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In Session: Japanese Children’s Literature and/in Translation
1: Around the World in 80 Years: How an Italian Children’s Classic Went to Japan and Back
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Cuore (Heart, 1886), a children’s novel by popular travelogue author Edmondo de Amicis (1846-1908), was the first bestseller in its home country of Italy. A fictionalized diary by a 12-year old boy, it was soon translated into many languages, with the first partial Japanese version appearing in 1902. Appearing in full or partial translation and adaptation literally dozens of times since then, the text found its most famous manifestation in the 52-episode anime series, Haha wo tazunete sanzenri (3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, 1976).
This popular and oft-remembered series takes as its source a short story embedded in Cuore. Greatly expanding upon the original material and shedding the main diary narrative, the anime focuses instead on the character of Marco, a young boy who travels to Argentina to find his mother, who has gone there to find work. Director Takahata Isao, of later Studio Ghibli fame, employs the conventions of the anime medium to create a transnational narrative that is neither clearly Italian nor distinctively Japanese. The series’ viewership is transnational as well: as part of the pioneering television anime series Sekai meisaku gekijô (World Masterpiece Theatre), which adapted well over two dozen Western children’s classics over nearly thirty years, Haha wo tazunete was broadcast in Japan and exported abroad. This paper will explore how the series both reconnects an international young audience with this late 19th century Italian children’s classic, as well as how it set the tone for the text’s subsequent reception at home and overseas.