Sunday, September 16, 2018

Oishinbo Special: Japan-America Rice War (Blu-ray)

After a rather lengthy delay, here's the second Oishinbo special, Japan-America Rice War (Nichibei Kome Sensou). Although I have no firm evidence, I suspect that this delay resulted from a simple fact: Japan-America Rice War is one of the most boring anime movies I have ever seen. Ninety minutes about the pros and cons of liberalizing Japanese rice imports, with a side order about the dangers of agricultural chemicals? Most of the team would rather have a root canal. (I just had one, so I prefer the anime.)

If you don't know the background for the Oishinbo series, Kaibara Yuuzan and Yamaoka Shirou are estranged father and son, respectively. Kaibara is an icon of Japanese national culture, famous for his pottery, his cooking, and his traditional dress and outlook. Yamaoka is a slacker cultural reporter at a newspaper. He started a recurring feature on cooking, called Ultimate Menu, for his paper. In retaliation, his father created Supreme Menu for a competing paper. The two cooking teams compete for supremacy in matches organized around a single theme.

The plot of Japan-America Rice War centers around the visit of California Senator Dan Foster to Japan. He is determined to make Japan lower barriers to rice imports, because California is a major rice grower. His sister, Ann, is engaged to Misawa at Touzai News, home of Yamaoka's Ultimate Menu team. Ann crosses paths with, and is insulted by, Tsuchida Gisuke, an obnoxious agriculture bigwig turned politician, who is determined to block liberalization of rice imports. She relates this to her brother the Senator, who turns up the heat on the Japanese government by threatening massive tariffs against Japanese goods. While the government dithers, the two Menu teams have to work together to save the situation and, of course, Ann and Misawa's impending marriage.

The tone of the anime is a bit odd. At first, the scales seem tipped in favor of the Japanese viewpoint. Kaibara Yuuzan argues for strict limits on imports in order to preserve the Japanese tradition of rice farming, which yields treasures in art, culture, and food. On the other hand, the American negotiators are presented as rational and forceful, while the Japanese government is presented as hapless ditherers who only want to cover their behinds. In the end, the author's real passion, as represented by Yamaoka Shirou, is not about rice imports but about the overuse of chemicals in farming, and the threat that pesticides and other chemical residues in the food chain pose to human health. It's rather dull, except for the opening set piece, an Ultimate vs Supreme match about "side dishes for rice," and a later set piece, a dinner that Kaibara throws for the visiting Senator to teach him about the importance of rice in Japan.

The main voice cast is the same as in Ultimate vs Supreme:
  • Inoue Kazuhiko (Yamaoka Shirou) played Yuki Eiri in Gravitation, but I know and love him best as the irascible, sake-swilling Nyanko-sensei in the Natsume Yuujichou properties. He also played Ryousuke in Daishizen no Majuu Bagi, Kitten Smith in Starship Troopers, and Liu Bei Xuande in both Sangokushi OVAs, all Orphan releases. He is still active, appearing recently in ACCA and Isekai Shokudou.
  • Shou Mayumi (Kurita Yuuko) appeared in Aoki Honoo, Hoshi Neko Full House, A Penguin's Memories, and Katte ni Shirokuma, all Orphan releases. 
  • Ootsuka Chikao (Kaibara Yuuzan) has had a lengthy career, starting back in 1963 in Astro Boy. He played Nezumi in the original GeGeGe no Kitarou series and Tora in the original Ushio & Tora OVAs. He appeared in several Tezuka Osamu specials (all released by Orphan) and played Captain Hook in Peter Pan no Bouken, among numerous other roles.
Some of the voice cast is unique to this special, of course:
  • Hazama Michio (Senator Dan Foster) also began his career in 1963 with Astro Boy. He has appeared in numerous anime but has also been the preferred dubbing voice for Dean Martin, Steve Martin, and Sylvester Stallone. His most recent role was in Onihei.
  • Yamada Eiko (Ann Foster) played the title roles in Anne of Green Gables and Legend of Lemnear, as well as Jo in Little Women. She also played Yu Jin, Cao Cao's stalwart woman warrior, in the Sangokushi OVAs and appeared in What's Michael? and Chameleon, all Orphan releases.
  • Ootaki Shinya (Misawa) played Pete, the male lead in Scoopers. He also appeared in Aoki Honou, Hi-Speed Jecy, and Wolf Guy, all Orphan releases.
  • Tanaka Nobuo (Tsuchida Gisuke) played Dio in the original JoJo's Bizarre Adventures OVAs and its sequel. He has had recurring roles in Detective Conan and One Piece.
Orphan again used the Yoroshiku subs with some tweaks. laalg did the original translation; izam translated the OP and ED. Yogicat retimed the subs for the Blu-ray encode; the original OP/ED timing, by sangofe, was retained. neo2001 styled the original; I edited and typeset both the original release and this new one. Saji and Oracle did QC on the original, Calyrica on the new one. Skr did the encode, from a BDMV.

Time has not been kind to Japan-America Rice War. The anime dates from 1993, when American paranoia about, and Japanese confidence in, Japan's technological and economic might was at its height (see, for example, Michael Crichton's 1992 scare novel, Rising Sun). Shortly thereafter, the U.S. began the longest sustained technological and economic boom in its history to that point, fueled by innovations in the Internet, biotechnology, and other fields, while Japan entered a multi-decade period of economic stagnation, rendering most of the arguments in the anime moot.

Japan maintained an effective ban on imported rice until 1995. At that time, Japan agreed to import a set amount at market prices, while raising subsidies to domestic rice farmers substantially. Most of the imported rice was designated for snacks and processed food; very little was earmarked for direct consumption. Even though the subsidies impacted the competitiveness of imported rice, by 1998 Japan accounted for about half of California's rice exports, or 20% of the state's total rice crop.

Japanese direct consumption of imported rice varies with economic conditions, with fast food restaurants leading the way in using it. However, both per-capita consumption of rice and domestic production are declining, as eating habits change, and the farming population ages out.

The issue of food safety remains unresolved. Recent testing has shown that rice from around the world, including so-called organic products, contain dangerous amounts of arsenic and other toxic chemicals.

So if you want to relive the passions of the early 1990s, as opposed to the ones that roil our politics today, you can get Oishinbo - Japan-America Rice War from the usual torrent site or download it from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on