Saturday, August 17, 2013

History of Kitaro, #1

After picking up several of the Gegege no Kitaro DVD magazines, I started getting curious about one of the regular articles - The History of Gegege no Kitaro. This is an on-going text-heavy one-pager written by Shinji Yamaguchi, but it seems to be informative enough to justify the effort of translating it. I considered cutting the Japanese text from the scanned page and pasting in the English translation, but keeping the English text separate seems to be more readable. So, I'll do it this way - attach the page scan and make the translation the main body of the blog. Note: Any mistakes in the translation are mine and mine alone. All rights to the translation belong to Curtis H. Hoffmann. Please do not reproduce without permission. All images used here for review purposes only.


Serialized volume 1
Gegege no Kitaro History
Shinji Yamaguchi, Kanto Mizuki Association Chapter President

The Development of "Kitaro", Prolog

Kamishibai -> Rental Books -> Magazines
Kitaro makes a new start.

In what way did the nationally-recognized character Kitaro start out and how did he evolve? I'll explain a little in each of these "Kitaro" volumes. In this prologue, I'll talk a little about Shigeru Mizuki as a manga artist, and summarize Kitaro's start as kamishibai, up to the anime.
(Translator's note: Kamishibai was a kind of illustrated streetside storytelling format where certain key drawings were painted on sheets of wood or stiff paper. As the storyteller presented the tale, he'd switch out boards. Kamishibai was popular before WW II, and then saw a revival shortly after 1945. Although it lost popularity with the advent of TV, it can still be found in some schools and libraries.)

During the Pacific War, Mizuki was shipped to Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) as a private in the army, and was demobilized as the war was ending. After trying several jobs, he landed work as an apartment manager in Kobe. One of the residents referred him to a street performance kamishibai author, Katsumaru Suzumoto. Mizuki worked feverishly to produce 1 set of paintings at the first of the month (10 sheets each) for him. Thinking that Mizuki's scenarios were very idiosyncratic, Suzumoto would talk about the works of Masami Itou (who had been popular at the beginning of the Showa era, 1925) and Kei Tatsumi's "Hakaba Kitaro" to the point where Mizuki really wanted to tackle it. He then produced "Hebi-jin" (Snakeman) and "Karate Kitaro", and although they formed the foundations of Kitaro's later appearance, these original works no longer exist.

Later, Mizuki left the Kansai area (western Japan) to find work in Tokyo. Masami Itou gave him permission to change the katakana name to kanji and he began drawing "Hakaba Kitaro" (Graveyard Kitaro) for the rental book market. However, in 1953, television broadcasts started up and both kamishibai and rental books went into decline.
(Translator's note: There were certain bookstores in Japan that worked like DVD rental shops, renting out books. Often these books had red covers, and rental books are sometimes called "red books".)

It was rare for artists to become successful while making the transition from rental books to manga magazines. Mizuki began drawing his own stories for Kodansha, starting with "Terebi-kun" (TV Kid) in Bessatsu Shonen Magajin, for which he won the Kodansha award for children's manga. This propelled him into the world of well-known manga artists.

Afterward, "Hakaba no Kitaro" began running in Monthly Shonen Magajin, with a plan to turn it into a TV anime to start airing in January, 1968. However, the sponsor, Shisuko (now Nissin Shisuko, maker of instant cup noodle), thought that "Hakaba" gave an impression that was too dark for their product. So, recalling a noise he used to make as a child - "gege" - Mizuki voluntarily changed the name to "Gegege no Kitaro". The manga with the name "Gegege" began running in issue 46 of Weekly Shonen Magajin in 1967.

Next time, further detail on the rental book era of "Kitaro".

Shinji Yamaguchi, Kanto Mizuki Association Chapter President
Born in Aug., 1948. Currently the Chapter President of the Kanto Region of the Mizuki Association. He became a fan of Mizuki's works while reading Monthly Garo. In May, 2007, he began publishing "Mizuki's Complete Rental Manga" (Yanoman Co.) He has been in charge of a number of projects for Kodansha and Shogakukan Creative, and he supplied materials for NHK's 10th Year drama, "Gegege no Nyobo" (Wife of Gegege). He is also involved in other works with Shigeru Mizuki.

[Bottom right picture] "Karate Kitaro".
Mizuki's older brother was the model for Kitaro. Through effort and training, karate practitioner Kitaro strives to overcome stronger rivals in this sports story.

[Bottom left picture] "Snakeman".
Although a more recent creation, it no longer exists today. Born from the belly of a snake, this is a story about Kitaro's revenge against humans.

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