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Condry discusses anime's global reach

Ian Condry
Ian Condry
Photo / Stephanie Schorow

Ian Condry, associate professor and Mitsui Career Development Chair in foreign languages and literatures, is an anthropologist who specializes in Japan, media and the globalization of culture. His first book, "Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization," explores the interplay between foreign and local influences in the work of Japanese rappers.

Condry wrote the script for the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble's upcoming live action anime show, "Madness at Mokuba," opening on Nov. 29 in Kresge Little Theater. Thomas de Frantz, professor of music and theater arts, directs.

To set the stage for the show, Condry will present a lecture, "Explaining Anime's Global Power," on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 4:30 p.m. in Kresge Little Theater.

He recently discussed his research on anime with the MIT News Office.

Q: How did you get involved with the "Madness" project?

A: I knew anime classics like 'Akira,' 'Ghost in the Shell' and 'Princess Mononoke,' but my MIT students got me excited about the 'Madness' project. They introduced me to the tremendous range of cutting-edge anime that is translated by fans and made available online.

Q: When did you notice hip-hop and anime 'mixing'?

A: Again, my students educated me. They showed me the anime TV series 'Samurai Champloo,' which features master-less samurai seen through the lens of hip-hop. The director, Shinichiro Watanabe, used hip-hop tools like sampling and remixing to rethink samurai for the present day.

Q: How are hip-hop and anime similar?

A: Both hip-hop and anime are media forms that were initially denigrated by media elites as not being something that could gain a wide audience. They both show the power of globalization from below, and they provide hope that ideas and practices that are seen as unimportant, fringe or sub-cultural can nevertheless become global powerhouses in their own right.

Q: How is anime more a global than a Japanese phenomenon?

A: Global anime means that we cannot understand anime only in terms of its Japanese-ness. Anime may well have aesthetic links to Japanese woodblock prints of the 18th century and to picture scrolls of the 12th century, but the more proximate links are American comics and Disney films of the first half of the 20th century. Japanese comic books--manga--reinterpreted those Western forms. Moreover, anime is produced not only in studios in Japan, but also in South Korea, the Philippines and China. Finally, overseas fans are deeply involved in the circulation of anime through online networks. All these forces expand and globalize anime culture.

Anime also extends into the global market through 'real' things, like toys, a driving force of anime businesses. To this day, licensed merchandise related to anime is a market 10 times the size of anime itself.

Q: Aside from 'Madness,' do you have any favorite anime shows?

A: I particularly like Shinichiro Watanabe's 'Cowboy Bebop' and 'Samurai Champloo' and Mamoru Hosoda's 'Superflat Monogram' and 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.' The kids' show 'Zenmai Zamurai' is another fascinating series. Lately, I've been hooked on 'Sayonara Zetsuobo Sensei' (Goodbye, Teacher Despair) and 'Gundam 00.'

Q: Any suggestions for a crash course in anime?

A: Try the TV series, "Paranoia Agent," directed by Satoshi Kon. It's surreal suspense, and it touches on an amazing range of pop culture phenomena in Japan. The feature film "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki and his "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds" and "Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro" are wonderful.

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