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Author profile: Manga artist Takehiko Inoue has hoop dreams

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Author profile: Manga artist Takehiko Inoue has hoop dreams

Postby momopi » Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:32 pm

latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-solomon-profile-20100612,0,4764719.story

latimes.com
Author profile: Manga artist Takehiko Inoue has hoop dreams
'My success as a manga artist is largely due to basketball, so I want to give back to the sport,' says the bestselling Japanese author and Lakers fan, who has established the Slam Dunk Scholarship.
By Charles Solomon, Special to the Los Angeles Times

June 12, 2010

Readers over 30 may not recognize manga artist Takehiko Inoue's name, but teens and twentysomethings in America, Japan, France, Brazil and 19 other countries follow the misadventures of basketball star wanna-be Hanamichi Sakuragi in "Slam Dunk," samurai Miyamoto Musashi's progress on the musha shugyo ("warrior's path") in "Vagabond" and the struggles of wheelchair basketball ace Kiyoharu Togawa in "Real." Inoue has sold more than 157 million books worldwide.

Born in 1967 in Kagoshima prefecture, Inoue attended Kumamoto University but dropped out to concentrate on manga. He scored a huge hit in 1990 with "Slam Dunk," a high school sports story with strong comic elements. Red-haired, thick-witted Hanamichi decides to become a basketball star to impress Haruko, the girl of his dreams. He makes a spectacularly inept debut on the court, accidentally pulling down the trunks of team captain Takenori—who is Haruko's big brother. It's an uphill struggle from there.

Inoue, who played basketball in high school and is a Lakers fan, explained in a recent interview conducted via e-mail: "When I draw the manga, I draw from my memories of playing, kind of like muscle memory. I try to emphasize little things that only a person who's played the game would know: how it feels to hold the ball, how to shoot and how to handle the ball."

The success of the manga led Inoue to establish the Slam Dunk Scholarship for Japanese students who want to attend South Kent School in Connecticut "to learn English, play basketball, and try to get onto an NCAA team." "I want basketball in Japan to be something that kids can really be into, and have a goal to play at the top levels of the game," Inoue says. "Also, my success as a manga artist is largely due to basketball, so I want to give back to the sport."

After ending "Slam Dunk" in 1996, Inoue worked on other manga, directed animated commercials, designed basketball shoes and created characters for a Playstation game. In 1998, he began his next major work, "Vagabond," based on Eiji Yoshikawa's sprawling "Musashi," a fictionalized retelling of the life of the 16th century samurai.

When Inoue began a more serious story, the broadly comic expressions and cartoon gestures of "Slam Dunk" gave way to powerful brush lines that showcase his polished draftsmanship. The characters in "Vagabond" have a solid three-dimensionality even when they're engaged in flamboyant swordplay that echoes classic samurai films. "I didn't consciously choose this style," Inoue says. "It's the result of wanting to draw people that look more like real people and look more alive."

Inoue continues to push the drawing in "Real," a story about handicapped athletes, which he began in 1999. The artist got the idea for the series when he saw televised games. "I've participated in wheelchair basketball practices and camps, and I've been given the opportunity to actually play the game," he says. "I have frequent contact with a number of players, whom I go to when I have questions. It seems the manga has raised awareness of the sport: a number of colleges have started wheelchair basketball teams with fully able-bodied players."

"Real" has an intimate tone that contrasts sharply with the spectacular duels in "Vagabond." When Inoue draws a close-up of wheelchair athlete Kiyoharu, the reader can sense his intensity as he assesses the situation on the court and chooses his next move. "I draw the expressions by trying to feel the emotions of the character as closely as I can," Inoue explains. "At times, I use videos and photographs of games to reference how players move and their positions on the court."

But Inoue's manga owe their popularity to more than fine drawing. "Real" also showcases his skill as a writer. The main characters are believable individuals who experience despair, courage, anger, regret and love. Handicapped athletes are an unusual subject for a manga, but they fit with Inoue's desire "to create work that can be read by people who find themselves face to face with the negative aspects of life."

Inoue's artwork is the subject of an exhibit that has toured museums in major Japanese cities for the last two years. Despite his success, he continues to push himself as an artist, a view reflected in the poem he added to a volume of "Vagabond":

The more I draw

The more progress I make

The clearer I see the things I lack.

Solomon is the author of numerous books including, most recently, "The Art of Toy Story 3."

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
momopi
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Postby momopi » Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:32 pm

latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-book-20100612,0,6005165.story

latimes.com
Book review: 'Real' by Takehiko Inoue
Misfit Japanese children bond over wheelchair basketball.
By Charles Solomon, Special to the Los Angeles Times

June 12, 2010


Unlike their counterparts in the squeaky-clean world of American comics, the teenagers in Takehiko Inoue's award-winning manga series "Real" face graver problems than: Will Archie ask Betty or Veronica to the hop?

Intensely dedicated Kiyoharu Togawa was about to become the top junior high sprinter in Japan; then his right leg was partially amputated because of osteosarcoma. Hisanobu Takahashi, the arrogant captain of the Nishi High basketball team, stole a bicycle to impress a girl and rode into the path of a dump trunk. He woke up in the hospital a week later with no feeling below the waist. Hisanobu's former teammate Tomomi Nomiya saw his life fall apart when a girl he'd just met was injured in a motorcycle accident. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt, he quit the team, then dropped out of school.

A love of basketball brings these troubled young men together. Kiyoharu can no longer run at his previous pace, so he's transferred his competitive spirit to wheelchair basketball. He draws bad boy Tomomi into the game, and Hisanobu will almost certainly follow.

Kiyoharu refuses to be limited by the loss of his leg. He was temporarily kicked off the Tigers, a team started by an old friend, because he punched a player who told him not to expect much of his teammates because "we're disabled." One observer says of Kiyoharu, "He isn't disabled … he's a genuine athlete," and he is. But he still thinks like a competitor in an individual sport, and he has to learn to be an effective team player.

Kiyoharu also has a vulnerable side. After drinking his first beer, Kiyoharu drops his warm-up pants and stands in front of his friends in a T-shirt and boxers to reveal his prosthesis. He tearfully confesses that his father used to cheer his track victories, but "with my leg like this … he won't even look directly at me."

After a chance meeting, Tomomi befriends Kiyoharu, whose courage he admires — and contrasts with his own unfocused life. When he gets in a fight to rescue a dog from some sadistic punks, Tomomi tells one of them, "You can hit me, but I won't feel it. I'm already beat down as low as I can go." But as he becomes the de facto coach of the Tigers, Tomomi begins to turn his life around. He may not have been an academic star, but he knows basketball — and enough applied psychology to get the best out of Kiyoharu and his teammates.

In the early books of the series, Hisanobu faces the daunting task of rebuilding his shattered world, as Kiyoharu and Tomomi learn to do. Hisanobu can no longer look down on people from the Olympian heights of athletic and academic excellence. He needs someone to bathe him and change his diapers. Although Inoue fills his narrative with unexpected turns, it's clear Kiyoharu and Tomomi will teach Hisanobu a lot. But those lessons won't be easy to learn or teach: Hisanobu expresses his rage and despair by antagonizing his physical therapist, tormenting his nurses and insulting his parents.

A skilled draftsman, Inoue tells much of his story visually. His clear line drawings capture Kiyoharu's intensity as he sizes up a situation during a game. Tomomi loses his hangdog slouch and adopts a new body language the minute he grabs a basketball. When Tomomi hurts his hand in a fight, Inoue's drawings of the swollen knuckles make the reader wince. Although wheelchair basketball differs from the conventional game, it's an intense, demanding sport which is suggested by Inoue's use of horizontal crosshatching.

Inoue seems to enjoy creating challenges for himself. When the Tigers lose a bet, they have to shave their heads. Kiyoharu and his teammates look naked and strange without their hair, but they're still recognizable as the characters the reader knows. Keeping a character's likeness after a radical change in appearance is an assignment only a master draftsman could pull off.

Inoue's focus on disabled athletes gives "Real" a greater depth than standard sports sagas. Inoue neither hides nor over-dramatizes the pain his characters battle, proving that graphic novels can convey a broader range of human experiences than American audiences expect.

When "Real" won the Excellence Award for manga at the 2001 Japan Media Arts Festival, the judges said they could hardly wait to read the next installments and had to content themselves with awarding it the prize. Readers of this lively translation by John Werry will agree.

Solomon is the author, most recently, of "The Art of Toy Story 3."

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
momopi
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Posts: 4711
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Postby momopi » Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:33 pm

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