Yusuke Hanai
JUXTAPOZ|Spring 2021
A Most Happy Balance
Gwynned Vitello
Yasuki Hanae’s surfers, tipsy revelers and peaceful family of protestors, are neither victor nor victim. The surfer is one with the wave, the drinkers are propped up by gravity and each other, and the protestors will bundle up and be back tomorrow. Like the title of one of his shows, It Will Be Alright, Hanai reminds us that we've all been there and done that, but tomorrow is another day. Modestly calling himself an illustrator who “draws pictures to ease the mind,” he is a grateful observer of the world around him, seeing the stories and distilling them with great empathy into images that aim to be “solid and beautiful.” A curvy green leaf, floating sea creature and stubbly bearded truck driver all have a place on this earth, each deserving a full measure of dignity.

Gwynned Vitello: When I walk my dog in the morning, especially on the weekends, I laugh when I see huge TV screens through the windows, so many of them showing cartoons, and surprisingly, so many old ones that generations of kids have grown up with. One of my favorites was Bugs Bunny being captured by hungry humans, slowly being lowered into a cauldron of hot water, dipping his carrot in and munching away. You must have had a similar experience.

Yusuke Hanai: When I was a kid, yes, like all the other children, I liked to watch a lot of cartoons. There was no cable or satellite TV, and of course, no internet or YouTube. It was just over-the-air television, so I was always excited to check the time, sit in front of the TV and wait for my favorites. I watched many Japanese cartoons like Kitaro of the Graveyard and Ultimate Muscle.

Somehow, there were some American cartoons mixed in with the Japanese, Tom and Jerry and all the Looney Tunes. They looked so cool to us kids because they brought to us a different culture. Since the 1950s, the Japanese people have had such a longing for America, for the fashion, music and lifestyle. I was born in 1978, and I would say that my generation was the last where elders told us that everything American is the best. After my generation, the young people who came after could use the internet and then see the world more equally. But still, I saw the United States through those cartoons, and they were my first experience with American cultures. They stuck in my mind and are still there.

You’ve said that you did not excel in sports as a kid, so how did you get into surfing? What did you like most about it when starting out?

I did say that, even though I played soccer from second grade until junior high school. I really did like soccer, but I was chubby and had asthma, so I had to quit in my first year of high school. After that, I felt like I had nothing to do, so it was just me and some friends killing time at a cafe in our neighborhood. It turned out that the owner of the cafe was a surfer and he offered to take us out to go surf, but in the beginning, we couldn’t get any waves! At the time, in the ’90s, there were only short boards at the surf point. Every surfer rode on a thin, short board; the younger ones were not allowed to ride mid-length or long boards—so a beginner couldn’t catch any waves! For us, the surfing was tiring and scary, but the owner of the cafe kept taking us out anyway. We had nothing to do, so we would just go with him. Going out to the beach is always good, right? I still wasn’t getting a wave, but kept paddling out and slowly, then suddenly, I could get one. I found myself getting into surfing—this was a thing I could do myself. No need to try and make the team, and no need to keep comparing myself to others. Of course, I like to go surfing with friends, but on the water, what a feeling that it’s just me and the wave. I don’t have to think of anything.

Japanese parents are famous for having very high expectations for their children. I wonder how yours felt about you spending so much time surfing, and then deciding to go into the field of art. Did they want you to do something else? How did you feel about school?

I was always a lazy and unambitious kind. I couldn’t seem to stick to any one thing, even soccer, so even though I played a long time, as I said, I dropped it. What I was interested in was art, but my parents told me a big NO. They wanted me to go to college and become a businessman. There was nothing in that field I dreamed about doing, so yeah, I just went along and went to college to study economics.

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