(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)
TOKYO — A man ignited a flammable liquid around a Japanese animation studio in Kyoto on Thursday, the police said, killing at least seven people — with many more feared dead — in a devastating morning blaze.
About 70 people were inside the offices of Kyoto Animation when the blaze started at about 10:30 a.m., Japan’s NHK public broadcaster reported, citing the police and rescuers.
The Kyoto Fire Department confirmed that seven had died in the blaze and that as many as 17 more were feared to have been killed. At least two dozen others were injured and several people remained missing on Thursday.
The police arrested a 41-year-old man who was suspected to have set the fire after spreading a liquid, according to news reports. The man was under treatment at a hospital.
Kyoto Animation is best known for producing shows and movies including “Full Metal Panic,” “K-On” and “Clannad,” among other works. It was founded by Yoko Hatta and her husband, Hideaki Hatta, in 1981, and most of the studio’s production takes place in the building that was the site of Thursday’s fire.
The blaze came less than two months after a man went on a stabbing rampage in a suburb outside Tokyo, attacking 17 schoolgirls, killing one of them as well as an adult. The rampage by the 51-year-old man cast attention to the phenomenon of Japan’s “hikikomori,” adults who are extreme recluses, and their psychological issues.
Footage of Thursday’s attack from a local TV station showed black smoke rippling out of windows of the three-story building, with one side of the building mostly charred black.
Citing the Kyoto police, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest mainstream dailies, reported that the suspect had entered the building screaming, “Die!” The newspaper reported that the suspect had tried to escape, but collapsed on the street outside and was captured by members of the studio’s staff.
The shows and movies that Kyoto Animation produces fall into the category of Japanese cartooning known as anime. It is a backbone of Japan’s popular culture and one of the country’s major soft-power exports. With roots going back to the early 20th century, anime has found an international following through artists like Hayao Miyazaki, whose animated feature “Spirited Away” won an Oscar in 2003, and Makoto Shinkai, whose movie “Your Name” was a global phenomenon, particularly in China.
On Twitter, Mr. Shinkai showed his support. “Everyone at Kyoto Animation, please please stay safe,” he said, in a message that was recirculated almost 19,000 times.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also expressed sympathy on Twitter for the victims of the fire.
“Today, we had many casualties in a fatal arson attack that happened in Kyoto,” Mr. Abe wrote. “It is so horrifying that I am at a loss for words. I’d like to express my deepest condolences to the victims. I offer my thoughts to those who have been wounded and pray for their recovery, by even one day.”
Witnesses who spoke to other Japanese news outlets described grim scenes near the studio. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, another large daily, a woman in her 60s living near the building said she saw a young woman, her entire body burned, screaming and running into a nearby shop begging for help.
The witness said the woman was bleeding, her clothing torn and her feet bare. “It took a long time until the ambulance arrived,” the witness told the Mainichi. “All I could do was to spray water over her under the fire department’s instruction. She was eventually transferred to an ambulance.”
Another witness who was working near the studio on Thursday when the fire broke out told the Sankei Shimbun that he saw flames coming from the first and second floor of the building and heard screaming. The unnamed witness said he saw a man hanging onto the wall outside the building, and another trying to escape from a first-floor window after breaking it.
If the authorities’ fears about the death toll are proven correct, the fire would be one of the worst in Japan’s recent history. In 2008, 16 people were killed when a video store burned down in Osaka. In 2001, 44 people died after a fire broke out at a crowded gambling club in Tokyo’s busiest entertainment district.