Michael Arias's Posts

Calling all Taiyō Matsumoto fans…

The pocket edition of Tekkonkinkreet is out this week, featuring new cover art by Taiyō Matsumoto, some rarely-seen color artwork, and an afterword that I wrote (humbly) for this edition. These beautiful little books are currently available only in Japan, but the folks at Shogakukan Comics have seen fit to print my contribution in both Japanese and English.

TEKKONKINKREET pocket edition

cover art for new volumes of TEKKONKINKREET

This has already been an unusually prolific year for Taiyō, with pocket editions of older works coming out regularly and Sunny, his newest, currently serialized in Shogakukan’s IKKI comics (the 3rd collected volume of Sunny has just been released in Japan and an English edition is in the works). As if that weren’t enough, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival have announced a gallery show of original Taiyō artwork as well as a screening of my filmed adaptation of Tekkonkinkreet.

Taiyo Matsumoto is a Japanese comics creator whose kinetic style and thoughtful, considered narratives have won him fans across the world. Drawing on a wide range of artistic influences from Japan and Europe, Matsumoto’s graphic novels evidence a deep knowledge and appreciation of the entire world of comics.

Matsumoto is best known to English-reading audiences for his work Tekkonkinkreet, which was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated animated film in 2007. Originally released in English as “Black & White”, the graphic novel and film have drawn wide acclaim thanks to their beauty and unique style. His other English-language works include Blue Spring, GoGo Monster, and No.5. Matsumoto also has an extensive bibliography of works translated into French, including all of his English works and the additional series’ Ping Pong (5 volumes), Le Samourai Bambou (8 volumes), and Freres du Japon. Matsumoto has also had live-action film adaptations of his works Blue Spring and Ping Pong, both of which are available on DVD in North America.

Taiyo Matsumoto will debut his brand new ongoing manga series Sunny at TCAF, published in English by Viz Media.

The World of Taiyo Matsumoto: This talented and prolific cartoonist’s career will be explored through a full program of Festival events, headlined by an exhibition of original artwork and goods, to be held at and in conjunction with The Japan Foundation, Toronto. Further events will include a special screening of the film Tekkonkinkreet with Director Michael Arias and Screenwriter Anthony Weintraub in attendance.

Toronto Comics Art Festival website

I can’t praise Taiyō Matsumoto and his unique work enough.

from Michael at michaelarias.net

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Shohei exhibition

Pal Shohei is exhibiting new illustrations at Tokyo’s Carhartt Store, November 17 – 25. With his intricate ballpoint pen work, Shohei’s managed to carve out some interesting territory and avoid being overshadowed by his superstar dad.

I’ve seen Shohei’s work up close a couple times, and it really does defy description. I won’t get near a piece of paper without an eraser in hand, but Shohei does this stuff start-to-finish in ink, with no revision. Not for the faint of heart.

Highly recommended!

Carhartt WIP presents SHOHEI Exhibition -Layered-
2012.11.17 (Sat.) – 2012.11.25 (Sun.)
at Carhartt Store Tokyo
Jingumae 4-28-25, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

More information here.

Shohei’s HP here.

photo by Alexander Mitchell

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The latest in Halloween costumes

Just what I was looking for: the “foreigner” disguise.

Right between naughty nurse and thick-browed gangster. And what a deal, at just ¥315.

Great for parties.

Hi! I'm a foreigner!

From Tokyo, with love.












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Photographs of Tōhoku

As previously posted on GR, I made several trips to the northern countryside of Japan in the days and weeks following the disaster of 3/11. And, though the intent of these ragtag “missions,” was primarily humanitarian, I took many photos along the way, posting them with my reports on these pages.

I recently culled the most evocative of those shots for display at the 12th incarnation of the always delightful Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival, held last week in Frankfurt. Going through these images was difficult and, needless to say, brought back some very sad memories. What a year.

GR readers will have seen many of these images before, but here they are (again) as collected for their recent showing at the festival. I know many among you are probably experiencing disaster burnout, but I think it’s worth having another look, and pausing to contemplate the awesome power of nature and, indeed, the transience of our own existence.

From Tokyo,


All photos copyright © 2012 Michael Arias. All rights reserved.


OMG: My own Taiyō Matsumoto Yoyo


It’s here. The Taiyo-yo. Is it the answer to all my prayers or the beginning of the end? The yoyo is bundled with the first book of Taiyō’s beautiful new work SUNNY, currently serialized in Shogakukan IKKI.

Taiyō is back in great form with this semi-autobiographical story about the lives of children living in a Kansai orphanage.

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Village Vanguard.

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Kebabs To Tōhoku, v2.0

the sun rises in the Onagawa

I’ve just returned from another expedition to the disaster-stricken Tōhoku coast and wanted to fill you in on this latest trip. (GR has published earlier reports for anyone interested!) This is the seventh time I’ve made the Tōhoku run since the March 11th quake and, as with previous excursions, I return to Tokyo depleted but also moved and humbled by the experience.

My mission this time was to load up my brother-in-law Kazu’s kebab-mobile in Onagawa and rendezvous in Kesennuma with Eiko Mizuno Gray and the Rainbow Cinema team, a motley crew of volunteers screening films (generously provided by Warners, Fox, Toho, Asmik, and other distributors) for quake survivors in the various shelters up north. The idea was for Kazu and me to provide free fresh kebab and ice cream to viewers during the breaks, while Eiko and her crew would keep the audience stoked during the screenings with their two popcorn machines (salt and caramel, respectively).

Onagawa, my in-laws’ home town was also hit hard by the quake and tsunami, with well over a thousand residents confirmed dead, several hundred still missing, and, according to a recent tally, about 1,200 living in shelters or temporary housing. So the morning before our deployment I had a walk around Onagawa, to see what progress had been made since my last visit a month ago. The whole port area is enveloped in a haze of fishy-smelling dust, but, to be honest, I couldn’t see much clear evidence of improvement. Yes, cranes are demolishing and clearing non-stop, and convoys of trucks haul debris to sorted piles (mountains, really); paths have been cut into the wreckage around the port, and many of the lightweight items (cars, refrigerators, bicycles, propane tanks) seem to have been gathered up. Nonetheless, the clean-up still appears quite superficial, just peeling away at the skin of an onion. A big-ass onion. Enough said.

flag waving in Onagawa

This current trip comes on the heels of a very belated two-weeks of chilling out at my parents’ home in Hermosa Beach (my first visit to the U.S. in well over a year). And what a strange contrast: The coastal villages I drove through on my way up to the far north of Miyagi Prefecture were once not so different from some SoCal beach towns; and yet to look at them now, you’d never know it.

Shizugawa 3/14/2011

I was meaning to take the inland route all the way up to Kesennuma, but a wrong turn off the Sanriku Expressway took us straight into downtown hell, ground zero of the tsunami. Shizugawa, Minami Sanrikucho, Koganezawa, and many other little towns that line this particular stretch of Route 45, grew up around river deltas and estuaries, their common geographical feature being a mountain-fed river spilling into the ocean at the mouth of a valley. Seeing the now-familiar pattern of destruction repeated in each of these depopulated port villages, one imagines a wall of black water roaring up the mouth of the valley, erasing everything in it’s path. Imagine turning a corner to see that coming at you! You actually can’t even see the ocean from many of the spots the tsunami hit.

I’d been to Shizugawa and Minami Sanrikucho in the first days following the quake, had stood at the back of the valley looking down on the tsunami’s aftermath, still steaming fresh; impossible to forget the sight of a classroom full of children pried from the wreckage and placed in boxes (boxes for heads, boxes for torsos, hands, etc.). Even now, over a hundred days since the tsunami, the record of what happened is unmistakable. Debris in every possible configuration fills low-lying spots, and the tsunami waterline is in plain sight everywhere one looks. The transition between Unharmed and Obliterated is absurdly drastic. (It was, in fact, quite maddening to contemplate what a difference just a couple meters of elevation might have made at many locations.)

still searching for bodies in Shizugawa




TEKKONKINKREET with live music by Plaid @ Sydney Opera House

This world premiere performance as part of Sydney Opera House Graphic (“a weekend of storytelling, animation & music”) features Tekkonkinkreet screened with live music performed by London-based British electronic duo Plaid, who composed the original score to the film, accompanied by Sydney’s eclectic string quartet FourPlay and Australia’s premiere percussion group Synergy.

The Sydney fu&#)ng Opera House. How cool is that?!


Sydney Opera House, Opera Theater

Sun 21 August, 11 AM

Further details here.

Posted by Mike (skirting the razor-thin boundary between news and shameless self-promotion). Reports from the event forthcoming!

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Kebabs To Tōhoku, v1.0

What follows is a brief report on the most recent of my trips to the disaster-afflicted areas in Tōhoku. Refer to my GR piece about the four trips I took to the North during the first month of the disaster.

As I reported previously, Kazu, my brother-in-law in Onagawa, and I had devised an (admittedly vague) guerilla-style plan to distribute doner kebab, pita sandwiches, and possibly ice cream to those in need. Typically, Kazu drives his truck into Sendai and sells pita sandwiches as o-bento lunch for office workers there, and he recently augmented his truck with a Dairy Queen-type ice cream maker to entice local customers. (Though Sendai is a good-sized metropolis, Onagawa is a small fishing town, and kebab considered quite exotic there.) Obviously, the Tōhoku disaster brought business to a screeching halt. With no electricity to power the refrigeration at home, and no petrol for the truck or generator, Kazu had given away all his remaining stock to survivors the first day after the quake and tsunami, and the truck had sat idle in his backyard since. So, we envisioned, I’d re-supply him with fresh ingredients (meat, veggies, pita, yogurt, and ice cream) and he’d give away hot meals to folks living in the refugee centers. Or something like that. You hear about kids in the early days of Japan’s occupation, now in their seventies, fondly recalling the taste of chocolate and bubble gum given them by GIs; perhaps a generation of kids will grow up in Tōhoku with similar memories of their first kebab.

And, after all, who doesn’t like a good ice cream cone?

First task: acquiring 60kg of Australian topside beef in 5mm slices, and 3kg each of minced lamb and beef. Lack of power, and brownouts in some dairy-producing parts of Japan have made yogurt scarce as well (I’d recently heard about a friend’s wife outsmarting supermarket restrictions on dairy purchases by lining up in disguise). And, then, several kilos of fresh cabbage and tomatoes. Issaku, owner of my favorite Tokyo izekaya, had the meat delivered to me on ice (no point trying to cram that much into my fridge); and Mo, a brother-in-law living in Tokyo, collected requisite yogurt and vegetables. So far, so good. I also agreed to give a ride up north to Gome, a young rapper and skateboarder whose best friend was 3rd AD on my second feature, and who’d lost touch with his family in Onagawa. During the drive north Gome would keep us alert with his hip-hop demos.

I rented a 6-seater van (called, delightfully I thought, a “Bongo“) the day before setting out and rode out to Asakusa-bashi to stock up with relief supplies at Second Harvest Japan, the food bank for which I’d already made a couple relief runs to the North. Charles McJilton, director of Second Harvest, loaded me up with about 300 bananas, 40 cases of fig cookies (donated by the French), and several boxes of canned fruit, and gave me a target: a school doubling as a refugee camp in Natori City, en route to Onagawa. But Charles also warned me that a couple drivers had recently been turned away at their destinations. Multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations are now supplying the North, but unavoidable overlap and, alternately, poor coverage in the various towns and villages affected have resulted in some points oversupplied, while others still lack the basics. Meanwhile, national and local bureaucratic controls have tightened, making it difficult for many grass-roots volunteer parties to get through. So, I told Charles, I’d stop off in Natori and see if they’d take the supplies, but if not needed there, I’d continue north and locate an alternate beneficiary in Ishinomaki or Onagawa, my ultimate destinations.

We set off from my flat at 5:30 AM on April 14th and made good time getting up into Miyagi Prefecture, stopping a few times along the way to top off the Bongo’s gas tank (but, I have to admit, blasting through Fukushima Pref. without stopping). We got off the Tōhoku Expressway for our stop in Natori, but the only official we managed to meet at our target, Natori Fujigaoka Primary School, having been newly dragooned from her usual post in Kyōto, was unfamiliar with local procedures and unable to direct us towards any appropriate facilities. We’d read some recent newspaper headline about shortages in Onagawa, so we decided to continue on, lest our cargo spoil.


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Tohoku, One Month On

Please excuse the scattershot nature of this rambling work in progress. – m

Today is the one-month anniversary of the Tohoku quake and tsunami disaster, but my flat is still rattling from aftershocks (I counted three today, but I’m sure there were more). Last weekend was actually the first I’ve spent at home in Tokyo since March 11, when the big one hit. Much of the last month I’ve been up north, looking for my in-laws, ferrying supplies to relief organizations, and being a guide for foreign television crews looking to get close to ground zero in the first days after the disaster.

The first of those trips began only a day after the initial quake. At 3:45 PM I’d received a fragmented text from a brother-in-law living up north: Fleeing. After that, it was impossible to get though to anyone in Tohoku via landline, mobile phone, or internet. But the television reports during the first hours, though incomplete or contradictory, were painting an increasingly bleak picture. Onagawa, Ishinomaki, Tagajo, Kesennuma, Minami Sanriku, all the nice little northern towns I’d visited so many times over the last ten years, were now listed as among the worst hit by the tsunami. The extent of damage to the Fukushima and Onagawa nuclear plants was as yet unclear, but I remembered years ago joking with my Onagawa in-laws about the disaster warning intercom installed in their kitchen. This little box would periodically sound a test alarm, like the radio broadcasts I grew up hearing: “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System…” (perhaps, given the Japanese context, more like an air-raid warning).

I got the call from Christian Storms (real name) around midnight. A crew from Channel 7 Australia needed a “fixer” for a trip to Tohoku. A fixer’s job typically involves interpreting and translating, driving and navigating, arranging interviews, and securing official clearance to shoot. Not my usual gig, but Christian knew I had family in the affected areas and thought I might be a good fit for the Aussie expedition. Twelve hours later, having bluffed our way through the police barricade at the Tohoku Expressway onramp, the four fellows from Channel 7 and I were driving northbound in Christian’s eight-seater Toyota HiAce van.

I had a vague plan to make a stop at the house of one of my brothers-in-law, in Tagajo, a Sendai suburb, and drop off a Hefty bag of hastily gathered (in retrospect, quite useless) supplies. But our real goal was to get north of Fukushima Prefecture, and up into Miyagi’s Oshika Peninsula, where some of the worst tsunami damage had been reported. We’d been told of an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team that had flown in on a military transport from New South Wales, and hoped to track them down and deploy with them, but we really didn’t know where we’d end up or what we’d find.

Over the next three days, I guided the Aussies from one wrecked seaside town to another, stopping to pick up interviews or shoot an on-camera report, making detours to visit local refugee centers and ask about my in-laws, scrounge gasoline, and sleep on floors. My notes of the trip read like passages from the Divine Comedy, where Dante leads Virgil through the nine circles of hell. (I think the Taoists give hell eighteen layers, but who’s counting?)

The absolute nadir of this first trip has to have been our walk through Minami Sanriku with the USAR team. Our point of entry was about 10 kilometers from the coast, at the back of the narrow valley leading down to Shizukawa Port. We could see how the tsunami had hit the port and then been funneled up into this gorge, taking everything with it. It was like the entire town had been put in a Cuisinart. A snapshot I took during our first walk clearly shows a baseball bat, a fiberglass dinghy, an ice cream vending machine, a small tractor, a Western-style toilet, photo albums, bicycles, cars, trucks, children’s toys, a tool shed, a row of sinks, a water boiler, propane tanks, the roof of a house, a construction crane, and an entire daycare center, all in the same frame. Shredded, compacted, disintegrated, deconstructed, like someone had emptied out a child’s toy box onto the floor and then gone at the toys with a sledgehammer. And then there was everything that wasn’t visible in the picture: fourteen children (smashed into a corner of the daycare center), dead animals, gasoline, heating oil, raw sewage. Then it started snowing, snowing hard, further diminishing any trapped victims’ chances of survival (as if anyone could have survived submersion in sea water and two nights in the freezing cold). The Channel 7 report from Ishinomaki and Minami Sanriku is a pretty disturbing look at what the rescue team was up against.

We returned to Tokyo, all of us affected by the horrors we’d seen, but also deeply moved by our encounters with the people we spoke with: mothers who’d lost infants, orphaned children, people with nothing left but what they’d gathered onto their blanket on the high-school gymnasium floor (at one refugee center we visited). The Aussies had been to Christchurch, and I’d seen news reports from St. Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina; we all had notions of the destruction we’d see. But nothing prepared us for the stoic grace and quietly composed forbearance of the survivors. I’d found all my in-laws and, though they were undeniably pleased to see a familiar face, they were also standing fast, intent on sticking together and staying put, and refusing offers of refuge in Tokyo.

What a shock it was to return to Tokyo, where everything seemed business as usual, if not just a bit subdued and less well-lit. (It seemed downright peaceful compared to where we’d just been.) The Aussies made their uplink the first night back in Tokyo, and the next day I drove them to Narita for the trip home to Sydney. I have to admit to being mortified by the sight of all the expats lining up to get flights out of Japan. The number of surfboards visible in the queues suggested an early Spring Break for some. Christian said he saw two guys in a fist fight over the last seat on a Tehran-bound flight.