Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Gegege no Kitaro" creator Shigeru Mizuki receives the Asahi Prize

by Chris MaGee

Shigeru Mizuki has sure led an interesting life. Born Takeshi Shigeyoshi in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture in 1922 his early aptitude at drawing led him to art school as a young man, but in 1943 the then 21-year-old Shigeyoshi was drafted into the Imperial Army's 4th Infantry and got shipped off to New Guinea. It was there that he contracted malaria and had his left arm severly injured during an enemy air attack. Unable to save his arm doctors had to amputate, but without any anesthesia. It was during this nightmarish period that he says he had encounters with the spirit world, a subject that had fascinated him since his boyhood. After the war he could have stayed with a group of villagers in New Guinea, but instead chose to return to Japan where he took the pseudonym Shigeru Mizuki and worked as an illustrator for rental-library story books and for picture shows with live narrations.

Like I said, an interesting life, but the board behind the Asahi Prize, one of the most prestigious cultural awards in Japan if not the world, don't just honour people who've just led interesting lives. After Mizuki had his beginnings as an illustrator he went onto a hugely successful career as a manga artist. Mizuki incorporated his experiences and interest with the spirit world into his most famous creation, "Gegege no Kitaro" about a yokai (traditional Japanese spirit) boy who with the help of his other yokai friends must constantly work to maintain a peace between the human and spirit world. First published in 1959 "Gegege no Kitaro" went on to become one of the most famous manga in Japanese history, selling millions of copies and being adapted into animated television and feature films, as well as two live actions films and ultimately standing along side such other manga characters as Osamu Tezuka's "Astroboy", Tetsuya Chiba's "Ashita no Joe" and Kazuhiko "Monkey Punch" Kato's "Lupin III" as Japanese cultural icons.

So it's only fitting that the Asahi Prize was awarded to the now 86-year-old Mizuki this past Thursday for his "outstanding contributions to culture and society at large". He certainly stands in good company. This year also saw author Hisae Sawachi, theatrical producer Minoru Becchaku and molecular biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi awarded the prize, and past recipients have included famed novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Shinichirō Tomonaga.

Congratulations to Mizuki-san and thanks to Anime News Network for this story.

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