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Manga-nifique! How France became obsessed with Japanese anime

In the 1970s, giant robot cartoons sparked a love affair with French fans (including Emmanuel Macron) – now the country is the world’s largest manga importer, and home to a new Murakami film You might say that Vincent van Gogh was one of the first Japanese pop-culture otaku (geeks) in Europe. With the 19th-century japonisme craze in full swing, he coveted ukiyo-e woodblock prints like modern-day collectors hoard rare manga. Japanese art deeply influenced his work, from his flattening of perspective to his bold lines. He went to the south of France hoping to encounter the same radiant nature and spiritual freshness that figured in his east-Asian fantasia. Upon seeing Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa a supposed inspiration for his own The Starry Night – he raved to his brother Theo in a letter: “The waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.” The new animation Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by France-based animator Pierre Földes, shows that the French love affair with Japanese visual arts is still throbbing. Anime and manga are a worldwide cultural force but nowhere more so than France – an unbelievable 55% of comics sold there in 2021 were manga, according to consumer research body GfK. A beguiling mashup of six Haruki Murakami short stories set in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman emerged foremost from Földes’s own first contact with Japanese literature as a teenager. “I loved the fact the style of storytelling was so different to the west,” says the director. “It’s more contemporary, less structured. Here, everything is very structured, with a beginning and end. The story goes from here to there, through different moments of emotion. I’m not so much into that.” Continue reading...

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