Out today and purchased this very morning by your correspondent from a petrified newsagent on Chang’an Avenue in Xi’an, the 7th October coverdated issue of China’s Lifeweek magazine, which features an incredible sixty-page article on Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli and the greats of anime and manga. Yes, that’s Miyazaki on the cover, gritting his teeth through the pain of wearing a ridiculous hat that bears the Studio Ghibli fashion logo, referred throughout the massive article as shenjiang (“divine/inspired craftsman”).
It doesn’t surprise me that the Chinese would run features on the man whose name they pronounce as Gongqi Jun. After all, his films have entered the country legitimately through their Disney associations, and are as beloved among Chinese viewers as they are anywhere else in the world. Nor, I suppose, does it much surprise me that Miyazaki’s much-publicised retirement should be an excuse for a retrospective that encompasses his collaborators Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata. What boggles me is quite so much space not only on them, but on their controversial latest film, the philosophy of their company, the rapid globalisation of their brand (with special reference to the influence of Pixar) and the other titles that form part of Japanese animation and manga exports – particularly Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Dragon Ball
Lifeweek is a large-circulation periodical in the People’s Republic, available on every street corner, and in times when the media seem obsessed with sabre-rattling over the Senkaku Islands, devotes a quarter of this latest issue to the celebration of Japanese soft power. It outs Doraemon, known to many Chinese as “Ding Dang the time-travelling cat”, as a Japanese product, and runs potted pieces on other anime creators of note – Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mamoru Oshii and Makoto Shinkai. And then there’s the traditional stuff about anime taking the world by storm, illustrated as usual by pictures of teenage girls dressed as elves, standing in a car park.
It’s a fantastic splash for anime in the Chinese media, and presumably meets with the full approval of the government censor. Now is a perfectly reasonable time to celebrate anime, but one can’t help but wonder if the enthusiasm masks something else – a sense that Miyazaki’s retirement leaves a vacuum that a canny Chinese entrepreneur might hope to fill. Lifeweek offers a 60-page blueprint for taking one nation’s cartoons to the world, but you can’t plan for genius and you can never guarantee success.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, available to pre-order now from the British Film Institute.