The Animation of Anne: Japanese Anime Encounters the Diary of a Holocaust Icon

Article excerpt

This essay focuses on a close analysis of the Japanese anime feature film Anne no nikki ("Diary of Anne Frank"; dir. Akinori Nagaoka, 1995), and is part of a substantially larger project whose aim is to find out if there were any sustained responses to the Holocaust--the systematic mass murder of Jews in Europe by Germany's Nazi regime--from non-Euro-American subject positions. (1)

My initial research concentrated primarily on Asian responses to the horrors of the Final Solution, and I specifically did not include Japanese reactions since part of the impetus behind the project was to establish whether responses to traumatic historical events necessitated the participation or implication in the historical event of the responding parties.

Clearly, I was hoping that substantive human outrage at genocide and injustice would not be determined solely by whether or not the responding parties were directly or indirectly tied to the event(s) in question. The speculation or premise driving this research agenda was that new perspectives on the Holocaust, especially those not having any sort of direct or indirect (as in the Japanese case) association with it, might contribute to broadening the scope of the discussions on this nightmarish event and might perhaps lead to questioning in a constructive manner certain taken-for-granted senses of aspects of the event that are in wide circulation today.

Preliminary research, although exhaustive, does not indicate the existence of the kind of sustained response that I had in mind. The only significant Asian response is from Japan and it can be schematically designated by three categories: Anne Frank, Chiune Sugihara (the Japanese diplomat stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, who saved the lives of many Jewish refugees by issuing illegal transit visas), and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Anne Frank's diary was published in Japan in 1952 (at the same time that the American edition was published) and it has since had a wide readership. However, as Matoko Otsuka has pointed out, the Japanese in general tended to identify with Anne Frank as a war victim, and did not see the Holocaust as the cause of her victimization. By the 1990s, as Otsuka indicates, the situation has changed substantively with the appearance of more publications on the Holocaust, the widespread popularity of Spielberg's Schindler's List, and media attention to the Sugihara story. In 1995, the Holocaust Education Center opened in Fukuyama City, near Hiroshima, originally initiated by Otsuka following a meeting with Otto Frank in Israel in 1971. The Center was founded with the help of Israel's Yad Vashem and is primarily designed for children, with all the exhibits placed at their eye-level and with clear and simple explanations (Otsuka 1-8). Two months after the Center opened, an "Anne Frank" exhibit was inaugurated in Hiroshima's Peace Park, a site dedicated to atomic bomb victims.

It is not very surprising then that given this new interest in the Holocaust and its uptake in the media that the country's most popular film industry today, the anime (or animation) sector, should attempt an adaptation of the most widely read Holocaust story written by a young girl who perished in the Final Solution and whose iconic status as the representative of the Holocaust has been widely noted and, not unjustifiably at times, strongly criticized.

Japanese anime is one of the country's most popular exports and for those international viewers who have had limited exposure to the genre, there are some features that immediately mark it as unique and distinctive. Japanese anime films cater to a wide variety of audiences and many of them are often serious in theme and tone, and in making an explicit appeal to adult audiences, they defy the conventional notion that animation is primarily a children's genre. So, with this characteristic in mind, one does not feel impelled to react in disbelief when one hears that Anne Frank's diary has been adapted into a feature-length animated film. …