My evening with Black, White and Schodt

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film Tekkonkinkreet at my local college. Even though I owned a copy of the movie on DVD, I was eager to tromp out in the rain and check out the film once more. Why? Two words: Frederick Schodt.

For most manga and anime fans and scholars, Schodt is best known as the author of such seminal books as Manga Manga!, Dreamland Japan and The Astro Boy Essays. These seminal works (particularly the first two titles) helped pave the way for acceptance or at least recognition of manga here in the U.S. and indeed remain valuable resources for those attempting to explain what manga is and why it's so goshdarn popular.

Schodt was on hand to introduce the film and lead a discussion of it afterward. Apparently the college had managed to procure his services via something called Anime Masterpieces, an educational series designed to promote the art of anime at campuses and museums across the country. Let me just take a moment to say what a fabulous idea I think this is and how I wish there was a similar organization promoting American comics in the same fashion.

Anyway, after a few words by the college's faculty, Schodt took the stage and provided a brief introduction of the film. For those who are not familiar with the movie, Tekkonkinkreet is an adaptation of Taiyo Matsumoto's manga of the same name (the title being a pun on the japanese phrase "reinforced concrete"). Oh, and by the way, the manga is available in English from Viz.

Both manga and movie are about two street urchins named Black and White (note: symbolism!), living in a fictional urban environment known as Treasure Town. The boys battle other street thugs and the occasional yakuza for dominance of what they regard as "their town," but things are changing. Gentrification and foreign businesses are muscling in, and these newcomers don't cotton to having street toughs hanging around their fancy new amusement parks, even if they're only 10 years old and can scramble around buildings like Cow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger.

Resplendent in a black suit and Astro Boy tie, Schodt touched on a variety of topics about the movie in his introduction, including the fact that it was directed and written by two Americans, with a soundtrack by a British group (he was quick to emphasize that the film retains a decided Japanese sensibility however). He also touched on such subjects as the history of anime, Osamu Tezuka, and how new technologies and increased competition have put the anime industry at a crossroads of sorts, a fact which no doubt made the film's themes especially resonant for some.

After the film was over, Schodt discussed Matsumoto's influences, noting that he was heavily influenced by French artists like Mobieus, (further muddying the international waters).

Although a handful of people had left after the movie was over, a number stayed behind to ask questions and talk about the film. The discussion was lively and ranged from the general (were all anime like this or is this film an aberration?) to the more specific (was the city itself a character?). I noticed a couple of otaku in the audience -- one woman had a "Death Note"  t-shirt; another squealed when the word "Evangelon" was uttered.

Most of the questions actually dealt with trying to unpack the various themes of the movie. Schodt was hesitant to rely upon any one viewing of the film, arguing frequently that the story is open to many interpretations.

The event came with a "study guide" pamphlets from Anime Masterpieces containing essays about the film by him and other scholars like Susan Napier and Roland Kelts. It's a nice souvenier that I anticipate pouring over in detail when time permits.

After the talk was over, I hung around for a few minutes to say the town's public librarian who had attended and have Schodt sign my copies of Manga Manga and Astro Boy Essays that I had brought along. Really, I had just come for that express purpose alone, but I managed to get a lot more out of the viewing than I had initially expected. Even though I was familiar with Tekkonkinkreet and its themes, it was exciting and interesting to hear other people's thoughts, especially when encouraged and guided by someone as thoughtful and knowledgeable as Schodt.

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