Leiji Speaks on the War and his Life

On the 3rd of this month Leiji Matsumoto and a gentleman named Kojiro Kita had a recorded conversation in Leiji’s den (I recognize the room from the Eldred/Macias interview!) and it’s been uploaded to YouTube [here].  The  two septuagenarians talked at length on the war, the postwar era and growing up.  Below I have jotted down a good portion of Leiji’s talk.  There’s a lot of very interesting stuff here.  By the way, I have organized the material chronologically even though Leiji himself jumps from period to period in the videos.

He starts by speaking of his father’s experience in the war.  His father knew that the war would end in an armistice or in defeat.  The difference in industrial capacity between America and Japan was too wide for victory to ever be possible.  As a a squad leader, Leiji’s father had to keep all of this to himself but he felt terrible about it.

While Leiji was in Ehime as a refugee, the Americans bombed  the local train station.  Leiji and some kids went to look at the holes on the ground and they played at poking shells on the ground, to see if one would explode.  He says he’s glad none of them did or he’d have died!!

Leiji goes on to speak of how he himself felt when the war ended (1945).  He says the feeling of having lost the war was miserable.  “I hate war, but I hate losing even more”.  He points out that he tasted that misery first-hand and he didn’t have to read about it in books.  He remembers how it felt to be hungry etc, and all of this has gone into his writing.

He says that when he was in primary school sometimes American soldiers would offer him things [candy, likely], but he could never take them because he was angry.  His hand simply would not move.

He remembers a teacher in junior high muttering under his breath: “We didn’t go to war to lose like this!!”  His junior high school was right next to a love hotel where American soldiers would go.  He says the kids could see the action from one of the windows, and the American soldiers would smile back at them!  Eventually the teachers realized what was going on and they blocked the window.

Later on when the the Korean War was going on (1950-3), there were more American troops in neighboring Japan.  Leiji says that he didn’t feel hatred toward each soldier as an individual, but because of his war experience he could not feel love or admiration for the U.S. Armed Forces as such.  He thought it was deplorable to see Japanese people fawning upon the American troops in that period.  [Throughout the interview Leiji emphasized the difference between human beings and countries, and insisted that war between countries shouldn’t mean hatred against individuals]

In both junior high and high school, once it became known that he wanted to be a manga writer, Leiji’s teachers were very supportive.  An English teacher told him he needed to learn English well for that job.  The Classical Languages teacher (i.e. Japanese and Chinese) told him he needed to learn those languages properly in order to write well.  They both gave him special instruction so he could do well in both fields.  Then he told his Calligraphy teacher that his writing was ugly, so he was trained in that as well [the Calligraphy teacher’s advice was not to think of it as “writing”, but instead as “drawing a picture”]

Already in the first year of high school (from age 15) Leiji was doing comic strips for a newspaper from necessity, in order to pay his school’s tuition (his father had been let go from a government job so they were very poor).

His high school in Kyushu faced an American school.  In addition, there were several Korean and Chinese students in his class.  Leiji credits this international environment with shaping his outlook.

Much later on when he went to America Leiji was asked repeatedly what he really thought about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Leiji would thank them for asking, and then talk about how he understood the American decision to bomb Japan.  He said the Americans always looked very relieved, because even though they won the war they still were very conscious about the fact that they were the ones to drop those nuclear bombs and it troubled them.  According to Leiji, human beings on opposing sides always understand each other as human beings.  The problem is that they don’t communicate that understanding to each other.  He felt that when he spoke honestly about the war with his American counterparts they could relate to each other much better and drink together as friends.

Leiji took a plane trip from Russia throughout Europe and he was stunned by how beautiful that continent was and how similar the landscape was in all of the countries.  He wondered to himself how people could turn such beautiful fields into battlefields.  He later took a car around France, Switzerland and Germany and thought the same thing.  The land was the same wherever he went regardless of the borders he crossed.

* * *

Towards the end of the talk, the discussion turns to the future of Earth, and Leiji has some fascinating things to say about the planet Venus and extraterrestrial life.  I will treat that segment in my next post.

~ by Haloed Bane on December 22, 2011.

6 Responses to “Leiji Speaks on the War and his Life”

  1. If you don’t mind, here’s an old forum post written by one of the more knowledgeable guys in the Chinese otakusphere, “The View on War in Manga”:

    To sum it up for visitors who can’t read Chinese:

    The problem with Matsumoto is that due to the social status of his military officer father, he had never experienced any deep suffering caused by war, and as a result maintains a naively romantic view of war itself.

    “When taking shelter in a military base, he was nearly frozen to death. People gave him an oxygen cylinder, and he thought the cylinder looked like a beer bottle.” This was the extent of his experience, which is vastly different from, say, Tezuka Osamu or Mizuki Shigeru.

    It didn’t help that postwar, his family fell to the bottom of the society, and only then did Matsumoto actually taste the harshness of life.

    In conclusion, Matsumoto isn’t a militarist, but he is politically naive, and see war as a poet.

    • Wow. I can’t read Chinese so thanks for the summary.

      I guess by the same token, having a father who was a military officer already predisposed him to see the war in more romantic terms than other children whose parents might have been civilians or just enlisted soldiers. Not to mention his father was in the Army Air Force, which is again bound to have been a less unpleasant and more romantic place than the rest of the Army.

  2. The post was provocative enough, but cucuc’s comment brings forth amazing stuff.

    I can concur some:

    My grandfather fought in Bataan and survived the Deathmarch. He doesn’t have a romantic view of WW2, albeit his respect for Yamashita and even Tojo is remarkable. My grandfather would sing Japanese songs as he swept the lawn… I remember this very clearly because he raised me too.

    My mother in law on the other hand, was a child during the war. Her stories are somewhat romantic. Interestingly also pro-Japanese, as she has this aunt who claimed that the soldiers who threw babies on bayonets were Korean conscripts. This is interesting because that aunt had a Japanese officer for a boyfriend during the occupation.

    My mother in law is herself a retired general and just slightly younger than Matsumoto by 2 or so years.

    • I think what you write about establishes a really important point: there is no unity when it comes to war memories (not even within one nationality).

      For whatever reason, the notion that Korean Imperial soldiers were more brutal than Japanese ones is widespread. I’ve heard it many times from different war areas.

      I really marvel at how catchy those military songs were. Tons of old dudes sing them across Asia. Deculture?

  3. Thank you for sharing this!

    Well, this interview shows once again that Matsumoto is a poet, and
    sees every aspect of life as a poet, not only the war…

    I don’t believe though that one’s perception of war depends directly on one’s personal amount of suffering in the war, especially for a poet, who must be able to absorb others’ experiences as well to do his job – and I don’t think Leiji has any problems with that. If the result is romantic, that’s his poetic vision and I have no problems with that 🙂

    • There’s also a lot of complexity in the input that he received. Western films, for example, were a huge influence for him, right? You could explain Harlock in terms of Westerns and it would make for a good essay. You could explain Harlock in terms of the war and it would make a good essay. But the truth is more complicated 🙂

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