GOTHAM × FUKUYAMA: More than a Movie
Now friendship cities, these two urban settings - one fictional and one picture-perfect real - share their love of bats and pop culture in time for the opening of "The BATMAN" movie.
On February 21, one news item caught people's attention on SNS. Fukuyama City, which is located in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Gotham City, the setting for the famous BATMAN story, signed a friendship city agreement.
According to their joint statement, it was the first time for Gotham City to sign this kind of agreement, and Fukuyama City became the world's first friend city for Gotham.
What does this city name bring to mind?
Murder? High crime rate?
Maybe the most famous psychopathic clown and a man wearing a “bat” costume?
You may find the poster visuals look like something far from the idea of friendship.
Shingo Watanabe, representative of the Cultural Promotion Division of Fukuyama City who is working on the project, shared some of the details behind the bat-themed collaboration in an interview with JAPAN Forward shortly before the latest BATMAN movie's release.
Two Contrasting Towns
Gotham City is the setting from one of the most famous stories of all American comics ー BATMAN. The city is known as the most dangerous and crime-infested city in the world.
The fictional hero of the series, Bruce Wayne, was born in this city of crime and criminals. As a revenge for the murder of his parents who were killed when Bruce was young, he enforces justice upon evil. Because he wears a black uniform which looks like a bat, he is called BATMAN (DC Comics, 2022).
In contrast to Gotham, Fukuyama City is very peaceful.
The city is designed around Fukuyama castle, which was built in 1622. It is located in the center of the city, which is known as a city of industry.
The city’s port, Tomonoura, commands a wonderful view, and has been used as a backdrop for films such as Wolverine, a movie based on an American comic book and Japanese dramas.
When Hayao Miyazaki was creating his work, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, he stayed in the city and found inspiration in the port.
The ‘Bat’ in Gotham and Fukuyama
There are no BATMAN or psychopathic clowns in Fukuyama City. And it doesn’t have a high crime rate.
But there is one strong commonality: Bats.
There is the Fukuyama castle in the city, and it’s built in a place called “Komori-Yama” (bat mountain). The city emblem is derived from a bat, and in SNS, the symbol has been said to resemble the symbol of BATMAN.
Fukuyama City was looking for something special to mark the 400th anniversary celebration of Fukuyama castle. After some consideration, they decided to offer a collaboration to Warner Bros, timed with the release of the new film, THE BATMAN.
Good or Bad? Bats in the West vs Bats in the East.
BATMAN is sometimes associated not with beautiful justice, but rather with violent and bloody justice. You can see this tendency in the trailer of the upcoming film, THE BATMAN.
In the movie, Robert Pattinson plays the hero, Bruce Wayne. But the Bruce in this movie dishes out justice that is far from beautiful. Violence and bloody anger is growing inside and dominating him.
In fact, since ages long ago in the West, bats have been associated with terrifying things, such as witches, Dracula, and the black death.
Shingo Watanabe, who follows the story closely, explains the difference in the Asian perception about bats:
Bat” is 蝙蝠 (ko mori) in Chinese characters. The right side 蝠 is similar to 福, happiness, and its pronunciation in Chinese sounds like the phonetic for “happiness”. In fact, in Asian culture, bats are associated with happiness rather than unhappiness.
He adds that “Fukuyama City has been engaging in building a peaceful city. Through this collaboration,” he says, “we hope our peace is delivered to Gotham City.”
This Collaboration is Different
For rural cities, collaborating with the producers of famous pop culture figures and online content producers is one of the best ways to stimulate the local economy. Indeed, Fukuyama City has previously collaborated on some famous contents.
10 years ago, the movie, Wolverines was filmed in Tomonoura, the port town area of Fukuyama which faces the Seto Inland Sea. But the collaboration was only brief ー while the movie was being screened in cinemas.
Indeed, in many cases, these kinds of collaborations are short term contracts based on the period of the release of a movie, or a new chapter and so on. Watanabe analyzes it for us, saying: “One problem of collaborations is how we can sustain their financial impact.”
“In the case of this BATMAN collaboration, however,” he adds, “it’s a long term friendship city agreement starting with our symbolic mark, so we can expect the long term effects and diverse projects.”
We know the current content of the collaborations through the visual posters. What more is there to come?
Unfortunately, the agreement doesn’t include goods and products related to the production. But Watanabe says there has been a strong interest.
“Many media have reported [the collaboration], and many people are talking and sharing this on SNS. We have also received many questions ーand suggestionsー to create things in collaboration with [Gotham].”
Watanabe adds that Fukuyama City is going to consider those requests constructively, and indeed they have already started to talk with Warner.
To make the most of its opportunities, Fukuyama City started an anime event, called FUKUYAMANIME (Fukuyama × Anime) in 2018, hoping to make the most of its opportunities.
“Since we have collaborated with Wolverine and BATMAN, we sometimes receive suggestions that we should promote our city as the American comic city,” Watanabe recounted.
Unfortunately, the event was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19, but the city has decided to bring it back this year. Currently it is scheduled for October 22-23 in 2022.
Watanabe says the city hopes the event will draw many visitors, bringing attention to the movie collaboration and charms of the city.
“The city has good transportation access, and it can be attractive for both filmmakers and tourists,” he emphasizes, adding, “I hope this collaboration lets people know our city, and I wish that many people will come to enjoy our city when COVID settles down.
Information about the lineup and schedule for this year’s FUKUYAMANIME can be found here.
Author: Simon Kagaya
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