Wednesday, September 21, 2011

21/09 POINT OF VIEW / Genichiro Takahashi: 'Softness' is key to thought-provoking message

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photoGenichiro Takahashi (Photo by Atsushi Takanami)
I had my eureka moment the other day when I saw the cover of the August issue of "Neppu" (Hot wind), a booklet published by Studio Ghibli, an animation film studio co-founded by director Hayao Miyazaki.
The cover showed Miyazaki doing a one-man street demonstration near his studio in the western Tokyo suburb of Higashi Koganei. He is wearing an apron, and a signboard hangs from his neck. The signboard says, "NO! Genpatsu (nuclear power generation)."
I just said a one-man demonstration, but actually he's not alone. Walking behind him are a woman and a man, the former carrying an umbrella and the latter accompanied by a dog on a leash and his right hand holding a signboard that says, "Stop."
Except for the signboards, the trio (plus the dog) could just as well be enjoying a leisurely stroll in the neighborhood.
The scene somehow reminded me of the popular "Mito Komon" TV samurai drama series, in which the protagonist, Komon-sama, is always accompanied by his two loyal sidekicks, Suke-san and Kaku-san.
Just ahead of the trio is a man on a bicycle coming their way. The expression on his face seems to say, "Huh? This goofball is the Hayao Miyazaki?! Well, I never."
The picture was so funny, and I loved it. And it made me think.
It was funny and yet profoundly thought-provoking because of its "softness." By "softness" here, I mean you can read just about anything into this picture and react to it in any number of ways. For instance, you might be simply impressed by Miyazaki's determination to oppose nuclear power generation. Or, you might sense the loneliness of someone who has chosen to crusade for a cause, and remind yourself that no crusade should be divorced from your day-to-day life. You might also realize, with a sigh, that there is something sadly comical about someone who wears his social conscience on his sleeve.
What made Miyazaki take to the streets? The reason must be that he had something he felt he had to tell people. But you've got to bear in mind that just saying what you think won't get you anywhere. It's vital that you give your audience "space" to thoroughly ponder your message. And that "space" is what makes the message "soft."
I was still feeling the impact of the "Neppu" cover picture when I picked up the September issue of Bungei Shunju magazine and read the policies of three candidates for president of the Democratic Party of Japan--Yoshihiko Noda, Sumio Mabuchi and Banri Kaieda who went misty-eyed over a disagreement he had with then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
I was totally disappointed with their writings. They bored me to tears. Each man had his own way of saying things, but what they said was all the same.
On the government's nuclear policy, for instance, they said it was going to be difficult to keep promoting nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, but various economic considerations rendered any hasty decommissioning of existing nuclear reactors impossible. As for tax hikes, they are necessary given the current fiscal plight, they argued, but this is still not the right time to increase taxes.
Simply put, all three candidates were being "pragmatic." But their "pragmatism" was obviously predicated on maintaining the status quo.
Haven't they learned anything from what our country has experienced over the last six months? Or perhaps they don't really have any message they want to communicate to the public. If they did, they would have at least tried to do a better job of it, wouldn't they?
By the way, I've always wondered if it's a requirement for prime ministerial hopefuls to contribute policy commentaries to Bungei Shunju. I don't know how this custom came to be, but I can sort of understand this must be the "pragmatic" thing to do.
And in the same issue that featured the three prime ministerial candidates' commentaries, the magazine also ran the article about the Akutagawa literature prize sponsored by the magazine. As a writer, I couldn't help rolling my eyes. It was like being told, "See, this is what being an 'Establishment' insider is all about."
A recent issue of Kanagawa Daigaku Hyoron, an academic magazine published by Kanagawa University, introduced three poems as part of its "Jasmine Revolution" special. The poems and their bibliographical notes gave me a lot to think about. Each poem should be called "a poem from Tahrir Square" for providing a first-hand account of what transpired at this iconic revolutionary landmark. What surprised me was all these poems were first introduced on television, and then went viral on YouTube and blogs.
Not only in the Arab world but also around the globe, poetry was losing its centuries-old social function, but the revolution revived the value of verse. According to Kaoru Yamamoto, who translated the poems and compiled their bibliographical notes, the poems captured the hearts of people "in Egypt where rampant corruption and hypocrisy in all segments of society had eroded the credibility of words, and people were starving for words they could believe." If that is the case in Egypt, I cannot but worry about our country as well.
Ryoichi Wago, a poet living in Fukushima Prefecture, recently tweeted a poem about the March 11 disaster and created quite a sensation. Novelist Hiromi Kawakami rewrote her earlier work to depict the horror of the Fukushima disaster and published it in Gunzo magazine. Cartoonists Moto Hagio and Kotobuki Shiriagari pulled no punches in their starkly graphic portrayal of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
What is common to their works is that none of the creators even bothered to seek perfection in their writings and drawings. They all had a message they felt compelled to communicate, and for that they were forced to go against the "established" rules in their respective fields--or at least that was how I saw it. And what these four people had to face couldn't be unique to "creative" fields of work alone.
Lastly, I would like to touch on a column by Kiichi Fujiwara about the Japanese insensitivity to the Chinese train disaster in July. "The Japanese were visibly satisfied, saying that this sort of accident couldn't happen in Japan," Fujiwara wrote. "But few Japanese mourned the Chinese dead--victims of a railway service that takes human lives lightly. Few Japanese felt the pain of this tragedy as their own." Underlying this insensitivity is the deep-seated Japanese prejudice and hostility against China (and other countries). I would like to address this ugly aspect of our society at a later date.
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Genichiro Takahashi is a professor of contemporary literature at Meiji Gakuin University. He plans to publish "Koisuru Genpatsu" (Nuclear power station in love), his most recent novel that deals with nuclear power generation. Takahashi collaborated with Tatsuru Uchida in selecting stories that were published recently as "Uso Mitai na Honto no Hanashi" (Unbelievable true stories).

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