• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

Transcript

Ray Suarez: From American Public Media, this is Japan's Pop Power, an American RadioWorks documentary. I'm Ray Suarez. To many people, global youth culture means rock and roll and other Western fashions. But for more and more young people across to world, the capital of pop culture is Tokyo.

John Biewen: Electronics, dvds, anime.

Chris Farrell: It's Times Square times ten as far as the level of neon goes, don't you think?

Over the past decade, Japanese video games, animation and comic books have caught fire in much of the world, including the U.S..

Jesse Petersen: There's Yatsuba. Naruto is a really good one, by the same person who did Azumunga Dai-oh.

Anne Allison: Japan is enticing to kids. It's signifies cool, and that's a huge change.

Japan's rise as a cultural power offers insights into the direction of world culture and the global economy. In the coming hour, Japan's Pop Power from American RadioWorks. First, this news update.


Segment A

Ah, Japan. That ancient Buddhist country. Home to the kimono, the tea ceremony, and kabuki. Westerners have long been fascinated by Japan's rich and very old cultural traditions. But in the 21st century, Japan is cool.

From American Public Media, this is Japan's Pop Power, an American RadioWorks documentary. I'm Ray Suarez.

From Sydney to Seoul to San Francisco, children and young adults are gobbling up Japanese pop exports: anime, or animated movies and TV shows; manga comic books and video games. Sales of these pop culture products now match those of Japanese cars and make up the nation's few fast-growing export industry.

Japan somehow has a knack for speaking to the dreams of today's young people. Japanese leaders are hoping that in the new "creative economy" their country can build its future on the export of fantasy. This hour, Japanese cool. Chris Farrell and John Biewen went exploring, among other places, in Tokyo.

[store sounds]

John Biewen: So we're in this shop called Animate.

Chris Farrell: We have posters. We have -

Biewen: Action figures.

Farrell: Action figures, dolls.

Biewen: Towels. All stuff with anime characters on them.

Farrell: John, we must've looked a little out of place in that store.

Biewen: [laughs] You think so? A couple of middle-aged Americans, walking around this shop in Shibuya, this trendy district of Tokyo.

Farrell: A store was just jammed with stuff for fans of anime and manga.

Biewen: And every 15 feet or so there's another small flat screen that's showing another anime.

Farrell: Now this one's actually quite nice.

Biewen: Now, Chris Farrell, you are a business and economics reporter. Why could you possibly be interested in Japanese youth culture?

Farrell: Well, Japan is the world's second largest economy. I've followed it with interest for years. But I think I'm more intrigued by a story about the global economy. Where wealth is coming from in a world where entertainment becomes more important. But, truth be told, my real interest in this story was sparked by watching my son. I was driving the car and he's reading a book from back to front.

Biewen: From right to left, reading a Japanese manga in the Japanese fashion. Well, my kids are elementary schoolers, but they like to watch Cartoon Nework. And these days, a whole lot of what's on Cartoon Network, comes from Japan.

Farrell: Now you lived in Japan before.

Biewen: Twenty years ago for a couple of years.

Farrell: So were you a big fan of anime and manga?

Biewen: Uh, no. I went to Japan, I was enchanted by old Japan. Rock gardens and sushi. Not whatever was cool for young people. But that was a long time ago.

Farrell: Well times have certainly changed, and we teamed up to explore Japanese youth culture. Global youth culture. Especially through the lens of anime and manga.

Biewen: And we'll get back to Tokyo in a little while, but we'll start in Anytown, U.S.A.. Well, Durham, North Carolina. It's the town I live in. Meet Jesse.

Jesse Petersen: [mall sounds] My name is Jesse Petersen and we're at Northgate Mall, right outside of Waldenbooks. I'm 14 years old. Usually about once or twice a month, usually on the weekends, my mom just drops me off. I go in there, just sit down, start reading.

Biewen: So Chris, picture this. It's a quiet weekday afternoon at the mall. Jesse has just finished eighth grade at a Durham middle school, and she is heading into this bookstore but has no plans to buy anything.

Petersen: My budget does not allow me to spend about $8 a volume on manga.

Biewen: Manga are Japanese comic books. They're usually much thicker than the American type. Jesse uses this store as, really, her reading room and library. But she was a little nervous of drawing the attention of the clerks by having a big microphone, so I clipped a wireless mic to her tank top.

Petersen: Most of it is right here. A multitude of different series of manga. This is basically heaven for me.

Biewen: You know, in big chain bookstores by now, the manga sections are pretty big. You have hundreds and hundreds of books. This is a little Waldenbooks shop, so none of the sections in the store are very big. The manga section was maybe only 12 feet of shelf space. But then I looked around and realized that makes it a pretty substantial one. You've got sports, religion, self-help, manga was twice the size of any of those sections.

Petersen: There's the series that got me all started on manga, which is Inuyasha, because one of my friends brought one to school. I have read so many different series that have so many different books. Cowboy Bebop is really good. ... It would be probably in the hundreds. It's like futuristic, lots of space travel and stuff. Tokyo Mew Mew is really funny too. ... There's Yatsuba. Naruto is a really good one, by the same person who did Azumanga Dai-oh.

Chris: She rattles off those Japanese words really well.

Biewen: [laughs] To people like Jesse and her friends, these words, the titles of anime and manga, they're everyday household words. It's like you and me talking about Toyota and Sony.

Farrell: You know, that's a good analogy in another way. Japanese pop culture is a major export industry for Japan, like cars and stereos were for a previous generation. It's big business and a cultural phenomenon.

[convention sounds]

Biewen: Here we are at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, Richmond, Virginia.

Farrell: I guess you'd call it the great hall at the convention center.

Biewen: At the Mid-Atlantic Anime Convention.

Farrell: And we have all kinds of people dressed up in costumes, looking like characters out of an anime movie or a manga comic book.

Biewen: We went to this convention in June. Now, I've never been to a Trekkie convention, but that's how I imagined it. It seemed like that kind of scene.

Farrell: And these kids were really into their roles.

Melissa: We're nerdy kids in real life and we're Final Fantasy characters right now.

Ariel: Indeed.

Corey: Indeed.

Melissa: Final Fantasy 8.

Biewen: Now, Final Fantasy, that's a video game?

Melissa: Yes.

Derek Rich: My name is Derek. I am from Manassas, Virginia.

Biewen: And tell us who your character is.

Rich: I am Son Goku from Dragon Ball Z.

Farrell: There were lots of elaborate, wild get-ups, but this guy really stood out. Orange ninja outfit. But on his head was just this incredible thing.

Rich: What I'm wearing currently is my stage three hair, which is close to five feet long, stands about a foot and a half off my head, comes out in all directions.

Biewen: And it's yellow and it's made of styrofoam, I guess.

Rich: Foam rubber, yes. It's bright yellow. It's made of foam rubber. Weighs about 15 to 20 pounds.

Farrell: So it was a summer weekend day and the Richmond Convention Center was filled with young fans. Very diverse crowd. There was a room with video games, then there was another section of the convention center where you could buy all kinds of merchandise. Then there were three rooms where you had anime films running.

Edward Fortner: I'm Edward L. Fortner, Jr.. I'm the chairman and CEO for the convention. 2001 was our first year. This is our biggest crowd we've ever had. I think we're somewhere around, approaching 3,000 right now. In 2001 we had 617 people. So, quite a bit of growth over the last couple years. There were 135 conventions last year in the U.S..

Biewen: Hold on a second. I want to make sure everybody got what he just said. Play that back.

[audio stops, rewinds, click.]

Fortner: There were 135 conventions last year in the U.S..

Farrell: That's two conventions a week, on average, somewhere in the U.S..

Biewen: And we're talking everywhere: Norman, Oklahoma, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Farrell: And the biggest, which is in Anaheim, California, 40,000 fans in the summer of 2006.

Anne Allison: There is this Japanese air or flair that certainly is popular. It's big. It is really, really big.

Biewen: That is Anne Allison.

Allison: Professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University.

Biewen: She has a new book out, it's about the global spread of Japanese stuff for kids. The book is called Millennial Monsters. She's been watching the trend since the early 90s.

Farrell: That's when it really took off. In Japan, the 1990s is called the "lost decade." But exports of Japanese pop culture tripled.

Biewen: And a really interesting thing happened culturally. Anne Allison talks about the first TV show to really make it big-Japanese show, to really make it big in the U.S. and much of the world. You remember, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It hit the U.S. on Fox Kids in 1993.

[Power Rangers music]

Allison: When it was being considered for broadcast in the U.S., it took the guy who had the property, Haim Saban, eight years to get a network interested because they thought, first of all, they thought it was stupid. They thought American kids were too sophisticated to appreciate anything as dumb as that. Totally wrong. But they also thought American kids would not be enticed by the Asianness.

[Power Rangers music, English shouting]

Farrell: So in the scenes where you could see the faces of the characters, they'd be re-shot with American, mostly-caucasian actors.

Biewen: They de-Japanized the show. But now if you turn on the kids' channels on cable, there are a whole bunch of shows that are boldly Japanese.

Allison: All of these things have overt signs of coming from a place that's not the U.S.. You see temples, you see shrines, you see Japanese script. People are eating with chopsticks, they're eating rice, they're drinking tea.

[from Naruto: Fine! Because you missed it, Naruto, everyone will review the transformation jutsu! Awww!"]

Allison: Now, that is what sells. Now you have U.S.-produced television shows that are set in Japan. And they're produced in the U.S..

[Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Theme: "Planet Tokyo is a place not very far."]

Allison: Because Japan, or Asia, or this kind of vague place over there, is enticing to kids, it signifies cool. And that's a huge change.

[Toonami Jetstream ad: "And that's not all. We're bringing the heat from the Land of the Rising Sun with some sweet new shows."]

Farrell: But what's behind this change? I mean why is Japan so cool? What is it about Japanese pop culture that strikes a chord with young people in China, France, South Africa, and Richmond, Virginia.

Biewen: Well, or Durham, North Carolina. Remember Jesse in the bookstore? I pretty much asked her that question.

Petersen: It's kind of a lot the originality about it. You can't get the emotions and the plots that you get, you can't get them in Western comics. If you've ever heard of Fooly Cooly, it is so random. [Fooly Cooly scene: drums, music, motorcycle]

Farrell: Alright, what's this Fooly Cooly?

Biewen: It's a manga series and an anime mini-series, it's also called F-L-C-L. It's about a 12-year-old boy, but in the very first episode, there's this sexy female alien who comes wizzing by on a vespa scooter and knocks him over. Then she whacks him over the head with an electric bass guitar that causes him to give birth to a robot that comes popping out of his head. And later, he's eaten by -

Allison: In U.S. logic, we kind of want things logical and clean. Is it animal or is it not? Is it alive or dead? Is it good or is it bad? But in the stuff we're talking about that's coming from Japan, things kind of go from one to the other. It doesn't have to be one or the other. It's both or neither or something beyond that.

Petersen: Ah, Fruits Basket.

Biewen: Jesse pulled another favorite manga off the shelf.

Petersen: It's about this girl who's an orphan, and she starts living with this really odd family. They share this curse where they turn into a certain animal from the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or when they have somebody from the opposite sex hug them.

Allison: Often there's not a linear narrative or if it is, it goes forward, it goes backward, time is totally mixed up.

Jesse: The plots on some of these things are really hard to follow, and you pride yourself when you actually understand them.

Allison: So why now? Why would Americans find all that aesthetic - why that aesthetics now?

Farrell: That's a good question. And the other thing that I'm really fascinated by is why are Japanese animators, Japanese artists creating it?

Biewen: Why Japan and not Norway? I don't know. We're gonna get to those questions, but meantime, let's leave Jesse to her manga reading there in the Waldenbooks store.

Petersen: Yea! [claps] I just love doing this. It makes me happy.

Biewen: We'd been standing in the aisles talking but now Jesse sat down cross-legged next to the shelves of manga. And to her relief and delight, the store clerks left her alone.

Jesse: So right now I'm getting out Hellsing, which is a vampire manga thing, and anything with vampires is cool. So there.

Suarez: I'm Ray Suarez. Coming up, why Japan? What is it about 21st century Japanese society that makes it such a prolific producer of cultural products that speak to young people all over the world? Chris Farrell and John Biewen explore the question in Tokyo.

[shop sounds]

Farrell: It's just rows and rows of books, and they're in these very bright colors.

Biewen: I mean, it's sort of a smallish shop by American standards until you realize that it's seven floors high.

Farrell: It keeps going up.

You're listening to Japan's Pop Power from American RadioWorks. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.


Segment B

Suarez: From American Public Media, this is Japan's Pop Power, an American RadioWorks documentary. I'm Ray Suarez.

Western pop culture has been big in Japan for a long time. These days, Japan is big in the U.S. and much of the world, at least among young people.

The U.S. market just for Japanese anime, animated TV shows and movies, is now $4 billion a year. This year, well over a 100,000 young Americans are attending 100-plus anime conventions across the country. Then add manga comic books and the multi-billion-dollar video game industry; from the Sony Playstation to Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers.

[ad voiceover in Japanese: "...new Super Mario Brothers!" Electronic game sounds]

Japan is producing games and media fantasies that click with young people across the globe. But even in Japan, among the people making pop culture, there are mixed feelings about the media-saturated world in which today's kids are growing up. John Biewen and Chris Farrell continue their exploration into Japanese pop culture, in Japan.

Maki Nakayama: [in Japanese] Ima baito de, fureetaa desu.

Biewen: Ah.

Biewen: Chris, earlier we met Jesse Petersen, a 14-year-old girl who was a big fan of manga, Japanese comic books.

[In Japanese, Maki Nakayama says her name]

Now meet Maki Nakayama.

Nakayama: Kyoto-fu zaiju desu. Ima hatachi desu.

Biewen: She's saying she's 20 years old and she lives with her parents in the suburbs outside of Kyoto, the old capital.

Farrell: And she likes manga too.

Biewen: She does. Maki is a part-time office worker and aspiring writer. I met her because she's the neighbor of a friend of mine.

Farrell: That's right, you lived in Japan years ago.

Biewen: So while you and I were there working on this program, I stopped by to meet Maki and I asked her if she would show me some of her manga collection. We're sitting on one of those straw, tatami mat floors at a low-slung table in her family's living room.

She gets up, runs to her room and comes back with an armload of manga comic books.

[Turning pages. Nakayama speaking in Japanese]

Translation: The main story in this one is love. There's a lot you can relate to. Practically everybody's reading it these days.

Biewen: This is called Nana: n-a-n-a. [switches to Japanese, asks Nakayama a question] Kono hito wa Nana to yuu?

Nakayama: Dochiro mo Nana nan desu yo. Onaji namae de.

Biewen: Ah. Okay, it's the story of two women, they're both named Nana. And they're these very kind of hip-looking women.

[Moving books around, Nakayama speaking in Japanese]

Translation: This one, it's all about fashion.

Biewen / Nakayama: [together] Paradise kiss.

Biewen: Is this series.

Farrell: So Maki likes manga, just like a lot of American kids.

Biewen: Yes, but there's a very big difference. Being 20 years old and being a mnaga fan in Japan makes you absolutely average.

Farrell: That's right. In the U.S., it's still not mainstream. It's growing, but, it's not everywhere.

Biewen: But in Japan, as you and I found, it's on a completely different scale.

[shop sounds]

Farrell: Alright, we're inside a large anime and manga comic book store.

Biewen: This was a shop in Akihabara, the electronics district of Tokyo. It's known as a hangout for the biggest fans of video games and manga and anime. The shop was called Tora No Ana, The Tiger's Den.

Farrell: It's just rows and rows of books, and they're in these very bright colors.

Biewen: I mean, it's sort of a smallish shop by American standards until you realize that it's seven floors high.

Farrell: It keeps going up.

Farrell: John, remember you met Jesse in North Carolina, at the Waldenbooks, at that little manga section. Now compared that to this. Folks, picture a giant independent bookstore in New York City, but in this case, it's hundreds of thousands of volumes, floor after floor, with nothing but Japanese comic books, manga.

Biewen: Here's a great one with a young woman in a schoolgirl uniform, very short skirt. And she's carrying a very serious kind of -

Farrell: Combination sword and chainsaw. The big eyes are really noticeable in almost every drawing. They might be colored black, might be colored purple, green, but the eyes are always big.

Farrell: You name it. Whatever kind of comic book you want to read, it's here. You have superheroes, goths, romances. And a lot of it is for adults.

Biewen: Okay, we've come to the actual porn. There's lots of very large breasts.

Farrell: So whatever your interests, there's a manga for you. Serious history books, technical manuals, Shakespeare plays.

[car accelerates, tires through rain, car horn]

Biewen: We've just come out of Tora no Ana, the multistory manga store.

Farrell: It was mid-week during the work week, and it was raining. But the streets wre jammed. And this big manga store was just one tiny piece of this enormous pop scene in Tokyo.

Ignacio Adriasola: [on street, motorcycle, rain] Manga is sold everywhere, basically. Every single bookstore you go to, every single kiosk is bound to have at least some. Any convenience store you walk into has manga. So it's ubiquitous.

Biewen: That's our interpreter and guide, Ignacio Adriasola. He's a young Chilean. He lived in Japan for six years, got his university degree there. And he's now a grad student in the U.S.. I met him at Duke.

Farrell: Talk about globalization!

Biewen: Ignacio took us around the Akihabara. This is a place that is either very hip or very nerdy, depending on your point of view.

Adriasola: Basically, it's really famous because of the otaku, the people that are very, very interested in these games and comic books.

Biewen: Otaku is a Japanese word that is used to refer to young people who spend almost all their time playing video games, reading manga and watching anime.

Farrell: People used to really look down on the otaku. They were nerds. Social pariahs. But now, with the popularity of Japanese pop culture, all of a sudden it's kind of cool to be otako.

Biewen: [walking] This is otaku central. And we're just walking, it's block after block of just profusions of stores selling electronics, DVDs, anime, computers.

Farrell: It's certainly Times Square times ten as far as the level of neon goes, don't you think?

Biewen: There were lots of people standing under awnings in front of store fronts, out of the rain, playing video games. Everywhere you looked there was another monitor showing the latest anime TV show or movie that you could buy on DVD.

Farrell: What hits you is the sheer volume of the product that's out there. I guess you shouldn't be too surprised about it. Half of all movies and TV shows made in Japan are animated. And one-third of all books sold in Japan are comic books.

Susan Napier: I say it's like air in Japan. I mean it's just something that people grow up with.

Biewen: We met with Susan Napier in a stylish and very busy coffee shop in the Shibuya section of Tokyo.

Napier: So they wouldn't really think of it as, "Is it popular?" It would be like saying, "Is Hollywood cinema popular in America?"

Biewen: Napier is a Japan scholar at Tufts University in Boston. She wrote a book on anime a few years ago. Now he was spending a year in Japan writing two more books on Japanese youth culture and Japan's place in the Western imagination.

Farrell: She makes the point that Japan has long had an impact on Western culture that dates back to when Japan opened up to the West in the 1850s.

Napier: I don't think we would have modern art now if it hadn't been for the discovery of Japan, that the influence on the Impressionists, first, was so huge, and then you just have a roster. Van Gogh, Gaugain, Klindt.

Biewen: And writers too, Napier says. She talks about how Japanese literature inspired poets like Yeats and Ezra Pound.

Napier: And then in the 1950s, sort of zooming ahead here, you have the dharma bums - Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gary Snyder - very much influenced by Zen.

Farrell: But Impressionists, Van Gogh, beat poets, that was really the avant-garde. It was cutting edge. It was unusual. Today, Japanese pop culture, we're talking pop culture is almost mainstream in many parts of the world.

Napier: Anime is huge in South Africa, Mexico, China. It's really a major global product as well.

Farrell: Japanese pop culture is especially hot in France, itself no slouch when it comes to culture.

[French clip from "Howl's Moving Castle"]

Biewen: That's the French dub of the Japanese animated movie, "Howl's Moving Castle."

Farrell: And did you know that in Europe, 80 percent of animated television shows are made in Japan. So there's no question that Japan's pop culture is having a major impact. And Napier thinks it's at least partly a sign of the times. There's the Internet, we have this information technology, so ideas and products can just zip around this global economy with unprecedented speed.

Biewen: And young people love to use the Web to share the stuff they're reading and seeing and listening to. Like music files or the latest TV show from Tokyo.

Napier: You can now download the latest anime that's big in Japan this week, and within a few hours, and then of course you have the magic of dubbing and subtitling and things like that.

Biewen: So you take a rich and very urban society, and one with a very old culture, but also a very modern sensibility. And we've been talking about the Japanese knack for stories with sudden transformations, or characters that jump back and forth between reality and virtual reality. And then on the receiving end, you have a young generation that lives in a world that feels like that. There's a world of rapid change and all these virtual experiences.

Farrell: Which brings us back to the otaku. The otaku are the biggest fans of anime, manga, video games. And Susan Napier thinks there's a little bit of otaku in all of us.

Napier: We're all becoming increasingly wired. We're all increasingly kind of getting into the boundaries, we're crossing over the boundaries between virtual reality and reality sort of every day, more and more, without really knowing it. So I'm doing the otaku now not just as a Japanese phenomenon but as ultimately saying something about modern civilization.

[electric train, clicking on rails, station announcement]

Biewen: You know Chris, in Tokyo people spend a lot of time riding around on electric trains.

Farrell: Two hours a day, on average.

Biewen: And I noticed something being back in Japan this time. Twenty years ago, when I lived there, you'd ride the trains and you'd look around and a lot of the people on the train were reading. Now everybody's got a cell phone, and you're not supposed to make calls on the train so I noticed people sitting there holding the cell phones and punching at the buttons sending text messages or playing a game or something. You see a lot fewer paperbacks on the trains now.

Farrell: That gets to one of the questions of our era. There are all these gadgets and they connect us. They connect us around the world, and we love them. But are they making our lives richer or poorer?

Biewen: Some people worry that we're getting less connected to one another, to nature, or to any kind of spiritual life.

Farrell: A lot of Japanese pop culture deals with these apocalyptic sci-fi themes. The Wachowski brothers, they did the Matrix, and that was inspired by Ghost in the Shell, which is a very popular Japanese animated film from the mid-1990s.

Biewen: Ghost in the Shell is set in 2029 in Tokyo. And in the world of the film you can't tell if the person that you're talking to is human, a robot, or some combination. And you can't tell if your experiences are real or virtual.

Man 1: All your memories about your wife and daughter are false, they're like a dream. Someone's taken advantage of you.

Man 2: But that can't be!

Man 3: The truth is, you've never had a wife or kid. Like he said, they're not real, a simulated experience, a fantasy.

Biewen: The vision of the future in this movie is dark and it's violent.

Man 4: My codename is Project 2501. I am a living, thinking entity who was created in the sea of information.

Man 5: Ahhh. [shots, explosions]

Farrell: Talk about a dark future. In the sequel, called Innocence, female sex androids start cutting off the heads of their human masters. Now these films were created by Production IG.

Biewen: We went to see the CEO, at the company's headquarters in Tokyo. This is Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.

[Mitsuhisa Ishikawa speaking in Japanese]

Translation: The movie theater is a place where people can forget about their stress. The pressure of society and human relationships.

Farrell: Ishikawa told us films like Ghost in the Shell offer their audience two things at once: escape and food for thought.

[Ishikawa speaking in Japanese]

Translation: By showing this violence and this view of the future you're showing people a world that's on the edge of what's real and what's not. Even as they're thinking, "This isn't reality," they will understand that it could be.

Biewen: So Chris, there's an interesting tension here. We've been talking about how Japan is at the leading edge of global pop culture, and how wired this new culture is and how comfortable it is with shifts between reality and virtual reality. And yet, as you were just talking about -

Farrell: There are these warnings. The dangers of technology is a theme throughout Japanese anime and manga.

[Music from Spirited Away]

Farrell: That's the music from Spirited Away.

Biewen: Right. And this is the film by Miyazaki, the biggest name in Japanese animated film making.

Farrell: Spirited Away got an Oscar in 2003. And Miyazaki has huge hits in Japan. Film after film. He's Japan's Walt Disney, plus.

Biewen: And Miyazaki's films especially seem designed as a counterweight to the digital age, not a celebration of it. Here's a typical moment from a Miyazaki film. This is from Howl's Moving Castle. It came out just a couple of years ago. The action slows down and there's this scene of breathtaking natural beauty; a lake surrounded by snow-covered mountains and meadows. And a small boy and an old woman sit down to rest.

[lapping water, music]

Markle: We got all the laundry put away, Sophie.

Sophie: Oh, thank you, Markle. When you're old, all you want to do is stare at the scenery. It's so strange. I've never felt so peaceful before.

Farrell: Miyazaki's movies are often set in the past. They're these respectful portrayals of people who make things by hand, like violins or old-fashioned airplanes.

Biewen: And by the way, unlike Pixar or Disney, Miyazaki's movies are mostly hand-painted animation.

Farrell: At 24 frames a second. Steve Alpert works for Miyazaki's studio. He talks about the extreme attention to detail in Miyazaki's films.

Steve Alpert: I'll give you an example. There's a scene in Princess Malanaki where San comes into this castle. And she jumps up on the roof and she across like this, you know? And then Ashtaka jumps off and goes after her. And he hits the edge of the roof and snaps a tile off and it crumbles. And it's really beautiful because you see she's light, and he's powerful in a different way but heavy. And the only people that really appreciate that are animators because they know what it takes to animate a sequence and they're trained and they're eyes are going, "My god, would you believe?" They see all this stuff.

Farrell: It's not just in the making of his movies, but also in their messages that Miyazaki seems to be commenting on the times. In his films, greed, consumerism, pollution are bad, and nature is good.

Biewen: So maybe that's what we've come to in the 21st century. If you love a simpler, low-tech work and want to sing the praises of that world, the way to make your point is through an electronic fantasy, an animated film like Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. That's another big Miyazaki hit. It's about a big, magic, cat-like creature that takes these kids up into the treetops.

Farrell: Here's professor Susan Napier again, back in that Tokyo coffee shop.

Napier: One of the things that Miyazaki is worried about, he says he really wants people not to buy his videos is what he says, anyway. He says, "No, they should go out and play, for God's sake." But they're not going out and playing. They're sitting there watching Totoro for the 50th time, and Totoro has, you know, beautiful woodland creatures frolicking around, and it's almost more beautiful than reality.

Biewen: Chris, Hayao Miyazaki may be a 60-some-year-old Japanese man, but he's a rock star to my kids. My daughter, my 10-year-old desperately wanted his autograph.

Farrell: Well we couldn't swing an interview with him, but we did visit his world-famous studio. And I was truly surprised by what we saw.

Biewen: We went there, among other things, to explore this question that you started with, which was: Can a nation like Japan build an economic future on being the coolest country around?

Suarez: Still to come, in a new Japan, pop culture as a major export industry.

[Dai Higashino speaking in Japanese]

Adriasola: And really, I mean, anime has no real competitors around the world. I would like to ask you basically, besides Japanese anime, is there anything that you can think of that could compete with that? Maybe Disney, but not really, right?

I'm Ray Suarez. You're listening to Japan's Pop Power. To see a photo essay of an anime convention and to download this and other American RadioWorks programs, visit our website at AmericanRadioWorks.org. Japan's Pop Power is a production of American RadioWorks and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Japan's Pop Power was supported by the U.S. Japan Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Our program continues in a minute, from American Public Media.


Segment C

Suarez: From American Public Media, this is Japan's Pop Power, an American RadioWorks documentary. I'm Ray Suarez.

In the decades after World War II, Japan famously pulled off an economic miracle, turning itself into the world's second richest country by the 1980s. The Japanese achieved that miracle by making quality products you could hold in your hand or ride around in: electronics and cars. Manufacturing is still big business in Japan, but it's not the future.

In the new century, Japan is betting that economic growth will come from another sector: what's been called Japan's Gross National Cool. In the past decade, Japan's exports of games, toys, and pop culture have soared with no slowdown in sight. For young people in the U.S. and much of the world, Japan is a brand that stands not for quality machines but for the best in entertainment and storytelling. Increasingly the world economy is based less on selling physical objects and more on selling content: media images, games and stories to while away our free time.

In this last part of Japan's Pop Power, Chris Farrell and John Biewen continue their travels around Tokyo. They explore just how rich the Japanese are getting on pop culture, and whether a nation can keep a firm hold on what's cool.

Farrell: What's the name of the town?

Biewen: Mitaka.

Farrell: Mitaka. We're in the western suburbs in an area that they call, what is it? Anime Alley.

Biewen: So there we were Chris, walking through what had been billed as the Silicon Valley of Japan's new entertainment industrial complex.

Farrell: But in Silicon Valley you have these office towers, these giant campuses. This was no Silicon Valley.

Biewen: This is very kind of sleepy, suburban, residential community here.

Farrell: This is like Menlo Park before the dot-com boom.

Biewen: But we were excited. We were on our way from the train station to Studio Ghibli. It's the studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki. He's the animated filmmaker who made Spirited Away, the Oscar winning film of a few years ago, among many others that have been hits and got raves around the world.

Farrell: And we'd gotten the directions and we followed the directions and we walk up this quiet street, and we just didn't see any studio.

Chris: I think it's a little longer or farther walk than they led us to believe.

Biewen: Hmm.

Biewen: We called the studio again and it became clear that we had walked right past the place.

Farrell: Think about that. Here's a world-famous studio, ranks with Disney, Pixar, and it's in this nondescript, three-story building in a suburb, surrounded by a bunch of trees, and the walls are covered with vines.

Alpert: Ninety-nine percent of the people who pass by this building don't give it a second thought, it doesn't really look like anything.

Biewen: That's Steve Alpert. He's an American. He's in charge of international distribution for Studio Ghibli. And he's one of only 150 employees in the whole company. Lots of the others are the artists, the people who draw these gorgeous images, paint them on thousands and thousands of plastic cells.

Farrell: There are computers and state-of-the-art cameras, but the offices are cramped. And there are these small wooden drawing desks.

Alpert: This studio that you're sitting in, compared to a facility of the same type in the United States, is incredibly small, and doesn't seem that we have a lot of resources, relatively speaking. But yet we're able to create pretty good feature films.

Farrell: We've talked about the huge size of the entertainment sector in Japan, and in the video game business, you do have huge players. Sony, Nintendo.

Biewen: But in these businesses, animated films, TV shows, manga comic books, there is no Sony. There's no Toyota or Toshiba.

Farrell: These creative industries are made up of thousands of tiny companies. A cottage industry. And they're all trying to make a living producing niche products.

Alpert: Now the studio has made 15 films. You know, you talk about other studios, probably the most anybody else has made, notable animated films, is five at the most.

Biewen: In other words, most of the animation made in Japan is done in far smaller shops than Studio Ghibli. And yet, Chris, you're the business reporter here, you add up all these little companies, it is a huge pop culture industry, right?

Farrell: Absolutely. Gamers go for Japanese video games on their Playstations and GameCubes. Manga publishers, one-third of all books published in Japan are comic books and they're selling millions overseas. More than half the world's animation comes out of Tokyo. And over the past 15 years, the Japanese economy went nowhere. However, Japanese pop culture, particularly, Japanese pop culture exports, did well.

Biewen: So the salary man in the blue suit, who we heard so much about for so long, the guy who works in the big bank or at the auto company, that worker is being joined, or ever somewhat replaced, by a new kind of Japanese worker.

We were outside a manga comic bookstore in Shibuya, in the heart of Tokyo. Our interpreter, Ignacio, struck up a conversation with a woman leaving the store. She told us she'd been visiting the manga shop, not for pleasure, but for her job.

Adriasola: She was doing research. Her company is around the corner.

[Torikai speaking in Japanese]

Adriasola: Her work at this company is making anime. So in order to do that, she needs to go and study what the fans are up to, and that's why she comes to Animate.

Biewen: Eiko Torikai is in her 30s. She had her hair in pigtails and jeans rolled up at the bottom. And these bright red, high-top sneakers.

Farrell: So we invited ourselves to Eiko's office, which was nearby. And the company she works for is Amuse Soft Entertainment. And it occupies one floor of an office building.

Biewen: We're entering some cubicle land here, and there's little conference rooms. Lots of movie posters on the walls, anime posters.

Farrell: Eiko is an animation producer. Her company converts manga comic books into animated films. And then they sell the DVDs in Japan and other countries, including the U.S..

[Torikai speaking in Japanese]

Ignacio: She's working on a ladies' comic style, war story set in the early Meiji Period.

Biewen: Which would be 19th century?

Adriasola: 19th century, yeah.

Farrell: Eiko's company specializes in a subgenre of manga and anime: same sex love stories with young men. But the artists are primarily women and the audience is female.

Biewen: She showed us one series she's worked on that's already on the shelves in the U.S. in comic-book form.

[Torikai speaking in Japanese]

Ignacio: And the DVDs are going to be sold in America and probably in Europe as well later this year.

Biewen: Now Chris, as we've seen by now, a lot of this stuff in Japanese anime and manga and video games is kind of racy and very violent often. And it's a little bit, kind of out there.

Farrell: That's often true of any form of emerging pop culture. Think about rock and roll or hip hop. But, when it comes to Japan and business, there really is a big business between these creative industries and the traditional Japanese corporation - the salary men that you were talking about. And yet the Japanese government is showing more than a passing interest in these creative businesses.

Biewen: We went to an office tower in the government district of Tokyo to visit an official from JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization.

Farrell: They traditionally have backed the Japanese automobile industry, the Japanese steel industry, now they're really trying to back the Japanese "cool" industries to grow in the United States, in Europe, the rest of Asia, grow the export market.

[Dai Higashino speaking in Japanese]

Biewen: We met with Dai Higashino of JETRO's Economic Research Department. He was dressed appropriately for his government job, in a brown suit and wingtips. He's 37 years old, roughly the same age as Eiko Torikai, the animation producer we just met.

Farrell: Do you like manga? Anime?

Higashino: Well, some part of. I like some mangas for adults. But I am not otaku de nai desu. [Ignacio laughs]

Biewen: Higashino switched to Japanese right there to say, "I am not an otaku." Not a fanatical consumer of anime, comic books or video games.

Farrell: You know, that almost went without saying. And yet, he had plenty to say about the Japanese content industry: movies, music, game software and animation. He flipped through these thick government reports on the growing pop culture sector.

[Higashino speaking in Japanese]

Ignacio: In 2001 overall sales were for 11 trillion yen. For 2010 it's expected to rise up to 15 trillion yen.

Biewen: Fifteen trillion yen, by the way, is about $150 billion.

Farrell: Alright, that's real money. And we know the Japanese pop culture industry is growing. But what we really wanted was a sense [of] what's coming in the future? For example, car companies get bigger market shares, sell more cars, means more dollars, more jobs. So does pop culture work the same way? Now I know he talked about the importance of price when it comes to manga. Manga right now, $10 a pop in the U.S.. If they can get it down to $5, sales could soar. And then talking about anime, he was very confident because he believes Japan owns the brand. And more popularity around the world, that means more wealth for Japan.

[Higashino speaking in Japanese]

Ignacio: Japanese anime has a very high quality and very high standards of production. It's not only sold for kids but also meant for adults. So there's a huge economic potential. Besides Japanese anime, is there anything that you can think of that could compete with that? Maybe Disney, but not really, right?

Farrell: Yes, but Higashino also noted that a lot of anime and manga is being outsourced to South Korea and elsewhere. In fact, there's a growing anime and manga business in Korea. And when we visited a publishing company, their planning to find manga that's made by American artists and import it into Japan.

Biewen: Well, why not? This is pop culture. Think of rock and roll again. It was an American innovation, but people all over the world heard it, bought American records then turned around and formed their own rock bands.

Farrell: Well, that process is already well under way with all the cultural products that we've been calling Japanese. From Australia to South Africa, France to the U.S., people are making anime and they're posting it on the Web. They're drawing comics and calling them manga.

Biewen: Okay, so now we leave Japan, and we're sliding back to the U.S., and back to the Mid-Atlantic Anime Convention in Richmond, Virginia. We were there earlier in the show.

Austell Callwood: Right now we're noticing that a lot of people who love this stuff and create this stuff are turning into business people.

Farrell: We found Austell Callwood behind a big table in the bustling vendor's room at the convention. And he's formed his own international production company, Tenbu Productions. He was talking to fans and selling preview copies of his comic book.

Woman: A single copy of the manga is how much?

Callwood: The book, Cove Pirate Mercenary, it's based off of Japanese Buddhism plus a lot of Western pirate concepts. So I kind of meshed both together and pushed them into the future that looks like a past.

Biewen: Callwood is in his 30s, he lives in Springfield, Virginia. He's been a fan since before Japan got hot. He can still remember the first time he saw Japanese animation, in the early days of cable TV.

Callwood: I think I was 6 or 7 years old, I was over at a friend's house. I'm from the Virgin Islands but I lived in Florida. My friend had cable, and he said you've got to watch this show. And it was Battle of the Planets, known as Gotchaman in Japan.

Farrell: He was captivated by Japanese storytelling, and still is.

Callwood: All my life that has been my number-one love.

Biewen: Now, along with this new production company that you mentioned, Callwood owns and operates a DVD store in northern Virginia that specializes in Asian movies and TV shows.

Farrell: It's a good business to be in right now.

Callwood: In the last two years, this industry blew up. I think one of the fastest industries in this nation that will not stop. I relate a lot of things to hip hop, because I personally grew up through hip hop from the 70s until now. It took 15 years for hip hop make it in the mainstream. It took two years for somebody to notice animation and make it to the level that it's at right now where it's on TV 24 hours a day here in America now.

Farrell: I don't know if Austell Callwood will succeed as a manga artist. But what I was really struck by is his passion for the art, and his genuine respect for Japanese culture.

Biewen: Right, he's even studied the language. And all around the world now, Japanese language courses are filling up like never before, thanks to the spread of Japanese cool stuff for young people.

Farrell: You know, a lot of us used to assume that the West, and the U.S. in particular, had a lock on cool. Had a lock on pop culture. And Japan has proved that wrong. And Austell Callwood seems to think that's just fine.

Callwood: You know with the Internet the world has become smaller, and so I think some of the glory, or the untouchableness of America - "This is an American product: Oooh, wow!" I think that's kind of settled a bit because the world is smaller. Things are accessible now.

Biewen: The output of Japan's pop culture industry is certainly very accessible to those thousands of young people who filled the Richmond Convention Center, and remember more than 100 other anime conventions all across the country every year now.

Farrell: You know John, I can't think of a time before this when so many people around the world could find so many ways to amuse themselves.

Biewen: And Japan, for a combination of reasons, cultural, economic, historical, seems just especially well positioned to create products for today's youth. They're open-minded, they're restless and they're very wired.

Farrell: Asia in general is emerging as a center of cultural power to compete with North America and Europe. The competition's fierce. The only sure winner is the consumer.

Suarez: I'm Ray Suarez. The rise of Japan as a cultural power shows a side of globalization that many people did not see coming. Faraway countries with rich cultures are plugging into new technologies and entertaining millions of people in the United States and across the globe.

Japan's Pop Power was produced by John Biewen and Chris Farrell. It was edited by Mary Beth Kirchner. Mixing by Craig Thorson. Production assistance from Ellen Guettler, Marina Kukso, and Molly Bloom. Web production by Ochen Kaylan. The Senior Producer is Sasha Aslanian. Project Manager, Misha Quill. The Executive Editor is Stephen Smith. The Executive Producer, Bill Buzenberg. I'm Ray Suarez.

To see links to Japanese pop culture sites and to hear this program again, visit our Web site, AmericanRadioWorks.org.

Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Japan's Pop Power was supported by the U.S. Japan Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

American RadioWorks is the documentary unit of American Public Media.



 ©2017 American Public Media