It is Beirut, Lebanon, in the 1960s. As cars pass, the boy with the closed eyes identifies each by its engine noise: a Simca 1000, a Cadillac Eldorado. His friend confirms the IDs visually.
So begins the ultimate accolade Japanese society bestows on an individual: serialization of his life story in a manga, one of Japan's hugely popular adult comic books. The boy with the closed eyes is the young Carlos Ghosn, future president of Nissan Motor Co., portrayed in the Nov. 16 edition of Big Comic Superior.
Ghosn's life story will unwind over the next five issues of Big Comic Superior, which is aimed at business readers - Japan's ubiquitous, strap-hanging salarymen. Ghosn has become a revered figure in Japan, and Big Comic says it expects demand for his story may push the biweekly press run above the normal 500,000 per issue as the series progresses.
The manga are a cultural institution in Japan, as diverse and as acceptable a media as talk radio in the United States. They range from kid-oriented stories to pornographic to religious, with some devoted to a single topic, such as mah-jongg or fishing.
In the business field, some have been used as economic primers, while others carry fiction based on international trade issues.
Big Comic Superior previously serialized the life of Masayoshi Son, the Korean-Japanese businessman who heads Japan's largest software company.
Akihiro Yoshino, the editor who oversaw the Ghosn project, started looking for a writer about a year ago. He needed someone knowledgeable about the auto industry who could interview Ghosn in English. On the advice of a local automobile magazine, he chose 45-year-old Yoko Togashi, a Japanese free-lance auto writer.
She explained the concept to Ghosn at the 2000 Tokyo commercial-truck show. "He said OK on the spot," said Yoshino.
Togashi based her story on four two-hour interviews with Ghosn, sometimes doubling up with ghostwriters who were preparing a text biography, which also was published.
Right after the Beirut schoolyard scene, the story jumps ahead to a contemporary scene with a Nissan executive promising concerned colleagues that the company's big
Murayama plant in Japan will stay open.
Later, he sits stunned as he listens to Ghosn saying that the plant will have to close, jeopardizing the jobs of 2,500 workers.
"We have to do it to save the entire company," the cartoon panel shows Ghosn saying.
But in this first installment, the focus is on Ghosn's childhood. The
story goes back to Ghosn at age 14 deciding to attend one of France's elite universities, getting his father's permission to make the attempt and studying until he falls asleep at his desk.
It also shows him joy riding in his mother's car, years before he could qualify for a driver's license. His excuse: By age 19, Alexander the Great already had been on the road to conquest from Macedonia for 10 years.
In typically maudlin Japanese style, the first installment ends with Ghosn boarding a plane to begin his university education in Paris. His mother, crying silently, thinks, "He has found his own road … and he'll never return."
To be continued ...