The Moto Hagio Interview conducted by Matt Thorn (Part Two of Four)

Posted by on March 10th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One.

"Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights" (from the novel by Ryu Mitsuse) Click to view larger image

Girl Books and Beyond

Thorn: I understand that you read a lot of literature when you were young.

Hagio: Yes, I would read anything and everything. I started with the books in school. There was a little reading corner in the school. There was a movement at the time to get children to read literature. There were biographies of famous people, like Florence Nightingale and Thomas Edison, as well as Japanese folk tales. These could be read pretty quickly, so I’d finish one and start another right away. Then, when I was in the fifth grade, our school got a proper library. I was so happy. I went every day.

Thorn: What kind of books did you like?

Hagio: American writers like Gene Stratton-Porter and Louisa May Alcott, and then there was Lucy Maud Montgomery. The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Women … all those typical “girl books,” in which the protagonist is a girl and has all sorts of adventures. There was a series of all those books, and I read them all. And then there were the Greek and Roman myths. Yeah, there was a series titled Myths From Around the World, and I particularly liked the volumes on Greek and Roman myths. And for some reason there was a science-fiction corner, too.

Thorn: Really?

Hagio: A dozen or so books geared at boys and girls.

Thorn: Wasn’t that unusual for an elementary school library in those days?

Hagio: It was. There was also a Japanese classics corner, but the only thing I read from there was Ikku Jippensha’s Shanks Mare. Nothing there really grabbed me. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Why was that?

Hagio: First of all, there weren’t many stories that featured women. And I just didn’t find the situations in the stories interesting. For example, there was The Battle of the Minamoto and the Taira9. This can be quite interesting if you know the history, but if you don’t, and all of a sudden some guy named Kiyomori appears and he’s trying to hide his armor beneath his robes10. … [Laughter.]

I preferred stories that I could dive right into without any prior knowledge.

Thorn: So it was mostly Western literature you were attracted to?

Hagio: Yes. I read some Japanese children’s literature, but all I remember of it was that it was preachy. [Laughs.] I think there were a lot of books like that back then, books with moral lessons.

Thorn: And you were attracted to Western literature because …?

Hagio: I think because it allowed you to use your imagination more. Oh, come to think of it, I really liked Kenji Miyazawa11.

Thorn: I see. So you preferred stories that were more fantastic.

Hagio: Yes, I think so.

Thorn: And as for comics, you liked Tezuka?

Hagio: Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishimori12, Hideko Mizuno13. I was crazy about them. I copied them constantly.

Thorn: Was there any one work in particular that blew you away?

Hagio: They all did. In particular, everything by Tezuka blew me away when I was in elementary school. Every story I read, I would think, “Wow! So this is what happens? This is what the character thinks?” Particularly the near-future science fiction stories, such as Astro Boy. They were just so imaginative. And I also would think, “So this how you make a story?” It was because the stories were so carefully crafted that it was so easy for me to understand them. Ishimori was more sensually rich. His drawings were beautiful. But his stories weren’t as solid. He would jump from one episode to another indiscriminately, and you’d be left wondering, “Whatever happened to that character?” or, “Huh? You mean the story’s over?” [Laughter.] A lot of his stories were like that. But they still carried impact.

Thorn: My own impression is that Ishimori liked playing with form.

Hagio: With technique.

Thorn: Right, playing with technique, and theme was a secondary consideration.

Hagio: Yes. I think so. So he knew how to make a scene look cool, and could draw fight scenes that had real impact. He was good at stunning the reader.

Hideko Mizuno did Harp of the Stars [1960], and then Hello, Teacher [1964] and The White Troika [1964]. She worked with legends and famous historical figures, and looked to other countries [for inspiration]. The lines of the dresses she drew were just so beautiful. I tried so hard to copy the way she drew dresses, but was never able to do it as well as she did. [Laughter.] “How does she do it!?”

Thorn: I just met her for the first time just a few weeks ago.

Hagio: Oh, really?

Thorn: She’s so cool.

Hagio: Isn’t she?

From Fire by and ©1972 Hideko Mizuno

Thorn: I really liked what she was saying. She was talking about gender discrimination in the comics industry.

Hagio: It must have been particularly bad in her time [the 1950s and 1960s].

Thorn: Back then, of course there was Sazae-san creator Machiko Hasegawa, Toshiko Ueda, Mizuno, Watanabe, Maki and that was about it, wasn’t it14?

Hagio: There was also an artist named Setsuko Akamatsu15.

Thorn: And then there was Imamura …

Hagio: Right, Yoko Imamura16.

Asimov in High School

Thorn: I hear that you moved a lot as a child.

Hagio: That’s right.

Thorn: You moved back and forth between Suita City [in Osaka Prefecture] and Ohmuta City several times.

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: Did that have to do with your father’s work?

Hagio: That’s right. So I went to two elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools.

Thorn: That must have been hard.

Hagio: Yes, because your environment changes so abruptly. In a way, it was interesting. In particular, moving from Ohmuta to Osaka, the language was so different. You know, the Osaka dialect.

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: It was startling. But the most startling thing was the boys in Osaka. They were so stylish. [Laughter.]

One time, my mother asked me to go to my little brother’s elementary school to deliver something to him. And these boys come over and ask me where I’m going, so I tell them, and one of them immediately takes my bag and says, “Let me carry that for you,” like a real gentleman. [Laughs.] I was bowled over. “So this is what city boys are like!” [Laughter.]

Thorn: Is that so? So, were you able to make friends in Suita?

Hagio: Yes. I became friends with a girl who had just transferred to the school three days before me. It was because of her that I was able to make it through my second year of junior high school. You see, there were these group divisions in the class, and you couldn’t just jump right into one of them. Actually, that itself was a surprise to me. Back in the country, the parents of all the kids worked in the same place, and you could become friends with just about anybody quite easily. But in Osaka, the kids divided up into groups of four or five, and wouldn’t say hello to or play with the kids of other groups. They wouldn’t invite anyone else to play. It took me a while to get used to that. But in my third year in junior high, our school changed. I mean, it was the same school, but we moved from an old school into a new one. The old school was in the hills, and was an old place with real character. But one Monday we went to school, and found that the ceiling in the hallway of the second floor had fallen in. [Laughs.] There was a huge hole in the ceiling. That’s how old the place was. The teachers were very upset, and saying, “What if this had happened on a school day?” So we moved to a new school, and all the classes were rearranged. There were two kids from my previous class, and though they had never spoken a word to me before, we suddenly became good friends. And once we became friends I realized they were really nice kids. [Laughs.] Strange, isn’t it?

Thorn: Were you a quiet child?

Hagio: Hmm. It’s not so much that I was quiet, but now looking back, I think I wasn’t good at reading social situations. [Laughter.]

Thorn: That could be a pretty serious problem in junior high school. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Right. If someone came on strong to me, I tended to give in pretty easily.

Thorn: I see. Going back to something we were talking about earlier, was it that reading corner in elementary school that got you interested in science fiction?

Hagio: No. In my second year of junior high, I read Isaac Asimov’s The Currents of Space. It’s set on a completely alien planet, and you don’t find out who the protagonist is until the end of the book. Oh yeah, this is another amnesia story. [Laughter.] When he finally gets back his memory at the end, he remembers that he’s from Earth. He’s a scientist from Earth studying the currents of space. But the nobles from this advanced planet say, “Earth? We’ve never heard of such a planet.” So he’s treated as an outlaw, as a foreigner. So I had first assumed this was a story about the Earth, but my assumption turned out to be completely wrong. This was quite a shock to my brain at the time, and it occurred to me for the first time that there could be a future in which the Earth is all but unknown.

So I became fascinated with this genre, and wanted to read more. You know SF Magazine17? I would occasionally find copies in used bookstores. Every story interested me. And then these sci-fi paperbacks began to be published, and I just got in deeper and deeper.

From Aria of the Sea ©1989 Moto Hagio

Thorn: I also became interested in sci-fi in junior high school, and I particularly liked Robert Heinlein. But then in high school, I began to understand Heinlein’s political perspective, and I got to the point where I couldn’t read him any more. [Laughter.]

Hagio: There is that about Heinlein. It’s when you have no idea what he’s talking about that you can enjoy him the most. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Yeah. Just a few weeks ago, I reread Stranger in a Strange Land for the first time in 20 years. It was a new unabridged edition that came out recently, a real thick book. I don’t know if it’s been translated into Japanese yet. It was a real disappointment, because I couldn’t enjoy it innocently the way I did when I first read it all those years ago.

Hagio: So just what is Heinlein’s political perspective?

Thorn: Basically, he’s a libertarian. But it’s rather right-wing.

Hagio: Yes, it is, isn’t it?

Thorn: He was famous for saying that it shouldn’t be against the law to shoot pacifists or anarchists, but you have to watch out for the anarchists because they might shoot back. [Laughter.]

So you basically preferred fantastic stories to more mundane dramas?

Hagio: Yes. How should I put it? The only authors of realistic stories I could read were Ryotaro Shiba and Sawako Ariyoshi18. Of course, these days I read all kinds of more realistic novels. But when I was in my teens and 20s, I just had no patience at all for realistic works.

I think the reason was that I grew up in a coal-mining town. At the time, there were these fierce labor disputes, so there were often these fights among the grownups. Children were never hurt in these fights, but they saw these people screaming into microphones and running. And they were not spewing abstractions, like the fascists do in their sound-trucks. It was rough, raw stuff. It was terrifying.

Thorn: So that reality was just too …

Hagio: Yes, it was a reality of violence and poverty, and I wanted to escape from it. I wanted to move toward something more beautiful.

Thorn: So you were pursuing an ideal.

Hagio: No, just pursuing an escape. [Laughs.] But, yes.

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3 Responses to “The Moto Hagio Interview conducted by Matt Thorn (Part Two of Four)”

  1. […] Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio from The Comics Journal #269, Part One, Part Two […]

  2. […] Comics Journal is publishing Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio (part 1, part 2), which first appeared in the shoujo manga issue of The Comics Journal. Also, Dirk Deppey answers […]

  3. […] online (previously only available in print or on Matt Thorn’s blog). Click for parts one, two, three, and […]