GOTHAM × FUKUYAMA: more than a movie

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On February 21, a news item caught people’s attention on SNS. The city of Fukuyama, located in Hiroshima prefecture, and the city of Gotham, the scene of the famous story of BATMAN, have signed a friendship city agreement.

According to their joint statement, this was the first time Gotham City had signed this type of agreement, and Fukuyama City became the first friendly city in the world for Gotham.

Gotham… Gotham…

What does this city name evoke?

Murder? High crime rate?

Perhaps the most famous psychopathic clown and a man wearing a “bat” costume?

You might find the poster visuals look like something far from the idea of ​​friendship.

Public relations poster revealed by ©2022 Warner Bros.

Shingo Watanabe, representative of Fukuyama City’s Cultural Promotion Division who is working on the project, shared some of the details of the bat-themed collaboration in an interview with JAPAN Forward shortly before the latest film’s release. BATMAN.

Two contrasting cities

Gotham

Gotham City is the setting for one of the most famous stories in all of 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. To get revenge for the murder of his parents who were killed when Bruce was young, he enforces justice against evil. Because he wears a black uniform that looks like a bat, his name is BATMAN (DC Comics, 2022).

The city of Fukuyama includes green spaces and gardens. (Photo by Fukuyama Cultural Promotion Division)

Fukuyama

Unlike Gotham, the city of Fukuyama is very peaceful.

The city is designed around Fukuyama Castle, which was built in 1622. It is located in the center of the city, known as an industrial city.

The city’s port, Tomonoura, offers great views and has been used as a backdrop for films such as Wolverine, a film based on an American comic, and Japanese dramas.

When Hayao Miyazaki was creating his work, Ponyo on a cliff by the seahe stayed in the city and found inspiration in the port.

The “bat” in Gotham and Fukuyama

There are no BATMANs or psychopathic clowns in Fukuyama City. And it doesn’t have a high crime rate.

But there is a strong commonality: bats.

Watanabe explains:

There is Fukuyama Castle in the city, and it is built in a place called “Komori-Yama” (Bat Mountain). The city’s emblem is derived from a bat, and in SNS, the symbol was said to resemble BATMAN’s symbol.

Fukuyama City was looking for something special to mark the 400th anniversary celebration of Fukuyama Castle. After consideration, they decided to propose a collaboration to Warner Bros, at the time of the release of the new film, THE BATMAN.

The left side is the bat symbol of Fukuyama City. ©2022 Warner Bros.

Good or bad? Bats in the west versus bats in the east.

BATMAN is sometimes associated not with beautiful justice, but rather with violent and bloody justice. You can see this trend in the trailer for the upcoming movie, THE BATMAN.

In the film, Robert Pattinson plays the hero, Bruce Wayne. But the Bruce in this film does justice that is far from beautiful. Violence and bloody anger grow in him and dominate him.

In fact, for centuries in the West, bats have been associated with terrifying things, such as witches, Dracula, and the Black Death.

Shingo Watanabe, who is following the story closely, explains the difference in Asian perception of bats:

bat” is 蝙蝠 (ko mori) in Chinese characters. The right side 蝠 is similar to 福, happiness, and its pronunciation in Chinese resembles the phonetics of “happiness”. In fact, in Asian culture, bats are associated with happiness rather than unhappiness.

He adds that “the city of Fukuyama is committed to building a peaceful city. Through this collaboration,” he says, “we hope our peace will be restored to Gotham City.”

This collaboration is different

For rural towns, collaborating with producers of famous pop culture personalities and online content producers is one of the best ways to boost the local economy. Indeed, Fukuyama City has already collaborated on famous content.

10 years ago, the movie, wolverines was filmed in Tomonoura, the port city of Fukuyama which faces the Seto Inland Sea. But the collaboration was only brief ー during the screening of the film in cinemas.

Tomonoura and the harbor landscape of Fukuyama City. (Photo: Fukuyama Cultural Promotion Division)

Indeed, in many cases, these types of collaborations are short-term contracts based on the release period of a movie, or a new chapter, etc. Watanabe breaks it down for us saying, “One of the issues with collaborations is how we can sustain their financial impact.”

“In the case of this BATMAN collaboration, however,” he adds, “it is a long-term friendship city agreement starting with our token brand, so we can expect effects to long term and various projects.”

We know the current content of the collaborations thanks to the visual posters. What’s left to come?

Unfortunately, the agreement does not include production-related goods and products. But Watanabe says there has been strong interest.

“Many media have reported [the collaboration], and many people are talking and sharing this on SNS. We also received many questions ーand suggestionsー to create things in collaboration with [Gotham].”

Watanabe adds that the city of Fukuyama will consider these requests constructively, and indeed they have already started talking with Warner.

Fukuyama Castle, built on Bat Mountain, is conveniently located and easy to see from the Shinkansen. (Photo: Fukuyama Cultural Promotion Division)

Future prospects

To make the most of its opportunities, Fukuyama City launched an anime event, called FUKUYAMANIME (Fukuyama × Anime) in 2018, hoping to make the most of its opportunities.

“Since we collaborated with Wolverine and BATMAN, we sometimes get suggestions to promote our city as an American comic city,” Watanabe shared.

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, 2022.

Watanabe says the city hopes the event will attract many visitors, drawing attention to the film collaboration and the city’s charms.

“The city has good access to transportation, and it can be attractive to both filmmakers and tourists,” he said, adding, “I hope this collaboration will let people know about our city, and I wish many people would come and enjoy our city when COVID sets in.

Information about the lineup and schedule for this year’s FUKUYAMANIME can be found here.

Author: Simon Kagaya

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