Takashi Okazaki, or “Bob” as his friends call him, is one of those Japanese artists who’s better known overseas than at home. He was reminded of this recently when his work was nominated for an Emmy Award in the U.S.
"Afro Samurai: Resurrection" is the sequel to the 2007 adaptation of Okazaki’s manga of the same name. Set some years after the first film, it follows the title character — a lone black samurai with a wicked afro — as he contemplates hanging up the coveted headband that gives him godlike status. His old foes have other plans, however, and force Afro onto a path of violent revenge by stealing his headband and threatening to raise his long dead father from the grave. The film features the voices of Samuel L Jackson, Lucy Liu and Mark Hamill, and was nominated in the “Outstanding Animated Program” at the 2009 Emmy Awards.
“When I got the email from Spike TV telling me we’d been nominated, I was blown away,” says the 35-year-old Okazaki. “It was awesome! I was so happy, I rushed out to tell my wife Minna, but she just looked at me and said ‘Um… what’s an Emmy?’ Which brought me back down to earth pretty quick.”
Unlike the Oscars, the Emmys are not widely broadcast in Japan, but Okazaki has been a long-time fan of TV award shows and knew that getting the nomination would bring him close to fulfilling a childhood dream.
“In 1987, when Ryuichi Sakamoto won an Oscar for 'The Last Emperor' soundtrack, I thought ‘Wow, Japanese can get Academy Awards too,’” he recalls. “And I told my family that one day I would win an Oscar. So when I got the news about the Emmy, I really wondered if maybe I could get an award to bring home too.”
Brimming with confidence, the manga artist decided that this may be his only chance to walk the red carpet, so he wanted to do it right.
“The other Japanese in our group all decided to wear kimono, but I thought that was really uncool,” he says with a laugh. “Just because we come from Japan doesn’t mean we should wear kimono. That’s kind of embarrassing, it’s just cosplay. I mean, seriously! So I was the only one in the group who wore a tuxedo.”
A huge hip-hop fan, Okazaki also knew what he would do when he got up on stage.
“I didn’t write a speech. The rules say that only the producer and the director could have given a speech. But I asked my friends in LA what I should do, and we decided that giving out a hip-hop-style peace sign would be cool. I practised it for ages!” he says, quickly bumping his chest twice with his fist and gliding out a sideways V with his fingers.
“Also, years ago, Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the Wu-Tang Clan got up on stage to give a speech — even though he hadn’t won the award. And I remember him saying “Wu Tang for kids!” So if I’d had the chance, I would have shouted out ‘Afro for kids!’ That would have been perfect.”
Unfortunately that wasn’t to be. The ultra-violent "Afro Samurai: Resurrection" ended up losing to the child-friendly "Destination Imagination," although "Afro’s" art director did win an award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation.
Still, having your creation nominated for an Emmy isn’t bad going for an artist who admits he decided to go to art school to meet girls.
“Of course, I also had a huge passion for drawing,” he adds. And these days, Okazaki is finding that his fame overseas is helping him keep his passion alive. This summer he contributed several character designs to the anime smash "Summer Wars."
“Because 'Summer Wars' and 'Afro' are so different, people are realizing I can draw in all kinds of styles,” he says. As a result he’s now working on new concept designs for some major anime companies. Okazaki is also collaborating with X-Large for a range of "Afro Samurai" clothes, and there are finally plans for a Japanese-language version of the original manga. Which hopefully will give Okazaki, and Afro, the respect they deserve in Japan.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today