April 11, 2007

Hikaru Sasahara interview


A long interview with Hikaru Sasahara, CEO of Digital Manga, Inc. Parts of the interview remind me of the infamous William Shatner "get a life" appearance on SNL, in that Mayerson (the interviewer) approaches the subject narrowly as a fan while Sasahara approaches the subject broadly as a businessman, which leads to a few unintentionally hilarious moments. Clearly what energizes Sasahara is growing the business and expanding into new markets, not the particularities of a specific genre.

The interview is also a great look at the classic "American dream": college student comes to the U.S. from Japan in 1973, overstays his student visa, and starts several successful businesses. Though as he points out, this was back when getting a legit green card was a lot easier.

Some exerpts:

Ginger Mayerson: [The books published by Digital Manga] are extremely well done, well made, and because some of them are yaoi, the reader can really obsess on them and read them over and over and over and certain parts over and over and over and you can't break the spine, ever. You can't destroy these books. And they've got the dust jackets, so your grubby little hands, well, anyway, for those of us who have grubby little hands while we're reading our yaoi books, these are the books to read.

HS: I don't read them.

. . . .

GM: You should try to read one. Next time you're on a plane, just try to read Cold Sleep. You can read it in three or four hours.

HS: Nah.

. . . .

GM: And do you know why [yaoi] is so popular?

HS: I have no idea. I'm a guy.

. . . .

GM: Yeah, projecting, sort of a boomerang projection, but yeah. So, yaoi has sort of taken over your business, yes?

HS: I would say almost seventy percent of the revenue is coming from yaoi, I must say.

GM: Wow. [Me: Wow.]

. . . .

HS: No, licensing and overseeing it for the U.S. Here's a film I licensed to DreamWorks, it's called Millennium Actress. You can take it home and watch it. You'll enjoy it.

[Me: I agree. Great film. (Not yaoi.)]

. . . .

HS: No, just manga in Japan. The whole revenue in America is only a little over two hundred million, compared to four billion in Japan. So it could grow that big in the future, I think, so I'm very excited. People are telling me that the market is being saturated here, and I have to tell them that they don't understand.

. . . .

GM: So, you're commissioning a Japanese creation, translating it into English, publishing it here, and if it's successful enough, you sell it back to Japan in English?

HS: Yes. There're so many kids in Japan that read English, these manga can be a language learning tool and entertainment.

I think this is a great idea. Using translated manga as the "textbook" would certainly be a lot more interesting than what passes for the typical English class in Japan. The same things applies when teaching Japanese. You can find manga in every possible subject and at every language level.

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