New Matsumoto Interview Translated (1 of 2)
This is a very nice interview that just came out [here]. The interviewer is Hiroshi Hiketa, working for Asahi Shimbun Digital. The interview is broken up into four sections, so I’ll post my translation of the first two sections today and the last today later on.
The Light that Popeye brought me during Wartime
Interviewer: All of your comics are enchanting. However, some mysteries still remain for your readers. Maetel, the heroine of of Galaxy Express 999, is particularly mysterious.
LM: I see you’ve come straight to the subject. Please listen patiently to what I say. I will explain things properly.
I was born in Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture, on January 25th Showa 13 (1938), the same day as Shotaro Ishinomori. It’s an amazing coincidence, huh.
The year before I was born (1937) was the year that the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred, and in the year I was born the National Mobilization Law was enacted. The era explains why I was given the boy’s name of Akira (晟), meaning “become like the sun” [become =成 , sun = 日]. By the way, I had two older sisters (one 20 years old, the other 10 years old), an older brother (6 years old). Later on I’d have two younger sisters and a younger brother, making seven siblings altogether.
My father was self-taught. He joined the Army Academy, then joined a combat plane unit as an aviation officer. After that, he was stationed in Akashi, Hyogo, as an officer testing completed Kawasaki planes. I have a vivid memory of going on a family trip to see the deer and shrine on the sea at Itskushima, when I was eight months old. Just eight months old! My family has confirmed that this memory is fact. This is the reason why I believe that our genes, our DNA, have an original power where time and existence are marked deep inside each human being.
Interviewer: Is this the source of the works you would pen later on, dealing with the mysteries of space and life?
LM: Yes. Before human lifeforms develop personalities through language, there is a memory-injecting power therein. The reason for that, I believe, is that life itself was raised (cultivated) in space.
When I was 2 years old, my father was transferred to a unit near what was the Soviet-Manchukuan border at the time. Two years after that, he was transferred to a combat plane maker facility [i.e. Kawasaki] in Akashi. I was there until I was 6 years old. When I was 5, my sister took me to the Akashi movie theater to see the film The Spider and the Tulip, by the father of Japanese Musical Animation, Kenzo Masaoka. It’s a story with music about a ladybug chased by a spider. Later on I learned that Osamu Tezuka, ten years my senior, had been to see the same film in the same theater at that exact time. When I told him about it we both marveled at the fact. On the same day, same time, same place we shared this delight [in the film]. It made me happy.
Interviewer: It was a time when you could enjoy films, correct?
LM: Even though it was a time of war, Dad bought a film projector and set it up at home. He’d show us things like Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Fuku-chan no Sensuikan. Over and over and over again. That delight, that excitement, became a seed for my mind. No matter how difficult the time, animation can give us the courage to live and dreams for tomorrow, it is a light for the future that remained with me even during wartime.
Father returns a year after the end of the War, and I hear about a Night Flight
Interviewer: Can you tell us about your childhood experiences during the war and afterwards?
LM: Tsuyoshi, my father, was deployed south on February of 1944. My family, left behind, evacuated from Akashi in Hyogo to what today is Ozu City in Ehime Province, where both of my parents originally came from. We stayed at my mother’s family home in Niiya Town in the same city.
In April I entered Niiya Citizens’ School. I spent my days drawing manga (Submarine 13), fishing in the river and catching mud snails and carp in the paddies, but eventually American planes found their way even here. When I saw how the machine-gun fire of large-scale B-29 formations and their escorts heading to Kure and Hiroshima left the trains full of holes, I experienced what war really looked like.
Then August 15th, 1945 came along. I was playing in the river when I heard a voice on a megaphone shouting “The war is oveeeerr!!” We all returned home with the afternoon sun beating down on us, eyes cast down, making no unnecessary movements, just walking home, stepping on our shadows. Grandma was at the entrance, cleaning the Japanese sword we’d had in the family for generations, now unsheathed, with polishing powder. When I asked, “What are you going to do with it?” she said “If the enemy comes we’ll fall on each other’s swords and die. You’re a samurai’s son, so you better get ready too.”
The next day, the 16th, my grandma told me: “Akira, we’ve lost the war. Take all of the insects you keep in your room and let them go.” I opened the window. The cicadas and grasshoppers and butterflies all flew in a crowd toward the setting sun. Then, I heard a sound different from that of insect wings. Lots and lots of Japanese planes streaked across the setting sun and flew away. It was a spectacular scene, like a movie.
I felt like that setting sun was wrapping itself around my seven-year seven-month old self and telling me: “Akira, the war is lost!” Grandma didn’t have to sword-fight an American after all.
Interviewer: What about your father?
LM: His whereabouts were unknown. But a year afterwards I heard the blacksmith down the river calling: “Matsumoto, everything is OK! Your father is back!” Father had returned.
We moved with father to his hometown, to my uncle’s house, which was was higher up the mountain from Goro in Ozu City, in a place called Taihei Village (now part of Iyo City). My father used the same hand that had gripped his combat plane’s yoke to clear land and make charcoal for a living. At night, by the light of the charcoal kiln, he would tell stories of night flights and the stars. I would learn words like “jet plane” and “rocket” while roasting hibernating stag beetles over charcoal fire and eating them.
Then in 1948, having said goodbye to the night skies of Shikoku which had always consoled us so, our family moved to Kokura in Kita-Kyushu, where we had many relatives. Thus my childhood moved on to a new stage.