A New Museum, an Old Controversy
Plans for a new museum bring kudos and controversy to Kansai. Brian Covert investigates the legacy of cartoonist Tezuka Osamu, an innovator in all respects save his acceptance of the stereotypes of his youth.
Imagine a world of robot superheroes, faraway enchanting lands, talking animals and childhood romances, and you have captured the fantasy world of Tezuka Osamu (1928-89), Japan’s most famous cartoonist. Tezuka is the person credited with revolutionizing the nation’s postwar cartoon industry with his unique style, ushering in the present-day manga (comic) craze that has come to permeate every aspect of Japanese society.
The artist spent the formative years of his life in Takarazuka, the city in Hyogo Prefecture most popular for its all-female revue. Many of Tezuka’s most famous works were said to have been inspired while he lived in Takarazuka, a place he considered his true home long after gaining fame and fortune in Tokyo.
The renowned cartoonist will be coming home again to Takarazuka in the form of a manga museum to be built here in 1993. The Tezuka Osamu Memorial Hall will display the more than 150,000 illustrations the artist is estimated to have drawn during his career. City officials consider it a sort of homecoming for the Kansai prodigy.
“We are quite honored to establish a museum here to introduce proudly such a world-class Japanese cartoonist — or rather I should say, a philosopher who passed his ideas on to posterity through the medium of manga,” said Yamashita Minoru, a planning director at Takarazuka City Hall.
Among the many cities that placed bids for the museum, Takarazuka seemed the natural choice for the Tezuka family and Tezuka Production Co. Ltd., which oversees the business side of Tezuka’s legacy. An architectural competition has been held to decide the final design of the building, the winner to be announced at the end of this month.
High-tech fantasy land
The multi-media exhibition hall will display all of Tezuka’s works on a rotating basis to keep large crowds coming back again and again. Organizers say that the presently planned 1,000-square-meter floor area may have to be doubled to accommodate the masses of expected visitors. Locating the museum in Tezuka’s former hometown almost ensures that the hall will more than pay for the initial ¥1 billion in construction costs.
An array of colorful panels, videos, movie screenings and workshops will, it is hoped, draw the public within the fantasy land of Tezuka’s own imagination. Visitors will enter the realm of such Tezuka classics as Jungle Taitei and Tetsuwan Atomu — better known to western audiences as Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy, respectively — as well as Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island) and Hi no Tori (Phoenix). These four classics represent the pinnacle of Tezuka’s illustrious career.
A trip through the museum will begin as visitors pass by a giant sculpture of a phoenix bird outside, a tribute to Tezuka’s early manga series. Inside, visitors will wander through various theme sections that focus on certain aspects of Tezuka’s life. ‘The Beginning of the Dream’ will introduce visitors to the sights and sounds that touched Tezuka during his 20 years in Takarazuka.
Other sections will focus on the various characters he created as well as a detailed chronology of his life’s works. ‘A Message for the Next Era’, an exhibition to be held four times a year, will feature Tezuka’s influence on other cartoonists, and ‘Atom Vision’, a 50-seat movie theater, will show animated films on a large screen.
The ‘Tezuka Work Studio’ will offer amateurs the chance to attend cartoon-drawing classes, and the ‘Animation Creation Studio’ will take them through the high-tech process of cartoon production. Finally, a video library will offer die-hard Tezuka fans a chance to watch video recordings of his cartoons at their own leisure.
Planners are hoping that the mammoth museum will put Takarazuka on the map as a new mecca for up-and-coming cartoonists in Japan. The museum’s organizers will promote this idea through a Tezuka Osamu Award to be given to the best and brightest new cartoon creators.
Deity or racist?
Tezuka’s legacy is not to be taken lightly in Japan. In death, he has become the reigning Manga no Kamisama, or God of Comics, immortal and nearly unquestionable in his love and concern for humanity, a theme that appears throughout many of his works.
However, his legacy, and subsequently the museum project, are not without snags. Far from viewing Tezuka as a deity, there are critics in Japan and the U.S. who are labeling Tezuka a perpetrator of racial prejudice and an overrated symbol whose concern for humanity ended at the color line.
A100-member Japanese group in Osaka, called the Association to Stop Racism Against Blacks, has been leading the charges. ASRAB points to many of Tezuka’s caricatures of Africans and African Americans, claiming that some of his best-loved comics (including those mentioned above) contain all the traditionally negative stereotypes of Black people found in western societies. The group estimates that as many as half of the 300 Tezuka manga printed by Kodansha alone contain elements of racism.
ASRAB is being endorsed in its anti-racism efforts by various sectors of the African-American community, including leading politicians, educators, business people and entertainers. The group and its growing list of U.S. grassroots allies are targeting several of Tezuka’s cartoons that include Black people in what they view as outdated, insulting roles as servants to white people, sexual barbarians or savage cannibals.
Critics point to the bulbous lips, unfocused eyes and animal-like physical features that present Black people as sub-human characters when compared to caricatures of other races in Tezuka’s comics.
Such public outcry has Takarazuka city officials concerned about the content of Tezuka’s manga, since those same cartoons will be presented at the museum.
“We have to rotate the exhibitions, so there will be times when the works now being protested against will be displayed,” Yamashita said originally, adding that “We don’t dare avoid showing them.” The planning director said earlier that such illustrations might be shown with an explanatory disclaimer about the protests, but it now seems possible the museum may completely withdraw the offending drawings from its collection. At the time of this writing, the sensitive subject is still under discussion among overseers of the late Tezuka’s estate although the project as a whole will go on as planned for now.
The still-unfolding controversy over Tezuka’s work shows no signs of abating. Publishers in Japan have decided to continue printing Tezuka’s cartoons with a disclaimer rather than quit issuing them, while Japanese and U.S. protesters have vowed to continue their own fight as long as such images are marketed to consumers in Japan.
Come 1993, residents of Kansai and beyond will have the opportunity to visit the new museum and judge for themselves what the fuss over Tezuka Osamu, the God of Manga, is all about.