April 12, 2010

Ge-Ge-Ge no Nyoubou


NHK's daily (six days a week) 15-minute long, family-friendly morning melodrama (Asadora) is doing something a bit different this time around: a non-fiction series. The story is based on the autobiography of Nunoe Mura, wife of famed horror mangaka Shigeru Mizuki.

During WWII, Shigeru Mizuki was an infantryman in Papua, New Guinea, and lost his left arm in a bombing raid. Originally left-handed, he had to teach himself to draw with his right. When the war ended, he considered staying behind in Rabaul, but returned to Japan.

His affection for New Guinea has since been reciprocated, with a street in Rabaul being named after him. (The Taiwanese also remain relatively well-disposed toward the Japanese, probably because the Imperial Army treated them better than the Chinese Nationalists.)

Mizuki's most famous work is Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitarou ("Kitarou of the Ge-Ge-Ge"), so the Asadora series is titled Ge-Ge-Ge no Nyoubou, or "Ge-Ge-Ge's Wife." The "Ge-Ge-Ge" are a tribe of youkai, or spirits and demons. Mizuki is largely responsible for popularizing Japan's rich youkai mythology.

Ghibli's Pom Poko belongs to the youkai world, while the creatures in Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are more Shinto in orientation. They live alongside the gods of Japan's creation myths and various Chinese and European imports. The Venn diagrams overlap quite a bit.

By comparison, think of the difficulty in classifying all the gods and demons in the Western tradition (Greco-Roman, Christian, Norse, just to name a few), along with the pagan religions, fairy and folk tales (original and revised versions), plus recent inventions like Dracula and Frankenstein.

The propensity for human being to create transcendental realities seems bred in the bone (if not the genes). Not satisfied to just create them, we then arrange them into insanely complex taxonomies. This, incidentally, is why evangelical atheism is ultimately doomed to plow the ocean.

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