:: Buzzwords Archive: August 2009. Click here for the latest posts.

3:AM Asia: The Japan That (Said) Yes (published 31/08/2009)

By Roland Kelts.


When animation master Hayao Miyazaki observed that I was not wearing a necktie before our onstage conversation at the University of California, Berkeley late last month, he promptly unknotted his own necktie and stuffed the balled-up garment into the hands of his longtime producer, Toshio Suzuki. Then he smiled and nodded at me. He was ready.

Miyazaki was similarly casual throughout the evening, charming the 2,000-plus audience with a playful Cheshire smile, and deftly sidestepping questions that didn’t appeal. I was prepared for worse; Miyazaki is notorious for terse rebuttals and curmudgeonly grunts. And while he did emit the occasional groan, he was also surprisingly candid.

“Disasters are things to be lived through,” he said of the apocalyptic themes in his work. “They’re not evil. They bring people closer together. In fact, when I go to the top of a skyscraper in Tokyo, I feel the hope that the seas will come a little closer. It would be wonderful if I could see the end of civilization in my lifetime, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. So I have to use my imagination.”

Viewers of Miyazaki’s latest film, Ponyo, which recently had its US release, see the mother of all flood tides engulf the movie’s seaside town. Instead of destroying the town’s buildings and inhabitants, however, Ponyo’s disaster refreshes its characters’ lives, cleansing them of hoary misperceptions and ossified ways.

Across the Pacific, Miyazaki’s homeland was slouching toward a transformation of its own. With the general election set for Sunday, the 54-year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party is widely predicted to be nearing its end. “It takes a long time for the need for change to register in Japan,” a colleague at Tokyo University told me. “But once it does, it strikes like lightning.”

On Aug. 15, Seiji Horibuchi, the founder of 23-year-old anime, manga and entertainment importer Viz Media, LLC, opened a three-story, 15 million dollars Japanese pop culture complex called New People in San Francisco’s long-neglected Japantown.

Among the anime artists on hand were Yoshitaka Amano and Yuichi Yokoyama, whose works were on display. A red carpet, photographers and legions of fans welcomed Japanese actress Takako Tokiwa, who helped introduce the evening’s North American premiere of 20th Century Boys, Japan’s box office blockbuster based on Naoki Urasawa’s manga series.

“I expected the crowd might be over 10,000,” Horibuchi told me afterward, “but we had over 30,000. I almost shut down the building because there were so many people lining up before 7 a.m. Those Lolita [Gothic Lolita fashionista] kids wanted to be the first in. Almost half of them came from outside of the Bay Area–the East Coast, L.A. or Seattle. They were hungry for this.”

Bay Area author, translator and Osamu Tezuka authority Frederik L. Schodt, who was awarded the Japanese government’s Order of the Rising Sun commendation in June, is bullish on Horibuchi’s J-pop prospects, despite the risks. “I think it’s exactly what Japantown needs right now, as the community is dying fast. What Seiji is doing is exceedingly noble and exciting. Whether it can succeed in this economy is anyone’s guess, of course. But Seiji has proved me very wrong in the past.”

Among the final questions I asked Miyazaki: What did he think of the Japanese government’s loosely defined “soft power” initiative, a program to promote Japan as a producer of attractive cultural products worldwide?

The master groaned and grunted, then sighed. “The Japanese government will change very, very soon,” he said.

On Monday, we’ll know if he was right. [update: he was.]

(hosted at 3:AM and the Daily Yomiuri)

Five for: Jenni Fagan (published )


Jenni Fagan [pictured at the recent Word Power event with Kevin Williamson & Darran Anderson] answers some of Pablo Neruda‘s questions, from The Book of Questions:

1) Is the rose naked or is that her only dress?
The rose is naked, she took off her dress and sent it to Frank Black.

2) How did the abandoned bicycle win its freedom?
It didn’t, it’s mulched at Peckham scrappies, saw a manky dog pissing on it this morning.

3) Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy thin?
Sadness is not thick, it is clever, so clever it can consume nations. Melancholy is thin though, it seeps in sideways if you don’t let it in the front door.

4) How did the grapes come to know the cluster’s party line?
It was something to do with ketamine a donkey and a monk. I know there were no witnesses but there is footage of it somewhere on YouTube.


5) Why do [you] move without wanting to, why [are you] not able to sit still?
If you keep moving they can’t catch you.

Ordinary eyes hate looking. So if you are in the business of looking and even crazier, the business of seeing, then you better get quick on your feet. Witch-hunts and hangings still happen everyday, just less seen and more mundane.

I can’t sit still, the world is too strange and too full and too much, this odd little ball rotating in space, and humans … such funny little islanders, all fucking crazy. I sit still only for seconds. Seconds like when the sun comes up and the light is so golden across the rooftops and through the leaves of the trees, light so pretty you get up again and again to watch it rise.

Urchin Belle by Jenni Fagan is available to buy now from Blackheath Books.

The Missing Links (published 30/08/2009)

mlinks The blog strike. * Ewan Morrison wasn’t sorted for Es and whizz. * Evie Wyld‘s debut reviewed: “It’s a cauterising, cleansing tale, told with muscular writing”. * Toby Litt reviews Douglas Coupland‘s Generation A: “The book’s most successful character, Harj, voices contemporary fiction’s dilemma: ‘In the old days, it was much easier, but our modern fame-driven culture, with its real-time 24-7 marinade of electronic information, demands a lot from modern citizens, and poses great obstacles to narrative.’ Coupland is one of the few writers to admit these obstacles, and to try, as best he can, to incorporate them into his books. … But Generation A feels like a slow-motion demonstration of the ways in which technology is destroying story, and not the enacted triumph of story over technology that Coupland so clearly wishes it to be”. * Customized [Douglas] Coupland, design & personalise your own jacket for Generation A. * A Cultural Dictionary of Punk. * Ben Myers on Generation Zzz: “All that’s really lacking is name for this new wave of writers who, in publishing their shopping lists, Gmail chats, chapbooks and poems about vegan food, come across as a literary extension of Vice magazine and have gained a small army of readers as a result. I’d be inclined to call it Generation Yawn on account of the dangerously high levels of ennui on display…”. * It had to happen: Christiana Spens (who has just finished writing a new book) meets Gavin James Bower at the French House in Soho: “As you are daydreaming, you notice a man in the corner, who nearly turns you homosexual, such are his dashing good looks. Your date notices and says, ‘Don’t even think about it — he’s straight… At least I think so… Yeah pretty sure…’ She goes on to explain that this young writer, Gavin James Bower, has just published a novel called Dazed and Aroused that exposes the taunting superficiality of the fashion industry in taut, moving prose… You always judge books by their covers, which works to Bower’s advantage”. * An extract from James Palumbo‘s Tomas which is on Sam Jordison‘s Not the Booker prize shortlist. * When the Soviets planned to invade Manchester. * ZE Records. * Le Frédéric Beigbeder nouveau (Un Roman Français) est arrivé. * Zoë Street Howe talks about her Slits bio in The Quietus. There’s also an interview here. * Check out Michael Jacobson‘s gallery of asemic writing. * The tits tee is 40 years old. * Jello Biafra is back. * Remember Johnson’s great La Rocka! label? * We love James Kelman: “If the Nobel Prize came from Scotland they would give it to a writer of fucking detective fiction, or else some kind of child writer, or something that was not even new when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree, because she was writing about some upper middle-class young magician or some fucking crap” [3:AM‘s interview with James Kelman]. * This is the New Thing blog. * The world’s most boring book title. * Phone fiction. * Alan Bissett makes some good points on the subject of male/female depictions of sex in books: “Ironically, it is British men (and I’d have to include myself in this) who have been been more uptight about it all. Forthright their language may be, but works such as Irvine Welsh‘s Porno (2002), Adam Thirwell’s Politics (2003), Ewan Morrison‘s The Last Book You Read (2005), Joe Stretch‘s Friction (2008) and Chris Killen‘s The Bird Room (2009) mainly posit men as slaves to their own addictions, and sex as often joyless, anxious or repetitive, another empty product of consumerism or manifestation of power play. …Rarely is there the sheer exultation of the women”. * Aleksandar Hemon: “I believe in the democracy of fiction”. * Where is the good popular fiction for black men? * Johnny Marr in the Mail (of all places).

[Follow 3:AM on Twitter for more links.]

Motto For The Parked (published )

Click here for SCARCITY OF TANKS (Total Life Society Records/Textile Records) live in Richmond, VA at Couch Heaven on 21 August 2009. Recording by Silver Persinger. SOT = 3:AM senior editor Matthew Wascovich – vocals. Ted Wiggs, Null Flynn – guitar. Chris Grier – bass. Ben Azzara – drums.


3:AM Reloaded (published )


What you (may have) missed on 3:AM recently:

Fiction: ‘Rim Shot’ by Gay Degani & ‘Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, Again’ by Manny Dahilig

Non-fiction: Kimberly Nichols’ Fig Meant column & Owen Hatherley on Front 242 for ‘Friday I’m in Love’

Reviewed: Owen Hatherley on Verso’s Radical Thinkers series, Gavin James Bower on James Palumbo’s TOMAS, & Darran Anderson on Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro

Interviewed: Alan Kelly talks to noir goddess Megan Abbott & Andrew Gallix to Ewan Morrison:

To be honest, literature didn’t interest me, unless it dealt head on with the horrors of consumerism then it seemed to me to be just decorating the walls of our prison. As Debord said, nearly all of our cultural products are simply the reproduction of existing values. As Saul says in the novel: why add more crap to the stockpile of what our culture calls culture? To this day I still think if a book does not confront the crisis of purpose in contemporary life then it must go to the bin. I despise works of nostalgia or fantasy, there is so much historical revisionism going on and people are entertained by it. In history, our era will go down as the beginning of the time when western culture turned a blind eye to its present day and started feeding on and regurgitating the past as a form of entertainment. We have to ask ourselves why the present is so hard to document, why it is so apparently difficult to make culture out of. Perhaps it is that life under western consumerism is so anonymous, featureless, and passionless; that it does not offer us any forward-looking narratives. It is a cycle of endless repetition, forgetting and consumption. This is why we have become so obsessed with the past. I value any authors that have the guts to face up to the present and document it in all its emptiness: DeLillo, Houllebecq, James Frey, Hanif Kureishi. I find theorists of more use than novelists; I’m reading a lot of Žižek right now.