Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey (2004) 121 p.


In 2002 Peter Carey felt like taking his manga-obsessed son on a paid trip to Japan, so he pulled some strings in the publishing world and wrangled himself an advance to go interview some famous Japanese anime creators and then scratch out a book about it. (That’s not me being harsh; he openly admits his motive.) The result is Wrong About Japan, a fairly slim volume which has about enough material for maybe a feature article in the Sunday papers, but not really a book

The interviews within – ostensibly the purpose of the whole thing – tend to run along the lines of misunderstanding, of Carey’s assumptions about the artists’ intentions being sometimes flat-out wrong. I particularly liked his time with Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of Mobile Suit Gundam, in which Carey repeatedly asserts that there must be something intrinsically Japanese about the notion of children at war, particularly for a manga/anime franchise which was developed by people who were children during World War II. Tomino seems bemused by Carey’s questions and says that he specifically avoided giving Gundam any specific cultural elements at all, in order to make it more globally popular and sell more toys. Then Carey is informed by his translator:

“Mr. Tomino thinks,” said Paul, “that there is maybe something in your own character which is interested in national identity.”

Which I thought was hilariously perceptive; there’s no indication Tomino had any idea who Carey was before their meeting, but there’s no doubt that the author of books like Illywhacker and Jack Maggs is indeed obsessed with the concept of national identity. (On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carey simply made that line up.)

But despite a few good moments like this, Wrong About Japan doesn’t really have the legs to be worth a full book, and I certainly preferred his other travel memoir, 30 Days in Sydney. Worth reading for Carey fans if you find it in a library or a thrift shop, but I wouldn’t bother seeking it out.