Satellite images of the Japanese coast. Before and after. Simple and effective use of multimedia.
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I have just started The Thousand Autums of Jacob De Zoet, David Mitchell’s latest novel. It revolves around the man-made island of Dejima built by the Japanese in Nagasaki bay for Dutch traders, during the country’s prolonged period of cultural isolation between 1639 and 1856.
Here’s a rather charming scene of a Dutch dinner party from the period painted by Kawahara Keiga. Note the hook noses of the “southern barbarians” dining greedily on wine and huge plates of meat, their complexions as pale as porcelain. Notice also the Batavian servant in the background, beturbuned and barefoot and bringing a rather limp cut of meat to the table. It’s a fascinating period and a (so far) fascinating book
Gez Fry is a Tokyo-based illustrator whose client-list contains everyone from the Royal Mail to Marvel Comics. Fry originally trained as a diplomat, but relocated to Japan to live with his future wife, where his work clearly took on the influences of Japanese Manga. But what is so special about it is that there’s something else in there as well: notice the level of detail and realism in his work, but also the child-like quality of the stars in the sky outside the window.
The rest of his portfolio is equally admirable. This recent work, for example, shows an influence of ukiyo-e traditional woodblock-printing, although the subject matter is clearly that of contemporary Ginza, a rich quarter of central Tokyo. There is a trend in contemporary illustration that is taking Japanese pop culture and producing something that is both more subtle and surreal than the super-flat images we have grown accustomed to. I would say that Fry’s work is comparable with the other leading lights of this floating world. The work of the likes of Yuko Shimizu, Kozyndan and Yuji Moriguchi mixes contemporary influences with historic painting styles. It is more interesting to me than almost anything in contemporary painting.
I am so fond of the work of Yuko Shimizu, the New York-based Japanese illustrator who is not to be confused with her namesake, the creator of Hello Kitty. Her work straddles the worlds of advertising and magazines and includes portraits of world leaders, including Aung San Su Kyi (above centre) , the celebrated Burmese political prisoner. The way she magically mixes traditional techniques with contemporary pop culture reminds me a lot of Kozyndan.
Variety is reporting that Warner Bros is reported to be developing two live action adaptations of Akira, a masterpiece of manga written and drawn by the legendary Katsuhiro Otomo. The remake will be produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and set outside Japan, instead being set in a New Manhattan, a city rebuilt by Japanese money after being destroyed 31 years ago. Typical Hollywood, re-setting Akira outside Japan is like relocating Quadrophenia outside Brighton. In my opinion it just doesn’t make sense.
Even so, the live-action Akira will be set outside Japan, former ad-director Ruairi Robinson should ensure the film has a strong visual style and the budget will sufficiently blockbuster.
The Guardian has finally published my article on food in Osaka, which talks about how Japan’s second city has some of the best food in the whole of the country, if not the best.
Due to constraints of space, some of my details about the wonderful working-class district of Shinsekai was edited down. It included a reference to Alex Kerr’s excellent book Lost Japan, which describes the rough-and-tumble neighbourhood as a “little too dangerous for westerners to travel to alone,” although that was written a few years ago, and certainly didn’t represent my experience when I did. Nowadays, Shinsekai remains an anachronism in otherwise well-behaved Japan. It is an earthy, direct, unreserved quarter of Osaka that has a surprisingly hip undercurrent, especially around the Tenoji Temple. Not dangerous, just devilishly challenging. I loved it.
It’s not often that I link to a comment piece in The Times. But the recent article by Leo Lewis, the paper’s Asia business correspondent
about how a search for a Wii Fit Balance Board in Tokyo led him tor realise how mass production has lost its capacity to amaze.
Despite his unfettered praise for the “organisational brilliance of free markets at their best”, and some nonsense about the “towering genius” of Nintendo engineers whose ability stretches “credulity father than the wildest biblical narratives,” is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time that explains just how technologically advanced today’s devices actually are.