You may or may not have noticed -- it's a subtle sort of thing -- but there is a definite eye motif running through the manga and anime world. Examples aren't all that common, but when they show up and you know what to look for, they're unmistakable.
I'd originally chalked up the eyes as an homage to Tsuge Yoshiharu's psycheldelic nightmare Neji-Shiki ("Screw Style"), a Sixties gekiga classic. In one scene, the protagonist limps through the streets in search of a doctor to mend a severed artery, only to find the town filled with nothing but opthamologists.
(As an aside, Toho tried to hire the notoriously reclusive Tsuge to create the animated sequences for Godzilla vs. Hedora. He refused, but it's interesting to speculate just how much MORE demented these segments would have turned out with his participation.)
Anyway, there's what appears to be an homage to this in Michael Arias' 2006 Tekkon Kinkreet, where the outcast yakuza Kimura drinks his troubles away in a strange bar:
There's even what appears to be a subtle tip of the pen to Tsuge in Studio Ghibli's "Spirited Away." A mysterious eye doctor can be found in the ghost-city surrounding the spa:
But the question is, where did TSUGE get the the original "eye-dea"? (Oh, I slay me.) While watching the newly restored full edition of Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis last night, I was struck by a sequence portraying "evil Maria's" bewitching influence on the male population of the city:
Inspiration? Coincidence? It's been 20+ years since Tsuge last drew a comic, and given his legendary reluctance to speak to interviewers we'll probably never know if he was channeling Metropolis. Whatever the case, keep your eyes peeled next time you're enjoying your favorite anime or manga. Blink and you'll miss them, but the eyes are there.
When we walk into special effects master and director Tomoo Haraguchi's office, "Mighty Jack" is playing on the TV. Perhaps it never stopped playing here. Surrounded by the props from a hundred classic movies, it's easy to imagine Haraguchi simply willed time to stop in the Showa era. It's one of those moments that makes me happy I live in Japan.
While there are other collectors of vintage movie props in Japan, what sets Haraguchi apart is his skill at restoring them. He, as a rapper might say, "lives this shit." He grew up on Toho soundstages as a child, spent his teens working part-time as the bad guy monsters who the heroes trounce in every episode, and directs his own films today. He is a living repository of wisdom from the "golden age" of Japanese special effects -- called tokusatsu -- that made Godzilla and Ultraman and their countless rivals great.
Everything in his collection was essentially junk before he restored it to mint condition, damaged both in the original shooting process and by decades of neglect. If Haraguchi didn't study and and practice these techniques on his props, both the objects AND the knowledge would most certainly disappear. One of the most interesting pieces we encountered wasn't even a prop at all, but rather a test, a sheet of strangely mottled material that looked like a carpet sample from a death-metal singer's house. Haraguchi explained that it was a re-creation of Godzilla's skin, created by ripping up sponges by hand, gluing them to a special backing, and then coating the entire surface in liquid latex to create supple yet durable kaiju-epidermis. The technique is all but forgotten today, as its innovators have long since retired or passed away. He'd asked one of the original creators of the first Godzilla suits to make it for him so he could confirm how it was done.
I'd been in what I call "the vault" once before, when Hiroko and I interviewed Haraguchi-san for CNNGo, but Patrick took the experience full-on like a blast from a giant monster's radioactive breath. For his part Haraguchi obviously enjoyed watching our otaku meltdown immensely, pulling out ever-more-obscure props in a largely unsuccessful attempt to stump Patrick. And in a demented twist, he actually let us try on the a vintage Ultraman Ace TAC ("Terrible Monster Attacking Crew") jacket. The real deal. This wasn't cosplay. It was like take-your-kid-to-work day, and your dad just happened to be a Science Patrol member.
We concluded the evening in Haraguchi's home theater room, getting a running commentary from the man himself as we queued up scene after scene from the films the props had appeared in. Accompanied by his two Japanese bobtails who -- I am not making this up -- actually sat and watched right along with us. I don't mean sitting in the same room passed out cold, like normal cats. I mean like sitting there, watching the screen, transfixed.
Anywhere else but the Studio Where Time Stopped, this would have seemed really, seriously weird. But it quickly started to make perfect sense. Surrounded by alien rayguns and spacecraft and titanic monsters, is it any wonder cats turn otaku too?
Ever wonder how they filmd that crazy forced-perspective shot of Ultraman flying through the air during his big transformation? The answer is as simple as a tilt:
Forced perspective the analog way! That fist is as big as a human head.
These shots were taken last night, when Patrick Macias and I invaded the top-secret lair of a certain film prop builder / restorer. Stay tuned for pics and video soon!
As someone who spent the Eighties obsessing over animated robots instead of girls, researching this article for David Marx's Neojaponisme took me into some very strange waters. One of the very strangest involves a "lolicon" pioneer by the name of Aki Uchiyama.
What does it say about the mental state of modern otaku that a book entitled The Manga Guide to Psychosomatic Illnesses" is climbing the bestseller lists? Created in association with a Tokyo mental clinic, the description reads, "laugh as you learn about all sorts of psychosomatic issues, from depression and erectile dysfunction to hallucinations and pedophilia!"
Intriguingly, the latter chapter (which is available online), builds its case not on Japanese but rather on Western psychology, specifically the DSM IV diagnostic manual. And that case seems to be, "as long as she's over thirteen, it's okay!" It ends with an image of unjustly accused lolicon lovers being led off to re-education camps. Make of that what you will...
I wrote and field-produced this segment about Japanese "kaiju eiga" (monster movies) for the National Geographic Channel's "Nat Geo Amazing!" show, which aired this summer.
Although it's only a few minutes long, it was filmed over the course of an entire day on Death Kappa's Yokohama soundstage. The destruction of the single building that "Hangyolas" chops in two took a solid four hours out of that: the technicians decided on the breaking point, smashed the building themselves, and rebuilt the tiny chunks into a seemingly untouched building for a better effect when the kaiju demolished it. Monster movie making is hard work.
A couple of notes: my original script did not include the word "cheesy." And one of the more interesting bits for fans didn't make the final cut: an interview with director Tomoo Haraguchi, who explained that since a kaiju movie is pure entertainment, "realism" is largely besides the point. Haraguchi, who haspreviously drawn a parallel between the suits worn by kaiju actors and those used in traditional kabuki productions, explained that over-the-top theatricality is part of the genre's whole charm. Perhaps one could say that one person's "cheesy" is another person's "kabuki"...?
I don't think I'm the first to find and post this mind-blowing cache of Japanese "Starlog" covers from 1978-2005, but I sure hope I'm not the last. I only wish the scans were bigger. The same site also carries equally obsessive catalogs of the covers of Uchusen magazine, the anime magazine "Out", and a ferociously complete discography of the band Hachimitsu Pai ("Honey Pie").
Meet Seyano Ajisai and Seyano Keyaki, the newest recruits to the ranks of Japan's many regional police department mascots. Unlike the usual vaguely-defined yuru kyara style working characters, they look like they stepped right out of the pages of a manga. But these aren't a joke, aren't some kind of dojinshi mash-up. They are 100% official designs of the suburban Yokohama based Seya Police Department, freshly unveiled just days ago. That makes them (in the words of a Seya P.D. spokesman) "the most cutting-edge police mascots in Japan."
The comment echoes one by Takashi Murakami several years ago about mascots "representing the cutting edge of kawaii culture in Japan." Given the troubles the anime, manga, music, and film industries are suffering at the moment, one could make a strong case that mascot culture is the "healthiest" (or at least most dynamic) of Japan's subcultures right now. And nowhere is that more evident than in the merging of status-quo mascot design with moé, that fetishization of girlish naiveté and effeminate men.
You can read an article I wrote on the subject over at CNNgo, but the fact that a police department chose these particular designs for outreach purposes is yet another example of just how deeply moé has entrenched itself in the mainstream of Japanese society. While there's a joke to be made here about the people who are supposed to be protecting children using "lolicon" as a community-building tool, this isn't really about Seya's aesthetic choices. Mascots are like fuzzy little mirrors reflecting the tastes of the day -- and love it or hate it, moé, is here to stay.