All posts for March 2008


Things To Do Dept.

In the next week or so I'm going to begin the next phase of the consolidation of all the disparate sites I've been managing. The individual book blogs are all going to get slurped up and redirected, along with the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/31 14:19

In the next week or so I'm going to begin the next phase of the consolidation of all the disparate sites I've been managing. The individual book blogs are all going to get slurped up and redirected, along with the comments attached to them, and the domain names I had pointing to them will be redirected properly. I'll also be putting back the ad block that used to exist in the sidebar, although I have to learn a little about how to design proper MT-compatible widgets before doing that.

A big advantage to doing this is that all the news I'll be posting about everything will show up here, on the front page; you won't have to dig through a bunch of different places to see what I'm up to. If things ramp up the way I hope, then that'll be crucially important.

And now some links:

  • Would you ask a judge to stop a science experiment on the grounds that it might cause the world to come to an end? Someone did -- but most anyone who's familiar with the experiment in question (which could tell us some extremely eye-opening things about our universe) is snickering. (Then again, they were justifiably worried that the H-bomb would set fire to the atmosphere, so maybe this isn't totally bunk...)
  • One of the men who made "The Killing Fields" a household name has died. The man who portrayed him in the movie of the same name was, amazingly, killed in Los Angeles 12 years ago by a gang member. "Lies written in ink will never hide truths written in blood." (Lu Xun)
  • JustTheDisc.com has changed their shopping cart system and search interface. It's now a lot harder to find stuff, and you can no longer "park" items indefinitely in the cart (which made for some amazing shopping lists). It was fun while it lasted, though, and I do plan to check in every now and then.

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Tags: Movable Type links music science


Books: Gunsmith Cats: Burst Vol. #3

Back in my review of the last Gunsmith Cats omnibus, I figured out what makes this series such a blast: the contrasts. The Cats stories take place in an action-movie universe of guns, cars, computers, bombs, babes, and dudes, where...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/30 22:13

Back in my review of the last Gunsmith Cats omnibus, I figured out what makes this series such a blast: the contrasts. The Cats stories take place in an action-movie universe of guns, cars, computers, bombs, babes, and dudes, where you’re likely to learn on one page how much torque you can squeeze out of a ’67 GT500—and then have that bit of technical fetishism followed up with a scene where a guy snatches a rocket-propelled grenade out of the air. Realistic? No, but since when has this been a problem?

The third Burst book kicks off with Rally Vincent replacing her beloved Shelby 500 GT (blown up in the last book) with a different but equally-appealing V8: a vintage Cobra, refitted to within an inch of her life and armored out to boot. In trueGunsmith Cats form, trouble manages to follow Rally even during a test drive: while out taking the Cobra for a spin, she runs afoul of a possible bounty and gives the Cobra a patented Rally shakedown: how well does it handle after someone’s put a few bullet holes in it?

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Tags: kenichi sonoda manga review


Books: Gunsmith Cats Revised Edition Vol. 4

If you read the fourth Gunsmith Cats anthology and complain that it’s “unrealistic” or “improbable”, my response to you will be to yank the book out of your hands, smack your pinkies with it (it’s heavy, be warned), and give...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/30 13:27

If you read the fourth Gunsmith Cats anthology and complain that it’s “unrealistic” or “improbable”, my response to you will be to yank the book out of your hands, smack your pinkies with it (it’s heavy, be warned), and give that volume along with its three predecessors to someone more deserving of its charms. Grousing about the laws of physics being broken in a Gunsmith Cats book is like complaining that McDonald’s French fries are too salty.

Actually, that’s one of the charming things aboutGunsmith Cats—Kenichi Sonoda spends such effort grounding the story in a nuts-and-bolts reality of cars, guns and machines that when he breaks the rules, it’s more like he’s just expanding on them. And yes, at the heart of it, a series this fundamentally over-the-top deserves to be read with a crooked smile on your face.

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Tags: kenichi sonoda manga review


Hither and Thither Dept.

A defamation suit against Kenzaburo Oe was thrown out of Japanese court, one originally leveled against Oe due to his assertion that the Japanese military was involved in the mass suicides of Okinawan civilians during WWII (something which had been...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/29 19:38

A defamation suit against Kenzaburo Oe was thrown out of Japanese court, one originally leveled against Oe due to his assertion that the Japanese military was involved in the mass suicides of Okinawan civilians during WWII (something which had been substantiated by investigation). The whole touchy subject of WWII in Japan has never been handled well, but it's gratifying to see progress whenever it happens.

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Tags: Japan links


Prize Find Dept.

I keep an Amazon wish list of books on Japan which I periodically browse to see whether or not given titles have shown up cheap (i.e., as ex-library copies, which are usually only a couple of bucks even with shipping). ...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/27 13:20

I keep an Amazon wish list of books on Japan which I periodically browse to see whether or not given titles have shown up cheap (i.e., as ex-library copies, which are usually only a couple of bucks even with shipping). Several titles I'd been curious about have turned up, which I'll be writing about here shortly:

  • The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa: A fairly atypical Yasunari Kawabata novel, from what I've read of his other books, and one which focuses on a time period in Japan that's rapidly becoming a fascination of mine: the Taisho era. (We most recently saw a manga-fied version of same in Nightmare Inspector.)
  • This Scheming World: Ihara Saikaku's cheerfully snide look at Edo-era commoners and their relationship with the almighty gold (and silver, and copper) coin.

There's more, but those are the big ones. Asakusa will probably merit a full-blown review, since it just showed up this morning and I've been itching to read it. (It is apparently a brand-new translation, only released in 2006 or so.)

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Tags: Japan books


J-Words Dept.

While updating some older movie-related entries I bumbled into a Wikipedia entry about the longest novels currently known, with the serial novel (Nakazato Kaizan's Daibosatsu Toge) that inspired Sword of Doom as one of the entries. 5.7 million Japanese characters is...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/24 14:52

While updating some older movie-related entries I bumbled into a Wikipedia entry about the longest novels currently known, with the serial novel (Nakazato Kaizan's Daibosatsu Toge) that inspired Sword of Doom as one of the entries. 5.7 million Japanese characters is a monster by any standards; the Japanese Amazon entry for the book lists it having a whopping 1,149 pages. One wonders if there's any chance at all of this ever showing up in English.

While we're dreaming, here's some others I'd like to see translated:

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Tags: Japan books links


Music: Transparent (Zos Kia / Coil)

This is, strictly speaking, the first Coil album in name—but it’s probably not the first Coil album to start with, if only because you won’t have much of an introduction to Coil through it. Come to think of it, anyone...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/23 21:13

This is, strictly speaking, the first Coil album in name—but it’s probably not the first Coil album to start with, if only because you won’t have much of an introduction to Coil through it. Come to think of it, anyone who’s followed Coil for more than a couple of albums would know that they were not so much defined by a signature sound as the fact that they were constantly and restlessly trying out new sounds like snakes shedding skins. This was merely one of many, many dissimilar phases they went through.

That said, it’s mainly of interest to people who are a) already Coil fans and are curious about what they were mucking around with when they had freshly adopted the Coil moniker or b) compulsively collecting every bit of TG / Test Dept. / Le Syndicat / Merzbow-inspired sludge that surfaced during the Eighties. The album itself is split between Zos Kia (a band which for a time included John Balance of Coil) and Coil itself, with the latter supplying the occasional bit of material and inspiration for the former. Most of the material is low-fi, improvised performance-art-style audience-clobbering, again arguably no better (or worse) than any of the other such material released at the time. It probably had more of an effect live; too much of it is simply monolithic and self-indulgent when presented on a recording.

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Tags: Coil


Books: Yoshitaka Amano: The Art of Vampire Hunter D

Beautiful, period.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/23 18:00

Back at the end of last year a friend of mine bought me Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D, a massive collection of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations for Hideyuki Kikuchi’s long-running novel series.I’m not using the word “massive” figuratively here: the book is bigenough to cover most of my desk, and could probably stop a .22 whensheathed in its slipcase. Since I’m a massive fan of all threetopics—D, Kikuchi and Amano—this was about as perfect a gift as I couldask for. It’s now enshrined in the little permanent collection ofartbooks, about three feet to the right of me where I sit typing this.

Yoshitaka Amano: The Collected Art of Vampire Hunter D isprobably going to get filed right next to it. It’s not as physicallyimposing a volume—it’s roughly trade paperback size—but it runs to justsouth of four hundred pages, and more than makes up in scope what itdoesn’t have in dimensions. It’s a gorgeous survey of the remarkablebody of artwork that’s been created for this franchise—one which we’reonly just now beginning to see here in English-speaking territories.Granted, Amano’s artbooks have been long available before as imports—Ihad a few of them myself at one point, but stupidly let them go whenmoney got tight; what was I thinking?—but a whole surfeit ofthem have been showing up as domestic pressings. And now everyone whodidn’t haunt bookstores like Kinokuniya or Sasuga can find out what allthe screaming has been about.

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Tags: review


Paper Dept.

From the NY Times Paper Cuts blog, a piece about bookshelf etiquette. If I buy something and read it and realize I've finished with it, it goes into a shelf that's reserved for giveaways. I've donated sizable chunks of my...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/23 13:04

From the NY Times Paper Cuts blog, a piece about bookshelf etiquette.

If I buy something and read it and realize I've finished with it, it goes into a shelf that's reserved for giveaways. I've donated sizable chunks of my book collection to people a lot more starved for reading matter than I ever will be -- like a friend of mine who lost most of his books when an upstairs apartment in his building flooded and drowned a good deal of his collection.

Also, the Brooklyn Museum is having an exhibition of Japanese woodcut prints!

Last but definitely not least: I forgot to post something about Arthur C. Clarke's passing, but that's only because so much of what I wanted to say has been said better by so many other people. The one comment I could come up with was, "Sir Arthur now knows the Nine Billion Names of God."

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Tags: Japan books links science


East Is East Dept.

A piece about Asia Week in New York, courtesy of the Times. Memo to self: win lottery, move back into NYC at first convenience....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/21 16:05

A piece about Asia Week in New York, courtesy of the Times.

Memo to self: win lottery, move back into NYC at first convenience.

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Tags: China Japan Korea links


Books: The Dirty Pair Strike Again

Kei and Yuri are back, and it's STILL not their fault.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/20 20:45

Comedy’s hard to get right. Science fiction as comedy is no less difficult, either—but when done properly, it’s also a hoot.

The Dirty Pair Strike Again is a mix of pulp SF tropes, slam-bang action, and broad comedy, in about equal proportions. Yes, it’s about as deep as a pie plate and as intellectually nutritious as an afternoon of A-Team reruns, but it’s darn funny, and with me funny goes a long way.

If the name Dirty Pair rings bells, it should. Haruka Takachiho’s novel was the basis for the animated TV series, OVAs, theatrical film, and English-language comic series (courtesy of Studio Proteus). This is actually the second book in the series—I’ll most likely double back to look at the first one—but from what I can tell you scarcely need to have read the first one to get up to speed.

The heroines, Kei and Yuri, may call themselves the “Lovely Angels” after their signature spaceship—but their superiors on the Worlds Welfare Work Association (and their hapless victims, er, clients) have another name for them: the Dirty Pair. If the other troubleshooters on the WWWA’s staff are surgical instruments, these two are a wrecking ball. On their last mission, they torched the bad guys—and the good guys, and everyone else who just happened to be lying around in the vicinity. But hey, omelet, broken eggs, you know the drill.

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Tags: review


Dreaming On Dept.

Like a lot of other movie/comics/anime fans, I sit around with friends and muse about the possibility of this or that show or book being made into a live-action movie. Here's a quick updated run-down of my current wish list...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/20 00:22

Like a lot of other movie/comics/anime fans, I sit around with friends and muse about the possibility of this or that show or book being made into a live-action movie. Here's a quick updated run-down of my current wish list in that category, with discussion. (There may be some repetition with an earlier post, but I have new material to go with it.)

  • The Guin Saga. The fact that this hasn't been made into a live-action movie is nothing short of mind-boggling. In today's post-300 digital-backlot world, why not?
  • Vampire Hunter D. The animated features that were made from the books were just the tip of the iceberg: a live-action feature along the lines of the visual aesthetic that Tim Burton put together in Sleepy Hollow, for instance, would be magnificent.
  • Claymore. Not exactly a household name, but a fairly easy story to adapt for the screen: the setting is rather generically European and so wouldn't require a lot of effort to be made coherent to Western audiences.
  • Berserk. Probably impossible to pull off: R-rated at best, fourteen hours runtime at least, would cost $400 million and would never make back a dime of it. Doesn't stop me from dreaming, though.
  • The Songs of Distant Earth. Arthur C. Clarke's novel was to have become a movie as well at one point, although the deal for that fell through -- but with today's technology it would not only be feasible but probably not terribly expensive at all.
  • The Divine Invasion or The Man in the High Castle. The former is probably one of Philip K. Dick's most difficult-to-film stories, but if tackled right it could be absolutely transcendent. The latter is about 90% filmable, but how you tackle that last 10% will make all the difference in the world.
  • More Than Human. Probably one of my favorite SF novels of all time. This could be done for very little money, but would require a literate and thoughtful director to pull it off; my vote goes for Alfonso Cuarón.
  • Alan Mendelson, The Boy From Mars. Another favorite of mine as a kid, and it still is a favorite of mine as an adult. (I have a weird idea: Rob Zombie as Clarence Yojimbo.)

Another pet project of mine would be a movie biopic of John Coltrane -- how about Denzel Washington in the main role? (They've already tapped Don Cheadle for Miles Davis, though...)

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Tags: movies pipedream


External Movie Reviews: Blood+: Volume #1

First season of the intriguing expansion of the eye-filling Production I.G short film.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/18 16:24

Saya Otonashi ought to be just another teenage girl in school exceptthat she remembers nothing of her life before the last year or so. Allshe’s sure of is her family: her adoptive Vietnam-veteran father,George, and her two brothers, Kai and Riku. They live in Okinawa, notfar from an American airbase, where the jets and bombers screamoverhead and a mysterious long-haired man in the park plays the celloin a way that seems hauntingly familiar.

“Who am I?” Saya asksherself, and it isn’t long before she gets the first and most brutalclues towards answering that mystery. One night she sneaks back intoschool to retrieve a pair of shoes and is assaulted by a“chiropteran”—a monster that once was human, and now feeds on the bloodof humans to survive. She’s almost mauled to death by the creature, butthen the cello-player shows up, infuses Saya with his blood to reviveher, and gives her a sword. When infused with her blood, she can use itto kill these creatures … and kill she does, much to her own shock anddismay.

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Tags: anime review


Hither and Thither Dept.

Fascinating article in the Times about how some art from Disney ended up in a janitorial closet in a university in Japan. A long, strange trip indeed. A new box set that culls together 13 hours of shorts from...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/18 09:57
  • Fascinating article in the Times about how some art from Disney ended up in a janitorial closet in a university in Japan. A long, strange trip indeed.
  • A new box set that culls together 13 hours of shorts from the pioneering director Georges Méliès has just hit. This sounds like something to put into any film school library, to be sure, but I'm inclined to rent one disc every could of weeks and work through the whole oeuvre.
  • Disney/BV announced Lion/Witch/Wardrobe for Blu-ray -- but in classic "double-dip" style, it isn't the extended version, just the bog-standard theatrical version. Thanks, guys. Way to make a bunch of people cancel their orders in disgust. (And if history is any guide, an extended cut on BD will not be forthcoming because of "lack of sales".)

AND LOOK WHAT CRITERION JUST DRAGGED IN!

  • Yukio Mishima's long-believed-to-be-lost short film Patriotism (from his short story, also known as The Rite of Love and Death) is getting its own Criterion release. It's coming out independently of Criterion's release of ...
  • ... Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (I'll be reposting my review of that at some point), which will be a 2-disc set with tons of urgently-needed extras; the original Warner Brothers disc was not bad, but was rather bare.
  • Claude Sautet's Classe Tous Risques is coming out as spine #434.
  • Anthony Mann's The Furies. Two words: Barbara Stanwyck.
  • From the Republic of Macedonia, 1994: Before the Rain. Rade Šerbedžija (Snatch) also stars.

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Tags: Criterion links movies


Irregularly Expressed Dept.

One of the "fun" things I did with Movable Type (note the sarcasm quotes) was create some special URL handlers. F'rinstance, if I want to link directly to an Amazon product, I just have to create a URL that points...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/17 14:40

One of the "fun" things I did with Movable Type (note the sarcasm quotes) was create some special URL handlers. F'rinstance, if I want to link directly to an Amazon product, I just have to create a URL that points to amazon:xxxxxx (the XXX being the product ID), and a regex will transform the output when the post is published. Ditto Google searches, Amazon products with images, references to Discogs.com, and so on.

Getting this to actually work was frustrating beyond belief.

The biggest problem with regular expressions is, as someone else once put it, they're a way of solving one problem by replacing it with another, even bigger one. Regex syntax makes Perl look like a model of beauty and syntactical elegance in comparison. Worse, you may be at the mercy of whatever local variants of regex you're being forced to work with, so something that looks like it might work in System X doesn't in fact work in System Y. And so on.

That said, I think I've climbed over most of the worst hurdles by this point. The next step is to see how I can integrate the ideas I have more elegantly into MT so there aren't massive performance hits incurred by what I'm doing.

On the whole, I'm happy with having moved to MT4 and made the decision to re-architect everything. I am, however, discovering certain limitations to the system that I'm going to have to engineer around. Template hacking is not my favorite hobby in the world, and I hate the idea of hacking the system to do something only to find that one or two revisions down the line, they've created a native way to do it -- which in my mind means I have to undo my work and do it their way to avoid future compatibility / performance issues.

Example: What would be the best way to create a block of text that appears at the top of a category index? A "pinned post"? Direct editing of the template? (My instincts tell me the best thing to do would be to create a post with certain attributes and then create some kind of exception in the template that allows it to bubble to the top and have its date information suppressed -- so I've done that to see how it holds up.)

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Tags: Movable Type


J-Library 2 Dept.

Some more stuff from the Japan-studies bookshelf for your perusal... The Nobility of Failure, Ivan Morris: I've mentioned this book many times before, and it would be a huge mistake for me to omit mention of it in one of...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/16 16:55

Some more stuff from the Japan-studies bookshelf for your perusal...

  • The Nobility of Failure, Ivan Morris: I've mentioned this book many times before, and it would be a huge mistake for me to omit mention of it in one of these "bookshelf" posts. Morris's study of heroic failures throughout Japan's history is a classic of its kind: it tells you as much about how the Japanese see themselves reflected in their heroes (and vice versa) as it provides biographical overviews of figures that are sometimes emphasized in Japanese history precisely because of their psychological, rather than historical, importance. The book is out of print and copies are not easy to come by at decent prices; I'm hoping this is one of the many titles on Japan that can be brought back through the magic of print-on-demand or similar technologies.
  • Feudalism in Japan, Peter Duus: A very good, concise overview of the history of the feudal governments in Japanese history; it's only about 120 pages including endnotes, so it's a fine way to get a bird's-eye survey of the topic without dropping tons of money. (Note that there are multiple editions of this book available; I have just linked to the most recent one.)
  • Legends of the Samurai, Hiroaki Sato: A very readable and accessible (even for the layperson) cache of samurai tales, as translated from contemporaneous sources with commentary. I picked up my copy while on my way through an airport, believe it or not, and I devoured the whole thing on the plane shortly afterwards.
  • Sources of Japanese Tradition: A multi-volume set that mines historical documents to explain Japanese tradition in context. There's relatively minimal editorializing; the compilers have done their best to let the documents speak for themselves. This is one of the more advanced books to have on your shelf since it presupposes familiarity with the history in question, but it provides a perspective that I haven't been able to match through just about anything else in my library.

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Tags: Japan books library


Mon Mon Dept.

A fantastic site that has .EPS versions of just about every Japanese clan crest, or kamon. I have a Dover paperback that has a catalog of them as well, but having them in this form is just about indispensable. (I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/15 14:05

A fantastic site that has .EPS versions of just about every Japanese clan crest, or kamon. I have a Dover paperback that has a catalog of them as well, but having them in this form is just about indispensable. (I used the Genji clan crest as above, since it's my favorite of the bunch and also reflects my fascination with all things Genji.)

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Tags: Japan art links


Books: The Wallflower (Yamatonadeshiko Shichihenge) Vol. #14

It actually doesn’t take a lot to make me laugh. Give me a comic with a funny premise, and chances are I’ll be doubled over in my seat. A manga with a funny premise is only half the story, though—you...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/15 12:07

It actually doesn’t take a lot to make me laugh. Give me a comic with a funny premise, and chances are I’ll be doubled over in my seat. A manga with a funny premise is only half the story, though—you have to actually follow through on the setup.

The genius of The Wallflower, judging from the last three of its fourteen or so volumes, is that it starts with a good premise and follows through on it mercilessly. The setup is just the beginning; the payoffs are riotous.

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Tags: manga review


Eye of the Beholder Dept.

Now I have a reason to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art sooner rather than later: a spectacular exhibition of Chinese scroll paintings. The exhibition runs through August 10, which gives me plenty of time to check it out...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/14 14:59

Now I have a reason to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art sooner rather than later: a spectacular exhibition of Chinese scroll paintings.

The exhibition runs through August 10, which gives me plenty of time to check it out in the company of a certain very good friend that I know will enjoy this.

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Tags: China art links


The Blu Knight Dept.

Batman Begins has just been announced for Blu-ray. There's an Amazon SKU for it already, too, so you can sign up to get notification for when it's officially solicited. The word is it'll drop around July or so, when the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/14 13:36

Batman Begins has just been announced for Blu-ray. There's an Amazon SKU for it already, too, so you can sign up to get notification for when it's officially solicited. The word is it'll drop around July or so, when the next movie also hits theaters.

...yes, I'm excited.

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Tags: movies


Paterson's Way Dept.

Now that Spitzer is stepping down as governor of New York, attention has turned to his replacement -- Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind. His perspectives on his own situation are well worth reading. I'm close to more...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/13 20:56

Now that Spitzer is stepping down as governor of New York, attention has turned to his replacement -- Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind. His perspectives on his own situation are well worth reading.

I'm close to more than a couple of people who are equally impaired, if not flat-out blind. All of them, in my experience, have been adamant about having a life that is as close to one that any of the "rest" of us have been living -- and for the most part, they get it, although there are times when things break down. How they deal with those situations is, as they say, the other 90%.

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Tags: links


No Country For Old Wars Dept.

"The Spoils of War in Peaceable Sweden" deals with a show at the Swedish Royal Armory (in Stockholm) called "War Booty": Speaking of northern Europe, Roger Ebert has a look at Ordet, a Danish Great Movie from a ways...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/11 12:39
  • Speaking of northern Europe, Roger Ebert has a look at Ordet, a Danish Great Movie from a ways back courtesy of Carl Theodore Dreyer -- simultaneously one of the best and least prolific movie directors on record. (Also fun is his look back at Melvin and Howard, a movie I also feel a great affection for while knowing that the story it's based on is probably hokum.)
  • No Country for Old Men hits DVD and Blu-ray today; I'll be checking it out before too much longer.
  • William Basinski's Disintegration Loops albums (I, II, III, and IV) are now available at the Amazon.com MP3 store as DRM-free downloads. I ought to review these at some point as I've been wanting to get my hands on them for a while now.

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Tags: Amazon.com links movies mp3 music


External Movie Reviews: Blood +: Part One

Blood+ is, of course, the TV series that expands on the universe and characters established by Production I.G’s short film Blood: The Last Vampire. The TV show also comes to us courtesy of Production I.G, and while it’s not quite...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/10 22:49

Blood+ is, of course, the TV series that expands on the universe and characters established by Production I.G’s short film Blood: The Last Vampire. The TV show also comes to us courtesy of Production I.G, and while it’s not quite as visually striking as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex,it’s still well worth the time and investment. It also does two thingsthat the original movie did not do, and it does both of them well: itmakes the former (anti?) heroine Saya into a rounded and sympatheticcharacter, and it expands vastly on the universe created for her.

Ifyou have only seen the movie so far, the show will come as a strikingchange of tone: it’s nowhere nearly as compulsively dark as themovie. But that also means the characters are better delineated andmore approachable—especially the new Saya. I found myself liking thisiteration of her a little better than the movie version, if onlybecause the show sees her as vulnerable and confused rather than just asullen death merchant.

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Tags: Production I.G review


J-Library Dept.

One of the shelves I keep next to the desk is my quick-reference library for all things Japanese -- which is proving itself more and more useful over time, especially with the research I've been doing for the hero story...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/09 21:57

One of the shelves I keep next to the desk is my quick-reference library for all things Japanese -- which is proving itself more and more useful over time, especially with the research I've been doing for the hero story and whatnot. Here's a quick rundown of some of the most immediately useful books:

  • Everyday Life in Traditional Japan, Charles Dunn: This is the best quick-and-dirty, all-in-one reference to the ways of life in Japan before the modern era (essentially, everything from the civil wars to about the before the Meiji years). It helps you answer quick questions, like what the months of the rice-planting season were or how many meals people date in the course of a day. The emphasis here is on factual information and not history as such, with each chapter handling a different sector of life ("The Samurai", "The Farmers", "The Merchants", etc.). This was probably one of the first books I bought for my own research on Japan and I've worn out two copies. Start your crash course here.
  • Japan: A Short Cultural History, G.B. Sansom: Sansom's overview of Japanese history eschews a names-and-dates approach and goes instead for looking at the evolution of Japan through its cultural expressions. It's a hugely absorbing read, one of the best ways to get a flavor for the sweep of the country's history without having to plow through a timeline.
  • A History of Japan [3 vols.], G.B. Sansom: If you want an even more detailed approach to Japan's history, this three-volume set from Tuttle (in paperback with a handy slipcase) is the really scrutinous version. Great for zooming in on a particular detail you might be curious about after you've already had the thirty-thousand foot view. The three volumes are also available individually.
  • The World Turned Upside Down, Pierre Souyri: Another very good study of medieval Japanese society that runs up to the Sengoku period. Shorter than Short Cultural History, but with a flavor of its own.
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan has proved really useful for quick lookups and other "hasty facts" work. It could really use an updating, though (it's been over 10 years since it was published).
  • One set I don't have, but would eventually like to pick up is the six-volume Cambridge History of Japan, which is probably the most ambitious and fully-realized work of its kind. And deadly expensive to boot, but that's what a savings account is for.

This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, but these are the books I've gotten more out of than most any other, at least so far. I'll post more lists on specific topics as time goes by.

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Tags: Japan books library


Books: Nightmare Inspector Vol. #1

Japan’s Taishō era, so named for its emperor then, lasted from 1910 to 1925—a time obsessed with death and downfall. Suicide pacts, madness, and perversity filled the popular culture of the era, as documented in places like Edogawa Rampo’s mystery...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/09 12:29

Japan’s Taishō era, so named for its emperor then, lasted from 1910 to 1925—a time obsessed with death and downfall. Suicide pacts, madness, and perversity filled the popular culture of the era, as documented in places like Edogawa Rampo’s mystery novels, and real-life disasters like the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 only further hammered home the darkness of the age. The era also sported a distinct and lush visual aesthetic all its own, and modern-day cultural cultivations like Lolita-Goth and visual kei arguably have their roots in the Taishō-era look (and its decadence) as well. It’s one of the most criminally underused periods in manga and anime, if only because it bursts with endless visual tropes and thematic undercurrents that fairly cry out to be put to use.

You now know one of the biggest reasons I was immediately enthralled by Nightmare Inspector: the atmosphere. It’s set in a gorgeously manga-fied Taishō-era Tokyo, where streetcars rattle dismally up and down the steamy avenues, mercury-vapor lamps barely cut through the haze and street signs and movie posters are all written in the same elegantly spidery script. In a rundown, out-of-the-way teahouse, an improbably handsome young man named Hiruko holds court, with only the maidservant as his occasional company. Hiruko is a baku, a “dream-eater” in human form, and those who come to him for aid are plagued by nightmares that only he can dispel. He can do away with the nightmares, but at a cost … and typically that cost is the torment of having to relive the nightmare and discover its true, often soul-jarring meaning.

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Tags: Japan Taishō / Showa manga review


Sokoban Dept.

You've probably noticed a lot of stuff getting shoved around and appearing and disappearing and whatnot. That's going to continue happening for quite a while. A lot of the legacy data that I migrated into the new instance of MT...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/08 22:32

You've probably noticed a lot of stuff getting shoved around and appearing and disappearing and whatnot. That's going to continue happening for quite a while. A lot of the legacy data that I migrated into the new instance of MT is in terrible shape -- I don't know what the heck I was doing when I first started putting everything together, but it's horrendously inconsistent. The DVD review stuff is in the worst condition, so I'll probably not bother migrating most of it back in any time soon -- I'm more interested in getting the writing-work sections of the site booted up and migrating all the stuff from the other writing blogs into those areas.

One thing I do plan to do is migrate back in the DVD reviews that point to AMN, since those are in the best shape and can be added back in with relatively little pain. Plus, I need to update them anyway -- I published a bunch of things that slipped past me when I was still setting things up -- so that will probably be a priority in the coming week. All the old directory names (mainly Summerworld) should still work, at least provisionally, until I can get more elegant directory structures in place.

I'm just really glad I'm not trying to do any of this with FrontPage (shudder). I would probably have thrown myself, and my computer, out a window ages ago.

OK, some other stuff:

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Tags: links upgrades


RareBay Dept.

A rarely-seen copy of Toru Takemitsu's complete 2-disc score for Kurosawa's Ran is up on eBay (follow the image link). I've got plans to eventually snap up a copy ... when I'm not between paychecks....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/07 17:42

A rarely-seen copy of Toru Takemitsu's complete 2-disc score for Kurosawa's Ran is up on eBay (follow the image link). I've got plans to eventually snap up a copy ... when I'm not between paychecks.

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Tags: Akira Kurosawa Japan Toru Takemitsu eBay music soundtracks


Books: Yagyū Ninja Scrolls, The: Revenge of the Hori Clan Vol. #2

Always a good feeling, to open the second volume of a series and see that it’s leaps and bounds above the first volume. And I wanted that to be the case with The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: it’s based on a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/07 15:04

Always a good feeling, to open the second volume of a series and see that it’s leaps and bounds above the first volume. And I wanted that to be the case with The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: it’s based on a novel by a criminally-undertranslated Japanese author, Fûtaro Yamada, who’s probably more responsible for the modern pop-culture mythology of the ninja than any other literary party. The first volume, though, was terribly slow to get off the ground, and reveled in a kind of fetishistic ugliness that made it really hard to enjoy. It was all set-up, and not much pay-off.

The second volume, however, leaps from set-up to pay-off in a major way. The seven women of the Hori clan now have Yagyū Jūbei as their mentor in vengeance against the sinister Seven Spears of the Aizu—but there’s only so much he can do. He’s determined to find a way to let the women take revenge with their own hands, to serve as an instructor and trainer, but not as a proxy. This will not be easy, especially since the women are not fighters by nature. (One side effect of the training and the subsequent missions is how the women subsequently differentiate themselves and stand out all the more ascharacters, not simply visual elements.)

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Tags: Fūtaro Yamada Japan manga review


Books: MW (Osamu Tezuka)

The other day I was trying to describe to someone how both prolific and talented Osamu Tezuka was, and for lack of any better way to express it I said, “He left behind masterpieces as freely as a tree gave...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/06 15:30

The other day I was trying to describe to someone how both prolific and talented Osamu Tezuka was, and for lack of any better way to express it I said, “He left behind masterpieces as freely as a tree gave fruit.”

There would be no manga as we know it without Tezuka. The more of his work I read as it slowly appears in English-language editions, the more I’m convinced of this. It’s not just because of the visual style he developed—which in turn was inspired by Walt Disney’s designs—but because he produced a body of work that dwarfed almost anything else seen before or since, that almost everything he put his name to was at least good and often outstanding, and because he labored tirelessly to expand the envelope for what manga was about, what it could do and what it could encompass.

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Tags: Japan Osamu Tezuka Vertical Inc. manga


Ketchup Dept.

Busy week on this end, but time for some tomato sauce: A piece in today's Times about a variety of solar power that doesn't use photovoltaics, but instead heating a vessel to generate steam via a mirror array. I've seen...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/06 14:20

Busy week on this end, but time for some tomato sauce:

  • A piece in today's Times about a variety of solar power that doesn't use photovoltaics, but instead heating a vessel to generate steam via a mirror array. I've seen this system in use before, although I wasn't aware it produced better overage than an array of traditional panels.
  • Tartan USA has some new Blu-ray announcements, apart from Oldboy: A Tale of Two Sisters (which I was not a fan of, sadly), Lady Vengeance (YES), and Chan-wook Park's as-yet-unreleased I'm A Cyborg But That's OK, which from what I've heard sounds like a dud to me but I'm going to check it out regardless.
  • Ebert has a fine piece on the Russian film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, now on DVD.
  • Amazing bits of animation that use movie dialogue and typography. [NSFW]
  • Watchmen main actors now have a great set of images.
  • One of my favorite and perennially-underrated SF movies of all time, The Quiet Earth, is getting a re-release domestically.

More when I steal it, as always.

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Tags: comedy gold links movies


Don't Run, We Are Your Friends Dept.

I've followed news reports in the past about the underground railroad that exists in North Korea to aid escape to China or other countries. If you want to ride that particular railroad, you'll need money or some other way to...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/05 14:50

I've followed news reports in the past about the underground railroad that exists in North Korea to aid escape to China or other countries. If you want to ride that particular railroad, you'll need money or some other way to bribe your way out -- and there's always the chance that you'll get caught.

Any government that refuses to allow its citizens freedom of egress, on pain of a bullet in the back of the head, is clearly worried about something.

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Tags: China Korea


...

R.I.P Gary Gygax. I don't think I would have met a good chunk of my friends if it weren't for what he's given all of us....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/04 21:31
R.I.P Gary Gygax.I don't think I would have met a good chunk of my friends if it weren't for what he's given all of us.

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Boondoggled Dept.

In a blind test, which do you think sounds better: audiophile cable, or coat hangers?The answers may surprise you....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/03 22:29
In a blind test, which do you think sounds better: audiophile cable, or coat hangers?

The answers may surprise you.

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Tags: comedy gold


What You Know Dept.

There was discussion elsewhere about the whole "write what you know" debate, and about how that relates to things like fantasy and SF. Someone I know is taking a writing course, and the teacher appears to be discouraging the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/03 13:50

There was discussion elsewhere about the whole "write what you know" debate, and about how that relates to things like fantasy and SF. Someone I know is taking a writing course, and the teacher appears to be discouraging the students from writing SF/fantasy on the grounds that it would be better to start with something closer to home. (I'm paraphrasing a bit but that's the essence of the discussion.)

I and a few other people were of the feeling that if there's one thing that you're going to know well, it's a world you've created yourself. Of course, I can see the devil's-advocate site of this argument: just because you've created a world doesn't mean it's automatically going to be infused with the kind of insight and observation that one gleans from real life -- and which makes any story all the more interesting and absorbing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed to try, though.

More devil's advocacy: I've seen more than a few examples of people who dove into the deep end of the fantasy or SF pool quite early on, without quite knowing how they were going to swim. In one of the round-table workshops I participated in, I had at least one young and enthusiastic writer who would present this whole massive family history and geopolitical analysis of their imagined far-off land, but wouldn't have a character for all of this to happen to. That in turn requires the writer to have some idea of what people are like and why they do things. You can see where this is going.

In short, I think I see why some insistence on sticking close to established reality, at least at first, wouldn't be a bad idea. But if the writer wants to stick their neck that far out to begin with, why not let them try (and learn something from the experience)? You could do lots worse.

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Tags: writing


Music: Peter Gabriel ("Melt") (Peter Gabriel)

I have no other record in my current collection apart from Peter Gabriel’s third album (“Melt”) that can drive me right to tears no matter what the circumstances. The 1982 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide described this album...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/03/03 10:57

I have no other record in my current collection apart from Peter Gabriel’s third album (“Melt”) that can drive me right to tears no matter what the circumstances. The 1982 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide described this album as “songs of stark horror” wherein Gabriel “despaired the very modernity that makes his music possible.” Stark and despairing is too right. Melt Gabriel’s face completely off the cover (it’s already half-melted) and what you have is a black hole, albeit one where you are serenaded by the sympathetic Gabriel as you fall in headfirst. If Gabriel had been using his new-familiar two-letter album naming convention this far back, he might have just called this album No and left it at that.

The negation is all there on the surface, right in the song titles: “No Self-Control”, “I Don’t Remember”, “Not One of Us”. The bad vibes starts immediately with “Intruder”, whose booming opening drumbeats bring to mind the amplified footsteps of a monster in the house and lead into a story about an outsider who must invade or violate to feel fully alive. He’s inspired by isolation—that is, isolating another for the sake of doing his dirty work—and only someone who is himself hopelessly isolated could cherish such things. Alone in a crowd, alone in a spotlight, alone against all, despite (and maybe because of) the fact that there are billions of us jammed together on one planet, fuels just about every song on the record.

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Criterionator Dept.

...how could I let this slip past me? New from Criterion: The Lovers: Louis Malle's 1958 production, with Jeanne Moreau (of his previous Elevator to the Gallows, with a score by Miles Davis). The Fire Within: Malle's 1963 release...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/02/29 19:51

...how could I let this slip past me?

New from Criterion:

  • The Lovers: Louis Malle's 1958 production, with Jeanne Moreau (of his previous Elevator to the Gallows, with a score by Miles Davis).
  • The Fire Within: Malle's 1963 release starring Maurice Ronet, from Pierre Drieu la Rochelle's novel.
  • The Thief of Bagdad: I've been waiting for a decent DVD of this movie since the inception of the format, and now it looks like we're getting the 2-disc blowout set that Criterion ought to deliver for it. I can't wait.

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Tags: Criterion movies


Genji Press

Science fiction, rebooted.

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