The best books on Japanese popular culture

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Japanese popular culture and why they recommend each book.

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Japanamerica

By Roland Kelts,

Book cover of Japanamerica

This book has remained consistently influential and thought-provoking from the time it was written in 2006. Kelts uses the notion of the moebius strip to analyze the sometimes surprisingly rich and complex dynamics in the mutual relationship between Japanese and American popular culture. He explains how much each country’s art and entertainment culture has influenced the other in an interweaving tapestry of history, art, and inspiration. At a time when the question of cultural appropriation is still a provocative subject, Kelt’s book reminds us of how fruitful cultural interchange can be.


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

Hayao Miyazaki

By Hayao Miyazaki, Jessica Niebel,

Book cover of Hayao Miyazaki

This gorgeous catalogue is an event in itself that commemorates an even more interesting event, the fact that the brand new Museum of the Academy of Motion Pictures chose as its first special exhibition not the work of an American director, and not the work of a live-action auteur but the work of a Japanese animation director who lives and creates thousands of miles from Hollywood. The catalogue is not only beautifully illustrated with scenes from Miyazaki movies and reproductions of many of Miyazaki’s storyboards, but also contains some excellent essays by the exhibition’s curators, including Jessica Niebel and Daniel Kothensculte. The curators draw on their film and art expertise to give insightful, sensitive readings of the director and his contributions to the world of cinema.


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

Inspiring Walt Disney

By Wolf Burchard,

Book cover of Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts

Another catalogue (sorry!) but also another opportunity to delve into a rich and beautiful world, this time not Miyazaki’s but the world of Walt Disney and the European Rococo as seen in a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At first glance, this pairing seems an unlikely juxtaposition since the ornamental art of the Rococo flourished in the 18th century. As the beautifully illustrated catalogue and excellent essays by the curator Wolf Burchard amply demonstrate, however, both Walt Disney and the many superb artists who worked for him drew creative and aesthetic inspiration from all aspects of Rococo art. These range from decorative anthropomorphized teapots (think Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast) or the flamboyant costumes and hairstyles of the period, (illustrated in a mesmerizing scene from Cinderella) to Fragonard’s exquisite painting “Girl on a Swing” that shows up briefly but…


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

Frame by Frame

By Hannah Frank,

Book cover of Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons

This is a book for animation aficionados who really want to think about the nuts and bolts of animation. As someone with a tendency to revel in the world building of the finished product of animation, be it a Miyazaki movie or a Disney film, this book re-orients me to the materiality of the medium itself. And yes, traditional animation is a material medium! Frank looked at thousands of animation cells, literally frame by frame, and in her book provides us with a glimpse of the enormous labor, expertise, and occasional mistakes that go into creating even a seven-minute short subject. She brings back from the past the many women who were the inkers and in-betweeners in American animation studios and makes us realize the enormous effort (and tedium) that went into producing the fluid and flexible cartoons that Hollywood is known for.

Along the way, Frank touches on the…


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

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