(What …? Still catching my breath about this one.)
“An Ode to Flying”
By Pamela Paul
Published: January 4, 2012
Read online at: The New York Times
The classic Japanese children’s song “Tako no uta” (or “Song of Kites”) is a cheerful ode to flying. It is also one of many Japanese cultural references embedded in “Sora and the Cloud,” Felicia Hoshino’s rich, clever and appealing book. Offering both English and Japanese text, it is itself a lovely tribute to the joys of soaring high.
We meet Sora as an infant on his way from crawling to climbing. “As he grows, he climbs over everything in this path” — even his mother’s back while she cleans under the table, and his father’s shoulder as he chopsticks up his breakfast.
The characters’ brief exclamations as Sora clambers and explores appear only in Japanese and so provide an opportunity, for those who don’t know the language, to ad lib their own admonishments and exhortations as little Sora climbs atop a jungle gym and tackles a large tree. (The phrases are translated in an endnote, which also explains some of the cultural references in the text – a lion-faced airplane, takoyaki balls and Kintaro, a boy painted on many Japanese kites.)
It is tempting to label “Miyazaki-like” anything appealing to children and Japanese in origin. But in this instance the analogy fits. The nameless cloud is a benign yet mysterious and uncontrollable presence as it lifts Sora, Totoro style, into the sky. There he views a skyscraper mid-construction, an amusement park, a festival of kites and other boyish marvels. Hoshino’s intricate and delicate drawings deliver this parade of sightseeing pleasures in a way that is at once dreamlike and visceral.
But even as Sora relishes his experiences aloft he finds himself longing for the pleasures down below on earth: “As rain clouds clear and sea gulls fly by … Sora dreams of digging in wet sand.” He thinks of napping in a bed of grass. And when he lands, he looks forward to telling his little sister about his new friend, the Cloud. She’ll want to hear all about it.