Posts for October 2008


Shop 'Til You Drop Dept.

I’ve set things up so that whenever I review something which I have spare copies of on hand, you'll see a PayPal "buy now" button on the page for that item. I've started doing this because I've noticed that some...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/31 18:16

I’ve set things up so that whenever I review something which I have spare copies of on hand, you'll see a PayPal "buy now" button on the page for that item. I've started doing this because I've noticed that some of the things I've reviewed have been extremely rare, and people often ask "Where do I get one of those?" when I just so happen to have a spare copy.

Check out Tokyo Flashback 2: P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler and Rays of Beauty (C.M. von Hausswolff) for examples of how this is being implemented. I’ll eventually have a way to browse all of the items for sale on a single page, too.

Read more


Tags: music


Those Of Us Who Only Say They Know How To Write Really Annoy Those Of Us Who Actually Do Dept.

A friend of mine with no particular writerly ambitions of his own (but with good tastes in reading) popped me a question the other day: If the point of something like NaNoWriMo is to give you a boot in the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/30 23:30

A friend of mine with no particular writerly ambitions of his own (but with good tastes in reading) popped me a question the other day: If the point of something like NaNoWriMo is to give you a boot in the rear and get you writing through a combination of peer pressure, mutual support and a hard deadline—why do it if you’re already a “professional”, or already in the habit of writing and finishing long-form work? Why the gimmickry?

Answer: Because sometimes the gimmickry isn’t gimmickry. Sometimes it is the only way to get from where you are (would-be “writer”) to where you need to be (honest-to-God writer).

Saying all that reminded me of something. A couple of years back, I came across a truly mean-spirited anti-NaNo post linked to by the Paper Cuts blog at the New York Times. The sum total of the opinion expressed was: a) Most writing sucks anyway, so b) why are you adding that much more drivel to the crapflood that we already have?

Said I, “…Oh.”

I am not about to debate the first point. Most writing is not particularly good, for the same reason most things are not particularly good; thank you, Mr. Sturgeon. But the second point is impossible to take seriously as anything but pure spleneticism. Maybe it is the kind of motivational mean-spiritedness that Zen masters used to screen prospective acolytes—the better to see to see which of his potential hot-in-the-biscuit disciples has both the fire in his belly and the patience in his heart to follow through.

It sounds great as long as you don’t actually think about it. Confront all who come to you with a piece of writing that they just plain suck, and all the dabblers and the fakers and the people who really shouldn’t be there will fall away naturally … and leave behind only the true, the talented, the devoted and the brilliant. That’s like saying if you shoot ten thousand people in the back of the head and one of them survives, you’ve found a way to learn who out there has a bulletproof brainpan.

Leaving aside the elitism of this POV, you know what this sounds like? A protection racket. A way to scare off potential competition, because if there’s one thing I know about writers, they’re horrendously insecure people—at least as insecure as actors and singers, if not more so, because they don’t have as many johnny-on-the-spot opportunities to win approval from peers and audiences. I imagine that there are plenty of them who agree with the above outline, if only because it means that much less competition for them. The less people writing, period, the less people they have to worry about potentially taking acclaim (and bread) away from them. And the less people they have to tiresomely talk out of the same old traps.

The idea of “competition” is lame, because it implies there’s only a finite amount of room for writers to operate in. The more genuinely good writers out there, the more I’ll have to read that’ll be worthwhile, to take inspiration from, and to learn from. And if some of them get their start by banging out fifty thousand words in thirty days, more power to ‘em.

Those who grouse are probably just not suited to suffering other people’s baby steps. Far be it from me to tell them how to deal with amateurs, or even other would-be pros. Go dig up Lester Bangs’s Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste and flip to pages 363-364, wherein Brother Lester relates a scene that ends with some gawkish-mawkish Middle America type asking said literary King of Scum: “Would you suggest writing as a career?” (Bang’s telling of the anecdote is downright Aristocrats in the way he builds up to the punchline; that section alone—and the Emerson, Lake & Palmer interview—are reason enough to drop dimes on the book.) I can only imagine Bukowski telling that poor wretch to go commit anatomical impossibilities upon his person: go ‘way, kid, ya bodda me.

It’s happened to me, sort of. A couple of conventions ago I got pegged down by a kid with some mishmosh of an idea about these young tykes who go into their closet and discover their nightmare world exists in there for real. Great, I said, but the more I pressed him for details, the more he thrashed around helplessly. He was all ideas and no story. After asking “Why does x need to be this way?” or “What are you trying to accomplish with y?” and getting no coherent answer—not just once but many times in a row—I realized I was in the position of a man trying to talk someone into climbing out of a hole when their arms didn’t work.

And yet, none of it was wasted time. It gave me something to tell other people, those who were not nearly that mired down in the swamps of their own frustrated ambitions. Not everyone, I guess, has the patience for such things, but by the same token, not everyone doesn’t. W.B. Yeats had, from the sound of it, little patience to spare for mundane little people who sapped his time when he could have been spending it more productively talking Deep and Meaningful Things with his friends, or better yet at his desk composing verse like this:

Dear fellow-artist, why so free
With every sort of company,
With every Jack and Jill?
Choose your companions from the best;
Who draws a bucket with the rest
Soon topples down the hill.

But to an artist, any time spent is going to be time well spent, isn’t it? To think less than that is to cut yourself off from the very world you draw from and give back to.

Read more


Tags: dharma writing


The Happiness of the Katakuris

The inside of Takashi Miike's head must be like a cinematic scrapyard, where the front end of a musical comedy can be bolted onto the back end of a Coen Brothers-like thriller. That's more or less what he's done in...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/30 19:44

The inside of Takashi Miike's head must be like a cinematic scrapyard, where the front end of a musical comedy can be bolted onto the back end of a Coen Brothers-like thriller. That's more or less what he's done in The Happiness of the Katakuris, a sort-of-a-remake of a Korean film, The Quiet Family (which I've not seen), apparently just as darkly comic in its approach. Miike's port of the material adds singing and dancing, almost in the vein of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, but not always to an explicitly satirical (or coherent) end.

Next to Takeshi Kitano and Shunji Iwai, Takashi Miike is Japan's most consistently interesting and daring filmmaker, cranking out an absurdly large number of movies a year, each stamped with his own oddball (but often brilliant) outlook. Not all of his films hit the target for me, but they are never less than fascinating even if because they're just so far off the beaten cinematic paths. Katakuris is no less odd than some of his other projects (his most recent movie as of this writing, Gozu, mated his usual yakuza territory with David Lynchian dream-world symbolism), but it's decidedly an acquired taste. If you're already interested in acquiring the taste, however, don't let me stop you.

Read more


Tags: Takashi Miike movies review


Mizoguchi's Eclipse Dept.

The New York Times has a piece about the new Kenji Mizoguchi set from Criterion's perennially excellent Eclipse line of DVDs -- this one's series #13, and features Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Women of the Night, and Street...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/28 09:26

The New York Times has a piece about the new Kenji Mizoguchi set from Criterion's perennially excellent Eclipse line of DVDs -- this one's series #13, and features Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Women of the Night, and Street of Shame. After Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, this is a welcome addition to the same shelf.


Addendum for today: The NaNo Bookshelf has been updated with Seijun Suzuki's Taishō Trilogy.

Read more


Tags: Criterion Kenji Mizoguchi


Guin Again Begin Again Dept.

The "transcript":http://vertical-inc.com/guinsaga/roundtable.html of the "podcast":http://ninjaconsultant.livejournal.com/29567.html I participated in along with the folks from "Ninja Consultant":http://ninjaconsultant.livejournal.com/ is now live. And if by some ridiculous twist of fate you haven't yet read the _Guin_ books -- well, go get them right now...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/28 00:48
The "transcript":http://vertical-inc.com/guinsaga/roundtable.html of the "podcast":http://ninjaconsultant.livejournal.com/29567.html I participated in along with the folks from "Ninja Consultant":http://ninjaconsultant.livejournal.com/ is now live. And if by some ridiculous twist of fate you haven't yet read the _Guin_ books -- well, go get them right now before I have to beat someone up.

Read more


Tags: Guin Saga Vertical Inc.


See Hear Dept.

The movie reviews section now has soundtracks for selected movies, wherever they may be available on Amazon.com or eMusic.com. Alien, Casino Royale, Doomsday, the Miyazaki productions, and a number of others already have entries....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/22 22:07

The movie reviews section now has soundtracks for selected movies, wherever they may be available on Amazon.com or eMusic.com. Alien, Casino Royale, Doomsday, the Miyazaki productions, and a number of others already have entries.

Read more


BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Graphic Novel 1

With the English-language release of BoBoBo-Bo Bo-bobo, I now have an answer to a question that has bothered me persistently: What would you get if the Monty Python crew dosed themselves with peyote and took over writing duties for Fist...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/22 21:16

With the English-language release of BoBoBo-Bo Bo-bobo, I now have an answer to a question that has bothered me persistently: What would you get if the Monty Python crew dosed themselves with peyote and took over writing duties for Fist of the North Star? Well, now I know, although I can’t really consider myself any the wiser for knowing. Weirded out, maybe, but not wiser.

One doesn’t read Bo-bobo; one is mugged by it. It is the only manga I have read so far that could sport a clinical diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. There is no guarantee that what happens on facing pages or even adjacent panels will have anything to do with each other. Sometimes they simply don’t, and then the author/artist, Yoshio Sawai, will put the characters through agonizing contortions of illogic to maybe make it seem like they possibly have something to do with each other … or not. It’s weather-in-Chicago humor: if you didn’t laugh this time, turn the page.

Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


The Show And Tell Dept.

“Show, don’t tell” is easily the most common of all writer’s-class clichés—right up there with “Write what you know” and “Don’t depend on your mom for criticism”. (That last one might work if your mom was Doris Lessing, but you...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/19 19:57

“Show, don’t tell” is easily the most common of all writer’s-class clichés—right up there with “Write what you know” and “Don’t depend on your mom for criticism”. (That last one might work if your mom was Doris Lessing, but you get the idea.)

What I’ve discovered over time, though, is that “Show, don’t tell” is at best misquoted and at worst slightly misleading. For me, the choice isn’t between showing and telling alone, but when each is appropriate for the circumstances. A better way to put it would be “Show when you can, tell when you must”.

Much of my thinking about this issue was spawned by this post wherein C.E. Murphy demonstrated showing vs. telling. I opined that both had their place depending on the circumstances. One example that came to mind after the fact is the first two chapters of Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. The first chapter shows us Macon and Sarah’s marriage in its final stages during a tense conversation in the car (“Macon, I want a divorce,” Sarah told him); the second tells us a welter of details of what life is like in the house after Sarah leaves (The windows shrank. The ceilings lowered. There was something insistent about the furniture, as if it were pressing in on him).

You could probably respond by saying that both of these are “show”, not “tell”, because a “tell” here would have consisted of something like Macon and Sarah broke up early that year … True enough. But as with many other things, the context is what sets the two apart. In the larger context of the book, one classifies as “show” and the other “tell”. Each one also has their own context: it helped to first show us the marriage up close, and then tell us details about how things had been before, and why things fell apart. That way we get something specific and immediate to begin with, and then have that expanded outwards to enrich our understanding of the whole.

I’m going to try to come up with some more examples in the future.

Read more


Tags: writing


Blood +: Volume 2

The second disc of Blood+ draws Saya and her adoptive family—and her “Chevalier”, Haji—deeper into the dark world of the “Chiropterans”, the vampire-like creatures that only Saya can stop by using her blood as a weapon. It’s a good, balanced...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/19 11:58

The second disc of Blood+ draws Saya and her adoptive family—and her “Chevalier”, Haji—deeper into the dark world of the “Chiropterans”, the vampire-like creatures that only Saya can stop by using her blood as a weapon. It’s a good, balanced mix of action, intrigue, and most importantly strong characterizations, because all the sneaking around and blowing things up in the world isn’t going to matter unless it’s happening to and with people we care about.

And one of the things Blood+ did from the git-go was give us a Saya that was far more identifiably, well, human than the kill-eyed creature she was in the original Blood: The Last Vampire movie. There, she was so cold and closed-off that it was difficult to find her situation interesting. Here, she’s clearly torn between everything that ties her to the “regular” world—her new family (especially her firecracker of a brother, Kai), her life in school—and an ugly underworld where monsters are bred by men of power to do terrible things. The original Saya had little or nothing holding her back. This one has everything to lose.

Read more


Tags: Production I.G anime


The Blade of the Courtesans (Keiichiro Ryu)

The very things that make The Blade of the Courtesans deeply immersive and engrossing are also what make it frustrating. Here we have a novel of historical Japan written by a native Japanese, one who has obviously taken the time...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/18 17:18

The very things that make The Blade of the Courtesans deeply immersive and engrossing are also what make it frustrating. Here we have a novel of historical Japan written by a native Japanese, one who has obviously taken the time to immerse himself in the material to a degree previously unheard of. The shame of it is that Blade is only half of a great book.

For years now best-selling Western authors have been taking stabs at telling stories in historical Japan or some analogue thereof—I.J. Parker, Lian Hearn, Laura Joh Rowland—but there weren’t a great many popular Japanese authors in translation to give us an idea of where all this came from. Keiichiro Ryu’s Blade grabbed my attention for that reason: like The Kouga Ninja Scrolls before it, here was a chance to see what the “real thing” was like. Doubly fascinating since Ryu had a terribly short career as a novelist—only five years—before an untimely death.

Read more


Tags: Japan Vertical Inc. review samurai


Witchblade Vol. #6

There’s often a difference between an ending you like on a show, and the ending a show deserves. I’m not sure I like the way Witchblade has chosen to conclude—it’s rushed, it skips over things that could have been expanded...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/18 00:52

There’s often a difference between an ending you like on a show, and the ending a show deserves. I’m not sure I like the way Witchblade has chosen to conclude—it’s rushed, it skips over things that could have been expanded across previous episodes or paced better throughout the show, and more than almost anything else it is a heartbreaker to watch. I suspect that last one was on purpose.

Nowhere along the way did I really believe that Masane and Hiroko, the mother and daughter who form the emotional center for this story, would find a truly happy ending. It just wasn’t in the cards for them, and there have been constant foreshadowings of this all along. The most ominous was the fates of the other Blades: all of them have died, so it only stands to reason that Masane herself is doomed, too. But that doesn’t mean she can’t find some measure of happiness for herself, and a future for her daughter that doesn’t include the curse of the Witchblade.

Read more


Tags: anime review


Saraba Ogata-Sensei Dept.

From Criterion’s homepage: Japanese actor Ken Ogata died this Sunday after a battle with liver cancer. The star of several films by Shohei Imamura, including The Ballad of Narayama and Vengeance Is Mine, in which he memorably played charismatic serial...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/16 10:41

From Criterion’s homepage:

Japanese actor Ken Ogata died this Sunday after a battle with liver cancer. The star of several films by Shohei Imamura, including The Ballad of Narayama and Vengeance Is Mine, in which he memorably played charismatic serial killer Iwao Enokizu, Ken Ogata is perhaps best known to American audiences for his searing portrayal of controversial writer Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Ogata also worked with such other filmmakers as Peter Greenaway, Takashi Miike, and Kinji Fukasaku. He was 71 years old.

I thought he was an oddball choice for Mishima, personally (although he grew on me in the role), but his performance in Vengeance was downright scary-good.

Read more


Tags: Japan Ken Ogata movies


Not Selling Out But Buying In Dept.

There’s a discussion going on right now in the NaNo forums about bad books that inspired their readers—if only in the sense that if someone could write something this horrible and get it published, then the odds of one of...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/15 15:42

There’s a discussion going on right now in the NaNo forums about bad books that inspired their readers—if only in the sense that if someone could write something this horrible and get it published, then the odds of one of us being able to pull that off should be pretty good, right?

It’s a pretty tempting thing to believe, but there’s one essential problem with the argument: it assumes that literary quality is a mitigating factor in book publishing. Marketability is what matters most to a publisher, not the stamp of “quality” applied by readers or book critics. As with the movies, it’s the retailers (the theater chains) they have to please and not the consumers (us shmoes who fork over $10 for a ticket).

So what about all those books that come out of nowhere and don’t fit into any established mold and eventually become classics of their kind—the To Kill A Mockingbirds or the 1984s? They’re the vanishingly tiny exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of what finds its way into print is not designed to last, because a) no profit-driven enterprise I know of is capable of seeing past the next couple of fiscal quarters and b) nobody knows what people will be reading 50 years from now anyway. John O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick was a massive best-seller in its day; today, you can barely find copies in a public library. (The last printing I can find on Amazon was from 1985.)

Books are meant to sell to whatever coherent demographic the marketing people can squeeze out of their sales figures. The whole business of “books for the ages” is a by-product of the current system, not a result of it. Just because a guy can get a book published doesn’t mean he’s produced anything you’ll want to read. I should also add this does not mean people who follow the DIY route are automatically undiscovered geniuses—it just means the whole “I could write better than that” argument doesn’t take into account the whole picture.

I’m also not saying, don’t try. I would love nothing more than for someone to get fired up and write a great book because they read thirty bad ones and were convinced they could do better. Hell, Summerworld was borne from something very much like that: after slogging through hectares of bad fantasy, I decided to do something about it by writing something that broke every single one of the clichés. But I was also fairly certain it wasn’t something a publisher would pick up. Maybe my certainty in this regard will be my undoing, but I’ve had enough exposure to the finicky, now-how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-sell-this? attitudes that publishers labor under to know this wouldn’t be something they could get to the right people. I decided to do that job myself.

I can’t recommend this to everyone, of course, but so far I’ve had the kind of fun I used to have to pay people to give me.

Read more


Tags: books publicity publishing writing


Chiba Chiba Dept.

Last night I watched one of the first Blu-ray offerings that could be filed under the “Japan” category—a double feature of Shogun’s Ninja and Killing Machine. Both star Sonny Chiba, both are from Toei, but the two movies could scarcely...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/15 11:55

Last night I watched one of the first Blu-ray offerings that could be filed under the “Japan” category—a double feature of Shogun’s Ninja and Killing Machine. Both star Sonny Chiba, both are from Toei, but the two movies could scarcely be more dissimilar. The first is a wild, loopy samurai-vs.-ninja spectacle (courtesy of Norifumi Suzuki), which also stars a young and spry Hiroyuki Sanada, and sports an oh-so-Seventies funk-jazz score and Echoplex tape reverb sound effects. You gotta love any movie where the hero responds to the deaths of his comrades by building a giant bonfire and performing an interpretive dance to portray his suffering, all on top of a score that sounds like something John Shaft would come crashing through a window to.

Killing Machine, also directed by Suzuki, is a jingoistic (even when it tries not to be) and not-credible version of the Dōshin Sō story, he being the creator of Shōrinji Kempō. The folks at Frog in a Well have done a much better job of dismantling the film than I ever could, especially since they’re able to put it into a historical context that I could not provide. What’s most striking is that today, the movie’s overheated style would be indistinguishable from parody. Good thing for them they didn’t get Seijun Suzuki to fill the director’s chair; he might well have made it into a parody.

Of the two of these, I think I know which one I’d be talking about in detail; at least with Shogun’s Ninja I won’t feel like I’m encouraging people to see something which wallows in stereotyping even when claiming to be above all that.

Read more


Tags: Blu-ray Disc Norifumi Suzuki Sonny Chiba samurai


Getting All Personal Dept.

What with one thing and another, I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of writing about Just Plain Stuff—goings-on with friends, other things apart from my writing or personal interests, things like that. A lot of the time I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/14 22:56

What with one thing and another, I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of writing about Just Plain Stuff—goings-on with friends, other things apart from my writing or personal interests, things like that. A lot of the time I don’t do it because I feel like I have nothing to contribute to the conversation—there scarcely seems to be anything I can add to all the ongoing commentary about the mortgage/credit/banking crisis, for instance. So—time for some mundane and boring personal news!

First off is the endless straightening-up of the office—which has become a perpetual project due to my horrible habit of adopting an organizational strategy and then forgetting about it. The good news: I’ve found a few ways to get around that. For dealing with the endless stacks of books in here, there’s Libra, which I can use in conjunction with my webcam to scan-and-tag everything pretty quickly. Libra’s big downside is that the program hasn’t been updated in over a year, but at least it works reasonably well and I can always export the data from it into another form to be re-used in some other program. (So far, though, I haven’t really found one that works terribly well.)

On the plus side, I have managed to relax my attachment to a great many things that I thought I would never be able to let go. In one drawer I found a whole cache of tidbits dating back at least eight years, stuff I’d squirreled away and told myself I was going to need or think of as important one day. Flyers from conventions past, bits and pieces of things I’d picked up from various giveaway tables in stores … I wadded it all up and dumped it into the recycling box.

There’s only so much I can keep track of or worry about. Books and records are one thing, but memorabilia that doesn’t consist of things I actually created or had a hand in are another. After a while, you just get overwhelmed. A while back I found diaries and journals I’d kept when I was much younger, but after leafing through them I saw there was nothing worth keeping. Not everything a person produces in their lifetime is going to be valuable, and what was in there amounted to a glorified bunch of grocery lists.

On the other hand, I kept pretty much every business card I’ve ever been given. Yes, I still have the weird feeling that at some point something in there is going to come in handy, even though the total number of times I’ve actually used a business card in that fashion (outside of work) I could count on a single hand with fingers left over.

Read more


Tags: daily life


Faust Vol. #1

There is something very intimidating in the way we have seen more of Japan’s own literary pop culture appear in English in the last few years alone than across almost all the previous years. “Literary pop culture” means the things...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/12 12:14

There is something very intimidating in the way we have seen more of Japan’s own literary pop culture appear in English in the last few years alone than across almost all the previous years. “Literary pop culture” means the things written in Japan, for Japanese audiences, and not necessarily written to bolster that country’s literary prestige in the eyes of the world. That’s everything from the Vampire Hunter D and Dirty Pair light novels to NISIOISIN, from Miyuki Miyabe’s Crossfire and Brave Story (which are two incredibly dissimilar books for the same author) to the Guin Saga, from Edogawa Rampo’s Black Lizard to Kōji Suzuki’s Ring cycle.

It’s intimidating, because where’s someone supposed to start reading with such a trove of riches now at hand? It’s the same problem I had with the Gundam franchise: there’s just so much of it and in so many incarnations, just picking a starting point has me going in circles. (I’ll probably just give up and start with Gundam SEED. Send hate mail to the email address above.)

For those reasons I’m all the more grateful to Del Rey for hooking up with Kodansha, their perpetual partner in cultural cross-pollination, to bring out a domestic edition of the first volume of Faust. Billed as “fiction and manga from the cutting edge of Japanese pop culture”, it more than lives up to the label. For seventeen bucks you get a nearly four-hundred page anthology of current pop-literary movers, shakers, creators and illustrators—a bentō box of goodies designed to appeal to both existing manga/anime/”visual culture” fans and people from outside that circle looking for a fresh set of cultural diversions. Just the sheer variety of the material sandwiched into this volume would be reason enough to recommend it.

Read more


Tags: light novel manga review


Sukeban Boy

Sukeban Boy is a cheap, crass little movie about a punk kid with the face of a pretty girl, which causes no end of difficulty in his rough-and-tumble high school years. Please note, I am not using the words cheap...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/11 00:16

Sukeban Boy is a cheap, crass little movie about a punk kid with the face of a pretty girl, which causes no end of difficulty in his rough-and-tumble high school years. Please note, I am not using the words cheap and crass as invectives, merely descriptions. This is the sort of project where they knew they were making a cheap and crass little movie, and decided to revel in it instead of tap-dancing around the subject. Whether or not that makes it something you’d want to spend money or time on, I leave entirely to you.

I have to confess, what drew me in first was not the bevy of girls on the cover but the slugline above all of them: “From the director of Machine Girl!” Since Machine Girl has become my new favorite movie to irreparably damage the minds of friends with, this counted as a recommendation. That movie was shot on a tiny budget and showed an amazing amount of ingenuity given that it probably cost less than a day’s catering for most other films. Sukeban Boy, by contract, probably cost about as much as the catering for Machine Girl, and it shows. But, again, at least they knew this.

Read more


Tags: Japan movies review


Door Open At 8 AM (Merzbow)

Dad and I always used the same things for different ends. When he bought a shortwave radio, he listened to the BBC World Service and whatever Turkish-language broadcasts he could pick up. I listened to the atmospherics and the numbers...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/06 18:41

Dad and I always used the same things for different ends. When he bought a shortwave radio, he listened to the BBC World Service and whatever Turkish-language broadcasts he could pick up. I listened to the atmospherics and the numbers stations. When he bought a CD player, he played CDs on it. I also played CDs on it, and used the pause button and jog dial to create my own impromptu remixes. Small wonder I ended up a Merzbow fan; all of Masami Akita’s records have the feeling of snapping on a shortwave radio inside your head and tuning it to the sound of the atmospherics coming out of his head.

Door Open at 8 AM has that station-between-the-stations feeling throughout: it’s a mixture (Mixtur, ha ha) of jazz/prog-rock record samples and seething, shearing electronics plus live-action recordings. It’s roughly closest in spirit to Merzbeat, both in the nature of the material transformed and the way the transformations play out. It hasn’t yet grown on me the way Merzbuddha and Yoshinotsune have, but I know it will—Merzbow’s music requires that you approach with empty hands, or you never seize it for yourself. It’s music you listen into, not just music you listen to.

Read more


Tags: Merzbow music noise


Black Lagoon Vol. #2

Volume two of Black Lagoon, like volume one, sports the following warning label: “Black Lagoon is rated M for Mature and is recommended for mature readers. This volume contains graphic violence, strong language, nudity, adult situations, drinkin’, smokin’, asskickin’, law-breakin’,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/06 17:57

Volume two of Black Lagoon, like volume one, sports the following warning label: “Black Lagoon is rated M for Mature and is recommended for mature readers. This volume contains graphic violence, strong language, nudity, adult situations, drinkin’, smokin’, asskickin’, law-breakin’, gun love, running with scissors and just about everything your mother told you not to do.” Well, I’ve read both volumes cover to cover twice, and I am immensely disappointed to report that there is not a single scene of anyone running with scissors. There is, however, everything else on that list, so I can’t exactly cite them for false advertising.

And there’s a bevy of other ingredients in volume two that they probably just couldn’t mention in that tiny little box. Neo-Nazis; Russian contract killers; gun-dealing, bubblegum-chewing nuns; a close-quarters gunfight in a submarine; and a pair of Romanian twin children who deal out sickening mayhem with great, goony smiles on their faces. This is not the manga you give to your mom to get her into the whole Japanese-popular-culture thing. Okay, maybe not my mother, but you get the idea. (I gave her Yotsuba&! and Mushishi. That seems to have done the trick.)

Read more


Tags: Japan Rei Hiroe manga review


From The Ashes Dept.

Back at A-KON this year, I blundered into a somewhat weatherbeaten copy of a DVD that at first didn't seem to have an English title. It took some squinting and peering at the thing under a strong light to make...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/05 19:10

Back at A-KON this year, I blundered into a somewhat weatherbeaten copy of a DVD that at first didn't seem to have an English title. It took some squinting and peering at the thing under a strong light to make out the name Ashes of Time on the face of the disc.

I almost broke my own fingers digging out my wallet.

Ashes of Time was maverick Hong Kong director Kar-Wai Wong's foray into martial-arts epic territory, and it had roughly the same trajectory as a movie like Blade Runner. It was costly and long in the making, and a test of patience for all involved. Greeted with hostility and poor box office take on its release, it languished in obscurity at first but built up a cult following; in this case, fans of the director's other movies learned about it and sought out what few copies could be found on home video.

A decade ago, Wong started to buy up as many prints of the movie as he could find, since the original negatives had been stored poorly and were now disintegrating. For five years he poured his own money and sweat into restoring the movie, and it's now being released into theaters thanks to the good graces of Sony Pictures Classics.

The New York Times has a witeup.

Odds are the remastered version will be released on DVD as well. When it is, I plan on sitting down with it, along with a copy of the original, and giving both of them their day in the sun.

Read more


Tags: Hong Kong Kar-Wai Wong movies


Horrors of Malformed Men

Horrors of Malformed Men isn’t really an adaptation of any one, or even two, or even three stories by Japanese mystery/horror icon Edogawa Rampo. It’s like a movie version of one of those jazz jam sessions where the band somehow...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/04 13:30

Horrors of Malformed Men isn’t really an adaptation of any one, or even two, or even three stories by Japanese mystery/horror icon Edogawa Rampo. It’s like a movie version of one of those jazz jam sessions where the band somehow manages to segue between “Melancholy Baby”, “My Favorite Things” and “Sweet Sue, Just You”. Or, in this case, “The Human Chair”, “The Stalker in The Attic”, the story that also inspired Shinya Tsukamoto’s Gemini, and probably three or four others I lost track of somewhere. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s not meant to: it’s an assault on sense, sensibilities and the senses, all at the same time.

Recanting the plot of a movie like this is pure chicanery. There is a plot, but if you wrote it down and submitted it in a writing class you’d get a long, sad talk from your professor about it. The story, such as it is, is not just lifted wholesale from various Rampo stories but used to evoke the same eerie, decadent, surreal atmosphere that came through in all of his writing. The recent anthology film Rampo Noir did a wonderful job of communicating that same erotic/grotesque or ero-guro sentiment. Men is even more feverish and unhinged, and has the added street cred of political incorrectness in its own country, relegating it to only the occasional midnight-movie screening and rampant bootlegging.

Read more


Tags: Edogawa Rampo Japan Taishō / Showa Teruo Ishii movies review


NaNoDept.

I completely forgot to ask: Who else is doing NaNoWriMo this year? Since it's not possible to change your username there I set myself up with a whole new account -- so if you have an old account, you will...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/04 11:30

I completely forgot to ask: Who else is doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Since it's not possible to change your username there I set myself up with a whole new account -- so if you have an old account, you will probably want to re-friend me under the new one.

http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/401058

If you're taking part this year, sound off below.

Read more


Tags: NaNoWriMo writing


Not Music To My Ears Dept.

Not long ago when my previous Samsung phone died (I think I dropped it on its face one too many times), I upgraded to a Nokia 6133 with Bluetooth, MP3/WMA playback, and tons of other trimmings. I'd actually planned to...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/03 14:09

Not long ago when my previous Samsung phone died (I think I dropped it on its face one too many times), I upgraded to a Nokia 6133 with Bluetooth, MP3/WMA playback, and tons of other trimmings. I'd actually planned to use it as a replacement for my now-dead music player, but I've run into so many stupid little limitations that I have to wonder if I'm just being too finicky for my own good or if this really is just bad engineering.

  • The Nokia Pop-Port. No, you can't plug in your own headset. No, there is no micro-USB jack like, oh, almost every other major phone out there. Instead there's this proprietary connector which I can barely get any accessories for at either Radio Shanty or Worst Buy.
  • They did include headphones and a hands-free mike with the phone, but they're awkward and intensely uncomfortable to wear. I have my own cushion-plug headphones, but I can't use them.
  • I finally broke down and bought a connector to use my own headphones with the Pop-Port. It cost $15 and broke after two months. Part of that was because I had to disconnect it from the handset every time I wanted to get access to the memory card -- or whenever the phone insisted I had to disconnect the wired accessory before doing something stupidly trivial (like sending Bluetooth audio somewhere).
  • The music player doesn't support playlists of any kind. It plays files in a folder in the order in which they were created. I have a workaround for this, but again, it's idiotic that something which has been a staple of digital music devices for nigh on a decade now is still not supported in a good many places.

I'd love to have a phone that can double as a music player and not kill my wallet, but at this rate I see myself sticking with my legacy MiniDisc player until the ribbon cable to the laser head finally develops an internal short (the cause of death for many of those devices).

... But other than all that, it's actually a pretty good phone.

Read more


Tags: music technology


Black Lagoon Vol. #1

One day rank-and-file salaryman Rokuro is kowtowing to his boss in his highrise Tokyo office, and the next thing he knows he’s getting punched in the face on the deck of a pirate ship somewhere in the South Pacific, blood...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/03 01:01

One day rank-and-file salaryman Rokuro is kowtowing to his boss in his highrise Tokyo office, and the next thing he knows he’s getting punched in the face on the deck of a pirate ship somewhere in the South Pacific, blood on his shirt and guns stuffed up his nostrils. His captors are annoyed that the disk he was holding isn’t going to earn them more than chump change, so why not squeeze a little more sugar out of the deal by ransoming him back to his own employers? And again, before he knows it, he’s cowering behind the bar in some Vietnamese dive while one of his new mercenary buddies is doing the Chow Yun-Fat Two-Fist Pistol Pump on everyone else in sight with a face-splitting grin. And that’s the girl of the team.

So goes the opening chapter of Black Lagoon, which hits the ground running and body-checks us right into the middle of the plot. A friend of mine billed it as “an ‘80s action movie rendered as manga,” and that’s precisely what it is: a hail of cusswords, blood, beatings, and spent shell casings. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun, thanks to snappy writing that never slows down or comes up for air, and a cast full of characters who are all screwloose in different ways. Nominally I’d call a comic like this a guilty pleasure—ditto the TV series inspired by it—but it’s so confident in its excesses that the guilt is entirely optional.

Read more


Tags: Japan Rei Hiroe manga review


A Glimpse of the Future

The first draft for the cover image for Tokyo Inferno is live. Check it out... Cover images, BTW, are by Heiwa4126@Flickr, and are available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/02 16:06

Tokyo Inferno cover 1.jpgThe first draft for the cover image for Tokyo Inferno is live. Check it out...

Cover images, BTW, are by Heiwa4126@Flickr, and are available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Read more


Tags: Kantō Jigoku artwork writing


The NaNo Bookshelf

Because so much of what I'm doing with Tokyo Inferno requires research and documentation, I've been building a bookshelf of titles to keep close at hand while writing the book. Many of the things listed here I've mentioned before, or...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/02 13:00

Because so much of what I'm doing with Tokyo Inferno requires research and documentation, I've been building a bookshelf of titles to keep close at hand while writing the book. Many of the things listed here I've mentioned before, or reviewed separately, but I thought it would be instructive to have them all listed here in some form. (Check back here for updates.)

  • Eros Plus Massacre [Wiki], Yoshishige Yoshida's 3-plus hour postmodern epic on the life of anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, was cut to shreds on its initial release when the daughter of the real-life Ōsugi protested the movie as an invasion of privacy. It's since been restored to its original length, but there is no English-subtitled edition out there yet. Stunning filmmaking, and an almost casually brilliant evocation of its period as well.
  • Seijun Suzuki's Taishō Trilogy of movies—Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za, and Yumeji—evoke the atmosphere, morals, moods and also the terrors and pleasures of the era, too. The DVD transfers are subpar, sadly—these films absolutely deserve to be seen in theaters for the best possible impact—but grab them as rentals from NetFlix if you're not up to dropping $40-50 for the whole set.
  • No discussion of the Taishō/Showa era's atmosphere and mood would be complete without at least some Edogawa Rampo, right? Black Lizard is probably your best place to start with that if you haven't already -- in fact, I'd wager it's the single most accessible book I'll put on this list, so it deserves the top spot. Go grab it if you haven't already; those of you who are mystery / thriller fans will have a rollicking old-school good time with it.
  • I still haven't written a review of Yasunari Kawabata's achingly beautiful novel The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, unavailable in English until only a few scant years ago, but at this rate I won't be able to until after I finish writing this book -- every time I sit down to talk about the book I fall into random babbling fanboy gushing instead of a proper discussion. But as far as Tokyo Inferno goes, Asakusa was instrumental in cementing a good deal of my fascination with that moment in time after the 1923 earthquake.
  • Another aesthetic influence (and another one that I haven't discussed yet) is Izumi Kyōka's In Light of Shadows, an author from the Meiji/Taishō period who worked in the Japanese equivalent of the gothic tradition. I ought to pick up the other book of Kyōka's work available in English (simply titled Japanese Gothic Tales), but that will most likely happen after November is done with.
  • I was actually trying not to list manga here, if only because it's a bad idea to do any kind of historical research with them -- you might as well try to pass the bar exam after watching a few seasons of L.A. Law. Still, I'm including Nightmare Inspector not because of any historical accuracy, but because it's got the mood and tone of its period down pat, and it looks nifty. [More reviews]
  • Herbert Bix's biography of Hirohito serves as a good way to establish historical background for the period, although I think I'll need to dig up some more specific information on the Russo-Japanese War (which is partial prelude to the goings-on in the story). Most of the book focuses on the emperor himself rather than the country at the time, but it is still valuable.

Read more


Tags: Edogawa Rampo Japan NaNoWriMo Seijun Suzuki Taishō / Showa Yasunari Kawabata books research writing


Oops Dept.

Apparently the links to the Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend samplers were out of whack due to me moving some directories around. It should be fixed now....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2008/10/01 23:31

Apparently the links to the Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend samplers were out of whack due to me moving some directories around. It should be fixed now.

Read more


Tags: Movable Type oops


Genji Press

Science fiction, rebooted.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

About Me

I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

My Goodreads author profile.

Learn some more about me.

My Books

Coming Soon

Out Now

More of my books

Search This Site

Other People We Like

Fandom

Dharma

Film

Archives