Saturday, 30 November 2013

Gigantor…Alive and Well and Living in the Suburbs

If you were a television kid like me in Australia in the late 1960’s, you would well remember the introduction of the first animated cartoons that arrived from Japan. Of course we didn’t realise that they were from Japan at the time, only that the characters looked unusual (typically portrayed with large wide doe eyes) and the overall style of the animation was distinctively different from anything eminating from America. Little did we know that these animated shows would become the forerunner of what we now recognise as the ‘Japanese anima’ phenomenon. For me the standout series at the time was ‘Gigantor’ (debuting in Adelaide, South Australia on October 28 1968), which told of the adventures of a 12 year old boy who was able to control a somewhat portly looking 50 foot jet propelled robot in a fight against evil throughout the world. My friends and I just loved this series and couldn’t wait to catch each episode. Although the series only lasted for several months, there were plenty of re-runs to keep us entertained, until eventually the show disappeared from our screens.

I had almost totally forgotten about Gigantor until reading about the existence of a life size statue of the animated character somewhere in the suburbs of Kobe. It seems that Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the artist who had created ‘Gigantor’ (or ‘Tetsujin-28’ as he was originally known in Japan), had grown up in Kobe and had remained somewhat of a local hero due to his efforts in breaking into the American market and eventually worldwide with his popular animated cartoons. The statue had been built to honor him and his most famous animated character in 2009, and coincided with the 15th anniversary of the great Hanshin earthquake (1995). It was hoped that the Gigantor statue would act as a protector against such disasters in the future, while also providing a means of revitalizing interest in the local region.

So after Jules had done the necessary research, we headed out of central Kobe on the local train to the suburb of Nagata in a kind of pilgrimage to the TV memories of my childhood. When we arrived, we could see that while ‘Gigantor’ might be a very distant animated memory in other parts of the world, here he remained very much alive and a respected attraction to this region. Posters, stickers and billboards could be seen throughout the railway station with signage directing us to Wakamatsu Park where the metallic mega-hero could be found. He was in fact pretty hard to miss standing a full-scale 18 metres or 59 feet tall and in full action pose. Amazingly enough and despite his vintage as a super hero, he was still attracting some interest, with small groups of visitors keen to have their photo taken posing beneath his giant robotic legs…so of course, I had to as well!

While Jules had little recollection of the animated adventures of Gigantor, for me seeing him once again brought back plenty of happy childhood memories. It was good to see that the character was being appreciated within Japan as a significant aspect of their emerging post war culture. Television shows like Gigantor, The Samurai, Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Marine Boy certainly enabled generations of the 50’s and 60’s to gain a new appreciation for Japanese aesthetic through the medium of television and in some way, programs such as these possibly helped to heal some of the old wounds of the past. I was interested to read that Twentieth Century Fox had bought the rights to the Gigantor franchaise and that a script for a movie had been developed before Yokayama’s death in 2004. Since then the project has remained shelved, but maybe one day Gigantor will once again take to the skies and a new generation will be able to follow his exploits. If so, you can expect an avalanche of visitors to see the big metal man of Nagata and I guess that’s exactly what the local businesses are hoping for.

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