Best Books on Chinese Food

Over at the recommendations site Shepherd, I provide a list of my top-five books on Chinese food — or at least, my top five books today, including the peerless Fuchsia Dunlop, the educational Hsiang Ju Lin, and the America-focussed Liu Haiming. It was particularly hard picking just one book from the American ones, and just one novel, but I did my best to be objective.

Are you not entertained? Shepherd recommends all sorts of listicles, from issues in pre-modern race, to the Parthian Empire, to the Soviet space programme.

Grave of the Fireflies

“Grave of the Fireflies was rushed out unfinished, with one scene still uncoloured in the initial print – such a shameful embarrassment that Takahata’s career was proclaimed over (again), until Miyazaki rescued him by promising to be the producer of his follow-up. If Miyazaki is jokingly known as the Guy Who Keeps Trying to Retire, I might suggest that Takahata is the Guy Who Keeps Getting Told ‘You’ll Never Work in This Town Again.'”

Over at All the Anime, I review Alex Dudok de Wit’s BFI Film Classic on Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies.

Ryu Mitsuse

“Published shortly before his death, Ihon Saiyūki [“An Alternate Journey to the West”] was written from Mitsuse’s hospital bed, and reimagines Wu Cheng-en’s novel Xi You Ji [“Journey to the West”] — a.k.a. Monkey. Mitsuse’s version both demythologizes and remythologizes the text, stripping away the pious Buddhist tone of the original to suggest that the true story was not one of a medieval monk travelling to India in search of sacred scrolls, but of an agent sent to Samarkand in search of scientific and technical knowledge, accompanied by three condemned men whose sentences will be commuted if their mission is somehow successful.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the author Ryu Mitsuse (1928-1999).

Sociology of Anime

Sneaking out at the end of 2020 in Japan, Sociology of Anime: On the Cultural Production of Anime Fans and Anime Producers is a fine collection of academic chapters edited by Daisuke Nagata and Shintaro Matsunaga. It’s the best collection of new Japanese-language work on Japanese animation by Japanese authors that I have seen since Anime Studies (2011), and contains some fascinating gems of research.

Two of the essays focus on animation during the Pacific War. Mayumi Yukinaga revisits the story of the Shadow Staff, the animators who made instructional films for the military, by unearthing what appears to be a script for one of the instalments of the lost Principles of Bombardment. All such films were presumed destroyed in 1945, but Yukinaga has unearthed this document sandwiched in between a bunch of German and Japanese aviation manuals on a microfilm.

Similarly exciting is Takashi Kayama’s deep-dive on the infamous “AIUEO song” from Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, which, as I noted in my book on the film, was not written for the project, but was a pre-existing indoctrination aid in use in schools throughout the Japanese empire.

Although there are also a couple of chapters on historical issues such as the rise of anime on video cassette, the bulk of the rest of the book is taken up with accounts of creative production among fans and animators. There’s a tantalising polemic from Hiroaki Tamagawa on the unsustainability of the “Cool Japan” initiative and a piece by Ryotaro Mihara and Kazuo Yamashita about the business of making and selling anime overseas, particularly in China. Similar transnational issues are pursued in Kim Taeyon’s account of the history of anime in Korea.

Closer to home, both Shintaro Matsunaga and Tomoya Kimura write about the nitty-gritty of an animator’s life, drifting almost into the realm of anthropology in their account of what it is like to live on 150,000 yen a month (about £991) as a low-ranking animator. Several other authors grapple with the life-cycle and customer journey of fans, to create a marvellous anthology of contemporary writing on Japanese animation.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.

One More Time, One More Chance

“‘One More Time, One More Chance’ also became the subject of an urban myth, with some members of the public coming to believe that it had been written in memory of a lover who had died in the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. This was not true, at least not for Yamazaki himself, although it is possible that at least part of the film’s 1990s success was that other listeners associated it with their own sense of bereavement.”

Over at All the Anime, I delve deep into the backstory and the historical resonances of the song that just drops into Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimeters Per Second right at the end, which I regard as the musical equivalent in Japanese pop culture of Haruki Murakami’s “On Meeting My 100% Woman One Fine April Morning” (for which see here).

Koki Mitani

“Mitani’s most overtly sf piece, Galaxy Kaidō (2015; trans as Galaxy Turnpike) is more concerned with mundane matters. Set in the year 2265, in a dilapidated burger bar somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn, it allegorizes Earthbound issues of smalltown ennui and relationship dramedy on a galactic scale. Mitani himself conceived of the film as a setting derived from the beliefs of 1950s American sitcoms of what the future would look like… Mitani’s conception of the film’s inspirations was also structural: he imagined it as if it were a single episode in a long-running and episodically interchangeable situation comedy.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, my entry on the dramatist and film-maker Koki Mitani, takes my contributions over the 200,000-word mark.