Directions in Contemporary Japanese Visual Storytelling – I

By | November 11, 2018

There has been a tendency for Western commentators to differentiate strongly between Art and Literature (and Music, of which more in a later post series). In Japan, this is much less so.

Let’s first look briefly at three commercial shorts made for Marubeni, a major Japanese business conglomerate, by Isao Takahata (高畑 勲 Takahata Isao, 1935 – 2018), the co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata had been an intimate colleague of Miyazaki’s since the union protests of their youth.

Headlined as: “STUDIO GHIBLI MAKES SHORT FROM WORLD’S OLDEST MANGA.”

These shorts are based on Choju Jinbutsu Giga, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, a set of scrolls from the 12th and 13th centuries which are widely considered the first examples of manga in Japanese history. At this point, I must make my point; which is that Takahashi is showing us his deep love of traditional Japanese scroll storytelling and how it continues to inspire contemporary manga and anime.

Sadly, I threw out my rare copy (a VHS rip) of an interview Takahashi did for Japanese TV about traditional Japanese scrolls; it shows him kneeling on the tatami and watching a scroll laid on the floor, winding it from right to left as is the way of Japanese visual scanning (our radar goes clockwise from left to right, theirs from right to left).

As the scroll unwraps the animals hop and run and bounce and a wonderful illusion of movement is created. This was an 800-year-old scroll telling a story.

From scrolls to manga and finally to anime; the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals

(note: all three scrolls play through this single link, wait for the first to finish and then select the next.  these are all tv commercial length, just over 30 seconds each!).

Millenia. From rock painting, stone age stories by nomadic campfires, to twenty-first-century graphical storytelling is a long road to take a view on. So I will compare, over a much shorter time period, the changes in three of the most popular detective, crime and police series, all still running; these are the massive media franchises of Detective Conan (名探偵コナン Meitantei Konan) [DC1], Lupin the Third (ルパン三世 Rupan Sansei) [LTT2] and Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai) [GITS3].

Three Franchises:

Conan is a detective who solves crimes (“There is only One Truth!“). Lupin is a master criminal (“The Greatest Thief in the World!“). Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子 Kusanagi Motoko) (“Just a whisper. I hear it in my ghost.”) is a policewoman working in public security, straddling the mirror worlds of crime and punishment.

  • Detective Conan – Author Gosho Aoyama (青山 剛昌 Aoyama Gōshō). Manga 1994-2018 ongoing. Anime 1996-2018 ongoing. Films 22, tv series 27 seasons (1000 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.
  • Lupin the Third – Author Monkey Punch (モンキー・パンチ Monkī Panchi).  Manga 1967-2018 ongoing. Anime 1971-2018 ongoing. Films 25, tv series 7 seasons (c300 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.
  • Ghost in the Shell – Author Shirow Masamune (士郎 正宗 Shirō Masamune). Manga 1989-2018 ongoing. Films 3, tv series 2 seasons (48 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.

Deconstructing the universe(s):

  • DC – Seventeen-year-old genius high school detective, is poisoned by the mysterious Black Organisation [BORG4] but instead of dying is somehow returned back to his childish body aged seven. He retains all his faculties and memories. He has one elderly helper, the genius inventorHiroshi Agasa (阿笠 博士 Agasa Hiroshi) and three primary school classmate assistants, the wonderfully named “Detective Boys Club“. 
  • LTT – Master gentleman thief.
  • GITS – Public Security Section 9 headed by “The Major” Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子 Kusanagi Motoko)

Milieu:

Dress:

Appliances:

Work:

Leisure:

Love life:

Footnotes:

Friends of Orchha.

By | November 10, 2018

The Tiger, the Brahmin and the Jackal.“A fable is a story, often about animals, that points out some aspect of human behaviour and often has a moral attached to it.”

Children of Village Ganj, near the venerable town of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, India, perform an ancient fable, originally from the Jataka, a compendium of moral (mostly animal) fables. None of the children had acted before. The direction was by Asha D’ Souza with help from Erica Tricon, under the auspices of Friends of Orchha.

After the performance, the children were each introduced and given presents, amidst much laughter and clowning. A moving conclusion to my homestay experience: and, until now (November 2018) my last experience of Old, pre-smartphone, India.

Returning to London, I wrote:

“In London before leaving for six months in India I was searching for a place to stay in Orchha, my intended first stop of a pilgrimage around the cultural & spiritual centres of Madhya Pradesh; and so I found the Friends of Orchha (“The Orchha Home-stay, experience life in an ordinary Indian family…”). Towards the end of my stay in Ganj, which lengthened to twenty-five days of happy slow living in the already baking heat of late spring, Asha & Erika organised some of the village children to perform an Indian fable “The Tiger, The Brahmin & the Jackal“. None of the kids had ever performed before, but they took to it like ducks to water & although often protesting & not paying attention, after practice they became competent & even inspired; loving the dressing-up, they also particularly enjoyed wearing the animal masks. And finally all was ready; in the late hazy afternoon, slowly cooling, the fable was performed in the courtyard of a village house…”.

Ganj is a poor low-caste village and until recently most of the villagers were illiterate and had never gone to school. The Government of India (Central) has passed many laws that attempt to improve the status of lower castes and untouchables (  हरिजन Harijan “Children of God”) and now most of the children are eligible to go to the state primary school down the road into Orchha. However, like many poor village schools, funds are so limited and the teacher’s pay so low, that many schools have no or few teachers and any materials (books, stationery, clothing, etc) have to be bought by the parents who often can not afford to do so. The buildings are decrepit and no one who can afford it will willingly send their children there.

Madhya Pradesh (मध्य प्रदेश literally “the middle province) is indeed in the middle of modern India and is the heartland of Hinduism as represented by the worship of Lord Rama and exemplified by the purest pronunciation and intonation of the language, a pure SanskritizedHindi. Walking up the road from my homestay (a Yadav family of whom much more later) passers-by would greet each other with a loud “Jai Shree Ram” (जय श्री राम Hail Lord Rama) to which the response “Ram, Ram” (राम राम) was most usual.

Orchha was the capital of the Bundelkhand Rajas, their massive yet graceful architecture surviving the rigours of heat and rain for centuries.

NOTA VERY BENE DUDE!!! This, as all posts here, is an ongoing project. You might, like Wikipedia, call it a stub; in this case, an infinite one. More real soon. 

To Do/Links/Notes:

Asha D’ Souza

Plot: The Tiger, the Brahmin and the Jackal.

“A brahmin passes a tiger in a trap. The tiger pleads for his release, promising not to eat the brahmin. The brahmin sets him free but no sooner is the tiger out of the cage then he says he is going to eat the brahmin, going back on his promise. The brahmin is horrified and tells the tiger how unjust he is. They agree to ask the first three things they encounter to judge between them. The first thing they encounter is a tree, who, having suffered at the hands of humans, answers that the tiger should eat the brahmin. Next, a buffalo, exploited and mistreated by humans, agrees it is only just that the Brahmin should be eaten. Finally, they meet a jackal who, sympathetic to the brahmin’s plight, at first feigns incomprehension of what has happened and asks to see the trap. Once there he claims he still doesn’t understand. The tiger gets back in the trap to demonstrate and the jackal quickly shuts him in, suggesting to the brahmin that they leave matters thus.”

Wildlife is abundant in the forests and fields surrounding Orchha. The river Betwa flows peacefully at the edge of town with great ancient pavilions (छात्र    Chhatri), built by the old Bundelkhand rajas, lining the town-side bank.

Tickell's Blue FlycatcherTickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae) is not so commonly seen these days due to forest depredation, habitat loss and encroaching overpopulation of humans. A beautiful small bird, it has an iridescent blue plumage that photos can never quite catch. I had met a young man one morning, a British-Indian food designer who was on a one year sabbatical from testing supermarket Indian ready meals, to travel to India and spend some of that time bird watching. He was eloquent on the variety of avian species near Orchha and he was determined to see and photograph a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher but after several daily expeditions into the local forests, he had conspicuously failed to see one.

We decided to walk down to the river’s edge where it was pleasant and cooler to sit on the little ghats with feet in the water, chai in hand and a bidi in the mouth.

On the way, Neal G suddenly stopped and fumbled furiously for his telephoto-lensed Nikon.

What are you doing?” I asked in some amazement.

It’s it! Look!” and he was pointing up over the road ahead.

Look, it’s a Blue Flycatcher“; and there was this sleek little bird, perching precariously on a fine telegraph wire that crossed the road.  Sadly, by the time Neal had extracted the Nikon from the camera bag, sadly, sadly… the bird had flown. 

Conan and The Black Organisation – I

By | November 10, 2018

Edogawa Conan.名探偵コナン Meitantei Konan (known in English as ‘Case Closed’) is one of my favourite アニメ (anime) series, comprising 920+ tv episodes, 20+ yearly films, many ‘specials’ and ‘ova’ and all based on the original manga, now in its’ twenty-fifth year, from the pen of  青山 剛昌 (Aoyama Gōshō).  The manga alone has sold over 200 million copies. I have long wanted to put down some of my thoughts on the importance of the graphical reading experience. I grew up reading the printed word; literature and art were distinct worlds.

But, conversely, wonderfully, in Japan, the printed word is woven seamlessly into the graphical framework, a harmony of art and prosody that can leverage both to unexpected heights.Kudo Shinichi & Edogawa Conan. A seventeen-year-old Japanese high school detective is poisoned by a mysterious man in black but instead of dying is shrunk into his seven-year-old self. And so we follow this child-man as he solves incredible criminal cases while searching for the Black Organisation that poisoned him and which turns out to be an invisible yet pervasive international criminal syndicate.

We only glimpse the two members of the Black Organisation when Shinichi (17) is at the funfair at night with his girlfriend Ran (17) and notices something shadowy going on and starts to investigate by himself and sees two men furtively handing over something, but then a third man knocks him out from behind and pushes a poison pill down his throat, which is supposed to kill him. As it turns out this is an experimental drug and has a rare unknown side effect that shrinks the living organism instead of killing it. So Shinichi becomes the seven-year-old Conan; end manga chapter 1 and anime episode 1.

boss of the black organisation.

We don’t encounter the Black Organisation (黒の組織 Kuro no Soshiki) again until episode 128 season 5. In the meantime, Conan has started living with Mōri Ran and her father, the bumbling private detective Mōri Kogorō and is attending the local primary, Teitan Elementary School as the seven-year-old Edogawa Conan and solving murders and other cases with the help of three classmates (The Detective Boys   ) and professor Agasa, a genius inventor of aids to the child detective.

Detective Conan – S05 – 128 – The Black Organization 1 Billion Yen Robbery Case:
Gōshō sensei has an amazing ability to plot, crafting intricate scenarios that extend over hundreds of episodes, dipping intermittently into other scenarios, weaving a dense web of obfuscation so that we never have the sense that we really understand what’s going on. Hidden veils, plot twists, only come to light from under a fog of menace and fear.

Conan Edogawa.Kogoro MourVodka.

 

 

 

KogorōRan and Conan head to their local bank. While Kogorō orders a bank book and tries to chat up the pretty cashier, Conan wanders out and in the bank carpark sees an armoured van being robbed. Conan chases after the robber’s car on his super-speedy solar-powered skateboard but loses them as they bust through a level crossing.

Having a child detective confront violent adult criminal organisations is an unlikely scenario in the real world, but it would help if the child had some especially realised weaponry. Here these are supplied by the redoubtable professor Agasa (阿笠 博士 Agasa Hiroshi), a genius portly insecure single mad scientist kind of character; balding and loquacious, he supplies the tranquiliser dart, torch, wristwatch; the electrically powered trainers that can deliver a devastating kick; the solar-powered skateboard; the tracking glasses; the voice-changing bowtie; the Detective Boys badges with two-way radios.

The robbers get away, police are baffled; next day it seems that the getaway driver and the bent bank guard have been murdered; Conan suspects the pretty young cashier of involvement since she had been looking at her watch; since he likes here (“I always thought she was a kind person”) he thinks she might be next on the list and goes to warn her at her apartment. She stuns Conan and heads off to deliver the money. In a darkly lit warehouse, she meets two men of the Black Organisation; we see, for the first time since episode 1, that they are the same men that poisoned Shinichi. Another veil is drawn aside when we learn that the lady cashier is, in fact, the civilian sister of a member of the Black Organisation who is a research chemist. She only did this bank job to get her sister released, but the men shoot her and as she lies dying Conan whooshes up (having tracked her with the tracking glasses) and she tells him her story and that her name is (宮野 明美 Miyano Akemi) Akemi and she whispers to him of a vast black-clad criminal conspiracy over generations and continents and then she dies. End of episode.

Detective Conan – S05 – 129 – The Girl from the Black Organization.

The Shadowy Boss of the Black Organisation.An unknown transfer student comes to  Class Ib, Teitan Elementary School. Her name is Ai (灰原 哀 Haibara Ai) and at seven years of age, she has the same knowing eyes as Conan who shrugs her off (“Oh, it’s just a girl”).  A lot of emotional tension is set up in this episode; Ai joins the Detective Boys and Conan on a kidnapping case. Later she jerks Conan’s chain by stating that she is a member of the Black Organisation. Finally, Ai reveals that she is on the run from the Organisation because they murdered her sister. 

Part II of this post will cover the next (three episode) arc:

Detective Conan – S07 – 176 – Meeting with the Black Organization Again (Haibara Part).
Detective Conan – S07 – 177 – Meeting with the Black Organization Again (Conan Part).
Detective Conan – S07 – 178 – Meeting with the Black Organization Again (Resolution).

After this, the next ‘Black’ sequence takes place in flashback in New York City, some years before; this will be covered in Part III. So – Onwards & Upwards – Conan Rocks!

 

Festivals of Vashisht Village – I

By | November 10, 2018

Vashisht village nestles in the lee of the Rohtang pass at 2,000 metres up the Kullu valley. Famous for it’s Gods and Goddesses and a multitude of temples, each deity has a palanquin upon which they travel from village to village, visiting other local deities and receiving visits from them in return. The Spring mela (मेला festival) lasts for three days and begins the festival season.

Mela first day morning. Spring is here and the marriage season. The Devata is taken out from his winter slumbers and carried around his temple.

Mela first day afternoon. The village attends the shrine of the Goddess Jogini, mother of the village who sits invisibly behind her mountain waterfall curtain. The village congregates at her lower shrine under the great Walnut tree and vast amounts of food are cooked on-site and consumed on stone platters.

This is the second day morning of the three-day festival when men of the village dance for the God in the village square in front of the temple.

 Part II of this series will show more videos of the wonderful old traditions of these great mountain peoples.