The Brilliant Framing and Paneling of Tezuka Osamu

So I’ve mentioned before that I’m an unabashed fan of Tezuka Osamu, the legendary “manga no kamisama” (god of manga). I’ve been going through his Hi no tori (Phoenix) for the first time in years, and I was struck by how innovative and expressive his paneling and framing is. Tezuka is credited with bringing cinematic techniques to manga. He used establishing shots, close ups, low angles, high angles, etc., whereas most of his predecessors tended to just draw a scene as if the reader were looking at a stage, static and from one angle. (I want to give due credit for this observation, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where I read it. Probably something by Fred Schodt.) Tezuka pioneered cinematic techniques that still look great today and indeed are still in use by manga artists.

But I want to look at a few examples where Tezuka really exploits paneling and framing, going beyond an imitation of cinema to demonstrate a mastery of his medium. This is not a comprehensive overview, by any means, just some things I noticed while reading Hi no tori.

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Mishima’s Manifesto

MishimaCoupSpeech

(Image source: Wikipedia)

Related to some recent research, I’ve been looking at Mishima Yukio’s manifesto (檄geki), which he famously read from the balcony of a Japan Self Defense Force commander’s office to a crowd of JSDF officers, after taking that commander hostage and just before committing ritual suicide in 1970. I haven’t been able to find a complete English translation of the manifesto (although I found a partial translation in John Nathan’s Mishima: A Biography). Since this manifesto is of some literary and historical interest, I decided to translate it here. Note that this is the text version of the speech sent to journalists, not what he actually read on that balcony: apparently he rushed through it as the JSDF officers below jeered and booed him. Continue reading

Conceptualizing Difference

Note: This post is mostly for future reference: something I can point students to if this topic comes up in class (as it sometimes does), although comments are of course welcome.

One of the features of our current age is a breakdown in representation. A few decades ago we were comfortable bunching people into various groups and representing them in various ways: “Americans believe such-and-such,” or “Japanese think in such-and-such a way.” Of course, this wasn’t limited to national groupings, we would say “East Coasters are such-and-such,” “women are such-and-such,” “men are such-and-such,” “Californians are such-and-such,” etc. But in our current age we tend to view this totalizing or essentializing impulse with increasing skepticism. After all, there is a huge amount of variation between individuals. Even neighbors or members of the same family have different priorities, belief sets or tastes. How can something that claims to represent a huge group of people, like “Americans” or “Japanese,” possibly be valid? Think of the fairly simple statement “Americans like cheese.” We might recognize that a lot of US cuisine features cheese, or that per capita cheese consumption in the US is higher than some other countries. But at the same time, we realize that not everyone who is American likes cheese, and we each probably even know several cheese haters ourselves. Therefore we have increasingly come to realize that such representative, totalizing statements are invalid, that even small groups are not uniform, and that we’re all defined individually.

Teaching Literature and Information Resolution

Recently there has been a lot of conversation about the value of the humanities. It seems that increasingly people have been questioning the value of disciplines like literature. If, as seems to be the popular perception, higher education exists primarily as institutions for job training and credentialing, what is the point of teaching literature? Reading Flaubert doesn’t train any job skills or increase anyone’s employability. And as the cost of higher education goes up, these seemingly irrelevant courses begin to just look like a frivolous expense ripe for cutting, at least from general education requirements. And, of course, the study of literature doesn’t generally lend itself well to machine-graded tests and large lectures, meaning teaching literature is largely unaffected by the efficiency gains technology might bring to higher ed, making its cost relative to other courses seem higher. So why teach literature, much less require a couple of literature courses of every student, as most universities now do?

Well, I tend to think that the study of literature is inherently valuable (although I admit I’m a bit biased there). The ability to analyze a text is a critical skill that is immediately transferable and applicable to many areas of life: a law, company memo, conversation with a boss or TV commercial can be picked apart and analyzed for meaning in the same way literature can. Indeed, the move to emphasize job training over the humanities and the analytical skills they endow is a little creepy to me; an attempt to turn higher education into an apparatus that produces workers with the skills to be productive but none of the analytical capacity to question. And the ability to write, which students learn in humanities courses, is a crucial communications skill that anyone with even a modicum of responsibility in the corporate world must have.

But those are the arguments already out there, and many people remain unconvinced. So I’d like to throw another idea about why literature is valuable into the ring. Continue reading