Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Manga 'Mein Kampf' gives Hitler a new audience

From Asahi.com
It was the Nazi tome in which Adolf Hitler outlined his belief in the superiority of the Aryan race and his anti-semitic thoughts. But "Mein Kampf" has found a new audience in Japan, where a manga version of Hitler's fascist manifesto and part autobiography has become a minor hit since its publication late last year. The release has fueled concerns in Germany, where the book remains banned more than 60 years after Hitler (1889-1945) led the country to catastrophic defeat in World War II. Tokyo publisher East Press released "Waga Toso," or "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle), in November last year. The publisher said it wants to give the public an insight into Hitler as a person rather than simply demonizing him as the leader who was responsible for the Holocaust. The 190-page publication renders his notorious book--a combination of autobiography and fascist political ideology--as a collection of cartoon images and captions. It is one of 45 world classics that have been made into manga for the "Manga de Dokuha" (Let's read world classics in manga) series. Included in the series are iconic titles such as "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka, "The Merchant of Venice" by William Shakespeare, "The Capital" by Karl Marx, "Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and "Ningen Shikkaku" (No Longer Human) by Osamu Dazai. Each manga is produced by editor Kosuke Maruo, who compiles dialogue and arranges the narrative, and artists from production company Variety Art Works, who draw the images. The manga version of "Mein Kampf" tells the story of Hitler's upbringing, his decision to create the Nazi Party and his motivation for writing the book. It also includes depictions of his infamous anti-Semitic pronouncements. Sales hit 45,000 in the first six months, defying the publisher's modest expectations. Other editions in the series have sold, on average, 35,000 copies. Maruo, 32, said the publisher included Hitler's autobiographical manifesto in the series because it wanted to give readers a glimpse into Hitler the person, as opposed to "the monster." "'Mein Kampf' is a well-known book, but relatively few people have read it," Maruo said. "We think this will provide clues about Hitler as a human being, as to his way of thinking that led to such tragedy, even though he was dismissed as a 'monster.'" It was not long before the publication attracted interest from international media organizations such as the BBC of Britain and CNN in the United States. Martin Koelling, the East Asia correspondent for the German edition of the Financial Times, wrote an article in February in which he described the manga version as "interesting" and meaningful. "It's a new approach," Koelling said. "There's a risk in using cartoon images and text to tell this story. But the book is an important document because it's Hitler's manifesto. It's important that people try to understand his thinking in a critical way." In Japan, where the manga has sparked an online debate over the ramifications of introducing Hitler's work into wider circulation, some have not been so complimentary. One poster described the publication as "insensitive," while another said the new work pandered to the sympathies of neo-Nazis. But another said that continuing to resist publication of the book would only increase fascination about it. Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" while he was imprisoned in Munich's Landsberg Castle for his role in a failed attempt to overthrow the Weimar government in 1923. The Finance Ministry of the state of Bavaria, which holds the copyright to the book, has refused to grant permission to reprint it out of sensitivity to victims of Nazi atrocities. The ministry lodged a strong protest when a Czech-language edition was published without permission in 2000. Under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, however, Japanese publishers are entitled to publish a translation of a foreign-language book released in 1970 or earlier as long as no other translation was published within the first 10 years of release. Kadokawa Group Publishing Co. has released several reprints of a Japanese-language pocket edition of "Mein Kampf" since 1973. The Tokyo-based publisher says it did not need to seek permission from the Bavarian authorities. The manga version from East Press is based on Kadokawa's edition. In an e-mail interview with The Asahi Shimbun, the ministry said that it remains opposed to republication of "Mein Kampf" because of the pain and suffering the book still causes victims of the Nazis--even if it no longer carries its original symbolic significance. Debate is already under way in Germany over what should happen when the copyright for the original "Mein Kampf" expires in 2015. Some critics have said that manga is not a suitable medium for such controversial content. "Even 60 years after the end of war, Nazism remains a sensitive issue in Germany," said Toshio Obata, managing director of the state of Bavaria's Japan Office, who lived in Germany for 13 years. "Did East Press exhaust discussions before publishing it? Did it consider the difference between Japan and Germany as to how manga is viewed as a medium?" Some German historians, however, are opposed to the ban on the publication of "Mein Kampf." Clemens Vollnhals, a professor of history at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarian Research of the Technical University in Dresden, argues that book bans should not be tolerated in a free society. "The banning of books is a serious problem in a free society. The ban of Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' may have been justified in the early years after the war, but now we have a totally different situation," he said. '"Mein Kampf' has no magical qualities. It is a badly written book, but it offers a deep insight into Hitler's thinking." Vollnhals' argument echoes the position taken by Kadokawa. The publisher said the German Embassy requested that it cease publication of the book about 10 years ago. After considering the matter, it decided that "depriving (readers of) an opportunity to critically examine the book would be unsound." Still, efforts to cast a light on the German dictator as an ordinary human are bound to attract controversy. In 2004, when then Toshiba Entertainment Inc. distributed "Max," a movie about Hitler's aspiration to be a painter, it canceled an exhibition of his watercolors after it was inundated with requests for interviews by foreign media.(IHT/Asahi: September 30,2009)

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