Time for some personal stuff (gasp):
1) My 13th wedding anniversary was this past Tuesday. Huzzah! There are people who don't make it a quarter of that length, from everything I've seen — there was a friend of the family who got married the other year and didn't even make it to 11 months, which made me wince.
2) The Four-Day Weekend is very, very close to being done for its first draft. I know I have been saying this for what seems like forever and five weeks, but the closer I get to the end, the more it turns into the literary incarnation Zeno's Paradox. Those of you who are on the early-bird reading list will get copies as soon as I have something complete and reasonably well-edited, possibly by early June but don't count on it.
I also want to have the website for that moved over and made public before then. The excerpts I published there have been totally rewritten; they're nothing like what's in the final story, so don't rely on them for a sense of what the end product will be like.
3) Trying out FF 3 release candidate in various environments. It runs beautifully; I just wish they'd update Flock to use 3. They're working on it, but that can't come fast enough.
4) Reviews of new Merzbow (Green Wheels), Gavin Bryars (The Sinking of the Titanic), Noise/Girl (Discopathology), and a bunch of other albums ought to be along when I can find the time to bang them out.
5) A-KON next week. Good grief, I'm so not ready.
I also did one of those "ten random song" things for someone else's blog, and this is what came up:
... This is, indeed, about as crazy as many of my playlists get.
When I lived in New York City, I was within walking distance of no less than two major Japanese bookstore chains, Asahiya and Kinokuniya. Stepping into either one of those stores was both exhilarating and depressing. I looked at all those labyrinthine shelves of books — manga and literature alike, a whole continent’s worth of popular culture churned out furiously over the course of decades — and realized I’d never read more than the tiniest fraction of it in my lifetime no thanks to the language barrier. It was like being told I would never in the whole of my lifetime travel more than ten miles from my hometown.
Then the manga explosion came, and now we seem to be on the verge of a similar explosion in the light-novel space as well. Vampire Hunter D, Dirty Pair, Guin Saga, and many other series are all showing up in good-to-outstanding English translations — and all of it is material I would never have staked any odds on them ever showing up on these shores. And now we can add Moribito to that list, the first in a cycle of ten novels and counting by Nahoko Uehashi, and it’s one I hope they give us the rest of the volumes for. Even if they don’t, I now feel like I have traveled that much further from home.Read more
I don’t think I’ve yet used the term “by the fans, for the fans” to describe anything I’ve reviewed here, but Maid Machinegun cries out for that label. It’s a novel set in one of the stranger corners of anime sub-sub-culture — the world of the maid café, where folks (typically male fans) can pay for the privilege of being catered to by compulsively sweet-natured hostesses in uniform.
If you read that last paragraph and perked right up at the idea of a comedic story set against a backdrop of frilly aprons and elegant china, you don’t need my recommendation. If, on the other hand, that sounds just plain weird to your ears — well, let’s be fair: is there any part of anime fandom, or any fandom at all, that doesn’t draw long, uncomprehending stares from the uninitiated?Read more
First, an admission of prejudice. I bought and read Orion back when it was in a much earlier trade paperback printing, and had many unkind things to say about it. It was, I claimed then, the embodiment of all Masamune Shirow’s worst tendencies writ large — the worst being how he substituted technological gobbledygook for storytelling, mostly to cover up the fact that he didn’t have much of a story. He had one heck of a setting, a crazy fusion of future technology and shamanistic magic, and Orion was almost worth it for that alone. Almost.
Time went by, and this week Dark Horse sent along a newly-remastered edition of Orion, with the art restored to its original right-to-left format along with a number of other cleanups. I didn’t want to just recycle my original impressions — a person’s opinions can change a great deal in several years — so I brewed coffee and sat down to take my time with it with it like I would any other book in my review pile. And while I still got hung up about all the things I disliked, I found almost as much to savor, and to recommend. Yes, there’s still reams of technological gobbledygook instead of a story, but I’ve grudgingly accepted that as part of Shirow’s overall style. I may not like it, but hey, it’s his. It’s sort of like Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue about cheeseburgers and foot massage: if you’ve already bought into his style of filmmaking, then that self-consciously arch dialogue is just par for the course.Read more
It wouldn't be a month without a set of Criterion releases, would it?
First and most controversial: their completely revised edition of Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, the movie that "burns a hole in the screen" (as one wag put it). The original Criterion version was pretty sad by current standards, and it was eventually pulled from the market due to a dispute over the licensing of the film. The new version will feature some intriguing documentary material, although I'd've liked to see Whoever Tells The Truth Shall Die as part of the bonuses. (One wonders if this will eventually be a Blu-ray release as well; a number of people on various forums have already started asking that question.)
On a completely opposing note, also look for Twenty-Four Eyes in August, Keisuke Kinoshita's adaptation of the novel of the same name, something I need to get around to talking about one of these days. The only previous editions of this on DVD have been from Hong Kong and have looked pretty weak, so I'm looking forward to a remaster. Also coming soon is Brand Upon the Brain!, a title I'm not immediately familiar with but which Ebert wrote about glowingly a while back, and a Powell / Pressburger title, The Small Back Room.
The official website and trailer for the U.S. edition of Vexille has gone online. I was pleased with the CGI Appleseed movie, so this promises to be worth it as well. Both DVD and Blu-ray versions are promised for later this year.
This last item revolves around a concept I've warmed up to over time myself, although I think it can be heavily misinterpreted: for instance, if the idea of the self is essentially a delusion, why do anything directed towards preserving that self, or any other selves? The answer is that just because any one of us individually might realize this, other people need to discover that realization in their own way — so in the interim, we need to act as if the "delusion" has weight, because it does. (An extreme parallel: Yes, we're all going to die, but that doesn't imply that our lives are worthless as a result of that.)
Had a splendid Mother's Day outing with both sides of the family. This may be the last time I see the in-laws for a bit, as they're headed off on a cruise (lucky them!), and my own folks are contemplating a visit to Ireland, where my brother lives. There's something to be said for living overseas if you're a travel buff, as it's tremendously easy to go and see what to us are "exotic" locales like Rome or Berlin. (A trip to Berlin, along with a tour of Japan, are both on my to-do list for the future.)
My copy of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit arrived — this is getting a major writeup over at AMN, as it's one of my most hotly-anticipated releases for the year. The book is actually a bit different from what I was expecting; I'll have more to say about that when the review hits.
Kakashi, or “Scarecrow”, is aptly named. He’s a scrawny little tyke with an unruly bush of pale hair, a ragged suit of clothes and a head stuffed full of dreams. One day he’s going to cut loose from his little seaside town and go around the world — fulfill all the fantasies that his father’s adventure diary touched off in him. The only problem is his total lack of a plan. A bicycle-driven propeller screw does not a seagoing vessel make, and Kakashi and his two (increasingly disgruntled) friends find this out the hard way.
Then Kakashi’s luck takes a turn, when a luxury airship — a rare and eye-popping spectacle — puts in to port at their town’s airfield. So desperate is Kakashi to see the world that he risks life and limb to stow away on board the airship in the cargo hold, where he quickly makes friends with another stowaway — a puppy. And in another part of the hold is yet another bunch of stowaways, the “Man Chicken Gang”, hijackers who ransack the passengers at gunpoint and toss them overboard into the ocean. (Well, they did give them life rafts…)Read more
The title should tell it. Criterion is preparing its first wave of Blu-ray releases for this coming October. Here's the list:
The Third Man
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Last Emperor
The 400 Blows
The Complete Monterey Pop
For All Mankind
The Wages of Fear
Last Emperor is almost certainly getting snapped up on this end, but I'm faintly startled that no Kurosawa made the list. I suspect they're going by what sells best. But my god, the fun has just begun, people.
Iron Man was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
A more coherent discussion of it will have to wait until I have a disc of the movie in hand, but
a) go see it now; it works beautifully on a big screen
b) Robert Downey, Jr., is only one part of a wonderfully-composed cast (Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow rounded out the chemistry)
c) the special effects, as spectacular as they are, are never less than completely convincing, which is really saying something these days.
As I told my friends, "I still can't find my butt. I think it was blown through the back wall of the theater."
The one-two punch of work and real life has left me without a great deal to talk about as of late, but here's some tidbits.
My last bit of foraging at Book-Off turned up a fun new manga: Batten, the adventures of Tsubaki Seijuro, a flamboyantly-dressed samurai who walks around in geisha getup and dispenses justice with both his sword and his mega-stacked platform geta. I don't expect to be seeing this in translation anytime soon, so if you know any Japanese at all you might be inclined to snap up a used copy and check it out if the material sounds like your sort of thing. (I'm a sucker for goofy period stories, so this was a natural.)
Vertical sent me a preview copy of the about-to-be-released paperback edition of Parasite Eve, inspiration for both the video game and the J-horror movie of the same name (available domestically thanks to ADV), although the game bears almost no resemblance to the story. I'll be posting a review of this sometime in the coming week.
A snippet from the Paper Cuts blog, from the perspective of two writers who have had to go into hiding or receive police protection when they came under fire — literally — for their work. One of them, as you can well imagine, was Salman Rushdie. When his fatwa was first handed down, a whole slew of writers showed their support in the book pages of the Times, with the best one being: "Death threats are some of the best reviews possible." I wish I could remember who said that.
Finally, I'm going to be seeing Iron Man this coming Tuesday. The buzz from everyone has been through the roof and up somewhere in geostationary orbit. Heck, my mother wants to see it, and she's about as far removed from being a comic-book fan as I am from being an Anatolian shepherd. (Wait — given that I'm of Anatolian descent, maybe that's not the best analogy...)
Dark Nocturne may be one of the best bargains in the whole of the Vampire Hunter D series so far: it’s three D adventures for the price of one. What’s most interesting is that any one of these novellas feels like it has at least as much detail and incident as any one of the previous full-length books in the series. It’s a hallmark of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s writing: he can make one sentence do the work of ten, and he has that economy of style and storytelling racked up to “11” through this whole volume. And, as always, it features those wonderful Yoshitaka Amano illustrations and cover designs.Read more
Masami Akita seems to have four major sources of inspiration for the work he releases under the name Merzbow: “scum culture” (his term for pornography, fetish/bondage material, horror/gore, etc.), pure abstraction, animal and nature rights (viz., F.I.D., Bloody Sea, Turmeric, etc.), and Japan’s own history and culture. The latter gets some of the least representation in his catalog, but for me it’s some of the most fascinating stuff. Yoshinotsune has been my stock best example of that, but Collapse 12 Floors sits nicely alongside it, especially since it refers to a piece of Japanese history that I have my own affinity for.
The big tipoff to what 12 is all about is the title of the third track: “Collapse 12 Floors, In Asakusa 1923”, a reference to the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Most of Tokyo was leveled in the quake, but one of the landmarks that was most affected was the fabled Asakusa Twelve-Story Tower or Asakusa Jūnikai Ryōnkaku. An octagonal, red-brick building with an incredible view and a somewhat cantankerous elevator, it was built in 1890 and designed by William K. Burton, a Scottish engineer who had also designed many of the water supply systems for Meiji-era (post-1868) Japanese cities. It rose high above the skyline and boasted numerous attractions on each of its floors. The quake caused the top three tiers of the tower to snap off, and just about every photographic catalog of the ’23 quake has an image of the hollowed wreck of the tower, the sky visible through its upper windows.Read more
One of the first Hong Kong movies I ever saw was a totally mad production named Savior of the Soul (co-written by none other than HK indie-film maverick Kar-Wai Wong). Any five minutes of that movie have more back-to-back action than most any Western film — at least until Western movies started catching up with productions like Crank and Shoot ‘Em Up. But hey, the HK moviemakers got their firstest with the mostest, and that stuff is still golden even after all these years.
From what I’ve seen of Chinese Hero so far, the HK comics scene has also featured the same kind of incredibly compressed, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink and-the-contents-of-the-fridge-too storytelling. There’s more going on in any one volume of Chinese Hero than there is in any three or four (or five, or ten) volumes of most other comics, and it’s all thrown at you with a gusto that’s irresistible.Read more