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This is a slightly expanded verson of Paul Gravett’s introduction to the first screening in the season of manga-derived anime movies launched on Saturday 28 July, 2007, at 2.30pm. The season continues until 29 September, 2007.

Hello and welcome to the BP Lecture Theatre at the British Museum and the launch of the exciting Manga-to-Anime film season. Great to see so many of you here, from cosplaying devotees to total newcomers of all ages.

My name is Paul Gravett and some of you may have come across my book Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics or seen the manga South Bank Show last year. I’d like to thank Timothy Clark, Christopher Power, Margaret O’Brien and Rosanna Kwok for coming up with the idea of screening some outstanding examples of anime or Japanese animated movies. This is quite an historic occasion, a milestone, as this marks the first time that the British Museum has hosted a whole season and I’m honoured to be asked to select this.

I must also thank Hiroaki Saiki and Reiko Asai from Medianet in Tokyo and Marc Weidebaum and Jason Bergenfeld from Viz Media in San Francisco for allowing the British Museum to hold this special free screening. Thanks too to Helen McCarthy, Gemma Cox at Neo, Nargis Ahmad at Anime UK News, Sweatdrop Studios, Self Made Hero and everyone who helped publicise this screening.

My choice was to choose a mixture of major films, some older ones, some modern ones and a couple of brand new releases. Another of my criteria was that these movies would be based on the stories, characters or concepts from manga. This way the Manga-to-Anime programme can raise awareness of and enthusiasm for not one but two of Japan’s most vibrant modern artforms: the massive diversity and quality of manga or Japanese comics, which make up nearly 40 per cent of all publishing in Japan, and of the animated film adaptations derived from them, which are a huge pop culture industry in their own right.

This season coincides with an amazing exhibition at the British Museum entitled Crafting Modern Beauty In Japan, which celebrates over fifty years of incredible craftsmanship by artists who have been offically designated ‘Living National Treasures’ by the Japanese government for their artistry in ceramics, metalworking, textiles, wood and bamboo, lacquer, glass, gold and silver foil and even dolls.

Do please visit this exhibition. I was stunned by these extraordinary objects which somehow are traditional and modern, simple and complex, rustic and refined, peaceful and powerful, all at the same time. These works of craft and art seem to me to glow with almost an aura in their glass cases. They reminded me of some of the beautiful, imaginative costumes, swords, talismans, interiors and other artifacts from the past, present and future that we can see drawn and designed in manga and anime. There is a clear continuity here running throughout Japan’s unique culture. And do please also check out the Japan Galleries upstairs here in the Museum. You’ll find several items related to manga and anime including a piece of original artwork featuring the classic robot hero Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka - and it’s totally free.

So I’m thrilled that we have a capacity turn-out for this exclusive preview screening of Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow. How many of you know about Naruto already? [Big scream from fans in the audience]. How many of you watch the animated cartoons on Jetix or on DVD from Manga Entertainment? [More cheers] How many of you read the manga books, out from Viz in the US and on sale across the UK from September from Simon & Shuster? [And more cheers].

I can see we have quite a few people here who are new to Naruto so let me give you some background. Naruto debuted in the massive-selling Japanese boys’ comic Weekly Shonen Jump from Shueisha in 1999. The man who wrties and draws Naruto is Masashi Kishimoto. He first drew Naruto for a one-shot short story about witchcraft and fox-spirits in 1997 the special seasonal edition of Akamaru Jump. At first Naruto wore goggles and boots, but Kishimoto didn’t like drawing those complicated goggles so he came up with the ninja headband instead and gave him traditional Japanese footwear or Zori. And from there he elaborated the whole story. In fact it is still running today some eight years later every week.

Naruto, or Naruto Uzumaki is a small boy who discovers a terrible secret about himself. When he was born, twelve years ago, a giant nine-tailed fox demon attacked his village, where the world’s stealthiest ninjas are trained. After the fox demon is defeated by the Hokage, the village champion, its soul is sealed inside the body of a newly born human baby: Naruto. This boy grows up to be mistrusted and feared because of the evil spirit locked inside him and he becomes a troublemaker, a bit of an outsider, but burning with one ambition: to become the next Hokage and the greatest ninja his village has ever known.

To introduce some of the charscters I thought I’d quote from Kishimoto-san himself who explained some of his ideas in the American edition of Shonen Jump back in 2003: “Naruto starts out as a bumbling good-for-nothing, but he gradually develops into something. Sasuke is a contrast to Naruto: he starts out as an elite ninja. Naruto strives to achieve Sasuke’s expertise, both as a role model and a rival. Sakura looks like the standard cute girl character, but I wanted to create a more realistic girl. That’s why she’s my type. She acts reserved, but you only see a tiny part of her true nature. I think many women have this kind of dual personality. As for the theme of Naruto, I planned it around the idea of a ‘team’ story, emphasising the importance of those people who are close to you.”

Naruto: Ninja Clash In The Land Of Snow is the first Naruto movie and was released in Japan on August 21, 2004. Here we are three years later, and it is finally getting shown in Britain. It is a problem not just for anime, or Japanese films, but for so many international films to get a proper cinematic release in Britain, when Hollywood’s output swamps our screens. Let’s hope that as the public’s interest grows, more anime movies can get shown in British cinemas.

Naruto, like so many successful manga before it, made the leap from the printed page onto the television screen first as part of the enormous output of animation on Japanese TV for kids, families and adults shown throughout the week. After its success on the box, it was a logical step to be adapted into a big screen movie. This is a new original adventure is set just after episode 101 of the manga, but don’t worry, you don’t have to read over a hundred episodes to enjoy it.

In this adventure, Naruto and his pals are assigned to protect a famous movie actress, who is a depressed diva, jaded with stardom. She is contracted to play the role of the Princess of the Land of Snow, and when the director and crew whisk her off to this wintry domain to shoot on location, her true past and the secret of a amulet she wears are gradually revealed. The world of Naruto is a fantasy Japan where ninja schools, spectacular feats of power and fantastical machinery sit alongside a sort of everyday modern life. The style of animation here may not strike some of you as all that animated, as in making everything move relentlessly. Partly for budgetary reasons, some anime employs simplified animation techniques. The very lack of motion, where characters or scenes barely change, or the minimal shifts as a character opens her eyes or looks over, can actually help to emphasise the graphic, drawn nature of animated film, creating moments of atmosphere or mood, bringing the experience closer in a way to how manga themselves work by encouraging us to animate panels and pages ourselves in our imagination.

Naruto cosplayers who sat in the front row
at the Naruto screening on 28 July, 2007

Before we show the film, I want to remind you that there are lots more great Manga-To-Anime movies coming up in this season, continuing with two Hayao Miyazaki classics, Porco Rosso August 4th and Nausicaa August 11th. Both of these anime started life as manga written and drawn by Miyazaki himself. Then from September 7th I’ll be introducing further anime screenings for adults. Be sure to pick up a leaflet and book your seats now. They are already going fast!

I hope you enjoy the movie. Naruto is a ninja who never gives up, an underdog and outcast who proves himseld time and again. I think compared to other boy heroes in comics, like the British bully and prankster Dennis the Menace, Naruto is a spinky, spirited, inspiring role model himself and I’m sure that part of his appeal. I believe that in the future, Naruto’s creator Masashi Kishimoto, and many other brilliant designers and storytellers working in manga and anime today, will come to be recognised as ‘Living National Treasures’ themselves. Because, for all the computer technology and skilled assistants that help make these productions, Naruto really begins with one person having an inspired idea and putting pen to paper, or clicking their computer mouse, and creating something out of nothing, something that goes on to entertain and enchant the world.

Posted: August 19, 2007


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