Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hollywood erupts in J-pop 'feeding frenzy'

Here's an interesting English-Language article from the Daily Yomiuri Online about the entry point of Japanese pop-culture in the US. The upcoming AstroBoy movie is given a mention with a little bit of a clearer idea of the direction Imagi is taking the film.

"Astro Boy is well on its way for a CGI release by Imagi Studios next year; folks in their Los Angeles office told me that they are now focusing on highlighting the original character's innocence and coming-of-age, as they are courting a global audience, not just newbie American fans."
See the entire article on its original page or read it here by clicking below.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Hollywood erupts in J-pop 'feeding frenzy'

Roland Kelts / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Two weeks ago the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) hosted "J-Wave USA," a three-day conference devoted to exploring and exposing the degree to which Southern California--in particular, Los Angeles--is a gateway for Japanese popular culture, food and fashion entering the United States. The event featured a photography exhibition and presentations by scholars, authors, bloggers and entrepreneurs from Japan and the United States, plus representatives from L.A.-based producers and publishers such as Imagi Studios and Tokyopop, with more than a few astute graduate and undergraduate students from related fields mixed into the crowd.

I was introduced by the consul general of Japan, whose Japan External Trade Organization colleagues were also in attendance.

For reasons historical and au courant, it has become difficult to single out any American city as the primary entry point for Japan's contemporary culture. In Seattle, where I am now ensconced to give talks, readings and signings at this weekend's Sakura Con anime festival, the Elliott Bay bookstore and the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington, Japanese culture is well represented via the city's longstanding nisei and sansei residents, and by its younger, Starbucks-sipping Japanese visitors. In neighboring Oregon, the Portland Japanese Garden could rival many gardens in Kyoto. And San Francisco, as I recently noted in this column, is widely regarded as the symbol of American entry for all Asian immigrants, who envision the Golden Gate Bridge in place of New York's Statue of Liberty as their icon of arrival.

But while the West Coast has long had a geographical lock on Japanese and Asian matters, New York and other cities along the country's eastern seaboard are fast sprouting larger and more frequent anime fests, cosplay conventions, yakitori counters and shochu bars.

Last weekend saw Anime Boston, the American northeast's largest anime convention, surpass its previous year's attendance records. And the opening of Takashi Murakami's mammoth exhibition early next month at New York's Brooklyn Museum, accompanied by a Kanye West performance and Marc Jacobs' unveiling of a new Luis Vuitton tie-up with the Japanese artist, will further cement contemporary Japan's presence on the Atlantic seaside, and in the eyes of Europeans both in New York and "across the pond."

Still, Los Angeles is home to Hollywood, and the American movie industry's lust for Japanese anime and manga titles and related styles, fashions, music and images--a kind of J-pop gestalt--remains relatively fresh, and sometimes frenetic.

"It's become a veritable feeding frenzy," one young and enterprising American producer said of Hollywood's anime and manga craze over a dinner of German sausages in Silver Lake, a hipster enclave in Los Angeles. "In fact, we're now looking to other Asian countries like South Korea, China, even Singapore. There are just too many people focused on Japan."

Last summer's Transformers movie--whose toys and anime series originated in Japan--was one of the biggest box office draws in an otherwise mixed or dreary 2007 for big-budget Hollywood productions. Appleseed: Ex Machina, about which I've written in this column, smashed all previous anime DVD sales records upon its release earlier this month, selling 100,000 units in only its first week.

High hopes ride on the forthcoming Speed Racer adaptation by the Wachowski brothers, out in May, and on Hollywood versions of Dragonball Z, Robotech and Akira, with Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio attached to the last two. Astro Boy is well on its way for a CGI release by Imagi Studios next year; folks in their Los Angeles office told me that they are now focusing on highlighting the original character's innocence and coming-of-age, as they are courting a global audience, not just newbie American fans.

Hollywood may be starstruck with Japan, but the guests on the panel I moderated at UCLA were pragmatic and down-to-earth--and decidedly hopeful. The founder of Anime Expo, now America's largest anime convention, based in Anaheim, bemoaned the collapse of the anime DVD industry even as he announced plans to broaden relations between the two countries via technology. A J-pop culture store owner revealed her latest goods--T-shirts, toys, trinkets and accessories--and showed photographs of her youthful and very discriminating customers, whose tastes are as exacting as their passions are deep.

Gestalt is the word. In Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States, the anime and manga trends are expanding in scope. Japanese and American entrepreneurs are looking to fashion, information technology, food and design. By next year, Gosu-rori (Gothic Lolita) may be as big in the United States as Gundam.

Kelts is a Tokyo University lecturer who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S." (, now available in an updated paperback edition. His column appears twice a month.
(Mar. 28, 2008)