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Outlawing Chocolates

  • (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)
  • (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)
  • CHOCO HEROES: The protagonists in the movie Chocolate Underground. (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)
  • (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)
  • (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)

Imagine a world where not only chocolates but also all other sugary stuff are totally banned.

Chocolates are all around us these days, even after Valentine’s Day. It is difficult, yet somehow enjoyable, to choose just the right ones from among the tonnes of varieties. So, could you imagine a life in which not only chocolates but also all other sugary stuff were totally banned from tomorrow? And what would you do under such strict laws?

This is the main theme of Bootleg, a novel written by Alex Shearer, and the basis of the Japanese animated film , which recently opened in Japan.

In the book, first published in 2002 in Britain, the Good For You party passes a law that bans chocolate and other sweets, claiming the tasty treats are harmful to your health. The government steps up surveillance and tracks down those who break the law. Those who do not abide the Chocolate Prohibition Law are sent to a reeducation centre to reform their diet consciousness.

Protagonists Huntley and Smudger, two chocolate-loving teenagers, fight to win back their freedom to indulge in the sweet flavour. With the help of Mrs Bubby, who runs a sweet shop and is bitter about being obliged to sell healthy but tasteless food to her customers, they launch a secret underground chocolate factory to bootleg the sweets.

But of course the factory is uncovered, and their fate, along with that of chocolate itself, looks grim...

The British author said he came up with the idea of banning chocolate from the world when he saw his wife trying to make their children eat vegetables.

"It is very interesting to see how another culture takes the idea and adopts it in a way to appeal the audience in the other culture."

“And I thought it might be a thing like American Prohibition (the 1920-33 US ban on alcohol). Then the two ideas came together,” Shearer told The Daily Yomiuri during a recent interview on the eve of the opening of the film.

“It also was a time the UK government, when Tony Blair was in power, was becoming more concerned with the life of people, like a nanny state. It was like, ‘You have to eat well, not drink,’” he said.

Shearer said that, through the book, he wanted to express the idea that you really cannot enforce a law people don’t like, which is why Prohibition failed.

The novel garnered readers mainly among 8- to 12-year-old boys in the English-speaking world, according to Shearer.

In Japan, a comic version by manga artist Aiji Yamakawa was carried in the monthly girls’ magazine Margaret, published by Shueisha Inc, in two installments a year ago, in line with the production of the film. The comic well depicts the characters of the two boys, cool-headed Huntley with his strong sense of justice and bold, active Smudger with lots of ideas.

The visual portrayal of the boys in the film and the manga also seem to be faithful to images inspired by the book. Huntley appears to be a mild-mannered and quiet-looking boy in pictures released to the media, while Smudger is shown in a trendy outfit with earrings and ear cuffs.

Still, there are some differences between the book, the comic and the animation.

“The animation is lots more futuristic than the book. The machines in the animation are very interesting,” Shearer said, referring to robotlike machines used by the chocolate troops.

Shearer pointed to another difference, Mr Blades. He is a man who runs an old bookstore and gives a chocolate recipe book to Smudger and Huntley. Mr Blades is a young, nice-looking man in the comic and film, but is an old, chubby guy in Bootleg, although he is depicted as a chocolate addict in all versions.

A young female character also was added to the Japanese versions as one of three protagonists, possibly to draw more women into the audience, as the film appears to be for slightly older, more female viewers, while the book is geared more toward boys.

But Shearer believes the film conveys the sprit of his book, whose Japanese translation has sold nearly 120,000 copies. “I think the film is true to the sprit in the book, fighting for the freedom and the right to choose.

“It is very interesting to see how another culture takes the idea and adopts it in a way to appeal the audience in the other culture,” he said.
Shearer, who also writes film and television scripts in Britain, added that he did not have a hand in writing the film, although it was suggested that he do so, as he does not know anything about Japanese culture and life.

He said the idea that nobody can get rid of your fond memories is another theme of the book.

“When you are a child you often associate a happy memory with food. French writer Marcel Proust also wrote in Remembrance of Things Past about a memory that was triggered by a madeleine (a small cake). The same thing can happen with chocolate,” said Shearer, whose own favourite chocolate brand is Cadbury’s, the famous British confectioner.

Shearer remembered an incident when some schools in Britain stopped selling snacks and banned chips to protect the health of children. “Then, at one school, mothers came to the gate and pushed the chips through the gate to the children,” Shearer said with a smile. “You can’t force laws that people don’t like.”

Chocolate Underground, in Japanese, is playing. (By KUMI MATSUMARU In Tokyo/ The Daily Yomiuri/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2009.03.06


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