(The following is the fourth of a five-part interview with living legend of manga, Kazuo Umezu, whose works released in English include Cat Eyed Boy and the award winning Drifting Classroom.
Our event coverage on Same Hat! caught the attention of his official homepage's staff, who then contacted us directly about helping to produce information about the author for the benefit of his English speaking audience.
At the end of November, we were invited to the infamous Makoto-Chan House, his recently-completed home and physical embodiment of his vast works, for a face-to-face talk with Umezologist Demerin Kaneko and the man behind five decades of mayhem.)
Part 4: Enjoy the Game
Tokyo Scum Brigade (T): A common theme in your stories is children versus adults.
Kazuo Umezu (K): I find the world of a child’s more intriguing than that of adults. This becomes more apparent in my later works. The protagonists in My Name is Shingo (Watashi wa Shingo, 1982) are all children, while the adults are the villains (laughs). The two exist on opposite sides of the tracks. I’ve felt this divide since my own childhood.
I’m writing about myself in a way. I don’t want to become an adult and “grow up.”T: Certain things are only possible as a child.
K: My stories require a certain suspension of disbelief to see things from the naïve perspective of a child. Adults are quick to point out the illogical—perhaps too quick. Children have a way of running with their assumptions and making them work. Adults can’t manage that. People think you’re a weirdo if you do!
T: Children draw strength from their innocent misconceptions.
K: The titular character in My Name is Shingo is an assembly robot given life by the innocent wish of a child. How does that work in the real world? It doesn’t. Mine is a world without logic. Adults bring scientific rationality with them. I don’t have room for that! (Laughs.)
|In My Name is Shingo (Watashi ha Shingo), a sentient robot learns that it must shed parts of itself to function as an adult.|
K: Adults are professionals—they have a specialization, whereas children are prepared for anything. Everyone starts as a blank slate, but as they grow they specialize in certain areas and lose that adaptability. Certain qualities of childhood are discarded to make life in adult society easier. Animals, humans in particular, are hardwired to eliminate the superfluous.
T: You make it sound as though in becoming an adult you lose more than you gain.
K: You certainly lose the elasticity that allows you to adapt to new environments. Children are not bound by any one thing, whereas adults can’t break free of their own inertia.
Look at The Drifting Classroom. The characters are transported to a radically different world. The children lack the same brain-hardening background knowledge that makes the adults go insane. “This isn’t right! This can’t be!” Locked inside the mental confines they’ve made for themselves, the teachers give up before they even start.
T: At what point does one cross over from amateur to professional?
K: It’s a gradual process where you cut parts of yourself off, piece by piece. Ideally you’d want to hold onto all of your dreams and make them work for you as an adult!
T: You enjoy shocking people, which is a childish quality. I mean that as a compliment.
K: Oh, my creativity has developed to the professional level. In some ways I’m stuck in my own head. (Laughs.) That can make it tough to sync up with other people.
T: I respect that you’ve accomplished so much by simply holding onto those pieces of yourself.
K: I've always been sort of hanging out, doing my own thing. I drew manga because it was fun. To me, it was all one long game.
|Childhood ending on a molecular levelfrom My Name is Shingo. (Watashi wa Shingo.)|