The AIUEO Song

‘“The AIUEO Song” was one of several films screened in the Japanese empire to teach the Japanese writing system to schoolchildren, released close behind the tunes “Flower of Patriotism” and “Our Unity” – there are accounts of all three being screened repeatedly. Digging around in the archives, Takashi Kayama has uncovered another version of the song, released on vinyl by Nippon Columbia in November 1942, and recorded by schoolchildren in Singapore, seemingly native Chinese speakers struggling to get the sounds exactly right.’

Over at the All the Anime blog, I delve into new revelations about the singalong Japanese lesson that forms an early highlight of Momotaro, Sacred Sailors.

Terminal Boredom

‘Suzuki excels at unreliable narration. In the Bradbury-esque “Night Picnic” (translated by Sam Bett), four creatures that identify as human beings pore over a library of forgotten books, comically and ham-fistedly trying to reconstruct what it means to be an Earthling. In “That Old Seaside Club” (translated by Helen O’Horan), a possibly drug-addled glimpse of seafront nightlife turns out to be the hallucinatory refuge of a doleful housewife, reliving a replay of her twenties heyday. In much the same fashion, in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (translated by Aiko Masubuchi), a woman’s recounting of her night-club experiences carries a niggling, growing sense that time is not working in the way it should, and that her perception of the passing of the minutes and the passing of the years might be confused.’

Over at All the Anime, I review the new collection of science fiction stories by the late Izumi Suzuki.

How Do You Live?

“Copper is adept at finding out things for himself, and the reader shares in his joy as he uncovers such things as the supply chain that puts a mouthful of Australian dairy milk onto his Tokyo breakfast table – the cows and the milkers and the factory and the freight train and the steamship… Uncle is there to point out that what he is actually talking about is the ‘relations of production,’ and gently tries to inform him about the basic principles of Marxist economics.”

Over at All the Anime, I’ve been reading the book of Hayao Miyazaki’s next film.

Koichi Yamano

“Yamano decried Japanese sf for living in ‘prefabricated housing’ of American construction, alluding to the powerful influence of US mass media on post-war Japan. Naming names, he argued that he saw no originality in the works of Aritsune Toyota and Fujio Ishihara, that Shinichi Hoshi and Ryū Mitsuse had reached the limits of the restricted conceptual areas they had established for their fiction, and that Sakyō Komatsu and Yasutaka Tsutsui, while achieving greater literary merit, were still merely ‘remodelling’ a paradigm established in the ‘US petit-bourgeois opportunism’ and ‘banal realism’ of authors like Robert A Heinlein, or the ‘optimistic logic of great powers’ he claimed to see in the works of Isaac Asimov.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the New Wave advocate Koichi Yamano, who also wrote stuff about princes from a sunken kingdom and a runaway haunted train.

Spirited Away at 20

‘”My favourite scene from Spirited Away is actually when they are wandering through the town in the beginning, because for certain audiences it creates an incredible sense of tension,” says Clements. “The English-language version doesn’t translate the signs all around Chihiro’s family in the street, but they are all goblin-market-level creepy. That’s not an opticians, it’s an ‘eyeball shop’, and it’s even advertising FRESH ONES just in…’

Over at BBC Culture, Arwa Haider interviews me about the long-term appeal of Spirited Away. Bit crazy for them to keep sticking my title in the pull-quotes, but a nice piece nonetheless.

Masami Fukushima

“Unfortunately for Fukushima, the authors he insulted in 1969 became the chief representatives of Japanese science fiction of the late twentieth century, and ultimately the custodians of its historical memory, turning his posthumous footprint into an occasional walk-on role in the memoirs of others.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the founding editor of SF Magazine in Japan, a critic brought down by karma…?

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.