Saturday, June 28, 2008

Spiritual Bridges in Anime - Tales From Earthsea

Well, after a long hiatus, the Spiritual Bridges series is back, and this time with a guest writer. Expect to get more in this series in the next two months. I have one post that is almost done, and we have another guest writer working on a different piece right now.

Let me tell you a bit about today's entry. It is written by Robin White, the author of the Japan Log blog and the SkitZo MaN comic. We met through this blog, when he left comments on my post on Manga Outreach. He is a missionary based in Nagoya, and he shares a very similar vision to Paul and me. It's a priviledge to have him write for us. When we were talking about which series he would write about, we decided to have him write about an easily accessible one--a movie. I, for one, think he did a very good job. So, let us begin.
Tales From Earthsea:

Japanese title: “Gendo Senki”, ie “Ged’s War Chronicles”

(Very loose adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels)
Director: Goro Miyazaki
A Studio Ghibli film

Studio Ghibli’s Tales From Earthsea is the directorial debut of Goro Miyazaki, son of the more famous Hayao Miyazaki. Reviews for the film have been mixed at best: Fans of the novels were disappointed that it’s such a loose adaptation of the books, while Studio Ghibli fans can’t help but compare it to the studio’s other movies -- which form a pretty impressive list. Let’s face it, Goro’s got some pretty big shoes to fill. So let’s not be too hard on the guy.

I can’t compare it to the books, since I’ve not read them, but if any readers want to chime in on that aspect, feel free to leave a comment. I can compare it to other Ghibli films, however, as I am a big fan of them. Earthsea is missing a lot of the fun and whimsey of previous Ghibli films (in fact, I don’t remember any comic relief at all). And it’s a more “typical” kind of fantasy story (with wizards and dragons, etc) than the others. Another weakness is that there are parts of the plot that don’t seem to have been fully explained.

But the animation is still classic Ghibli, while the characters are interesting and the story is engaging.

There are also some great spiritual bridges. But let’s talk about the story itself first.

Tales From Earthsea opens with a storm at sea and two dragons doing battle. We soon learn that this is a bad omen, a sign that something is wrong with the “balance” of world. Soon after, we meet the main character, Arren, who in his first appearance kills his father, the king. After murdering his father, Arren is on the run. He meets up with Sparrowhawk the Archmage, and ends up accompanying him on his journey.

Sparrowhawk, as it turns out, is searching for the cause of the disturbance in the balance. What we eventually find out is that the very thing causing the darkness within Arren, and from which he is running, is the cause of the disturbance: Lord Cob, an evil wizard searching for the key to eternal life.

The other main characters in the story are Tenar, a peasant woman whom Sparrowhawk has known for years, and a young girl named Therru, who is cared for by Tenar on her farm. After a run-in with some slave traders, Arren and Sparrowhawk retreat to Tenar’s farm for a few days. The slave traders, who work for Lord Cob, use Tenar to lure Sparrowhawk into a trap. Meanwhile, after an angsty Arren has run away from the farm, Lord Cob manages to capture him.

And this is where the spiritual bridges come in:

Before running away, Arren has a conversation with Therru, to whom he confesses that he killed his father. He talks about the darkness and anger he feels, and how at times he feels like there is “someone else” inside him. What a perfect bridge for talking about our sin nature. In this fallen world, sin comes naturally to us. Outside of Christ, while we still have the freedom to choose, we have something else inside us always drawing us toward sin. Thankfully, because of God’s grace, we can be saved from our sins.

In Earthsea’s mythology, everyone and everything has a “true name”, a secret name. The key to magic is knowing that name and how to use it. I’m told the author of the Earthsea books, Ursula K. Le Guin, is the daughter of an anthropologist, and that this idea of our true names was influenced by a concept found in the belief systems of various tribal peoples (such as the Motilone of Cambodia). As we’ll see, there’s also a Biblical parallel.

As I mentioned above, Cob’s quest is to gain eternal life. He does this by delving into a kind of dark magic that is forbidden, and somehow Arren is a part it. There’s a scene where Cob is manipulating Arren into revealing his true name to him. I can’t help but think about the parallels between that scene and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden, or of Jesus in the desert. In the film, Cob tempts Arren by trying to convince him that he’ll gain something in return -- eternal life. He preys on Arren’s fear. This is another great bridge to talk about sin and temptation. What looks good and appealing is often the devil in disguise; what we think will bring us life leads to death.

It is through Arren and Therru’s revealing their true names to one another that Arren is saved and Cob is finally defeated. The message here seems to be about being true to yourself -- your true self. The Christian could take this message a step further: it’s only through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ that we can truly know ourselves and be the person we were meant to be. There’s an interesting passage in the book of Revelation that reflects this, where Jesus says He will give His followers a “white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17). God knows us better than we know ourselves. We’re not really free to be ourselves or live life to the fullest outside of a relationship with Him.

There’s a great quote near the end where Therru says to Arren, “Death isn’t what you fear most -- you’re afraid of being alive!” That’s true of so many of us, I think. We let our fears control us and keep us from truly living life to the fullest. But the Bible tells us that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). And where else does perfect love come from but God?

The most obvious spiritual bridge, of course, is on the subject of eternal life. In the world of Earthsea, we find out, there is no possibility of eternal life. Instead we should live our only life to the fullest and be true to ourselves, and in doing so find real life. While the Christian would disagree, and say there is indeed eternal life, there’s also a kernel of truth here: It’s not in selfishly grasping for life that we find it, but in giving our lives to something -- someone -- greater than ourselves, someone who gave His life so that we can truly live -- and yes, live eternally, too!

Jesus said “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25)

It’s only in Christ Jesus that we can really know ourselves. It’s only in Him that fear can be driven out of our hearts completely. And it’s only through Him we can truly live.

Arren starts out as a murderer, running from his past -- from himself, really. Eventually he comes to terms with what he’s done and who he is. Tales of Earthsea, while not Ghibli’s best offering, is nevertheless an engaging story of redemption. But even better, it can be used to point the way an even better story of redemption: the true story of the Gospel.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

iMissions: internet based collaboration

I did a post recently called "Missional Art" that was a collaborative effort utilizing the social networking site called facebook. We used a feature on facebook that allows those who are connected as "friends" the option of sending a message to multiple individuals. On facebook my "friends" are all those individuals who I have permitted access to my profile, photos, and other information (and I have access to theirs).

Here is a step by step explanation of how our collaboration worked (all messages were exchanged using facebook):

1. One of my facebook friends, Jon Hirst, encouraged me to expand on an idea about art being missional that I had mentioned to him in a personal message.

2. Jon also sent me several good questions, that really helped me get moving on the article, and he also gave me a deadline -- deadlines REALLY help!

3. I wrote a rough draft, with most of the main ideas, but there were many spelling and grammatical mistakes, the flow was not good, and it needed clarity.

4. I posted a rough draft to a select group of my friends on facebook -- I chose people who I thought would have something to contribute, and/or would benefit from the discussion. The majority of the group I chose are younger than me (I am 52). Actually, I think ALL of them are younger than I am, most by about 25 years. This group included people living on three continents -- N. American, S. America, and Asia. Geographic location made no difference in terms of the ability of members to be involved.

5. Every time one person posted a message, everyone got a copy via eMail AND we could all see every message sent by everyone involved using the inbox on facebook. So, it was easy to keep track of everything being contributed by members of the group.

6. About half the group of twenty did not respond at all, while five members contributed at a significant level. One other person (my wife Nancy) was in this group but contributed off-line. There were just over thirty messages posted, over a period of about two weeks.

I am stopping here. I want to invite others to post comments that explore the broader implications for missions. Scot and I will choose "the best comment" and the contributor will get one copy of one of the following books (the winner can choose):

1. Manga Messiah in English (distributed widely, in English and other languages, via Amazon, etc.)
2. Manga Messiah in Japanese (available only in Japan!)
3. Manga Metamorphosis in Japanese (available only in Japan!)

Deadline will be July 17, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Relief supplies arrive in China from Japan!

Jonathan Wilson, a good friend and missionary colleague, has established CRASH -- an effective church related relief organization based in the Tokyo area. CRASH has responded to a number of disasters in Japan, but they are now in China where they have a team delivering a thirty ton truck of supplies for the survivors of the earthquake in Sichuan.

For more information, and to give donations, go to CRASH HOME PAGE

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Manga Messiah: Expanding Around the Globe II

As a follow up to a previous post on this blog called "Manga Messiah: Expanding Around the Globe," here are cover photos of various language editions, will add more when I get them.

The first photo is of the Japanese Version of Manga Messiah. The left half of the second photo (middle row) is actually the yet to be published Japanese version of Manga Metamorphosis, while the right side is (I think) the Spanish version of Manga Messiah.

The last photo (bottom row) I am not sure of -- can anyone identify it?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Amie Street and the Cult of Sincerity

Yesterday, I (Scot) watched an independent film that premiered on Youtube (of all places) called "The Cult of Sincerity." It's about a man who is fed up with how fake everyone is and resolves to live life sincerely, whatever that may mean. It is specifically geared at people currently in college and the group ambiguously known as the "20-somethings" to the point where anyone outside of that age group might not get it. I watched it with another person in my age group, and we were both completely engrossed, but Paul was bored after just a few minutes. Still, for its target audience, it was incredible. I think something like this, with a specific Japanese target audience, could be really powerful. Check it out at or watch the trailer below.

Also, in the first few minutes of the video, they outline a special deal that they have with a website called Amie Street. If you sign up from Amie Street in connection with watching the movie, you get $2 of credit at the site and the movie makers get $2. If you then buy $3 more credit, you get a link for a high resolution download of the movie, and $2 go to a charity.

I did a bit of research into Amie Street, and I've been really impressed so far. Here's the overview. It is a website for independent musicians to get their music heard. They get an account through the website and post their music. To begin with, their music is free. After each download, the value of their songs goes up by a few cents, capping out at $0.98 per song. For the downloader, you are given a certain number of REC (recommendation) points. If you hear a song that you think really has potential, you can give it a recommendation. Then, with every person who follows your recommendation and downloads the song, you get a small amount of credit put back into your account. It seems like a really good system.

I am posting it here for all of the readers who either are independent musicians or know someone who is. This could be a great way to share newly-written music, whether the artist is Japanese or Western. One of our friends, Mark Miller, who has posted on this blog before, is on Amie Street. Currently, his music is "free", and only available for purchase in the US. But you can use the media player embedded below to listen to his songs and check out the potential of the site. (Edit: The embedded player isn't working. Sorry. Search for "theothermarkmiller" on Amie Street) If any of you put your music (or a friend's music) on this site, please comment here or email either Paul or I. It would be fun to build a network of artists we know in order to support their music.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Manga Messiah: Expanding Around the Globe

New Life League Japan's director, Roald Lidal, just sent me the following exciting news about Messiah Manga's spreading global influence:

1. As of the end of this week we have printed a total of 760,000 copies in six languages -- English, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Indonesian and Tagalog.

2. Twelve more languages are in process, most of them being close to completed. These are: French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and Arabic.

This is amazing... a wonderful example of what can happen when Japanese Christians express their faith with authenticity and originality, with art that reflects the beauty of the culture.

PHOTO: The recently published Spanish version.

I would like to post a cover photo of all the published versions of Messiah Manga -- if you can send me a photo, post a comment with your eMail address and I will write you back (we will not divulge your eMail address to the public unless you specifically say that is what you want).