More intense than the Japanese fascination with Beatrix Potter, or baby-doll Lolita street fashion, or mastery of kawaii (cute), is the Japanese adoration of Anne of Green Gables.
It could almost be declared that Anne's true home isn't rural Prince Edward Island any more. It's Japan, where Lucy Maud Montgomery's tale of Anne and her pigtailed innocence remains so popular that it has become ingrained in the national consciousness since the book's original Japanese translation as Red-Haired Anne in 1952.
But why? Japan's Anne obsession has already spawned as much commentary as all the Green Gables sequels and myriad TV and film adaptations have together.
The director of a new film, Looking for Anne, a Japanese-Canadian co-production that opens Friday for a limited run at Cinéma Quartier Latin in Montreal, has possibly one of the clearest explanations yet.
It goes beyond kawaii and kitsch. It's more than identifying with an island mentality. It's about looking at morality and life's questions in terms of a simpler, more idyllic setting, says the film's director Takako Miyahira.
"Now in the world, people are confused with so many values about happiness or aiming for success. Anne of Green Gables teaches how to find happiness," she says.
Miyahira, who is 31, is a little embarrassed to admit that she only read the book a few years ago and she felt afterward that it had been an unfortunate omission from her life. "The first time I read the book, I thought, Why did I miss this precious book? I should have read it earlier!"
What struck her were the parallels with her own life. She was working at the time, around five years ago, with Canadian filmmaker Claude Gagnon in Montreal and was warmly taken under his wing, she says. Gagnon has had close links with Japan and Japanese filmmakers throughout his career. Miyahira says she felt that same sense that Anne did of being welcomed by a new Canadian family.
"That's why the book moved me so much," Miyahira says.
The idea then arose to make a film, yet another entry in an industry of Anne-related commercial vehicles in the Japanese market. "The book is so powerful, and I completely agree with the idea of my producer. She wanted to make a movie to rediscover the Anne of Green Gables philosophy," Miyahira says.
The drama follows the journey of a Japanese fan of Anne's to PEI to fulfill her grandmother's wish of thanking a Canadian soldier she had known many years ago ago for introducing her to, you guessed it, Anne of Green Gables.
Released last year in Japan, the film continues to have a wide theatrical run there. The main audience is women in their 30s and 40s, Miyahira says, who take to the film's message of handing down the story of Anne from one generation to another.
But when Miyahira talks about the Japanese love of the original book's philosophy, she doesn't mean some rigid Green Gables moral code. The appeal is simply about distilling life down to certain essentials, and picturesque ones at that, she says. And that's what keeps Anne of Green Gables so popular. Mystery solved.