matches what we call “the mode of emplotment.” Which is to say, most historians want to tell a story with a convenient beginning, middle and end – is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? Is it a tale full of ironic modern parallels? You can’t cling to a doubtful source or a later interpolation, just because it makes a good story. That’s fine if you’re writing a novel or a bodice-ripper TV show, but not a good enough reason if one is claiming to be a historian.

I found myself using some arcane methods with Wu, such as investigating the “content of the form”, whereby you can work out information by how something is said, or even by what is not said. This method is called abduction, searching for what isn’t there, and, for example, it was what I used when analysing that fantastic speech against Wu, issued in the name of a rebel prince.

“She entered the gate through deception, and all fell before her moth brows. She whispered slander from behind her sleeves, and swayed her master with her vixen flirting. She trampled on the pheasant regalia of the empress, and entrapped her prince in incest. With the heart of a serpent and the nature of a wolf, she gathered sycophants to her cause, and brought destruction to the just.”

And so on. The point with that proclamation is that it doesn’t mention some of the most infamous accusations levelled against Wu by later writers. If you were trying to take down an opponent, you would be sure to mention the most scandalous accusations against them, but Luo Binwang, who wrote those words, doesn’t seem to be aware of them. So we find ourselves in the odd position of using the words of Wu’s enemies to work out which of her alleged crimes didn’t happen. We’re essentially using them as witnesses for the defence.

Do you think your identity and personal opinions played a part in how you presented Wu Zetian in your book?

Certainly. I was once derided by another author for not being Chinese enough or female enough to understand her. Only a Chinese woman could possibly get it, she claimed, entirely unaware or uncaring of how sexist and racist that made her sound. It’s the sort of thing someone says when their identity turns out to be their sole qualification, and it’s a poor substitute for actual knowledge and research.

I would like to think that my personal opinions were less relevant in the construction of the book than my awareness of other people’s. It’s important, I think, to bear in mind that many Chinese historians were misogynists, determined to prove that women should not be given positions of power. This isn’t merely a matter of being bigots, sometimes it also reflects later times with different subtexts, such as periods of Mongol or Manchu rule, when women traditionally wielded more power, and the Han Chinese establishment never liked it. Then there are the later Wu historians determined to establish a parallel with the wife of Chairman Mao, or with Hillary Clinton, and the many, many TV writers determined to present her as some sort of innocent Cinderella or knife-wielding psychopath.

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Do you think you were influenced by any external factors whilst writing the book?

Maybe. I know that while I was writing it, I was surprised at the number of conversations I found myself having with women who thought she sounded awesome, and who wanted to know what the cushions were like in the palace. “Write the cushions!” one of them said. She wanted to know what make-up Wu wore, and what her dresses were like, and what food was on the table. These aren’t the immediate concerns of the traditional historian, but they really should be, because history isn’t just about stuff that happened. It’s about the touch and smells and sounds of another world.

What are your personal thoughts on Wu Zetian? What do you think of her as a ruler? What do you think of her as a person?

I was doing an interview with Radio Four when the book came out (you can still find it online but it’s in a dinosaur format that’s difficult to convert), and the presenter suddenly stopped and said: “You really admire her, don’t you?” What I find most incredible about her is the fact that she got to where she was from nothing. When she started in the palace, she was little better than a chambermaid, and yet she was somehow able to run the country for decades. As a ruler, not only in her own right, but behind Gaozong’s throne, she presided over the height of the Tang dynasty. If a male emperor behaved like Wu, nobody would have batted an eyelid, so I see little reason to say that China suffered under her watch. As a person it is harder to say. The few reliable quotes from her lifetime make her sound like she was pretty insufferable. But who wouldn’t be…?

If there was anything you could have done differently whilst researching her person, what would it be?

There are so many rich resources for the Tang dynasty, and if I’d had, say, another month, I could have spent more time poking around the Chinese sources. But I must have been pretty satisfied with the book the way it was, because when we did the second edition recently, the only real changes I made were to update the media references, and for the Chinese-language edition, a new foreword.

Empress Wu is published by Albert Bridge Books.

Nothing Like a Dane

9781472136466‘I had that Danish karate team in the back of my cab once,’ says the driver. He uses the cabbies’ definite article, as if I am supposed to know which Danish karate team he is talking about.

‘They were over for that tournament, and they went out on the town afterwards. They drink a lot, you know? I was surprised. I didn’t think kung fu people liked beer or whatever. But I picked them up at like two in the morning, in their red tracksuits, and I was driving them back to their hotel, and we was all south of the river. In Brixton. And one of them says: “You know what, I want some orange juice. Pull over a second.” And I says: no mate, you don’t want to stop the car in bloody Brixton, not now, not at kicking-out time round all the clubs. And he laughs and says just pull over. So I do. I stops the cab, and all three of them hop out and go into a Seven-Eleven.

‘I just know there’s going to be trouble, and sure enough, there’s three big blokes go in. And one of them is like: give me your money. Give me your money, he says, to this ginger Dane in a tracksuit. Give me your phone and all. And the Danish guy is like: no, leave me alone. And the bloke is like (and he’s a big feller, right?) and he’s like give it to me now or I will eff you up. And the Dane is like: “No. Step away, sir, please.” Polite as you like.

‘So the bloke pulls back to punch him, and POOF! He’s on the ground clutching his head. And the Dane says: really, I am warning you. But he’s like: “GET THE LADS!” And the other two run off to the club, and they are back in flash with half a dozen mates, and they all charge at these Danes.

‘And these are tired, right, but they train for this every day. They don’t even have to think. It’s like BOFF! BOFF! BOFF! Kung fu fighting and they knock them all down. A couple of berks try to get up again, and then it’s BOFF! Stay down. Then they go to pay for their orange juice, and the police turn up.

‘And what do the police see? They see eight or nine big thugs just lying on the ground moaning and hanging on to their arms and that. And these three little Danes having a packet of Wotsits. And the policeman says to me: “Did you see what happened here, sir?”

‘And I says: “Them three blokes are the Danish karate team. And them others just found out what that means!”’

I’ll save you the trouble, dear reader. I Googled this one. I Googled every possible permutation of Brixton and Denmark and karate. When I came up blank, I tried every other Scandinavian country, as well as the Netherlands, on a hunch. I switched the martial arts, just in case it was kung fu or aikido or judo. But despite such an epic account from my story-teller, despite a midnight riot that was sure to have entered the folklore of south London, despite the implied eye-witness experience of the narrator himself, down to the tracksuit colours and omnipotent view of what was said and done a hundred feet away while he was still in his car, there is not a scrap of evidence online of this supposed event. No court hearing, no police report, not even a snickering comment in the local newspaper.

I Googled it in Danish, too, just to be sure.

Nothing.

But that’s the story I heard, word for word. Straight up.

Excerpted from A Brief History of the Martial Arts, by Jonathan Clements.

Immortal Beloved

immortal-belovedThe Dr Who Guide alerts me to the fact that my radio play Immortal Beloved was broadcast on BBC7 on this day ten years ago. So in its honour, I post up the text of the interview that Kenny Smith did with me for Finished Product magazine.

KS: Firstly, was the finished story the one you always intended to go with? Or did you have other story ideas? Were you asked to submit an outline, and how detailed was it?

The story actually started out very differently, around 2002, as a Strontium Dog script. Toby Longworth asked me if I’d write something with Sanjeev Bhaskar in mind, so I had a character called Vishnu Patel, a six-armed mutant from Bradford, and his sexy associate Carly. The idea was that they’d set off a time grenade on their ship as the Strontium Dogs were getting ready to capture it. Suddenly, the ship was gone, but the formerly barren planet below was covered with city lights. At which point the bounty hunters would realise that their prey had gone so far back in time that they had founded an entire civilisation on the planet, and set themselves up as its divine rulers, an idea lifted from Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. The bounty hunters go down to apprehend them, and have to face the issue of the person they’re arresting being the nth generation clone of the person they were chasing. Then there would have been all sorts of arguments about statutes of limitations, and time travel and culpability.

But anyway, Strontium Dog was cancelled, and I was asked to pitch something for the short-lived Richard E. Grant animated Doctor Who. I retooled the story but kept its original title, which back then was Kingmaker. That actually made it a long way through the process before that, too, was cancelled.

doctorwho-screamoftheshalka218 months later, the BBC’s option on Kingmaker ran out, and I was asked if I’d do something for the McGanns. Time was really of the essence, because everything had to be done in ten minutes flat, or something daft. So I said to Big Finish, look, I’ve got Kingmaker here, the BBC have already approved it. That’s going to go through a lot faster. So we went with that, under a working title of Sins of the Father. I gave [script editor] Alan Barnes some alternate titles, including Karma Police, Together Forever, and Immortal Beloved.

Of course, you can imagine, the outline was nicely matured by that point. It was about 3500 words long, for a script that needed to be 10,000 words total. So it was very well worked out by that point.

There was originally a lot more in there about cybernetic implants as well, in order to match with the Master, who featured in the Richard E. Grant scripts as a travelling companion.

51ijm9-tel-_sx330_bo1204203200_There are still elements of the original, such as when Zeus threatens to kill a different Lucie every day for a hundred years, and a Lord of Light moment, when Hera remembers that Poseidon’s original name was Jeffrey.

Life and death are strong themes in the Sympathy for the Devil and Immortal Beloved – are these themes that you’re interested in exploring?

I’m more interested in what makes us who we are. Same in Sympathy for the Devil. Take the characters out of the situations you remember them in, and what do they do? The Doctor is still the Doctor, the Brigadier is still ultimately his ally, the Master is still a sneaky git. The Ke Le Divisions are supposed to be non-human, like clones, but they still end up with feelings, and those feelings backfire.

In Immortal Beloved, I wanted to ask questions about cloning. I don’t know the answers, but I like asking the questions. I love the idea of these clones turning into their parents, of being able to see them at two stages in their lives simultaneously, and wondering which one is the real person.

Jason Haigh-Ellery jumped on this one right away. I heard that back when it was still Kingmaker, he was already telling people that he was going to direct it, and even threatening to make it as a Big Finish with another Doctor if the BBC didn’t commission it as a Richard E. Grant. I don’t know why he was so enthusiastic about this one in particular, but he was supporting it for two years before it actually went into production! He wouldn’t let the idea drop, he really fought for it.

How did you find writing for a new Doctor/companion team? Were you given much in the way of pointers for Lucie (played by Sheridan Smith)? Did she turn out the way you’d hoped?

This one was great because Lucie is so bolshie. Her dialogue just writes itself, taking the piss out the Doctor all the time, referring to him as her assistant, ridiculing his navigation skills. The perfect Lucie line is actually in Jonathan Morris’s Max Warp, when she calls the TARDIS a shed. I just wrote her as everyone’s annoying big sister walking in while you’re trying to watch Doctor Who and ridiculing everything. So yes, she was perfect. Note-perfect, exactly as I imagined her.

What did you think of the finished story?

I thought it was great. I was rather irked that the BBC announcer said it was set in Ancient Greece, which it wasn’t. I actually had a very nice email from someone at BBC7 telling me who was responsible “just so you know we’re not a bunch of monkeys.” It turned out that the culprit was much closer to home at BF towers. I was present for the ceremonial flaying and keelhauling.

mv5bmtuxndg4mzm3mf5bml5banbnxkftztywmdexntk2-_v1_sx640_sy720_Weren’t the cast great!

Ian McNeice! You can’t do better than that. Frankly, I wrote it for him, without even realising it. I had Baron Harkonnen in mind as Zeus, without knowing that Ian had played Baron Harkonnen in the Sci Fi channel Dune.

One day my grandfather fell off a ladder and knocked himself out. My grandmother found him and thought he was dead. She grabbed him and said: “No! You can’t go! Not yet! I’m not ready!” I put a lot of that into the lines Elspet Gray had to say as Hera, particularly her scene in the garden. My grandmother said to me shortly before she died: “Jonathan, don’t get old. Don’t get old.” It was so mournful and heartfelt, but I remember thinking at the time, do I have a choice…? All that’s in Hera’s lines, and I think Elspet managed it very well.

Was it how you imagined it to be?

Yes, although Ganymede was a bit of a surprise, since he wasn’t in my script when I delivered it.

I believe that the ending was slightly different – Sarati was ‘poisoned’, to simulate death, thanks to the Doctor. As a result, Kalkin stabbed Zeus. How did the change come about? Are you happy with the revised change?

Yeah, the ending was different when I thought I was writing a 100-minute story. The only real difficulty with Immortal Beloved was slicing it down from 100 minutes for Richard E. Grant to 50 minutes for Paul McGann. Your question implies that was done for me, but I’m pretty sure that I wrote the Sararti stabbing scene myself. So it was all about timing — obviously the poison business was another Romeo and Juliet reference that got edged out. I thought it worked fine without it in the end, but something had to go when 50% of the content was being cut.

How much fun did you have coming up with alternative names for everyday things, like helicopters, etc? Was it a real challenge to get something mythological sounding for things like a decontamination chamber? Did you come up with any more that were cut or changed?

The “magic wand” business was something that had been floating around my head for 20 years, ever since I read the D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. Look at what it says about the “charges” and powers of magic wands, and rods, and staves. It’s describing firearms: pistols, carbines and rifles. I thought that was so cool. So, I guess that’s my way of saying that it wasn’t my idea at all, but Gary Gygax’s.

I think other people had more fun with it than I did. The “ether trumpet” was someone else’s line. Nick Briggs, perhaps, or it could have been Alan, I suppose. It is the funniest line in the play, and I am now obliged to tell everyone I didn’t write it.

The notion of cloned Lucies being tortured is quite scary – copies of yourself dying in different ways, without you even knowing it. Do you like implied horror like that?

Actually I can’t stand horror. I find it too horrific. I am paid to have an over-active imagination, and horror tends to scare me! I think it’s an excellent way of reversing the standard questions about stem cells and cloning, though. You lose your arm, but there is a magical way of giving you a new arm… except somewhere, there is a copy of you who’s just had his arm hacked off… I think *that* is horrific.

How did you find writing for the McGann Doctor? I felt you had him down to a T – plenty of enthusiasm, but with a serious streak. Did you listen to many of the other Big Finish releases, or did you just write a generic Doctor that you remembered from childhood, as Rob Shearman did?

Is that what Rob did? Oh, bless! I suppose I did, too. There wasn’t a lot to go on with McGann because you only have the one TV outing. I listened to Chimes of Midnight, but more because it was Rob’s not because it was McGann.

To be honest, it’s Lucie that I write for with the McGanns. I find it easier to write the Doctor’s loving exasperation with her, than I do to write the Doctor himself. Lucie thinks of herself as the heroine in her own little show, and I write it that way, and then I put the Doctor’s reaction in later — his reaction being the actual plot and everything. There’s an element of that in Immortal Beloved where she introduces the Doctor as her “bumbling assistant.”

I  have to say, I only heard Brave New Town yesterday, and Sheridan Smith nails it. She nails every line. At her very worst, she does exactly what I wanted. At her best, she takes it and does something I never even thought of. You can’t ask for more than that, can you?

Big Finish don’t let you write “generic” Doctors, though. Briggs will throw something back at you and say: “That won’t work, it’s too Sixth Doctor.” You can actually give him words, single words, and he will tell you if a particular Doctor would use them or not. So whatever Rob thought he was doing, it will have been distinctively McGann by the third draft!

Anything you’d go back and change if you could?

There’s a line that someone altered that I wish they hadn’t, but there’s also a line that someone altered which made me look a lot smarter than I really am, so I figure we’d better call it quits.

If you could be reincarnated in another body, whose would you go for?

Ooh, Jason Haigh-Ellery’s. All that money, all those women, all that power…

Immortal Beloved is available on CD and download from Big Finish.

Getting Away With It

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Tetsuko “Alice” Arisugawa (Yu Aoi) is a writer’s daughter, cursed with an over-active imagination. Shunted into a new school by her parents’ divorce, she finds the perfect foil in local truant Hana Arai (Anne Suzuki), a pathological liar who eggs her on into wild conspiracy theories, breathless scandal-mongering and a series of misadventures that grow hilariously out of hand.

A decade after his early success with Hana & Alice, a live-action comedy about two hyper-active schoolgirls who dupe a boy with amnesia, director Shunji Iwai decided to revisit his characters with a prequel about a fateful day that saw them stranded in Tokyo and inadvertently starting a missing-persons hunt. The film’s title, The Case of Hana & Alice, makes it sound like some bloodthirsty murder investigation, a fitting evocation of the leads’ compulsion to read melodrama into everyday situations.

“The thing is,” Iwai laughs, “you can get away with a lot more when you’re a girl. Look at Hana and Alice and the way they behave. In the first movie, they were basically stalkers, telling that poor boy that they had a past together. In this prequel, they are causing all this trouble around the city. They’re kind of… how can I put this? They’re perverts. If I made that story about a man, if I made it about you, for instance, then you’d be locked up.”

It would also have been impossibly expensive as live-action. It wasn’t just a case of redressing Tokyo to look like it was 2004 – the film’s plot demands an absence of social media, as many of its escalating misunderstandings could be halted today by 20 seconds’ Googling. But the original film made stars of its leading ladies, who were not only now out of Iwai’s price range, but pushing 30 and unconvincing as middle-schoolers. Iwai hit on a solution inspired by the films of Ralph Bakshi. He shot the entire film on the run in 30 days, using teenage stand-ins for the stars, and then painting over every frame to make it look like an animated film.

After the guerrilla film-making was done, the touch-up was outsourced to 150 freelancers all around Japan. Iwai denies that he ran the whole post-production process without having to get out of bed, but one can easily imagine him pottering around his living room in a dressing gown, watching as digitised packets flow in and out of his server. The expensive leads were lured back for a single day to record just the voices; their younger onscreen selves moved and emoted like the teens they really were, and digital effects fixed the lighting and scrubbed out buildings and technology that did not exist a decade ago. The result might look on the surface like an animated film, but the use of live actors delivers huge amounts of nuanced data – flinches, tics and micro-expressions that would simply never happen in a cartoon.

The real charm of The Case of Hana & Alice is the compassion that suffuses the film. Two clueless kids, poised on the cusp of adulthood, go AWOL overnight in a big city, but are kept safe by the good deeds of the people they meet, from the taxi driver who waives an unaffordable fare, to the indulgent strangers who put up with their histrionics. There’s not a dark moment in a film that is as confident about its leads’ right to be silly as it is about the surety that all will be well in the end. The Japanese, unsurprisingly, have a word for it: omotenashi, or kindness for the sake of kindness.

The Case of Hana & Alice is also a winning portrayal of the slippery relationship that teens have with the truth, although Iwai himself says the original inspiration came from somewhere much closer to home. “When I started working in the film industry, I was astonished at how many of the people there were bare-faced liars. There are an awful lot of them, like half! It’s very surreal, and that provided a lot of material for Hana.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A HistoryThis article first appeared in Geeky Monkey #16, 2016.

The Walking Dead

world_15_temp-1315894811-4e6ef61b-620x348Some historians argue that there have only been three real ‘slave societies’ in human history: ancient Rome, where one in three human beings was held as property; Brazil, where a young Charles Darwin once noted that the sheer number of slaves had caused the ruling class to collapse into complete indolence; and certain southern states in the USA. I’ve always found this to be a little unfair – the definition of a ‘slave society’ seems to be based on very exacting percentages of slave and free, which rather avoids the point that slavery was everywhere. Even in America, arguments over the history of slavery have been largely reconfigured on racial lines, and avoid mentioning, for example, the ‘white cargo’ of English convicts, forced to work as indentured labourers [one reader has taken me to task for even mentioning this, since it is a favourite meme of white supremacists. All I’m saying is that in history, not all slaves have been African. The Roman republic and empire being a well-known case in point].

As Gaius Verres argues in Swords & Ashes, Rome’s slaves are its walking dead. For many of them, particularly prisoners of war, their legal position was a hair’s breadth away from being actually dead, postponed at that brink for as long as their master willed it. The Latin word for slaves, servi, contains within it that sense of having been ‘saved’ from the moment of execution – a doom held in suspension indefinitely thereafter. The concept of a slave rebellion in Rome was tantamount to a zombie uprising.

Newly-minted slaves like Spartacus were always trouble. They were surly, uncooperative, and often did not even speak good Latin. Romans placed a much high premium on vernae, those who had been born and raised in captivity. A verna was much more likely to know his place and appreciate what few advantages his slave status offered him to the alternative, which might be not existing at all.

Vernae were also expensive. A properly trained, skilled slave, young enough to have a good few decades of work in him, would cost the equivalent of high-end car or a small apartment today. It’s not all that surprising when one calculates the value of the labour involved – the cooking and the cleaning and the myriad daily household chores that a slave could perform, all in an age without washing machines or vacuum cleaners. Apologists for ancient Rome have used this fact to suggest that slavery was a relatively benign condition, in which disadvantaged or underprivileged people were given a roof over their head and a job to do, with the hope of eventual freedom, and that only a madman would have maltreated such a valuable investment.

Unfortunately, of course, Rome had its fair share of madmen, some of them even in charge. And arguing that a slave cost a lot of money was not guarantee against ill treatment, as the sight of a crashed Ferrari attests today. Some valued family slaves, like Cicero’s own manservant Tiro, might be fortunate enough to end their lives in relative comfort. Others, particularly the men captured in military campaigns, might find themselves toiling in the deadly conditions of the silver mines, or turned into beasts of burden on the vast, slave-run super-farms called latifundia.

Roman law is a fascinating area – so much of it is like our own, but there are entire areas that are simply alien. What of the status postliminium, introduced to deal with those embarrassing moments when a captured Roman soldier is rescued from the enemy? If a soldier is enslaved during a foreign war, but somehow escapes or is rescued, he is welcomed back as if he has literally been raised from the dead. In Swords & Ashes, Cicero argues that this creates a whole series of other problems. If a Roman soldier can be enslaved and then unslaved, then why not everybody else?

It could be worse. In China only a century before the time of Spartacus, the First Emperor had a slave unit called ‘the hidden offices’, comprising men and women so badly mutilated that they were used as glorified motors, shoved into cubby holes to power fans or open doors all day. I tried to write a Dr Who drama about it once, and got booted out the door for being so ghoulish.

But I don’t think it’s ghoulish to confront the ultimate implications of a society that is prepared to treat people as things. In modern times, we replaced slaves with machines, but began once more to replace machines with people. Has slavery really been eradicated or is it now exported, outsourced, globalised to some far-flung region out of everyday sight? Such questions are what keeps the story of Spartacus so alive for us, even two thousand years after he died.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes. This article originally appeared on the Starburst website in 2012.