Thursday, August 27, 2009

Naoki Urasawa Interview-Part 1

This month's CasaBRUTUS is a special issue on 20th Century Boys! Among other things, it shows Naoki Urasawa's manga studio and storyboarding process, his solo music project, and explores the connection between Japanese architecture and culture during the 1970's.

Buy it here on Amazon!

I've translated their interview with series creator Naoki Urasawa. Follow the link to Part 2 at the end of the post!

PART 1 : Naoki Urasawa on the Current Generation/The Death of the Silver Age

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century

In 20th Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa paints the landscape of a Japan long since gone. Grandma and Grand pappy’s candy shop, snot-nosed elementary kids running amuck… Yet Urasawa counters, “I don’t miss any of it for an instant. We say people were better to each other back then, but I say that’s BS!” The ‘good old days’ of 20th Century Japan will have to find somewhere else to stay.

Let’s say someone commits a terrible crime. Prime time news picks it up and drills it into your head that humanity has reached a new low. And the viewers will eventually come to believe this. But is there any truth to this claim? Looking at the big picture, Japan was far more turbulent before it became a prosperous nation. There have always been terrible crimes, the kind that make you question society. I’ve always thought that we need to approach these things with a cool head. In 20th Century Boys, you can feel my annoyance towards the golden oldies that have become walking clich├ęs. It’s like, “what do you want to wind the clock back for? Leave me out of it!”

In a side-by-side comparison, my generation stands head and shoulder over the current young generation. I’m well aware of this. This is my pet theory, but there’s no sense of cultural change after the 90’s. Conversely, the 60’s were all about change. I mean, the Beatles were releasing two new albums per year! Last year’s stuff was already ancient history. Compared to that tidal wave of innovation, what’s happening now is just paint-by-numbers rehashes. I feel sorry for the young generation chasing our ghosts. My parents’ generation didn’t fare much better. They had to rebuild from the ruins of World War II. They were dealt a bum hand.

This makes me and my generation an extremely lucky one. The seeds of post war culture sprouted with high economic growth and were eventually cut down when the bubble burst. We were there to experience it all. Other generations can’t touch that. We’re so far on top it makes me feel guilty (laughs).

Even so, I wish I had been born a few years earlier. The deciding factor of whether you qualify for this Super Generation is if you remember the Tokyo Olympics and World Expo. I was four during the Olympics. A tad on the young side (laughs). If I had been three, four years older then I would have been born in Showa 30 (1955), and wouldn’t that be something! Keisuke Kuwata, Suguru Egawa, Mitsugu Chinofuji, Sanma Akashiya—their generation made modern Japanese culture what it is today. If I were born too early before Showa 30 I would be in the post-war rubble; if I were born too late I would be overpowered by the Showa 30ers and subsequently cynical. Showa 30ers were the ones who really got to see culture cycle back on itself. I’ll never get over my birthday (laughs).

As a member of the lucky generation that was with postwar culture from the ground floor (despite the slight age discrepancy), I want to say this to the young generation: Bust your ass! You’re never going to take our crown if you keep copying our material that’s past its sell date. Make your own culture, something that sets it apart from postwar culture. And do it in a new way! Do something that will make us shake our heads in disgust. You gotta make us mad; make us say, “What the hell are you kids thinking!” Because right now I already know what you’re thinking. Your jokes are played—we wrote them! I want you to move on and create something completely different. Like when the Beatles burst on the scene, or when Presley shook us with his hips. It’s on your generation to call down the lightning.

The World Fair Was the Turning Point

The Osaka World Expo, 1970.
Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun, which still stands tall in Osaka as a symbol of Expo '70, along with works by world-class architects and artists including Kenzo Tange, Kisho Kurokawa, Tadanari Yokoo, Kunio Maekawa and Junzo Sakakura battled one another with the exhibition grounds as their arena. During its half-year lifespan, the expo set attendance records with a historic number of 64,220,000 visitors. The intensity of the crowd was suffocating. Expo 1970 plays a major part in 20th Century Boys, but what does it mean to the author?

I was in the 5th grade during the expo. Just like Kenji, I wasn’t able to go. To paraphrase my folks, “it costs too much and there’s too many people” so I was dragged to Katsuura beach instead. When we arrived I stomped and protested, “This isn’t the expo!” There was nowhere that I had to go to more than the expo. I still think that to this day. It was the kind of thing you’re supposed to go to, but I couldn’t. I’m still sore about it (laughs).

Yet if you were to ask me why I absolutely had to go, I have a hard time coming up with a clear answer. In the manga there are scenes of the characters discussing how they had to see the moon rock, or whatever cool thing at each pavilion. I’m the same way, simply listing off the things I wanted to see. But that’s not the reason I wanted to see them. It’s difficult to consolidate the intensity of the expo;20th Century Boys marks my attempt to.

My involvement with the script for the film adaptation was the natural progression of this. I wrote personal anecdotes and the public zeitgeist into the comic—I was the only one who could transfer them to film. There is a fine line between manga and film, but I think I managed to keep the feeling you get after reading the manga in line with the feeling you get after watching the film.

For me, everything before and during the 1970 expo is the past, and everything from 1971 on is the present. There’s a strong divide between the two epochs. Everything pre-1970 is in sepia, everything after is in color. Lets say I’m looking at the movie section of the newspaper. If it says ‘made in 1973’ after the title, then it's in the present. If it says ‘made in 1966’ it’s prehistoric (laughs). The divide is miles wide to me.

That was about the same time that the future changed from silver to white. Nothing says ‘the future’ like rocket ships, and rocket ships all used to be silver. Then in ‘68 Stanly Kubrick released 2001: a Space Odyssey, and they changed to white overnight. Legend has it that Kubrick made everything on the set silver. In the middle of production he took a trip to NASA and saw that everything was white. Not what he was expecting (laughs). So when he got back to the set he had everything remade white. That’s how the future went from silver to white for us. Silver refrigerators scream pre-1970’s to me.

There needs to be an incorruptible binding in place to hold the past and present together where they split around 1970. I think that binding is the expo. 20th Century Boys has been translated and published in a number of counLinktries, and received top honors for Best Series at France’s 2004 Angouleme International Comics Festival Paris and Barcelona have both hosted major expos in the past, right? That sense of excitement is close to home, they can vibe with it.

In retrospect, that special feeling that enveloped Japan in 1970, that feeling of expectation and excitement for the future, strongly resembles the feeling we had going into 2000. For my generation, the 21st century started in 1970.

Continued in Part 2.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing these posts about Master Urasawa, he is a great inspiration