Jul 31

Tom Baker (Chiba-ken, 1989-91) is a staff writer for The Daily Yomiuri. As another example of JET ROI, he is one of at least four former JETS to have been on the newspaper’s staff in recent years. He usually writes for DYWeekend, the arts and leisure section. You can follow Tom’s blog at tokyotombaker.wordpress.com.

Recently he interviewed two members of the cast of “The Last Airbender” movie during their promotional visit to Tokyo, asking them for their views on the “racebending” controversy surrounding their film. He also covered an insect show now running at a Tokyo museum, reviewed the manga “Otomen,” and weighed in on a couple of other movies now playing in Japan. Here are some excerpts:

“Last Airbender”

In the United States, some fans of the anime-style cartoon on which the movie is based have protested against the casting of Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz, who are white, in roles the fans saw as Asian.

Asked to comment on that, Rathbone said: “I originally was a finalist for Prince Zuko [a Fire Nation role that went to Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel]. Almost a year later, I was brought back in for the character of Sokka…I think what they were really looking for was the qualities that people represent, not so much focusing on race…All these characters [in the cartoon] have so many different features, you can’t really say that they are one race…It’s a shame that people really focus on the race thing and they don’t understand that it’s a story for everyone.”

“And there are over 120 different types of people in the film,” Peltz added.

“In terms of a big-budget film, it’s the most ethnically diverse cast there’s ever been,” Rathbone agreed.

Read the rest of the interview here.

“Insects festival”

Open your window on a hot summer day and you may hear a sound that caught the ear of haiku poet Matsuo Basho in the 17th century: the voices of cicadas, seeping into the rocks. Of course, Japan today is a lot more urbanized than it was in Basho’s time, and cicadas are more likely to sing against a background of asphalt and cement. Yet year after year, the buzzing bugs never fail to show up, even in the heart of Tokyo.

Visitors to Insects Festival, an exhibition now running at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, Tokyo, are reminded of such persistence right away with a display of six-legged critters that live in three different Tokyo zones: mountains, fields and downtown areas.

While city-dwellers often resent sharing space with the likes of cockroaches and ants, the emphasis of this show is on seasonal outdoor insects whose diverse shapes, bright colors and occasional songs actually enhance city life…

Read the rest of the article here, or visit the exhibition’s site here.


Anyone writing a graduate thesis on the presentation of gender in Japanese pop culture will find abundant material in the manga series Otomen. Readers looking for laughs will also find what they seek in Otomen, but rather less abundantly.

The main characters are a trio of high school students, with the focus on Asuka (a boy who has a name more common for girls), who is in love with Ryo (a girl who has a name more common for boys). Their would-be romance is complicated by the constant presence of their friend Juta, who tries to play cupid, but is more often a third wheel.

Asuka is the captain of the school kendo team, and is admired by everyone as a “real man.” But he is secretly an “otomen,” a boy who is into girly things, such as cute stuffed animals and delicate pastries. He is at least as skilled at cooking and sewing as he is at sports, but he keeps that side of himself hidden. Ryo is Asuka’s mirror image in that she has been raised by her socially inept father to follow in his footsteps as a martial arts champion, but she strives to put up a feminine front at school. Juta has a secret, too, as he is actually a best-selling manga artist who is using the couple as a model for his stories…

Read the full review here.

Also playing…

You can read Tom’s review of “Inception” here, and his review of “Zombieland” here.

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