I saw advertisements around San Francisco back in June/July, and Hitomi mentioned that the S.F. Asian Art Museum was having a special exhibit (from Australia, oddly enough) on "the God of Manga", Osamu Tezuka.
To be honest over the past fifteen years I've been into anime and manga, I have entirely missed out on reading any (or watching any) of his work. I think it's because I always considered his work somewhat childish, too Disney-esque for me to want to pursue. I also had thought that I would read his works in Japanese, but I have yet to get my hands on them. Perhaps someday.
I do recall back in 1998, visiting the peace museum in Kyoto that had a mural of the phoenix from his magma opus, The Phoenix. (You can see where the mural on the map here.) The notion of a phoenix, especially now that I realize the context was in a museum for peace, struck me surprisingly as poignant. Was the phoenix a metaphor for Japan once burned and bombed, reincarnated as a peaceful nation? The phoenix does seem a fair analogy to make of the process of all civilizations, mankind, and the individual as well. The story, though, is how various people attempt to gain immortality by obtaining the blood of this mystical beast.
In winter 2004, Hitomi and I missed out on going to the official museum outside of Kyoto. We missed it because we didn't have a lot of time. Also, it's privately run, and you can never be sure about the quality of the exhibits until you get there. But we'll have to go some other time.
Back to S.F.: I spent about 5 hours in the museum, probably 2 or so of it on the special exhibit. Most of the museum covers works hundreds and thousands of years old. There's a few contemporary works, but I get the feeling what the curators are mainly interested in are antiques and contemporary works that reflect a classic heritage. There was nothing like Superflat in the section on Japanese art, for example. I enjoyed (by chance) a number of tours of the works. It's always more entertaining to listen to people talk about their favorite art. Since there's so much to see — it's supposedly the largest Asian Art museum in North America — it's great to also know what the key works are.
I did read pretty much all the manga (in Japanese) and the descriptions in English on the walls. But the exhibit is a bit like an exhibit on books or movies or music: Yes, there are very interesting to talk about this part and that part, but you don't really truly understand it unless you experience the entire work. Still, I can see how the pages by themselves really were profoundly good in terms of composition, style, and conceptualization.
At the end of the day, I followed a museum docent on a little tour of the ukiyo-e prints next door and some of the Osamu Tezuka manga works. Personally, she seemed a bit unfamiliar with the content and history of the work. Understandably, as much of it is only available in Japanese. But, it was refreshing to see somebody over the age of sixty actually appreciably interested and enthusiastic about the comics.
To sort of balance out the "kiddie" stuff, there was a fair bit of adult, emotional, psychotic, and erotic works to sort of balance out perhaps the common stereotypes of Japanese comics. Osamu Tezuka obviously was innovating not just visually but in terms of what kinds of stories were told in graphic novel format.
What I found was missing from the exhibition was much on his animation career. Though I can understand not including any of it: Animation is considered commercial, not done by the hands of an individual but a team. They did have the theme music to many of his animations going on in the background. And come to think of it, those theme (opening and ending) songs became widely popular and sung in schools. I'm not sure that's the case these days, however.