By Shelley Pallis.
Over the last five years, amid our blog coverage of anime and manga, we at Anime Limited have also reviewed more than a hundred books related to animation, Asia and anything else we feel like, and as the gifting season approaches, we take this opportunity to make a few recommendations from our more recent coverage.
Sure to be a topic of great interest to anyone who reads this blog, Matt Alt’s Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World is most emphatically not just a breathless book about Pokémon and anime. It deals with Japan’s integral importance to the economics of post-war toys, games and cultural pursuits – the game-changing rise of karaoke, arcade games and transforming robot toys. Of course, anime plays a huge role in all this, often as the cultural glue that holds the other bits together. But Alt’s book is a hymn to the unsung heroes and the stories behind such ubiquitous elements of our life as the games console and the personal stereo. I dare say, that it would make an eye-opening gift for the family member who thinks you’re weird because you like all that Japanese stuff. Available now from a bookshop near you.
The big thing about The Japanese Cinema Book is that it’s such a Big Thing. There are 640 pages here, making it in the words of our own review, the “bargain of the year.” So, it’s not just a wide-ranging history and analysis of a century of Japanese film, it is a ream of paper roughly the size of a phone book, sure to strain the wrists of anyone lifting it from out under the tree, and shame your fellow gift-givers with their little pamphlets, socks and lucky gonks. Not that you are that shallow, of course, but I certainly am, and I’ll be giving it to every self-proclaimed Japanese movie-lover in my life. There’s all kind of stuff in there, from historical discussions of the big names in Japanese film, to the odd backstory of the Japanese gangster movie, to the bizarre sidetrack in history that led to a Japanese remake of Casablanca. Buy it from a bookshop near you, and help spread the love.
One of the frustrating things with media coverage of Japanese animation is just how beige everybody usually is. Most interviews are conducted on the press junket trail, where all anybody wants to do is hand over a few soundbites and run back to their room. Animators are often timid shut-ins, either by nature or as a result of years spent chained to their desks. And Japanese people are notoriously polite and diplomatic. Nobody calls anyone an arsehole; nobody has a cat-fight in front of the press corps. Nobody says: “I am never working with that bitch again!” If only they did, imagine the fun the anime press would have with it. All of which makes Steve Alpert’s tell-all memoir of his time at Studio Ghibli, Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man, such a joy. There are tantrums, there are embarrassing incidents; there’s Harvey Weinstein going off like a big bomb of bluster and bombast; there’s the boss of Tokuma Shoten turning out to be an absolute flange. And Miyazaki wanders through it all like a little Japanese tourist with an Instamatic, looking at church steeples and thinking about Estonian tanks. We liked this book so much here at Anime Limited that we reviewed it twice, once in Japanese and again when it came out in English. Something to nab for yourself, or for that Ghibli fan who has everything, from a bookshop near you.
And, last but not least, in a year that has seen hardy anyone travelling at all, books about faraway places have taken on a new value, as a form of travel for the mind. Reviewed on our blog on its release in hardback form, Jonathan Clements’s A Short History of Tokyo is a more recent paperback update that includes the impact of COVID-19 on Olympic planning, and summarises the history of Japan’s modern capital in a remarkably entertaining way. He wanders the streets in search of hidden ghosts and anime icons, places once trashed in model form by rubber monsters and the sites of old samurai vendettas. If you were wondering about how he knew so much about where the high ground was in Tokyo in his Weathering With You commentary, then all the answers are here, as he delves back in time to the prehistoric days when Tokyo bay was nothing but mudflats, piled with occasional stacks of seashells, fed by a dozen lost rivers, buried now in storm-drains and canals. Make the small trip to a bookshop near you, and a long trip inside your head to the other side of the world.