I love Japan.
... I don't think I've ever said "What the f___" so many times in a row while watching a trailer.
I love Japan.
Iguchi is the madman who gave us Machine Girl.
I think my brains melted out of my nostrils right around the time the geisha transformed into a robot tank, drove up the side of a skyscraper and started shooting missiles at a giant feudal-era samurai castle that had also metamorphed into a city-destroying monster.
Did I mention I love Japan?
Some of you might remember how Oldboy (one of my favorite flicks, period) has been the target of at least two attempts to bring it to the big screen in the U.S. The first was in the hands of director Justin Lin, he of Better Luck Tomorrow (and, more recently, Fast and Furious). That went nowhere, but then two other folks with slightly higher profiles picked it up: Steven Spielberg and Will Smith. They're not licensing the movie for a remake, but the manga it was derived from.
This has apparently opened a massive can of legal worms. Not only is it possible that Spielberg and Smith went to the wrong people to license the manga, the Korean movie company that produced Oldboy (Show East) has vanished. (See previous link.)
That has frightening implications for the availability of the movie in any form in the future. Tartan, the distributors for the film in the U.S. and U.K., also went bankrupt, which means any copies you have lying around right now may well be the only ones available for some time.
Maybe Smithberg should have talked to Dark Horse first?
Tokyo Rampage is an example of a movie that’s not very good but remains interesting despite itself. It’s set in modern-day Tokyo and deals with one of the perennial subjects of filmmakers there: disaffected youth and sociopathic Tokyo criminals. The director in question, Toshiaki Toyoda, has made at least one other truly outstanding movie about that first subject — Blue Spring — but this time around he’s dealing with a story that’s a good deal more arid and far harder to make interesting to an outside audience. He does give it his college best, though, and what he ends up with is enough to hold our attention for its running time but not much more than that.
Rampage opens with Arano (Kōji Chihara), a sullen young man wandering around Tokyo, sunken down in his overcoat and lugging around an airline bag full of weapons. He has some strange, undefined hatred of yakuza, so severe and deeply ingrained that he stabs one to death for the grand crime of scalping theater tickets. The dead gangster’s associate is Kamiju (Onimaru), a long-haired punk only slightly older than Arano himself but with a small crew of hangers-on. Kamiju’s not exactly living large, though: most of his work consists of enforcing collections for his pimp boss, and he spends a good deal of time and effort ducking calls from his mother. Arano is wilder than him or any of his buddies, and they find that downright intimidating where they haven’t found much of anything intimidating before. Read more
I got into music backwards. I started with the excesses of Merzbow and the murderous overkill of the Swans, and then reversed gears into more conventional territory. And even then I was still going backwards: I didn’t start my Coltrane collection with A Love Supreme, but rather Ascension. By the time I’d fallen back into something like normal territory, my ears had already been prepared for most anything they might encounter.
And yet I keep being surprised — especially by Merzbow himself, whose encyclopedic catalog of releases grows by at least thirty or forty discs a year. There are many releases that repeat each other — I’m not sure the lay listener will sense much difference between Noisembryo and Green Wheels (I do, but that’s another story) — but at this stage in his career he’s found ways to challenge himself and explore new territory all the time, even if only incrementally. To that end, 13 Birds is fast shaping up to be the open-ended successor to all the ideas Merzbow only touched on or hinted at with Door Open At 8AM. Read more
Funny, touching, enthralling, horrifying, and finally heartbreaking, Face is precisely the kind of movie I love most to encounter and then tell others about. No category will encompass it succinctly; it’s an original. One critic called it the greatest Japanese film of the last decade or more, and it’s not hard to see why. It tells a story of great ambition in such a modest, careful, understated — and often hilarious — way that its greatest shocks and most powerful moments sneak up on you from behind and stay with you for a long time.
I wonder if some of Face’s sheer bite and sassy vigor comes from the fact that it’s based, however loosely, on a true story: a bar hostess murdered a co-worker, fled, and hid out for years on end before finally being caught. But that seems unfair to director Junji Sakamoto and his lead performer, a stage actress named Naomi Fujiyama. Sakamoto brings a strange combination of quirky black humor and blunt pathos to this story, and Fujiyama’s performance is so unaffected and natural that we forget a camera is watching. Read more
Darker Than Black caught my attention from the beginning, held it through each successive installment, and continues to keep me guessing and absorbed. Volume five, the next to last disc in the whole series, does what most penultimate volumes of any series do: it sets things up in preparation for what we anticipate will be their final resolutions. Some of this is by filling in backstory, and some of this is via breaking equilibriums that have held the story together until now.
The first half of the disc revolves around Huang — Li / Hei’s “controller”, a regular human who makes up in nerve and bluntness what he lacks in super-powers. He was once a cop, we learn, who lost a partner of his to a Contractor. That alone would be enough to instill the distrust of (and disgust with) Contractors that we see him evince throughout the series, but there’s more to it than that. It’s also precisely the sort of “more” not served by talking about her in detail, since the details go a long way towards providing the kind of character depth that has made this show a winner.Read more
A show this good should not have to end.
And yet here we are at the sixth and final disc of Mushi-shi, as beautiful and original an anime as any I could ever dare to ask for, and I feel downright glum knowing there’s no more after this. There is the manga, courtesy of Del Rey, which I’ll be getting around to reviewing before too much longer, but this series works so well as anime, is so lush and evocative, I fear reading the manga is going to feel like a step down.
Don’t expect anything like a real climax, though. The final disc of Mushi-shi does not bring anything to a definitive end, because this series has never been about definitive beginnings and endings in the first place. It’s about the flow of life itself, which doesn’t start or conclude anywhere but is simply something you dip into and out of as your time on earth allows. I was worried the show would devolve into a manufactured conflict with some great enemy — maybe a sinister mushi-master who’s creating an army to do his bidding, etc. — but thankfully, nothing of the kind happens.Read more
The trailer for Roland Emmerich's new apoc-buster 2012 is now online, in QuickTime format. I couldn't watch it more than halfway through without wanting to throw something at the screen — mainly, my head.
I know that under it all Emmerich is doing nothing more than updating Irwin Allen's disasterpalooza flicks with better hardware and graphics (but not better acting or storylines), but that doesn't make the pandering to the End Is Nigh crowd any less annoying. I know a few too many people who take some form of this garbage seriously — well, seriously enough to be pests to their co-workers about it, but evidently not serious enough to sell their homes and move to Iceland to wait it out.
It's the compulsive, anything-for-a-good-trailer mindlessness of the whole thing that bugs me, from the re-use of the now very, very tired Mayan calendar nonsense to action-movie heroics that assume people can outrace explosions and natural disasters.
Oh, and in the final money shot, when the tidal wave is causing an aircraft carrier to crash into the White House and everyone probably evacuated days ago, why are the lights still on in the building?
For a contrast, check out a trailer for a movie that actually seems to be well worth catching: Daybreakers.
Back at AnimeNext, I mentioned offhandedly to fellow budding writer David S. McCrae "Any writer who wants to call himself one should have a fountain pen." (Paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist of it.) I wasn't kidding then, and now I think I'm twice as not kidding.
When you write longhand, as opposed to typing, you force yourself to think twice as hard about every word you put down. You make the least do the most. This is not to say that everyone should ditch word processing in favor of longhand for first drafts — even if J.G. Ballard did that — but that taking the time every so often to write longhand reminds you, in the most direct way, of what economy of words feels like. I've gone back and edited the last sentence I just typed about three or four times, and I have to ask myself: how much more careful would I have been if I had been writing that out longhand?
Since few of us are keen on the idea of ditching typing entirely, my recommended exercise is either a diary or an idea journal — in longhand, and with a high-quality pen. I picked up a basic iridium-point and aluminum-barrel fountain pen from Muji in NYC for about $12; the ink cartridges that go into it are a standard-issue variety that cost only a couple of bucks for a pack of five or six. A journal with quality paper will run you about $10-15. Avoid paper of the same gauge that spiral-bound school notebooks use, or paper that is clearly high in pulp content or not far above newsprint. The ink will bleed through and the pen point — even a good pen — will snag and skip. Once you get into the habit of writing in a good journal with a quality pen, it starts to feel less like an assignment and more like a luxury.
I know many people who resist writing longhand any chance they get, if only because they admit their handwriting is appalling. (I think penmanship was one of the first things to get dropped, before physical education, in many schools.) If they feel an exercise like this would be tantamount to self-torture, then by all means they should skip it. But for those who savor the contrasts for their own sake....
Why waste spleen on Michael Bay? Because it was 2.5 hours of interminable badness. I'm not being facetious or cute when I say I thought it was much longer than it was. I explained it this way to a friend last night: A critic vents after a bad movie because they feel like they have to retaliate. Imagine you're at a dinner party and you hear some blowhard hold forth on a subject he knows VERY LITTLE about, one you happen to know A LOT about it. Imagine the rising urge to chime in with "Well, actually..." every time the guy says something even more stupid and outrageous than the last thing. Now imagine that guy got the floor for 2.5 hours before you got a chance to speak. THAT'S why critics write angry.
I posted in the same thread, although my comment was a great deal shorter.
Movie critics are most offended by it for reasons I can fathom pretty closely. For the most part, many of them had to sit through it — it's their job, after all — and they look at it and say amazing amounts of money and technology thrown away for something that amounts to Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots: Live and In Concert.
So what's the big deal? people say. If someone wants to enjoy a big dumb movie, why not let them? Sure, but there are some of us who feel complicit in a crime against one's imagination whenever we say things like that.
Here's my counter-offer. You want something big and stupid where things blow up? Go see Doomsday. And if someone liked Transformers but took a miss on that one, I'll be scratching my head.
(Update: I've just been informed that bashing Transformers is now officially passé as a blog subject. Next post I return to talking about high school girls who attach automatic weapons to the stumps of severed limbs.)
I haven't seen the second Transformers movie yet (the first one gave me gout of the soul) but I did think about a couple of things.
1. What would have happened if the Transformers franchise had been brought to the screen by the likes of PIXAR? And I'm not even talking about the animation division; I mean the screenwriters. This is the outfit that gave us a movie (Wall·E) where there wasn't even any dialogue or human characters for more than a third of its running time, and yet I was enthralled and captivated.
2. What would happen if you gave Michael Bay a small budget — say, $300,000 — and a digital camera and told him, "Go make the movie you want to make with this money. It doesn't have to have any commercial prospects. It just has to be something you want to make. Funny, beautiful, touching, strange, whatever. Just personal." What kind of movie would you get?
I'd love to try this experiment with any number of directors, but I'm most curious, as odd as this sounds, with applying it to directors of big brainless blockbuster entertainment. It might provide some further fuel for the argument that some bad directors are really good directors at the mercy of stupid material. Or it might prove once and for all that a hack is a hack is a hack.
The official U.S. trailer for Miyazaki's Ponyo on a Cliff is up at the Quicktime site. The unbelievably lame tagline is wince-worthy ("Welcome To A World Where Anything Is Possible" — thud goes the back of my head against the chair as I doze right off), but after the muddled letdown that was Howl's Moving Castle I'm just grateful he's still making movies.
About halfway through volume five of Black Lagoon comes a realization about who and what has been driving this story. We know it’s been about the hapless Japanese ex-salaryman Rock and his newfound life as a member of the mercenary crew of the Black Lagoon, but how it is about Rock and his new life is also crucial. You can’t live a criminal life without being a criminal, and up until now Rock has bent over backwards to avoid getting his hands too dirty. Given that throughout volume five he’s bracketed on one side by Revy (gun-toting madwoman) and by Balalaika on the other (ex-Russian special forces power broker and death merchant), his odds of keeping either his hands or his nose clean asymptotically approach zero the further you go.
It had to happen at some point. As of the last volume, Rock and Revy had arrived in Japan to take care of business, only to get embroiled in a local war between rival yakuza factions and Hotel Moscow. Worse, the war centers around Yukio, the teenage girl who’s the heir to the Washimine gangster family, and who fully intends to take over the center seat and steer her clan back to something like honor. Her rivals find this laughable, and the first half or so of the book is taken up with a massive brawl wherein Revy, Yukio’s personal bodyguard Ginji, and Rock all descend on a bowling alley where Yukio’s being held hostage. (Revy’s usual badassery is on display here, but Rock isn’t exactly useless here: to bring down a fleeing bad guy, he soaps up a stretch of floor and wields a bowling pin.)Read more
My good friend B McD has his own follow-up installment in the "genesis of the bad LotR clones" discussion. I'm just coming off a whole flood of finished work (as if you couldn't tell from the spamblogalicious posts I just made), but I want to sit down with this and comment on it when time and energy permit. It's a good read; don't hold off from musing over it.
Private Keiji Kiriya lives in a nightmare. Literally. Every day he wakes up, works out, dons his suit of powered super-armor, dives into combat to defend Earth from invasion by the alien “Mimics”, gets killed — and wakes up back in his bunk to do it all over again. By his own count he has been doing this over one hundred and fifty times. Some days he manages to live another few minutes longer on the battlefield. Some days he never makes it out of his barracks. And occasionally, very occasionally, he discovers another permutation — another wrinkle in the fabric of his temporal pocket, another way to not just push the envelope but make it bend to his will.
This probably makes All You Need Is Kill sound like a mixture of Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. Yes, I do mean the Bill Murray movie, which has over time stood up as a quiet little classic. Kill has something of the same premise — you only truly move into the future by learning to change — but applies it in ways that make it leapfrog over its source material and turn into something genuinely different. It starts as a war story, introduces time travel and causality, then touches on determinism and free will, planetary ecology, exobiology, terraforming, the intra-species barrier, and then finally shoots for the moon and ends up in love-story territory. This should not all work, but it does.Read more
After Hideo Nakata and the Killer Videotape of Ring, we now get Kiyoshi Kurosawa (of Cure) with a Killer Web Site. Actually, Kairo (or Circuit, as it has been rendered into English) is much smarter and maybe even a little deeper than such a gimmicky description would lead you believe. It doesn't completely work, though — its bag of ideas is so eclectic that it borders on being schizoid, and by the time the movie is over we're not only not sure what was really going on, but why it would have mattered one way or the other. That said, Kairo is an interesting attempt to make a thinking person's horror movie, and it does pack a few jolts.
A small flower company has subcontracted for some computer work, which is badly overdue. When the employees enter the guy's apartment to find out what's wrong, they find only a strange black stain on the wall — roughly in the form of a man — and a floppy disk with an even weirder image on it. It's a picture of the guy, apparently snapped by a webcam, facing his computer, on which is ... the same picture? Asking for coherency from this movie is probably a fool's errand, though. Read more
Yuji and Mamoru work in a hand-towel factory, a futureless job that seems perfectly suited to two such futureless people. Yuji (Jō Odagiri) is impulsive and confused: he needs someone to guide him in life, and Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano), his calculating and somehow sinister buddy, has taken that role. Mamoru’s one big hobby outside of work is keeping a live a pet jellyfish, slowly acclimating it to fresh water so that it might survive somewhere other than the ocean. Yuji has no such hobbies or interests, and bounds from one distraction to the other. Then Mamoru engineers a tragedy that almost ensnares Yuji as well, gets sent to prison, and entrusts the other man with his “project.”
This is the setup for Bright Future, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s most recent film [as of 2005], and after having seen several of his movies I think I am beginning to find a pattern in his work. His movies all concern themselves with somewhat antisocial characters, all trying to undertake an ambitious project of some kind which usually ends in disaster either for all concerned (or the world as a whole). Read more
The best movies seem effortless, and Charisma embodies its intentions so effortlessly it almost seems like an accident. Here is a movie about a struggle over a tree, of all things, and yet somehow the director and the cast have managed to invest it with a fascination and an urgency that most movies never reach. It’s not a simpleminded environmentalist’s sermon, but a deep and troubling movie about the place of the individual in society, among many other things.
Charisma opens with a policeman, Yabuike (Kōji Yakusho) being brought into a hostage situation. The whole thing goes horribly wrong, with both the hostage (an MP) and the captor being shot dead, and Yabuike is suspended from the force. Instead of heading home, however, he wanders into a forest and becomes quite lost. There, he comes across a single gnarled tree in a clearing, the object of study by a nature survey team.
The tree is an object of controversy. The nature team is convinced the tree’s root system is destroying the forest around it. There is also an apparently deranged young man who violently shoos everyone else away from the tree and cares for it, in a kind of guerilla-environmentalist fashion. He also cares for an old, senile woman, the widow of a sanitarium that has since fallen into disrepair and which he is using as his squat. Other figures show up, including the cheerful young Mitsuko, a botanist, and her slightly dizzy younger sister Chizuru, all of whom provide Yabuike either with help or a sounding board of sorts for his understanding of the situation. Read more
There have been many stories about people encountering an exact double of themselves, but my favorite approach to this situation is the social one: we’re never quite so weird as when we’re seeing ourselves in a mirror. Polish author Stanisław Lem had great fun with this idea many times in various guises — he had his heroes bumping into himself (himselves?) due to botched time travel systems or other cosmic mishaps. Doppleganger, a movie by the intriguing Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, uses the social approach: we’re never so much an ass as when we’re trying to one-up ourselves.
Doppelganger opens with a scene that’s like something out of an X-Files episode teaser. A young woman sees someone who looks like her brother on the way home, and then finds him already waiting for her when she gets there. Not long after, she gets a phone call: Apparently her brother killed himself by jumping in front of a train. Who, then, is the fellow in her brother’s room, typing merrily away on his computer? His double, or doppelganger? Read more
For the first three-fourths of Retribution, I thought Kiyoshi Kurosawa had given us the best film of his career apart from Cure. Then, in the last fifteen to twenty minutes of the film, he managed to completely undo that feeling. The conclusion to this film is so drawn-out and messy and tacked-on, it feels like a different writer and director took over to finish the job.
It’s all the more annoying because everything before that is quite solid and suspenseful, and provokes the kind of wonder and unease that the director’s other, better films all did. It’s just that after a certain point, Kurosawa starts falling back on tropes he’s used elsewhere to different effect, and they don’t belong here.Read more
... why, out of all of the 'Tolkien-clones' that the publishers crank out, very very few of them even begin to approximate the original.
The short answer goes something like this: Because Tolkien was a brilliant man who was doing something that did not have any existing parallel, and everyone who came along since has simply aped the results from the outside.
Most people reading this are probably at least passingly familiar with the story behind the story. Tolkien developed the Rings as, at least in part, a container for his personal work in developing a mythology and an artificial language, and his independent studies in religion and philosophy. It also hadn't meant with unanimous praise; Michael Moorcock (ever the leftist in his critiques) and David Brin are two of its more recent and nameworthy critics, and it took decades to reach anything like critical mass in its name-recognition and commercial success.
Once the mass-market paperback editions appeared and started selling fiercely, two things happened. One, after a couple of decades, you had a whole generation of writers whose formative experiences were the Rings. The book had always existed for them. The same goes for the publishers, who always had the Rings as a constant reminder of what was possible. If someone else could create something of that stature ...
Everyone who's managed to create an original product ends up having their work picked to pieces by people who are looking for some way to duplicate its success. The list of things that got copied from Rings could fill another book: the various races and their constituents, the naming conventions, the use of magic, the quest template, the nature of the heroes, the wizened wizard, the three-book cycle, etc., etc. And so we started getting the endless flood of books that copied one, another, or all of these things in some form. Maybe not deliberately — some of the most shameless plagiarism is committed unconsciously — but both the publishers and the authors got stuck in this despairing feedback loop. The harder you try to write a classic, the less likely it is you'll get one, because then you're playing a loser's game of trying to second-guess history and anticipate future taste.
I suspect a good many fantasy authors have not heard of Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, so it might be instructive to talk about it here. The book deals with precisely the above problem — how do you get out from under the shadow of your precursors? — and while it uses poetry (Shakespeare/Milton) as its example, it could apply to most anything else. Everyone starts by copying their predecessors, he argues, and if I were to argue from my own experience I'd add that it's inevitable and a deeply vital step. I spent years writing horrible cheeseball manqué ripoffs of all my favorite authors, and it was only after a lot of shredding of paper that I wised up and moved in different directions. It's not a question of whether you do it but how long, to what extent, and what lessons you glean for making a clean break from such mimicry.
This is the hardest damn thing in the world.
It's not a surprise that so many have copied Tolkien, badly. It's not even a surprise that it's gone on for so long. What's surprising is how few people on both sides of the page are willing to cop to it and do something about it.
The best tribute to Tolkien's intellect, craft and creativity would be to go and do something so unlike his work that he would have no choice but to applaud it.
Cure conjures up the kind of primal dread that I thought the movies had forgotten about. Its shocks and scares are like sleight-of-hand: the real effects of the movie are only felt long after it is over. I have spoken to other people who have seen it and come to the same conclusions, and the first things they all said after it was over were not “Wow!” but “Wait, I think I need to see that again…” I have watched the movie four times since I first ran across it almost ten years ago and I’m still puzzling it out, but that’s not a bad thing.
The abstract for Cure reads like the plotline of any number of overheated serial-killer movies that have come and gone in the wake of SE7EN and Silence of the Lambs. Takabe, a detective (Kōji Yakusho), has been assigned to a case involving a series of murders, each committed by completely disparate people but each with the exact same methodology: the victims have a large X-like mark cut into their necks. Even stranger, the killers seem to have had no rage or particular incentive for the crime: it simply happened, like “the work of the devil”, in the words of the detective’s partner. A young schoolteacher kills his wife, a policeman shoots his partner in the back of the head — all without motive, or even much in the way of caring.Read more
Has The Catcher in the Rye lost its luster with time?
It's tempting to say that we've collectively outgrown the book, but I'm not sure about that one.
I bumped into The Little Maroon Book in my parents' library when I was still in my single digits, and given how sober and forgettable it looked I might well have not opened it until I was actually assigned to read the thing in class. The laugh that escaped me when I read the words "all that David Copperfield kind of crap" could have been heard two houses down the street. That did it; I sat down and read the whole thing over the course of a weekend. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the first "adult-level" book I'd read, soon followed by such industrial-strength material as Last Exit to Brooklyn and Naked Lunch. My feeling is that Rye is one of those books that not everyone has to like, but it seems like a good idea to encounter it at least once and develop an informed opinion about it. The same for Lord of the Flies, or Slaughterhouse-five.
I've come back to the book many times since then, and I can see why it's become that much harder to connect with if you're a kid. Its post-WWII setting has dated badly with time; it references a lot of things many people have never experienced directly or even heard of (Brown Betty, anyone?); and, yes, there's Holden himself. The whiner.
It's been said that the protagonist of a book should be someone you a) admire b) want to see what he does next c) can get a good laugh out of. Preferably all three at once. I wasn't sure if I even liked Holden at all — I'm still not sure — but the example he embodied was what mattered more. He was stuck right in the middle of being a "kid" and being a "grownup", in a society where you were either one or the other (maybe that's part of the reason for the slackening of the book's impact, when it's possible to live an adolescent lifestyle well into your thirties), and found both positions distasteful. He didn't want to be either one, because the only way he could see himself growing up was by becoming, as the SubGenii would put it, one of the Pink Boys. He'd lost his brother, and was terrified of losing his sister — not just to death alone, but to the devouring maw of adulthood. It's only after he realizes that she idolizes him, stupid behavior and all, that he also realizes his idealism has been creating more problems for him than it solves.
So is the problem that all the kids today are rat-racers? I dunno; that sounds like a cheap way to avoid talking about the book as such. That and books go in and out of fashion much as anything else does, and sometimes they wane permanently. Few people today, aside from nostalgia merchants, remember the Bobbsey Twins; heck, even junior-detective Danny Dunn (from the 1970s) is passé. I suspect a lot of that is because there's that much more recent and relevant material being pushed out to younger readers — the article mentions Harry Potter — and so the older stuff, good-bad-and-dismal alike, is all shoved under the rug and invisible save for a small lump.
One other thing comes to mind — namely, that the whole concept of the alienated antihero may well have been a limited-run engagement to begin with, and probably burned out of its own accord. Maybe the fact that young people no longer connect as readily as they used to with Holden isn't a bad thing; maybe it's a sign that, as Lester Bangs once put it:
... the twin concepts of nihilism and the antihero have had it. What began with The Wild One and James "nobody understands me" Dean, ran with increasing vehement negativism up through the Stones and Velvets and Iggy ... [I]t may be time, in spite of all indications to the contrary from the exterior society, to begin thinking in terms of heroes again, of love instead of hate, of energy instead of violence, of strength instead of cruelty, of action instead of reaction.
Just as I typed that word heroes, into my mind sprung the one thing that has been living inside that word as of late: our leopard-headed friend Guin, the guy who stuck his neck out for everyone and was the first to be part of any plan he could think up. Maybe there's still also room in the definition for Holden Caufield; there's no small heroism in his dogged determination to not let the world outside of his classrooms and apartment walls turn him into the very thing he despises so much. In an age that valued toeing the line more than ours does, this was more heroic, I suppose. Today, the rules are laxer; people can have massively successful careers without even so much as donning a tie — and so Holden's squirming on the hook seems doubly dated in that light. But maybe that's only clear to people who understand they have a choice in the first place, and that it's not between (as Allan Bloom put it) quick fixes and dull calculation.
I don't know that I admired or even particularly liked Holden. I do know that without him and the book that features him I would have been a lot less empathic for people who feel stuck in their own frustrations, who walk around with the nagging itch that something is wrong, that they are missing out, that things are not as they should be. Rye was Salinger's argument that such feelings are the substance of life itself — the substance of all our lives — and that it's just as bad to be devoured by them and try to let them rule us as it is to ignore them completely. But if there are better books that say the same thing, then by all means let's have them come to the fore, too. And not simply turn away entirely from that dilemma and bury it under a forced smile that one day has no choice but to crack in half.
I was intrigued by your comment over at Jim Hines's journal that you had decided to go the self-publishing route, writing for the audience you had developed, even though you knew the limitations that that route imposes. How did you arrive at that decision?
Kind of a long story — but hey, it's the Internet, it's not like I'm going to run out of pages. So here goes.
I mentioned that the reason I took the POV I did about young writers was because I was one of the very hotheads I was talking about. So I did a lot of writing that was, frankly, very bad. Worse, I grew up with — or, rather, propagandized myself into — the feeling that whatever it was I would be doing, I would not be appreciated by most audiences because I was too good for them. Laugh when ready.
Years went by. I wrote and finished a number of things. Some of them were very bad indeed. Someday we will look at them together and snicker derisively.
After a while I wrote things not quite as bad, and soon I got to the point where I was holding a really good finished manuscript in my hand and saying "You know, I'd bet money a publisher would at least look at this." Others agreed with me, but I still had the bad habit of immediately assuming they were buttering me up.
During this whole time, several other things were happening in parallel.
One was that I was letting a little of the air out of my very swelled head, which meant I could go back and look at my work and give it at least some degree of proper revision. (I don't think any writer can work without at least one person on the outside whom they trust to give them feedback, but I'm not convinced that person has to be an Editor with a cap E. But that's another argument for another webpage.) I was able to go back and look at a lot of what I'd done up to that point and reject it — draw a line and say, that stuff is not worth trying to make readable, it's an artifact of an older me. Best to leave it as it is.
Still, this process allowed me to get a better sense of just how marketable my own work was, and to what audience. And by and large, I sensed that the audience I would have would be tiny, but devoted — probably too tiny for a conventional publisher, though. I considered the smaller presses, but when I saw what they were doing, I shied away in horror. Most of it was not about the quality of the writing (some of the people who wrote for such places were talented), but the dismal flavor of whole package — the production, the marketing, etc.
Another thing that happened, and which influenced the above in terms of what I was choosing to write about, was a change in my personal tastes. My big thing for Japan took full flower, and that influenced what I was doing — drove it that much further away from mainstream SF/fantasy, which I hadn't been reading for some time. I came back to it and saw just a whole lot of stuff I didn't want to read or write in the same vein as. (At some point I mean to write an essay called something like "How I Read 50 Bad Books In One Year" that was about this whole fiasco.)
The best example of this: I tried to read the first of the Wheel of Time books, and the whole experience was deeply unnerving: Am I not seeing all of the very same things other writers were sternly telling me not to do? But the book got published, and that only convinced me all the more that the publishers were not seeking new, fresh, interesting voices: they were looking for ways to line the shelves that only looked new. What they really wanted was the same old Tolkien-clone crap in a different wrapper. (Not to say that Tolkien's work is bad, just that so many fantasy writers have been living in the man's shadow for so long that they've forgotten so many other possible modalities for fantasy exist. E.g.: Mervyn Peake, Peter S. Beagle, China Mieville, etc.)
The third thing that happened was the Internet. This part I barely need to recap, but the short version is: digital distribution, print-on-demand, social networking. It now seemed that much easier for me to build my own PR from the ground up, face-to-face with fans. I could create exactly the connection I wanted with my potential audience — but it would take a lot of work.
I knew right away that wasn't going to yield the same scale as a conventional publisher. But at the same time, I also knew that wasn't what I wanted anymore. I wanted to at least start my journey by building a connection to a prospective audience in a one-on-one fashion. If it moved past that at some point, fine, but I wanted to at least begin on that foot.
So to that end, I started assembling all the different pieces to make this happen: book designs, POD services, word about which conventions and face-to-face events would be worth my money and time, and so on. And after a couple of such rounds of research, it hit me that this was a hell of a lot of fun. The process itself was energizing, and the more I did it the more I wanted to do it.
That was about four years ago. Here we are now.
I don't believe that I have some magic touch, that I can shake up the publishing industry from the outside or anything that deluded or naïve. I'm just a guy with his own imprint and a few books he thinks are of quality, and enough ambition (read: pretense) to try and get them into people's hands without going through the usual treadmill of agent/publisher/editor/etc. (Again — this is not an indictment of those who are already doing this or are busting hump to do this right now. You guys are probably far braver than I'll ever be.)
I do believe that sometimes the only way to bring something genuine and of lasting quality into existence is to go outside the established channels. I know full well this isn't going to make me rich or famous — but the former is a red herring (it's better to be just comfortable than to have too much money, I've learned) and the latter is about as bad in its own way. I don't want nattering attention about every silly thing that comes out of my mouth, past or present; I just want people to take what I have to offer and reflect on its meaning in their own lives.
If at some point I made a connection that resulted in an offer for a book contract, fine. But I wasn't obsessed with turning this into a networking opportunity. I was enjoying the process of writing and marketing my own work directly to the people who were most meant to read it.
If I had to compress it all into a single statement, I'd put it like this: The things other people see as limitations, I see as the exact opportunity I always wanted. By having no choice but to connect directly with fans to move my work, I do the one thing I always wanted to do: connect directly with fans.
As I put it many times: I don't have a lot of fans, but I think I can refer to all of them by their first names. And this way, I can say that I really did do it myself.
That's the short version.
The long version is much more complicated.
There are moments when volume 5 of Black Jack is unbelievably disappointing. There are also as many moments, if not more so, when it is elating and exciting and challenging. In short, when it is the Black Jack — and the Osamu Tezuka — that we have come to expect and savor. It’s just that this time your mileage will vary. A lot.
It’s moments like this when I see why the original Viz edition of Black Jack — even if it was only two volumes — opted for the greatest-hits-anthology approach. Not everything from a person’s lifetime output is going to be equally good, and that applied to Tezuka as well. But Vertical, Inc. has pledged to stick with the warts-and-all approach to publishing Black Jack in English, all seventeen-something volumes of it. Still, one of the benefits of that level of completism is seeing how even Tezuka’s worst material was still at least interestingRead more
Eraserhead is best seen, not described. And yet, in the fifteen years since I first saw David Lynch’s first feature, thanks to a tape from a local rental place, I’ve tried to do just that over and over again for the sake of all those who haven’t yet seen it. The fact that it was so difficult to find in the first place only made it all the more frustrating; they could hear my words, but not find out for themselves what I meant. The VHS was hopelessly out of print, a rare Japanese LaserDisc pressing changed hands for ungodly sums of money, and the movie itself was so dark and low-contrast that even first-generation bootlegs were unwatchable. The only way to really see the movie was to go watch it in a theater, whenever a local cinema had a print of it. My father and I were lucky enough to catch it in a downtown New York art-house that has since closed due to spiraling rents and declining audiences. The battered and splicy condition of the print — and the puddles of water on the theater floor — made the film all the more eerie.
Now that Eraserhead has been finally reissued in a director-sanctioned DVD edition, I don’t feel bad about urging people to see a movie that has been a massive cultural influence for the better part of three decades. Almost every horror / fantasy film of value made since the 1980s — Pi; The Shining; Begotten; Clean, Shaven — has been influenced by Eraserhead, and not in terms of its plot or themes but in terms of its feel. As many other people have said, it’s the closest thing anyone has yet achieved to putting a nightmare on film — not just in terms of the darkness and the sensations of dread, but also the disconnected logic and leaps of fantasy that govern dreams as a whole. Most horror films scare us with images of corpses or innards; Eraserhead gives us nothing short of the void itself.Read more
The problem was [as a younger writer], I just wasn't very good. [me. — ed]That is, of course, the baseline problem with most writing. As newguydave just said elsewhere, "A violinist doesn't pick up an instrument, learn their first piece, and think they're ready for Carnegie Hall. Further to that, if they're not ready to play in the orchestra, they don't start their own.Why do writers then believe that if they finish a novel, it should be published, and if nobody wants it, they'll print their own. I can think of very few industries where if you're not good enough, you can go out and do it anyways.|
I have several theories for why this sort of thing happens. The one I'm putting most credence into right now I call the Cult of the Prodigy Theory.
The CotPT revolves around the idea that the publishing business loves to hype books by twenty-something young geniuses. Look at how brilliant they are now — think of where they'll be in twenty years! Why, they'll be freakin' literary godlings! The problem, of course, is that there is no single index for age vs. skill vs. accomplishment; some of the best creators produced their most revered material very late in life. History's littered with the cinders of stars that burned brightly, way too soon. Case in point: Orson Welles, whose defining moment came when he was twenty-five and everything after that was anticlimax.
Too many writers hear these one-sided success stories and assume that because they are young and writing ambitiously, that automatically translates into them being Good Writers Worth Publishing. Then they have someone who actually has publishing experience look at their work, shake their head slowly, and recommend a good workshop class. Or another career entirely. Such are the risks of listening to the propaganda for the outcome rather than becoming a student of the process.
I suspect a big part of why I give this theory the credence I do is because it squares with my own experiences. I listened to and devoured entirely too much "young genius" nonsense aimed at me when I was still in school, and ended up with a very insular set of conceits: Don't Tell Me What To Do, Everything Popular Is Crap Anyway, My Work Is Far Too Sophisticated For The Likes Of Your Puny Minds, etc. Took years to get over all that. I'm not sure I'm completely over all of it yet, either.
I also suspect one of the reasons writers get caught up in this kind of dragnet of misdirected ambition is because it's hard not to be a writer and also have some degree of pride in your work. The problem is that pride is all too easily conflated into arrogance and defensiveness. The longer you wait to let the air out of a swelled head, the harder it gets.
Sometime in the coming year I may end up getting back to work on a project I never finished. Tentatively titled Vajra, it was my NaNo project for 2007; it fell short of the needed word count for the month and I ended up shelving it and turning attention to other things. But once it's finished and retitled, it'll be the third book I've written, more or less in a row, that deals with a kind of "Tokyo of mystery" or "enchanted Tokyo".
The first one you already know well: Summerworld. (And if you don't know about it, then by all means educate yourselves.) The second is currently being written: Tokyo Inferno. I hadn't been consciously trying to create a trilogy — past, present, future (sort of) — but that's what came out.
To that end, I'm thinking of bundling all three of them into one volume when they're done — or, at the very least, selling all three together as a single $30 set (perhaps as a convention-only special). The three are linked by many other things other than locale, so it only makes sense. This would be a long way off, of course, but it's something I find myself coming back to as a nice way to wrap up the package with a bow.
“Reality counts for a lot.”
Despite the label on the cover (A Geek’s Diet Memoir), Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! is not a “diet book”. If anything, it’s an anti-diet book, much as Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos was an anti-self-help book. The latter was designed to make you laugh at the absurdity of expecting someone else to be able to tell you who and what you are; the former lets you realize that dieting in the abstract is not going to help you lose and keep off weight. It’s an anti-gluttony book, a guide for waking yourself up and making you realize that you are best equipped to carry out your own self-destruction.
Maybe that sounds a bit over-the-top, but if the events of the last decade or so — financial, political, ecological — have taught us anything, it’s that our biggest problem as a species is that we think we want things we simply don’t need. We eat too much, we spend too much, we gobble up far more than our slice of the pie — and we condition ourselves to not even notice any of it. It’s this last part that’s the most damaging, because it allows us to go right back out and start all over again with no thought to the consequences. Toshio Okada’s book is about getting off this thoughtless Möbius strip treadmill of consumption, and the fact that it’s in the guise of a personable, friendly, you-can-do-it-too guide makes it all the better. It’s not a frothing condemnation of the Consumer Culture, but a DIY guide to picking the locks on your jail cell.Read more
My eldest cat Tasha (15 years) had to be put to sleep today due to what appeared to be kidney failure. Her brother, Boris, suffered from the same problems at the tender age of four.
She wasn't the brightest or most affectionate cat around, but she will still be missed.
It's been reported elsewhere, but worth echoing here: Last Gasp is publishing a previously-untranslated Suehiro Maruo title in English, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island. This one sounds more straightforwardly surreal and strange than out-and-out grotesque for Maruo, but we'll see. I still owe people reviews of Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (now quite out of print) and maybe my impressions of the first (untranslated) volume of The Laughing Vampire.
I think one of the most important skills a writer can have is the ability to differentiate between A Really Good Idea and The Right Idea.
A really good idea is what sounds brilliant at 2 in the morning when you first think of it and scribble it down in your bedside notebook. The right idea is what still holds up the next day when you read your notes.
Reading Sōseki Natsume's Ten Nights' Dreams brought back many old questions about how translation is supposed to work. The opening line to each chapter is the same, and while the original Japanese text is unambiguous —
— you could render this any number of ways in English:
...and so on. Tashima / Lorentz (the translators for my edition) put it as "This is the dream I dreamed", which is a little wordy for my taste. My own preferred reading is I had a dream [like this] or I once had this dream, which doesn't introduce a sonorous repetition that wasn't in the original to begin with and also isn't so short that it comes down with a bump. Thus I dreamed sounds appropriately ponderous and, well, even a bit dreamy, but maybe a bit too much.
Not long ago I took a crack at translating one of Lorca's poems into English, not least of all because his original Spanish texts are out of copyright and because the English translation I found was not.
Se ha llenado de luces
mi corazón de seda,
de campanas perdidas,
de lirios y de abejas.
Y yo me iré muy lejos,
más allá de esas sierras,
más allá de los mares,
cerca de las estrellas,
para pedirle a Cristo
Señor que me devuelva
mi alma antigua de niño,
madura de leyendas,
con el gorro de plumas
y el sable de madera.
My silken heart,
it’s filled with light;
with long-lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I’ll go so very far,
past all those hills,
past all the seas,
near to the stars
and beg of Christ
the Lord give back
the soul I once had
when I was a child,
ripe with legends,
with a plumed cap
and a wooden sword.
For my favorite example for how much you can cram into or get out of a few words, see Douglas Hofstader's Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language, in which he attempts to translate a virtually untranslable French poem (simply because it's so compact and sparse) and in the process opens up a whole little universe of convolutions.
Criterion has two new announcements on conventional DVD: David Mamet's Homicide, and another title that Danny Peary covered in his legendary Cult Movies series: That Hamilton Woman.The former impressed me when I first saw it; the latter has, as far as I know, never turned up on home video until now.
1) I just upgraded the site to MT 4.25, so if there are any hiccups, drop me a note here.
2) I'm now experimenting with using Chrome as a browser for posting to MT, rather than Windows Live Writer. I'm not enamored of the idea of using the browser as a substitute for a specifically-written desktop application, but I'm trying to see how far I can take this. (I've also learned that Chrome did indeed fix the weird bug where rich text fields have insane amounts of extraneous formatting inserted during edit operations.)
Here is your analogy for the day: Gestalt is like a really good hamburger. The ingredients come as no surprise, and neither is the form they come in — but is there anyone here who doesn’t like a really good hamburger? (Apologies to the vegetarians in the audience.)
The book amounts to a generic Fantasy Adventure Quest template: it not only breaks no new ground, but goes back and puts parking stripes on the old ground. And yet the whole thing is fun, in big part because of the attitude. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t try to, either. It’s leavened with cheek and good humor, and so more than makes up for being unoriginal by having high spirits. It also sports a major selling point in that it’s an early creation from Yun Kouga, she of Loveless fame, a series I haven’t yet read but which has been next to impossible not to know about.Read more
A nice item over at the Times about Graham Greene and the movies made from his novels:
Greene is one of those writers who doesn't get much praise from literary mavens, probably because he ended up in the "political thriller" ghetto. He wrote, as Ebert put it, stories about "worn-down, morally exhausted [men] clinging to shreds of hope in a world whose cynicism has long since rendered [them] obsolete." Likewise, John le Carré wrote "political thrillers", but his real subject was human frailty, and in time he may end up on the same list as Greene (if he hasn't already).
Oddly, there is no mention of the more recent version of The Quiet American, which hews fairly closely to the book and features, amazingly, a very effective Brendan Fraser as the titular Yankee.
I generally have two kinds of experiences when reviewing a series I’ve already had under way. Experience #1 is, I put the disc in and for some reason have the worst time even watching a single episode all the way through. I eventually make it through to the DVD production credits and sit down to bash out the copy, but the whole experience has the aura of a chore. Experience #2 is, I put the disc in and after what feels like fifteen minutes I’m pasting the text into the CMS.
You get no prizes for guessing which of these two buckets Claymore falls into. It’s been said that no good show is too long and no bad show is too short. We have only one volume of this series left to go, and I’m dreading it being over so soon — although given that the manga is still an ongoing property, that doesn’t rule out there being another season. Please, let it be so.Read more
Much has already been said about the Iranian election; I suspect very little I would have to say would not be an echo of something said elsewhere. But one thing strikes me: the amount of people from within Iran using English to communicate to the outside world — not just in blogs or via Twitter, but on paper signs held up for cameramen. "Where is my vote!?" one such sign cried out. They are, I guess, all too certain that real change cannot come from within alone there, and that it must be aided by outside pressure (albeit that of statesmanship and policy, and not tanks 'n missiles).
For all of those who came by my table and bought Summerworld and Four-Day Weekend: Thank you. I hope you enjoy both of them immensely. I'll be back next year with more books (like the still-in-progress Tokyo Inferno) ... and a bigger table, to boot.
A reprint of an essay from 30 years hence about the state of the movies.
I read the other day that 13 percent of total U.S. paperback sales (yes, 13 percent) consist of those dumb little Harlequin Romances, in which Boy has by now met Girl in more than 2,000 ways, all of them PG-rated. There must be millions of people who like their entertainment predictable and dependable — who find reassurance in the repetition of the same durable formulas with their obligatory happy endings. And if Hollywood thinks it has learned its lesson during the summer of 1977 and grows single-minded about turning out expensive remakes of remakes, we are going to start wondering, with the new releases of two or three years from now, if we haven't seen all these movies before somewhere.
Well, we have seen them all somewhere before, haven't we? The problem is that most of us don't care; we have the same attitude about the movies (or many of our other art forms verging on entertainments or vice versa) that we do about car parts or hamburgers. They're inherently interchangeable and disposable.
The audience isn't even the audience anymore, and that's the problem. It's the distribution chain that's become the real audience for everything, and the people who actually do the reading, the viewing and (especially) the creating are just auxiliaries. If everyone from Barnes & Noble to Loews could get away with selling the exact same things every single year, they'd do it — and it's now beginning to look like they are in fact doing just that.
I've talked before many times about the damage this does. It hurts audiences, who never get to know about all the truly interesting and creative moviemaking / creativity going on. It hurts creators, who find they have that much less of a market for their product, and who face mounting indifference to their hard work. And last but not least, it hurts the distributors, who get used to doing the same things they've always done, and thus completely ignore seismic changes in the landscape. As much as I dislike the Kindle, for instance, its existence may well set in motion a whole slew of changes that allow creators to connect that much more directly and properly with prospective audiences. Real audiences of "punters", as the U.K. term goes — not just people responsible for filling shelves and getting butts in seats.
After the killings of George Tiller and Stephen Tyrone Johns, there's discussion over at the Times about the tangled morality and ethics of permitting hateful speech.
Back in 1996 or so, I spent the better part of a year educating myself about the nature of Holocaust denial. Some of the more technical-sounding arguments that "the Holocaust never happened" sound credible to those who simply don't know how and why they are fraudulent. The young-earthers, or the Intelligent Design crowd, bank on this as well: they count on their audience not attempting to seek out a second opinion.
For a while, countering the Holocaust deniers was a piecemeal thing — you did it whenever one of them popped up on a web forum, or in a USENET group. After a while, enough people grew tired of reiterating the same arguments over and over again, and thus places like Nizkor were formed, where all of the most common lies (and their refutations, and the evidence used to refute them), could be archived. I used to wonder what it was about the deniers that caused them to blatantly ignore the weight of the evidence; now I know that changing their minds is not as important as showing other people, in a public forum, that they are wrong.
This isn't something you can pass a law to make happen, or even pay someone to make happen. This is something you have to do yourself. The point is not to win the argument and shut the other guy up, although that may happen as a by-product of what you're doing. The point is to keep free speech alive as a source of speaking careful truth to easy lies.
None of this should be construed as a sign that people like James von Brunn should not be prosecuted for his actions. His actions are being countered right now with action. His words, and the words of others like him, should be countered in their own way as well, and not simply assumed that they carry no weight. In the ears of the disaffected they can all too easily take on the gravity of grim truth. Those who casually believe in the lies need to be gently, but firmly, shown how the lies were put together and allowed to take them apart with their own hands.
I know, sadly, more than a few people who believe a dilute version of the same vitrolic that von Brunn was dishing out. None of them had ever heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the plagiarized forgery that gave a modern, almost intellectually respectable veneer to the bloody art of scapegoating. Maybe you know one of them; I leave it to you if they would be receptive to a more scholarly dissection of the Protocols' genesis, or maybe Will Eisner's outstanding comic version, which appeared a couple of years ago at Comic-Con as a major exhibit. You choose, but either way, the duty will always fall to each one of us in turn to fight the deniers. This is not anyone else's job.
My good buddy McD dissents from my dissention. There's a lot here to chew on — a lot of it does, I think, come down to "what does Star Trek mean for all involved" (i.e,. personal interpretation), although my feeling is still very strongly on the side of the new movie not being remotely what it could have been. I still feel that a big part of what fell flat for me was how they could have used this reinvention of the franchise to help shake off all of the things that were dragging the franchise down, and they chose not to. (Again, I'm going to wait for the DVD before rolling up my sleeves on this one again — I think without having the flick in front of me, I'm outgunned here.)
A fierce dissection of Star Trek (the new movie). I read it and realized something: I'd enjoyed the movie while it was unfolding, but after a week I really hadn't given it a second thought. It had gone in one ear and out the other, and left very little behind. Something with the Star Trek name on it should not be that ephemeral.
And then I realized the reason was simple: it was a con job. It was slick enough to disguise its lameness while unfolding, but not on scrutiny.
There's a lot in the piece that digs into what went wrong, both from a story POV and an SF-is-all-too-often-sexist-in-that-insidious-way-that-everyone-just-shrugs-off POV. I'd vote more for incurious than sexist: here's a movie that is about people going out into space for chrissake and it gives us disconcerting amounts of screen time with barfights and pratfalls and musical-bedroom silliness ... and, my biggest gripe of all, even stoops so low as to recycle with a completely straight face the exact same overblown SF action tropes so effectively parodied in — get this — Galaxy Quest!
Hell, at this rate I'm prepared to say that Galaxy Quest was even the better movie. Funnier, certainly.
There's a lot more that was wrong, but I suspect I'm going to end up saving all that for when I sit down with the DVD and do my own postmortem.
As someone else once said about the Rolling Stones after they unloaded Black And Blue on the world, this is Trek as we may have to learn to like it. Except that if the history of popular culture taught us anything, it's that we don't have to learn to like it.
I'm wondering how many other people are going to look back on this in a year and wonder how they were so badly duped.
I was putting together a Suggested Reading list for a friend of mine, something for him to chew on while he worked on his next book. His current book (I'll have more to say about that soon) dealt with life after a Big Collapse of sorts, so I yanked out a few things that looked relevant: A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Hiroki Endo's Eden.
One of the books on the list turned out to be Phil Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney (Or How We Got Along After The Bomb). My edition, an older paperback version, has an afterward in which Dick blithely admits that he got it all wrong: he was only too happy to see that nuclear war did not in fact break out between Us and Them in the timeframe he'd anticipated. But then again, as he pointed out, SF isn't meant to be forensically accurate in its visions of the future — it's just meant to see a future, something that serves as a warning or food for thought or something of that nature. Predicting is not really the point.
That was in fact one of the beefs I had with SF for a long time — that it seemed to be about predicting the unpredictable, and that 99% of the time the predictions were dead wrong. But whether or not a story about the future is meant to predict anything or just depict something is really up to us; we're the ones that interpret what we read as being one of those things. And there's any number of stories where the prediction simply doesn't hold up because our sense of what humanity is like is now entirely different. H.G. Wells's Things to Come probably seemed pretty heady and stern and even believable in its day, but today it comes off as naïve and idealistic: does anyone really believe that after a Big Collapse, there will be some utopia of scientifically-enlightened philosopher-kings stretching out a hand to lead the survivors from the wastes? No, because we've had Mad Max and Blade Runner and all the rest of the "dystructopias" since then to serve as more credible counter-examples.
I guess what matters most from any vision of the future is not that it is technically accurate, but that it understands what people do and why, even under the most outlandish circumstances. The only SF writer I can think of who came even remotely close to predicting the information age we have today is John Brunner. Go read The Shockwave Rider for his 1974 take on the Internet; it's not all that far removed from what we have now, including what amounted to Wikileaks. But even if he had gotten all of that dead wrong, the book would still be excellent, because it understands human behavior as transformed by a technological society. And, before all of that, human behavior period.
.... Folman has previously disclosed his intention on diving back into animation and named the adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s 1971 novel The Futurological Congress as his next project.
Color me very sold. Lem is of course one of my favorite authors, period, so any chance to get more of his work to the screen is welcome. Solaris was filmed not just once but twice (the two versions make for a great double feature if you're extremely patient), but my longstanding favorite of his, not yet filmed, would be either Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (a great meditation on how information might survive a coming catastrophe) or The Star Diaries — the latter of which, due to its episodic nature, would work better as a TV series.
Over at AICN (don't laugh — ah, crap, too late) there's a reprint of a pretty good interview with screenwriter / novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. He jammed around with the likes of Hal Ashby and Sam Peckinpah, wrote scripts for everyone from Alex Cox to Carroll Ballard to Bernardo Bertolucci, and tossed us a couple of novels from back over the edge, too: Nog, Flats, The Drop Edge of Yonder. They tag people like this with the label "Dying Breed". Bloody shame, too, because we could use a few more of them.
One quote in the interview stood out more than just about everything else — yes, even the anecdote about a nearly-naked Peckinpah nearly pulling a gun on him while receiving a massage: "[Samuel] Beckett* has always been a major figure for me, so much so that I had to stop reading him for a number of years in order to survive." (Emphasis mine.)
There are days when I wish to whatever god(s) might be listening that I had never discovered three-fourths of the writers I admire to this day. If only because my formative experiences with them were all the same: I'd discover the author, read everything I could get my hands on with their name on the cover, spend six months to a year writing horribly inferior trash in "emulation" (read: blatant goddamn ripoff) of their work, then finally — finally — glean what was to be gleaned from them and move on.
Sometimes this process took a lot longer than six months.
The hardest thing for all too many writers is to find a formative influence and survive the experience. Some people never make it out from under the weight of that millstone. They see work that is so far above anything they believe they can ever produce (whether or not that's remotely true is another story), and they choke. They try to put together a half a sentence and instantly the tonnage of everything they just plowed through comes down hard enough to break their fingers. Some of them quit; some get stuck in this horrible Möbius-loop of try-and-fail, over-and-over. A very few just get shameless about the whole thing, admit to borrowing from someone, get over it and move on to something truly theirs. And when that stuff finally does come, it doesn't come from having read another book.
* If anyone reading this thinks I am talking about the Scott Bakula character from Quantum Leap, you are hereby ordered to throw yourself onto your sword. If you do not have a sword, one will be provided for you at no charge.
Sorry I haven't been saying much lately. Between working on two dueling projects for work (they're overlapping each other), getting ready for AnimeNext this coming weekend and trying to set a few other things in order, it hasn't been a very talkative time.
So, some new stuff ...
Streaming video site Crackle just signed a deal with Sony Pictures.Among the goodies already available: the underappreciated 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Jackie Chan's The Myth and Drunken Master, Heavy Metal, and tons of Godzilla flicks including Godzilla vs. Mothra. Also check out the Hubert Selby, Jr.-penned Fear X, which I did write a review of a while back (expect it to resurface in the archive at some point).
The picture quality is excellent — the HD looks like 720P, as far as I can tell — and it's free to play without even so much as registering. You do have to put up with commercial interruptions, but that won't bother most of us raised on plain old TV-over-the-air one bit. (Or, in my case, trying to get Channel 68 to spontaneously unscramble. A kewpie doll to anyone who remembers that bit of TV trivia.)
For those with NetFlix: Carl Sagan's Cosmos is now available for instant viewing.
A while back I wrote a review of an animated feature from Japan — Tarō the Dragon Boy — where I said something along these lines: “You could watch this just for the nostalgia value, but that would be a mistake.” The same goes for Roger Leloup’s Yoko Tsuno series. Its design and storytelling harkens back to the days of Tintin and Johnny Quest, but it has far more than retro flair going for it. It’s one you get for your kids, and then you end up reading yourself out of sheer affection for it.
History lesson. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the word manga was not in the dictionary (let alone on the bestseller lists) and what most people knew about Japan was mostly confined to the business or cooking pages of the newspaper, I was still working through my bandes dessinés phase and devouring everything in sight since there was so infuriatingly little of it to begin with. Mom had given my brother and I copies of Tintin to keep us busy during a transatlantic flight (circa 1978), and after that I was hooked. I borrowed copies of the rest of the series from the library, got hooked on Astérix in the process, graduated to the likes of Heavy Metal and Epic, and added tomes by Enki Bilal (Nikopol) and Juan Gimenez (A Matter of Time) to my permanent collection.
And along the way, I stumbled across something called The Adventures of Yoko, Vic and Paul from the same publishers as Bilal and Gimenez (the now-defunct Catalan Communications). Yoko was a Japanese teenager who lived in Belgium and “worked in television”, and along with her two friends — Vic the competent straight man, Paul the comic relief — she got into any number of adventures that ranged from Nancy Drew-style mystery to wild and wooly SF in the “let’s go to far-off worlds but we need to be back in time for dinner” vein. Of course I dug it, and not just because Yoko was cute. And now the good folks at Cinebook have picked up the rights to Yoko, letting me pick up where I left off all those years ago and not forcing me to go read the darn things in French after all. Read more
The more I read of Pluto, the less averse I am to the idea of remakes. Or, rather, of an artist of high caliber having his work revisited by another artist in the same stratosphere. Osamu Tezuka is about as up-there as manga artists get, and Naoki Urasawa has been racing up the rungs of the same ladder for some time now. Pluto is Urasawa’s reworking of one of Tezuka’s best-loved stories from Astro-Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomu), and the best thing I can say about it is that it does not for one moment feel like a “remake”. It stands alone.
The third volume is a frenzy of twofold plotting and character development, with a fair amount of page time occupied by Uran, Atom’s sister. Just as Atom himself stepped into the picture at the end of volume 1, Uran (short for Uranium, mayhaps?) popped in at the end of volume 2 — just in time to calm down a batch of escaped zoo animals. She’s as cheerfully blithe as Atom is focused and serious, but maybe that’s just her way of dealing with her peculiar sensitivity towards things around her. She’s the sonar to Atom’s radar: he can sniff out a robot that looks like a human, and she can sense disturbances in the Force, sorta-kinda, that bespeak of bad tidings for both machines and men.Read more
For the first third or so of its running time, Sway leads us astray so well that by the time it closes around its real subject, we don’t mind. It’s only towards the end that we realize it was never digressing. It begins as a drama about distances between family members — like a Japanese version of The Ice Storm, maybe — and then turns with startling single-mindedness into a Rashōmon-like story of murder and guilt. And even that’s not the real story, either.
The first act, again, is all setup, but of character and not for plot. We see two brothers, Takeru (Jō Odagiri) and Minoru (Teruyuki Kagawa). Handsome Takeru has a career as a photographer, tools around in a vintage car, wears red leather pants, and affects an air of gentle detachment everywhere. Minoru, homely and reticent, is far more “conventional” — bowing, smiling, slaving away at the crummy little gas station he’s been running in their hometown for years, still living at home with his father. Read more
Tokyo Inferno has a slightly remodeled cover design!
The old design, for reference: