Together with the Criterion Collection, we're offering customers the unique opportunity to select an upcoming Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection. From now until May 25th, select from Au Revoir Les Enfants, Down By Law, Howards End, Kwaidan, and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The winning title will be released later in 2009.I voted for Kwaidan, natch!
There's a lot in this piece which is pure wishful thinking (end the tenure system, what?!) but I liked the bit about doing things with the teacher's wisdom that the teacher himself could never have imagined.
Dogs: Prelude is exactly that — a teaser for the main attraction to come, which explains why it’s numbered “0” and is entertaining without actually adding up to much. I suspect that’s not entirely the book’s fault, though: if you walk in knowing this is going to be all setup and introduction, it’s pretty enjoyable. That said, it’s still only a stage-setter: the real opening act comes in August, when volume 1 proper of Dogs hits the shelves. I have to be fair, though, and review what I’ve read and not what I hope to read.
Set in some unnamed European city, Dogs 0 compiles four stories about the intersecting lives of a whole slew of low- and no-lifes: gun- and knife-toting assassins, camera-snapping “information dealers”, doe-eyed mutant maidens in distress, and a couple of warring Cosa Nostra gangs for good measure. It’s got a fair dose of the absurdly over-the-top action spectacle of Black Lagoon (another fine Viz presentation), plus some of the noir grit and tough-guy moralism of Frank Miller’s Sin City. I wouldn’t yet put it up there with the former, let alone the latter, but my curiosity’s been piqued.Read more
Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie … the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them. [Such films] engage me so immediately and powerfully that I lose my detachment, my analytical reserve. The movie’s happening, and it’s happening to me. — Roger Ebert, in his 1977 review of Star Wars
Four times in a row I sat down and tried to put into words how I felt about 20th Century Boys. And in the end I’ve resorted to quoting Ebert, because, damn it all, he said it best. The best manga make you forget you’re reading a manga. You are simply having an experience, one that stands off the page the way the best 3-D movies couldn’t ever stand off the screen.
The first volume of Boys dropped you right into both the story and Urasawa’s way of telling the story. Like his monster Monster before it, this one spans decades, continents, and whole families of characters, so just parking us at one end of the timeline and pushing us headfirst through the whole thing in chronological order wasn’t going to cut it. It’s told in timestreams as fragmented and cross-weaved as the plotlines for movies like Traffic or Syriana. After those so-called Hyperlink Films, where a word in one scene leads us to a major discovery in another, here’s Hyperlink Manga. In Boys, a single half-seen image can cut loose avalanches of memory and plotlines worthy of whole books unto themselves.Read more
What we have here is a transitional volume of the Guin Saga manga, designed to get us out of one plot arc and into another. It spirits our heroes away from Stafolos Keep, out from the clutches of Count Vanon (if that is Count Vanon, but that’s another story), and ends the raid of the Sem on the fortress — leaving behind plenty of tools for survival that our heroes will need as they cross the River Kes and head for … well, more adventure. As Indiana Jones rather testily said the first time around when someone asked him for details on his plan to wrest the Ark of the Covenant away from its Nazi thieves: “I don’t know; I’m making this up as I go.”
It does sometimes feel like they’re making it up as they go. Even though I know for a fact this whole arc of the story was completed more than thirty years back, and over a hundred other books have been written for the original series since. One odd little advantage of coming back to the very first books and revisiting them as manga is how both the audience and the creators themselves know what’s going to happen. To that end I’m noticing a great many changes, albeit minor ones, that seem to be along those lines — although I’m at a disadvantage since I haven’t read that far ahead. I think the total number of people who speak English and read Japanese who have read that far ahead (that I know, anyway) could be counted on one hand with plenty of fingers left over … and I have better taste than to bug Yanni about what happens. God knows he’s busy enough with his publishing company. Read more
“Merzbow’s back (you knew he would be) … ” So read the first few words of the blurb for another Merzbow disc, Merzbuta, but the same sentiment could apply to just about any Merzdisc. Just when you think the guy’s exhausted every possible permutation of his approach to sound (or music, or noise, or whatever term doesn’t shock you), he dives back in as if he were a fresh young thing still pasting together his photocopied album covers in his parent’s attic.
He’s also never been one to shrink away from the kind of conceptual productions that would make most other people wince, or at least shield their wallets protectively. The concept for the 50-disc-and-then-some Merzbox was madness enough, but he and the folks at Extreme in Australia banged heads to make it happen. The result was the single most ambitious documentation of any one artist’s output in a single commercial unit; it’s right up there with the Ya Ho Wha 13: God and Hair set, the Miles Davis archive box sets being produced by Sony, the 13-CD Kan Mikami set PSF put out, and maybe even also the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs LP box set of the entire Beatles catalog. Read more
Most stories about monsters follow a basic formula: you’re either predator or prey, so hurry up and pick a side. Or, you’re someone who stands between the light and the darkness, so it’s only a matter of time before you fall on one side or the other. Claymore followed that formula pretty reliably without succumbing to it, thanks to two things: strong writing and storytelling (which boosts any stock plot out of the mire); and a willingness to mess with the dividing lines between the different parties in the story.
By this I don’t just mean how friends can become enemies (or vice versa), or how predator and prey can change roles. Claymore started with three roles (human, yoma, Claymore), added a fourth as it went along (Awakened Beings), and then hinted the four are more like points along a line than four separate things. Claire found out before how even her own augmented body can be the same way — how her borrowed arm can be Awakened all by itself, and how even someone who might seem to be well on their way towards becoming an Awakened Being can do a U-turn and come back to humanity.
None of this stuff would add up to much unless it involved people we cared about. Claire didn’t inspire much caring at first glance: she was about as emotive as a pencil (and carried about as much body fat as one, too). But over time, a funny thing happened to both her and us: she became someone worth caring about, and we started having that much more of a reason to care about her. What few emotions she mustered were directed mostly at Raki, her young sidekick, and as of the last volume her emotions finally culminated in a kiss and a line of dialogue (“Don’t say you don’t care if you die”) that is probably as close to “I love you” as she’s going to get in this lifetime.Read more
Dhalgren marks a transition between Delany's earlier and later works, which deal more directly and aggressively with social power. Myths, Delany believes, are "committee constructs" written by many hands and approved by the powers that be, which means they tend to be a conservative force. "Myth is what society can bear to tell about itself," says Delany. "But usually, what's far more important is what the myth leaves out, the things society can't bear to talk about or face."That last bit stuck in my head as potential hero story material. I have not been actively working on that project since Tokyo Inferno kicked off, but it's still in the back of my head, annoying me as it must.
Ballard was one of my favorite examples of a "difficult" writer — difficult in the sense that he dug up all the things about life in the here and now that made him squirm, and made you squirm along with him. I can't say I ever read any of his books for pleasure, but that kind of wasn't the point.
... the people who made ridiculous assumptions about Susan Boyle based on her appearance in a TV reality show contest are congratulating themselves on Learning A Lesson — and are lecturing others about it.I brought this up to a friend who replied "Well, what if they really did Learn A Lesson, and they're just being clumsy and tasteless?" My answer to that was, we have no way of knowing whether or not they were sincere about such a thing — because in order to know that, you have to see what people do when no one else is around to keep score. And that's not something you can fit into the context of a reality TV show, and maybe even TV period.But above and beyond everything else, the lady has a fantastic voice.
The latest in "women's liberation" is a product making a comeback in Japan that makers claim allows women to ditch tight-fit underwear — loincloths.
A new trailer is up for the CGI Astro Boy movie. Look fast for the cameo of Osamu Tezuka (sort of)!
Rob Simpson was recently laid off at Dark Horse. Simpson, an industry vet who formerly worked at DC, was the Senior Editor in charge of Dark Horse’s prose books line, which includes original novels, nonfiction, a series of Playboy Interview collections and various fantasy novels...Among the fantasy novels was the Vampire Hunter D books (I think); I hope this doesn't mean D's headed for scanslation limbo.
AICN Anime made mention of the Eisner Awards for 2008, with some manga-themed material:
Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Japan
Cat Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
The Quest for the Missing Girl, by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
Solanin, by Inio Asano (Viz)
The one that people seem to be most hung up on is Cat-Eyed Boy, possibly because it's one of those titles people were not all that fond of to begin with. I know it's a "roots" title, but that doesn't mean it'll automatically garner an audience — but the award is about the quality of the adaptation and isn't strictly about the underlying material.One could argue that it would be better to give recognition to better titles overall, but then you get into the more difficult question of what the award category is really for. I like the fact that at least one of the Tezuka / Vertical reissues made it to the list, since just having his stuff in English at all is a blessing.
I plan to check out Cat-Eyed Boy at some point; for all I know the conventional wisdom about it could be completely wrong.
I spent Saturday with my folks in Jersey, celebrating the birthday of a family friend, and then from there swung quickly through Manhattan to test out a theory I had about whether or not Google Street View was any good at helping me find curbside parking in a given neighborhood. The short answer: Yes, but bring change anyway, just in case. (Free parking on weekends is not totally dead in the city; it’s just one of those things that I’ve come to not count on at all.)
Also snagged the first few untranslated Guin Saga books:
I’m planning on filing the originals next to the U.S. editions and using them as self-teaching tools, along with my copies of the Oldboy manga and a few other items that aren’t exactly classics (Sakura Taisen, cough cough) but are fine for the sake of readability and comprehension-building.
Another thing I stumbled across was — okay, nostalgia time — the soundtrack to the anime version of Peacock King. It's all hard-driving guitars, smoldering ballads and Emulator / CMI synth sounds, all guilty pleasures of mine. (They even made a live-action version of the story in Hong Kong, which I should cover one day if I can ever find a decent DVD of it.)
On the way back to the car ....
As the Beatles once said, "A fine time was had by all."
Thought I'd quiz people about what music to look at next...
Most anything with the “dark ambient” or “illbient” labels can be traced back to Brian Williams, aka Lustmørd, even if he’s not all that thrilled with such a descriptor. He’s also managed to balance a career of providing scores and effects for Hollywood movies (hey, it’s nice work if you can get it!) with creating albums of music that summon the void in the space between your speakers. It wasn’t hard for me to become a fan of his work — it got to the point where all he had to do was wave a hand in the general direction of a record and I’d pick it up.
That explains how I ended up with some of the more truly curious records in his catalog. Exhibit A for the prosecution: his strange techno / dance / illbient (ill-beat-i-ent?) one-off project Terror Against Terror (Psychological Warfare Technology Systems) so named for a track from one of his earlier discs, and which due to record-label incompetence ended up floating around in limbo for almost four years. Exhibit B: this even more oddball disc, “an ode to the terrible cost of society’s love affair with cars”, as Soleilmoon’s press release put it. Read more
Ebert gives Kiyoshi Kurosawa's new movie Tokyo Sonata 3 1/2 stars:
What we seem to have are the outlines of a traditional family drama, in which tensions are bottled up, revelations will occur and a crisis will result in either tragedy or resolution. But that's not what we're given by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, best known for upscale horror films. He almost misleads us in the early scenes, by framing the family dinners in sedate and orderly compositions. We believe we know where "Tokyo Sonata" is going. We are wrong.
Dear Bill: Thanks for including the Chicago Sun-Times on your exclusive list of newspapers on your "Hall of Shame." To be in an O'Reilly Hall of Fame would be a cruel blow to any newspaper. It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben.There are many reasons I am a Roger Ebert fan. This is one of them.
The Guin Saga anime has appeared. And from what I can tell, it is good. I don't think an American licensing deal has been set up yet, but I'd bet the phone lines between the U.S. and Japan are burning up right about now for the sake of one. For now, we have the novels to keep us busy (and the untranslated manga, too), but I'm already filling a jar with change for when the DVD / BD comes out domestically.
That said, the show looks a little something about like .... this: Read more
One of my editors at the Sun-Times once asked me, "Roger, is it true that they used to let reporters smoke at their desks?" This wasn't asked yesterday; it must have been ten years ago. I realized then, although I'm only writing about it now, that a lifestyle had disappeared. When I entered the business in the autumn of my 16th year, newspapering seemed the most romantic and exciting thing I could possibly do with my life. "But honey," my mom said, "they don't pay them anything." Who cared? It involved knowing what was going on before anyone else did, and putting my byline on top of a story telling it to the world. "Roger Ebert" is only a name. "By Roger Ebert" are the three most magical words in the language, drawing my eye the same way a bulls-eye attracts an arrow.
Roger got paid, all right: in experience, the kind of thing you can't buy anyway.
There is no one best thing about Vertical, Inc.’s ongoing reissues of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. It’s a panopoly of good and best things. Not only are we getting a pivotal manga title in English, it’s one from a man without whose work we probably wouldn’t have manga as we know it. It also serves as a crash course in old-school / roots manga reading — if you like this, there’s lots more to like in the same vein, and not just from this author — and, before I get too swamped in what sounds like an academic discussion, it’s fun. If the story of a black-market surgeon who gets paid in suitcases full of banknotes and heals the parts others doctors do not reach doesn’t turn your head, then go get yourself checked out; you’ve probably stopped breathing.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Black Jack by now, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly — even if some of those fools come in the form of his paying patients. Or, as is the case at least as often, patients who don’t pay, but whom he treats out of his burgeoning sense of duty. It’s easier for him to say that seeing someone in pain offends his sensibilities than to admit he’s an idealist. Consider “Lost and Found”, the episode where Black Jack uses a little under-the-table emotional manipulation to ensure one of his patients pays up — although it’s more for the sake of convincing the other man about what’s really most important in his life. Or “From Afar”, where Black Jack uses competition between surgeons as a ruse to save an innocent boy’s life. Read more
On why Japan is a wreck:
The geisha are apparently on the way out, too.
A good weekend was had by all. Went down to my friend Sarah's house for her birthday, enjoyed games and good cooking, Chinese buffets and Japanese import PS2 games. It's taking more time than I thought to get caught up, but I should be completely back to business by tomorrow. Look for some new material by then, in a couple of different departments.
Deep breath out …
The last few months have been horribly busy — work, writing, some new projects started and old ones finished — and one of the consequences of that has been a little less activity here. But some good news came my way (a king-sized tax refund, among other things), and I also have some new material in the pipe that's definitely worth talking about (Bashing being one of the first).
Also, courtesy of Subway Cinema:
"Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games" is on display at Japan Society until June 14 and this brain-blast of an exhibit includes several anime screenings. Go to their site for the somewhat complicated screening schedule - it takes a minute to figure it out, but since they're screening films like PAPRIKA, MIND GAME (don't miss it!) and PATLABOR 2: THE MOVIE (amongst others) it's worth the brain power you'll spend.
They're not kidding about Mind Game, by the way. That gets my marks for being the best animated film not currently available in anything other than an import edition.
Samurai 7 isn’t a bad manga, just as the anime of the same name isn’t a bad anime. But I had the same problem with both of them: Why remake Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai — arguably one of the greatest films ever made in any language or era — and add little or nothing to the original story but length and convolution? I’m not against remakes in principle — I’m against them when they don’t add anything.
When Kurosawa’s estate licensed Yojimbo — another great movie of his — to Bandai for an anime remake, that wasn’t as problematic since Yojimbo was itself a remake, albeit a distant and uncredited one, of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Bandai went back to the original novel and used that as the most direct inspiration for the final product, and ended up with one of the more underrated shows they’ve ever put out. It’s a textbook example of how to do this sort of thing right.
But Seven Samurai was an original — a template-setter rather than a template-follower, like John Ford’s Stagecoach or Hitchcock’s Psycho, or (oh, irony!) Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, also slated for a live-action remake. Why remake something that’s peerless? Because there’s money to be made from a name brand, be it Kurosawa or Seven Samurai, and after a long enough time all the sacred cows eventually get ground up into hamburger.
And so now we have Samurai 7, a franchise that included a TV series, a video game, and now this manga adaptation to round out the product line. What’s curious about Samurai 7 is how it manages to be faithful to the original story without ever quite recapturing the original’s electricity or spirit. It has the words, and even some of the notes, but somehow not the music. By itself it’s perfectly okay, but in the shadow of its older brother it bulks terribly tiny — and I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that there is literally no way for me to review one without talking about the other. If you’re like me, you’re going to have a hard time getting used to the idea that this new Samurai story is more or less about guys cutting spaceships in half. Read more
The mark of a skilled executioner in feudal Japan was to be able to slice off the head of a victim and yet still leave it attached to the corpse by a single shred of flesh. Here is a story that operates with the same level of merciless and inhumane skill, the better to systematically drain every ounce of humanity and compassion out of its characters.
It will also cause most people — those who aren’t gorehounds, anyway — to lose their lunch. Maybe even the gorehounds, too.
I’m torn. On the one hand, Shigurui is brilliant and artfully assembled — as much a cold-blooded dissection of depraved human behavior as it is a showcase for it, about how culture and circumstance and social abstracts can turn people into total monsters. On the other hand, it’s just nasty. People are disemboweled, dismembered, beheaded; have noses and jaws and faces torn off, sliced off, smashed off; are burnt, blinded, disfigured; raped, groped, tormented.
And yet this isn’t a cheap piece of exploitation trash like Eiken or Colorful!. Everyone involved had serious intentions, and believed they had good reasons for doing what they did: to hammer home how the almost coolly abstract “way of the sword” in classical Japan was bought and paid for in terms of mangled bodies and ruined lives. The whole package has been put together with consummate craft. It is brilliant and horrible at the same time, and while I do think it’s worth watching I’m not sure anyone — not even a fan of this material — needs to see it more than once. Read more