I only need my imagination for the things I want to do and the places I want to go. — Asano
The same could be said of Christopher Doyle, the Australian-born, HK-based cinematographer who directed Away With Words. It's the kind of movie I savor and rhapsodize over, because it hasn't been die-cut from some existing convention. It's not so much a story as it is a reverie or a daydream, where various things swim in and out of our view and gain connotations of their own. It is wonderful, in the most literal meaning of the word — full of wonder.
I should say upfront that Away with Words has no plot to speak of, no concessions to conventional movie genres. This will no doubt scare off a fair number of people, and I don't blame them — there was a time when I didn't want to see any movie that did more than just walk me through a story and leave me at a clearly-defined ending. Now I'm at a point where I'm more interested in movies that freely break the rules, when so many others are all too willing to follow them slavishly. Sometimes such movies fail; sometimes they work. This one works. Read more
Something I forgot to mention about my last trip into the city for Vertical Vendesday. While at Book-Off, scouring for rarities, I bumped into something that surprised even Ioannis: a Guin Saga tie-in game book that amounted to a kind of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story. Rather than just pick between choices every couple of pages, you roll dice and track your character's progress with a sheet, so it's a bit more RPG-style game-oriented than CYOA was. There's some terrible irony in that the closest analogy in anything released today would be something like Queens Blade. Ick.
You can take away a man's gods, but only to give him others in return.
— Carl-Gustav Jung
Case in point: Kimihiro Watanuki of ×××HOLiC. His god, as it were, is his unwanted ability to sense spirits and draw them to himself. Diabolical auras. Impish tengu. Haughty weather spirits. Yes, he’s even heard the mermaids singing, each to each, and he’d rather they not sing to him. He’d rather trade in his gods. He receives a goddess as a replacement instead.
Or, rather, a witch: Yūko, she who runs a strange little shop where wishes are fulfilled but never without a price being paid. She can take away his affinity for the spirit world, but it will cost him. That cost is paid in the form of being her part-time employee: slaving in her kitchen over a hot rice cooker, throwing spur-of-the-moment parties for her and her two childlike spirit-servants and that “black dumpling thing” named Mokona. And every now and then he has to run errands of a supernatural bent, which throw him back into contact with the very things he hates, hates, hates.Read more
Blame obesity on mass food production and the cost, in terms of time involved, to make meals:
Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! hinted at many of the same things, too — and these are things I've suspected for a while but found difficult to articulate. We've made it surpassingly easy to overeat, to surround ourselves with calorically-dense but nutritionally-meager food, and to assume that such things can be substitutes for more time-established eating habits. (My mother has a rule about meals: you can eat as much as you like when you're at the table, but forget about snacks unless it's something like crudities.)
Among the other things Vertical sent me recently — and which I didn't review if only because I didn't feel I was competent to speak about them at the time — were a series of cookbooks by celebrity chef Kentaro Kobayashi. He emphasizes ease of preparation, but even an "easy" self-prepared meal is still that much more work than something you pull out of the freezer and stick in the microwave. And probably better for you on all counts.
I will begin with a simple question, one which you are free to reply to right now without reading the rest of this: What do you do when you find that an artist whose work you admire deeply — be it a musician, an author, an actor — holds political stances that you cannot in good faith bring yourself to agree with?
Here's the rest of the story.
Most people who read this site know I've long been a fan of Merzbow, or Masami Akita as he's known by the name he was born with and most likely also signs on his legal paperwork. Akita has, for some time now, spoken out in favor of animal rights and pro-environmental issues; he's against whaling, trapping animals for fur, eating meat, and so on. All fine. What I find less easy to take is his support for PETA, who have employed questionable tactics many times in the past.
I'm doing my best here to separate the actual agenda from the means used to promote / further it. I don't have an issue with someone who chooses not to eat meat, wear fur, use leather products, use animal-tested products, etc. I don't have an issue with someone who wants to raise consciousness for such things.
Rather than shun Akita's music outright and say "No, I won't give money to someone who supports PETA," which accomplishes little and perhaps nothing, I will put it this way instead:
Mr. Akita, I support the right for you to say what you do and ally yourself with such groups. But I also reserve the right to call you out on it. By all means, protest whaling and promote ways to allow people to enjoy a cruelty-free life. You even have a book by that name — My Cruelty-Free Life — that I'd like to see in English, if only for the sake of seeing what you have to say on the subject. But any record of yours that is specifically designed to garner money for PETA, I will not buy.
I like your music, Mr. Akita, and I like the fact that you're willing to stick with what you believe. It's the other guys I worry about. And I reserve the right to nag you about them.
So there's my answer.
July 29, 2009. Wednesday. New York City. Forecast: Rain, lots of it. That’s not going to stop me, I mused, and packed everything I was taking with me in a thick-walled plastic bag courtesy of the duty-free zone at Dublin Airport. A late bus and worrisome crosswise gusts of windblown rain (which had all the charm of blundering under a showerhead pointed at your cheek) didn’t turn me off, either. You can’t keep a good fan down, especially when he’s headed into Manhattan to hobnob with the folks from Vertical, Inc. about the “light novel” explosion.
“Vertical Vendesday”, as these quasi-monthly kaffee-klatsches are called, happens about once every five weeks. Said gatherings feature the V People (Ioannis Mentzas, Head Honcho and Ed Chavez, Marketing Director) holding court with a gang of fans, pros, ams, and curious onlookers alike on subjects of mutual concern typically gleaned from goodies Vertical has, or is, or will be publishing. I wasn’t able to attend previous sessions — no thanks to my chronic inability to figure out what I’m going to be doing even five minute into the future — but this time out I just set my jaw, pushed everything else aside, went, and promised myself I’d be back next time, too.Read more
The hardest part of this job is figuring out when a series that looks like a dud is just a late bloomer. I didn’t get winner’s vibes from the first couple of volumes of Kurohime; the whole thing seemed like a one-note joke. But then by some happy set of accidents I read later volumes, where there was not only a story and a theme but (gasp!) character development and (shock!) heart ‘n soul. Lo and behold, the dud blossomed into a delight — something I confirmed for myself when I cashed in some soda bottles and filled the gaps in my collection.
Now here we are at lucky volume thirteen, after our heroine has been booted back through time and send sailing head-over-D-cups through plot convolutions that would’ve reduced most any other series to laughable irrelevance. What keeps this particular book’s boat afloat is how everything that happens plugs directly back into its major themes, Love and Forgiveness. Mushy to be sure, but hey, I like this kind of mushy — the sort where big things are at stake, and everyone involved has to make hard choices, and you still go "Awww!" It’s the sort of popcorn entertainment that I don’t mind getting stuck between my teeth.Read more
... the film industry is in a really weird position at the moment. If I think about it too much, I get depressed because I don't think it's in a very good state, and we're all responsible for that; I'm not pointing fingers because it's easy to say "Oh, look at what the studios are doing." But it's the filmmakers as much as anybody; it's the authors of the of the movies, the writers and the directors. We're all got to be doing our part. And I think there's so much nervousness about dropping attendance, or so people say, and plummeting DVD sales that suddenly everyone is working from a defensive position. The creativity that's going into films is almost like playing a defensive game, instead of playing an attacking game.... Everyone wants to create these little safe harbors, which are franchises. And you create your franchise, which is going to lead to three or four movies, and it'll all go to the bottom line and that goes to Wall Street. It's all this corporate stuff, and the film industry and the world of finance and Wall Street have all kind of blended in a way that's not good for creativity at the moment.
The concept of "safe harbor" is of course not limited to the current situation. It's the way Hollywood and commercial filmmaking has operated since forever; they always work with what's bankable or safe, never mind what damage is done to creativity or originality in the long or short run. Such are the hazards of the supply chain, rather than audiences, being the real consumers of filmmaking.
Any avid reader knows the power of a book to transport you into another world, be it the wizard realm of "Harry Potter" or the legal intrigue of the latest John Grisham. Part of the reason we get lost in these imaginary worlds might be because our brains effectively simulate the events of the book in the same way they process events in the real world, a new study suggests.
Not too far from what I had suspected myself, actually.
This reminded me of something else I'd read, about how people with pronounced sociopathic tendencies process things that should have emotional heft with parts of their brains that are normally reserved for things like puzzles or linguistics. Perhaps those two portions of the brain are more intimately related than we think, and pass things back and forth between each other more freely than it might first appear.
Ruka’s vacation is ruined right on the first day of summer. She hits another girl in the face with her elbow during a handball game — in her mind, it’s payback for having her foot stomped — and the coach lays down the law: “Don’t bother coming back to practice.” She’s unhappy and remote, distant from other kids her age, annoyed by how the only attention she gets from adults — including her estranged father and incurious mother — is in the form of reprimands. This girl needs something to do, and doesn’t know what.
One afternoon she rides the train into Tokyo, for no particular reason, and finds herself standing at the lip of an inlet to the ocean. Someone else is there, a boy who doesn’t look Japanese but speaks to her: “The sea in Tokyo is kind of like a broken toy, isn’t it?” His name is Umi — “Sea” — and he has the dreamy, amused air of someone who will probably never grow all the way up.Read more
Black Rain — the good Shohei Imamura movie, not the crappy Michael Douglas one — is getting a long-overdue DVD issue thanks to AnimEigo.
The artwork for the first Blade of the Immortal DVD is right on the freakin' money.
Blood Rain was a frustrating movie — too hidebound by its mystery/thriller format to really work — but I'm grateful it's being released Stateside all the same.
Best Foreign Film Oscar contender Kabei gets a domestic pressing thanks to Strand.
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. On BD. Because people will pay other people to watch them make noises, as Mr. Byrne himself once observed.
Oh, look, a box fulla ninjas!
And this should speak for itself.
I spent Sunday at my parent's house — first time I'd seen them in months, since they were overseas and enjoying the company of relatives in Turkey and Ireland. There was home cooking, tech support (dad's notebook needed a wipe-down) and some musing about Comic-Con and Otakon, much to my surprise.
Popped back through the city on the way home and hit Book-Off. Among the things I found there was the soundtrack to the NHK taiga drama version of Furin Kazan (aka Samurai Banners). The score's by Akira Senju, he of Mystery of Rampo — but more notably to some, the composer for the Fullmetal Alchemist movie. I also ran into a cheap copy of one of the untranslated Black Jack volumes — that'll come in handy for comparison when the corresponding translation arrives.
Osamu Tezuka's Dororo manga (Vertical) has won the Will Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Japan at Comic-Con International on Friday evening in San Diego, California. Dororo is only the third winner of the recently added category.
Congratulations to everyone at the Big V who made this happen!
Now that all is said and done, the whole of Claymore (or at least its first season) has been a journey towards a single smile. Beyond the bloodshed and severed limbs and all the torment endured by everyone, especially Claire, there’s one moment when that woman finally allows herself a smile not only for having survived but for having found something she hadn’t even set out to look for in the first place. Her original mission was to take vengeance upon Priscilla, the Awakened Being who killed Claire’s big-sister mentor Teresa — but a funny thing happened on the way to the battlefield, and at the end she’s grateful there is now something else in her world other than the prospect of endless bloodshed.
No ongoing manga can be adapted into a TV show without at least some level of compromise. And the ending of Claymore as a show — first season or only season — does deviate from the way the same plotlines have been concluded in the manga. They may not keep the same sequence of events, but what they have reproduces the same kinds of emotional significance for everyone involved. I know people who were upset at the changes, but I’m not one of them. What we see in the show works on its own terms.Read more
Black Lagoon has, from all we’ve seen, two types of storylines. The first is the slower, longer, more over-arching plot threads, like the Washimine-gumi saga that filled most of the last two volumes. Then there are the adventures where the scenery is punctured with flying lead, everything that can be blown up is blown up, and people reveal various perverse ways in which anything imaginable can be used as an assault weapon. Guess what we get this time around.
It’s not as if the series is missing anything when it jams itself into absurdist-overkill action mode, though. Even when things are going through the roof and punching holes in the bottoms of passing airplanes, there’s always still some tenuous semblance of story ‘n character, even if it’s relegated to second-banana walk-on status. The up-front themes this time around aren’t honor, loyalty, or the brotherhoods that exist between criminals — it’s Revy’s pissed-off psycho-smile and Rock’s pop-eyed stupefaction at what kind of crazy crap he’s managed to get himself into this time.Read more
First, let's get this out of the way. If you take seriously, even for a minute, the thoroughly risible conceit that Barack Obama is not an American citizen or has forged credentials to that effect or some nitwit variant of the above, then I'll also wager that no amount of evidence to the contrary will persuade you otherwise. Because you'll always find a way to dismiss it.
I spent a couple of years in the late Nineties as a regular reader of the alt.revisionism newsgroup, wherein Holocaust deniers posted one tired variation after another on the usual demonstrably untrue conceits. This is not the place to go into the details, but the short version is that the only thing that really changed on their end was the names. The folks on the other side — the ones posting rebuttals based on historical fact, the folks who took the time to demolish the arguments point-for-point — did not believe for a minute they were going to break the faith of the converted. They were doing this so that other people who had wandered in and were perhaps on the fence would not get suckered by fallacious arguments and a version of history with most of its pieces missing or reinstalled upside down.
I see something of the same dynamic here. Those who believe will always find a way to believe, and will typically do this by falling back on support from a like-minded group. The nature of the belief isn't important — it could be the old canard that we never landed on the moon (which got a major bump in attention recently, much to my disgust), or a flat/hollow earth, or anything, really. What matters most is that you have a need to believe, and that without the expression of that need you feel as if some major component of your self has been denied. (I'm willing to bet the same mechanic applies to aging rock stars who get themselves back onto the stage for one more gig, because without a stage and an audience and a band behind them, what's left? Well, if you're Brian May, a career in astronomy, but he's the exception and not the rule.)
Why do they do it? For solidarity, I think; as a way to claim membership with a corpus and not feel marginalized. People disturbed by the idea that a black man is president; people upset that anyone not of their pet political persuasion is in power; people who hate the system on general principles and look for any way they can put thorns in its side. The issue itself is never the issue; it's always a symptom of something larger, deeper, more ... conspiratorial.
The larger question of whether or not there are better things to occupy one's time, energy, attention and remaining brain cells with remains unanswered.
I love being hit by lightning.
See, I didn't go to Otakon for inspiration. The inspiration stork drops idea babies quite regularly into my house. I have notebooks full of unused ideas, just waiting for me to pick through them like one kid trying to make his way through a whole city block's worth of candy stores.
But that's the funny thing about inspiration: you don't always ask for it. Sometimes it just drops in. Sometimes it parks itself on your couch, smokes your stash, swills down that bottle of Taittinger's you had stowed away for someone's graduation, and runs up a massive phone bill.
(OK, enough extended metaphors. I promise.)
I spent most of Otakon — from about Friday afternoon on through Sunday — with a new idea for a future book. Quite possibly my next book. Also quite possibly the culmination of several parallel ideas that for a long time had obstinately refused to sit down together in the same room. I spent most every spare moment I had scribbling down this idea — that is, when I wasn't editing my convention reports or running from Hither to Thither (average distance: 1500 feet) or interviewing people in fifteen-minute blocks or just lying on my back and blowing out shallow breaths and wondering what the hell I'd just done to my ankles.
And the more I scribbled, the more I said, I have something here. It became all the clearer that I had something when I explained the idea to three people on three separate occasions — to my friend Jeremy over dinner one night, to my other friend Daniel over breakfast on Sunday, and to my friend Mike on the phone while driving back. (The gods were smiling; I only ran out of both signal and battery power after I'd already blown his mind and had to stop for gas.) Talking about it with all three of them helped nail it down all the more, helped prune away some of the corners on which people might be likely to snag elbows and pants cuffs.
You have no idea how tempted I am to spill it all here.
Just not right now. And there are two reasons for this.
One, the whole thing is still very much Under Wraps. I could end up with something radically unalike what I told my friends about, and the fewer people I tell one thing and deliver another, the less like a prospective bait-and-switch artist I'll feel. (This is, I know, highly irrational, but as Andrei Codrescu once said, the Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans. Meaning, I guess, that nobody expects this stuff to make sense. It behaves as it behaves.)
Reason Numéro Deux is a little trickier. I'd rather not talk about the idea here because one of the things I'm considering is a sort of viral-marketing campaign, which relies on prior secrecy to make it that much more interesting. I might find the whole project a bit much to handle — it's all still in the "yeah, that sounds like it might work here, but I have to see if it kills me" stages — but why pre-emptively shoot myself in the foot?
I am willing to mention a few things which are not spoilers, and which for all I know might light a fire under peoples' curiosities all the more. So here goes.
No, I don't expect anyone to get that last part, but it was fun putting it in there.
I'll be back at Otakon next year, but I suspect I might not be going as press. Instead, I may well go as Press — Genji Press, to be precise.
I've been musing this over for a while now, and if something has been on my mind for that long and refuses to go away (like some psychic toothache), odds are it's something I'm gonna do eventually and all that stands between me and it is some hard work.
The biggest problem with becoming a vendor, either in the dealer room or the Artist's Alley, is the sheer cost. I suspect what I'll have to do is split a table with someone willing to do so — either another artist or an existing writer (maybe someone with a webcomic).
The cost of an Artist Alley table isn't too bad: $70. It's the competition to secure tables that's fierce as hell, and the total allotment of tables are usually gone in days: this year they opened artist's reg on May 18 and it closed on May 20th. Ouch. The good news, if there is any (okay, there is; I'm being snide) is that I'll be able to wait until fairly late into next year before I even need to think about doing this.
I don't just want to cover and talk about the scene anymore. I've been growing as a participant in it for some time now — or, maybe better to say, someone who does things as opposed to just talking about them. Please do not infer that by this I mean people who only talk about things are doing nothing; we call the best and brightest of that sort of activity "criticism", and it's something I do regularly, as anyone who reads my site knows.
But I'm not in the same position I was a few years ago. I now have two-going-on-three major completed works under my belt, with many more to come, and it's high time I stepped up and started advertising myself to the world in more upfront ways.
And so — to 2010 and beyond!
Last note: I've still got one or two more items to edit and post from Otakon. One is a Mary Elizabeth McGlynn roundtable discussion that I sat in on along with my cohort Jeremy; the other an interview with one of the FUNimation folks that was regrettably quite short.
Full Otakon 2009 photo gallery is now live.
Look fast for the Shamwow Guy cosplayer.
I'm back from Otakon '09 and getting caught up with everything. This may take as much as two days. I've got some coverage of the show up already, with more to come. There's a roundtable discussion with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn that I have to upload, but the Q&A that took place on Friday was two tons of fun.
That lady is a gas and a half.
More later, including a possible new story/novel idea.
Asbury Park, New Jersey, where I'm taking a brief respite from snaking up and down the highways on my way to Otakon 2009. I'll be heading back on the road momentarily, but once I'm firmly ensconced in the hotel room there will be more to talk about, and just an utter slew of pictures as well. (I still don't know what the schedule is, or who's going to be where, but there's the chance I might be talking to a couple of people who are, as they say, kind of a big deal. I leave such possibilities to fate and am simply doing my best to have the Good Time I've been trying to have for a while now.)
The hardest sort of story to write is not autobiographical, experimental / post-whatever or stories about faraway or fictional societies. It's children's books. I've come to this conclusion again and again, especially after reading something like Kiki's Delivery Service and comparing it to any number of other, more "adult" or even "literary" books in my collection.
It takes uncommon skill and discipline to pare out, to leave out, to strip down. A children's book is a distillation of many such acts. You are expected to keep things on a level suited to younger readers, and yet retain the kind of graceful complexity that will draw them back in again and again, possibly even as adults. To my mind, the whole thing is a little like having children for real: you need to just dive in and let it happen, and let the process of doing it change you.
Writing a bona-fide children's book is one of those things I've had kicking around in the back of my mind for a long time. I suspect reading Brave Story (yes, I've still got that on my list of things to do) will provide some perspective on how to make that happen on a large scale, where Kiki was remarkably trim. (Memo to self: pick up untranslated original for Kiki.)
Publishers Weekly has a quick profile of Vertical, Inc., one of my favorite publishers around. This came by way of AICN Anime, along with a couple of other interesting albeit unsourced tidbits. This one in particular caught my eye:
... I didn't even know there was a live-action item in the first place, apart from Rashōmon itself! The film in question was directed by Red Shadow / Samurai Fiction / Stereo Future helmer Hiroyuki Nakano, so my bet is it's gonna be heavy on the pop-culture nudges in the ribs and light on everything else.
Oh, and this:
Via Anime News Network that two "Macross Crossover Live A.D. 2009x45x49" concerts at the Makuhari Messe convention complex near Tokyo on October 17 and October 18.
The "galaxy's biggest crossover" will feature Mari Iijima (Lynn Minmay in The Super Dimension Fortress Macross), Yoshiki Fukuyama (the singing voice of Macross 7's Basara Nekki), Chie Kajiura (the singing voice of Macross 7's Mylene Jenius), May'n (the singing voice of Macross Frontier's Sheryl Nome), and Megumi Nakajima (Macross Frontier's Ranka Lee).
Wait ... NO SHARON APPLE? For shame, kids.
And it wouldn't be a week without some Tezuka. Specifically, this eyebrow-raising behind-the-scenes peek at the live-action adaptation of Tezuka's brilliant (and sometimes downright vile) MW. I don't think anything else in this entire catalog was remotely this jaundiced or disturbing and I can't wait to see how it's been adapted.
Here’s a metaphor for you: Takashi Miike has become the David Bowie of Japanese filmmaking. Just when you think you’ve got him pinned down, he metamorphoses on you into something entirely different. There’s the Miike that gave us the reprehensible Ichi the Killer, the transcendent Bird People in China, the wild and heedless Dead or Alive trilogy, the hallucinatory Gozu, the doubly hallucinatory Izo, the touching Sabu, and so on. He tries a little of everything, in every way imaginable, but that doesn’t mean he always pulls it off.
Mark Schilling has pointed out that Miike’s view of his work is that it’s all part of the same ongoing continuum. To him, there’s no division between the “silly” and the “serious” stuff; it all comes from the same place (that is, from inside him). I’ve been watching his movies for long enough to see how the earlier, kookier material connects to his more recent, ambitious work — yes, even the allegedly kiddy-grade stuff like Yatterman and Great Yokai War. But just because he sees the connections on his side doesn’t mean we do, and sometimes the results are just muddled. Read more
Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2. ... I kept coming across the same reactions. “It’s just a summer action flick. What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie? Stop analyzing and just have fun! Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?” I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique.... Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on? Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest. When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it..... I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**. It’s important because it’s popular. Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.
I think a lot of what bothers people about a given story sporting ugly stereotypes (women are built to look cute and nothing more; the behavior of anyone who doesn't look like us is in inherently funny) is when the story hits other sweet spots. People enjoyed the heck out of Transformers because it gave them what they wanted, but that just makes me wonder (as Jim did) if they were also enjoying the confirmation of other prejudices they don't talk about.
Most of the truly ugly sexism and racism I see is, in my opinion, material crafted for the very audience it sees in such a poor light. The most sexist films I've seen are not macho-action vehicles where women cringe behind men as stuff blows up; half the time in movies like that the women at least gets some token empowerment. The big offenders for me are, get this, the chick flicks and girly-date movies, where women are seen — and see themselves — entirely in terms of what guys think of them. I can't watch such movies without asking myself, what sane woman would not run from this gagging? Because the audience is that much closer to the material, it's harder for them to see just how insulting it is to them. (I recall having a similar discussion with a friend who opined that the most unforgivably sexist film he'd ever seen was The Devil Wear Prada.)
Another question. What's worse, a story that revels in such offensiveness or one that includes it in a more innocuous way? I'm not sure the two are really comparable: they're both bad for different reasons. What they have in common is an audience that accepts them uncritically. You don't have to aid and abet such things if you don't want to. But on top of that, you raise your kids right and think twice on your own about whether a given behavior is a group behavior or an individual behavior. That's the kind of thing that I think has infinitely more impact than the contents of a movie.
But it wouldn't hurt to have a few smarter flicks.
From the outside, Tokyo Decadence looks and smells like the 1990s version of In the Realm of the Senses. It oozes with sex and social criticism alike, employing sleaze as a delivery mechanism for its deeper message. But while Senses was bold for reasons apart from how graphic it was, Decadence is stuck somewhere between indicting its audience and catering to it. Some elements of the film have great impact, but others are just too fundamentally silly to be anything but funny — and worse, the director isn’t able to choose one over the other. The end result is equal parts hokum and brimstone.
The film was originally a novel (not yet in English) by Ryū Murakami, he of Coin Locker Babies and Almost Transparent Blue. The author himself brought it to the screen, which is not always the best thing. Authors often have far too much attachment to their own material to make the sometimes ruthless decisions required to adapt it for other media. I could not tell you what tone and atmosphere the book was meant to conjure up, but the resulting movie is schizoid — like a sloppy drunk lecturing you on getting your life in order. Read more
Between cleaning up one thing and another, I stumbled across a bunch of notes I'd been putting together for prospective fellow critics/reviewers. One of the little bylaws-to-self written there was: "Don't look for 'perfect'."
Part of the problem I have with a term like "perfect" is that it's so charged with potentially misleading meaning that using it brings too much additional baggage to the table. Your idea of a "perfect" movie is probably nothing like my idea of a "perfect" movie, so unless you want to get into a discussion about your "perfect" vs. my "perfect", it's better to talk more about the work in other ways. (This goes, I think, hand in hand with avoiding superlatives in general. If you say something is "the best XXX" or even "the best XXX since YYY", then all that does is date your decision.)
No creative work is free from flaws, because every reader brings their own sensibilities and expectations to the table. Everyone wants something different, even people who are ostensibly going to the same work for the same reasons. It's probably better to talk about what people expecting going in, and how those expectations are going to be satisfied or defeated. Nobody goes to see Machine Girl for the quality of the acting, and nobody is going to watch Last Year at Marienbad to see stuff blowed up real good. Not unless they've been sold some seriously out-of-whack expectations about them.
Don't look for perfect, if only because everyone's looking for something different anyway. Look for satisfying, look for what works and why, and just go from there.
The AnimeNation blog has a post about a most peculiar-looking TV series in the pipeline named Kuchu Buranko. Turns out the whole thing is from a novel by Hideo Okuda, he of Lala Pipo fame. That automatically makes it a must-see.
"The Hurt Locker" represents a return to strong, exciting narrative. Here is a film about a bomb disposal expert that depends on character, dialogue and situation to develop almost unbearable suspense. It contains explosions, but only a few, and it is not about explosions, but about hoping that none will happen. That sense of hope is crucial. When we merely want to see stuff blowed up real good in a movie, that means the movie contains no one we give a damn about.
The first ten minutes of the film are online as well — linked from the article above — and if they don't make you contemplate buying a ticket, something is terribly wrong.
Something that came to mind as I was reading this: a parallel between the protagonist of Locker and Tezuka's Black Jack. Both seem to thrive on risk, albeit in different ways. Black Jack throws himself at one impossible case after another, convinced of his ability to find a cure or bring a patient back from the brink of death. Most of the time, he's right. Sometimes he's wrong, and when that happens it hits him like someone clubbed his kidneys with a cricket bat. The fun's over.
Earlier in the year I picked up a mail meter. I send out a fair amount of mail — book orders, stuff I've sold on Amazon, things like that — so it seemed like the smart thing to do. The rental fee for the meter wasn't too steep, and I figured that if I was sending that many more packages by parcel post instead of first class, it would work itself out.
Now, about six months into owning the thing, I'm about ready to throw it out the window.
I did the math. Belatedly. At $15 a month, plus the $70 or so cost of the ink per six months or so, that's $25 a month I'm blowing for the privilege of not having to stand on line to ship something at the media-mail rate. I'd have to ship several times as many packages as I do now to make that even remotely worth the cost.
At least I get more exercise at the post office.
In a fight between you and the world, bet on the world.
— Attributed to Franz Kafka
Except that some people like that sort of thing. They get a charge out of bucking the odds — the worse the odds, the bigger the thrill. They’re the embodiment of that Adidas ad tagline Impossible Is Nothing, and it doesn’t matter if the endeavor in question is soccer, mountain-climbing, chess, kickboxing or the unlicensed practice of medicine. You see where this is going.
Truth be told, it’s not just the fact that Black Jack is a risk-taker. It’s that he’s beaten these odds before, can do it again, and doesn’t like people telling him otherwise. Through volume six of Black Jack he faces one medical Iron Man triathlon after another, from brain transplants to brain tumors — but the real reason he flings himself so heedlessly at such outrageous jobs is to stand in stark contrast to everyone who settles for having no hope. His biggest resentments are reserved not for those who want to stick him in prison and make sure he never practices again, but for quitters and cop-outs of all stripes … whether they’re rival doctors or his own patients.Read more
Also, one of the reviews that generated an incredible amount of feedback: my take on The Last Unicorn. That's been updated with a link directly to Peter S. Beagle's site, so you can buy the film from him and make sure he gets the money he's owed.
Saya is 16 and has been 16 for a very long time. What’s interesting about teenage vampires, such as the hero of “Twilight,” is that they’re frozen in time while old enough to be sexy but too young to have developed a complex sensibility. Apparently, your maturation is put on hold along with your appearance, since Saya is 400 years old.
Three stars from Brother Roger, which is about what I figured (my low-ball figure for him on this one was 2½). I've been looking forward to B:TLV for a while now, if only because it might kick open the doors for other, bigger and even more ambitious projects (VAMPIRE HUNTER D PLEASE THANK YOU).
But he saves the real praise this week for The Hurt Locker, which goes on my very short list:
I wonder if a lot of “Transformer” lovers would even be able to take “The Hurt Locker.” They may not be accustomed to powerful films that pound on their imaginations instead of their ears.
Or to paraphrase Hitchcock: If Transformers is the bomb under the table that goes off, Hurt Locker is the one that ticks and ticks and ticks.
Very good to see the man getting his day in the sun over here. The article also notes, though, that "maybe a third" of the Comic-Con attendees will care about his appearance. Thing is, we've been moving for a long time towards a world where interests are being more polarized and subdivided, not less, so this doesn't entirely surprise me. It may only be a third, but that third makes enough noise to make up for the others.
Another one I overlooked. Takashi Miike's Audition hits Blu-ray in October. I looked at it back on DVD but I think I significantly underrated it at the time, and it's going to be worth a second look. I'm personally hoping for Izo and Great Yokai War to come to BD sooner, but I'll take what I can get from his catalog.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GiG is getting a priced-down reissue in September thanks to Bandai. No word on domestic issues of the Blu-ray versions of the series (or even the remix of the movie, which I've been anticipating for a while now), but $40 for the whole of 2nd GiG on DVD is not a bad deal. A re-release of the entire set of Ergo Proxy is also on the slate. If you find the soundtrack CDs for this series, pick them up immediately. They are way out of print, probably never to return again, and are musically outstanding.
Interesting four-fer on Blu-ray, for the price of roughly any two items in the pack: Drunken Master, Iron Monkey, Zatōichi, Hero. No word if Hero is the edited-down version or if Drunken Master has the original (censored / offensive) ending. I'd bet money they're the international versions, given the lousy track record we've had for this sort of thing in the past.
Rob Zombie's long-in-limbo Haunted World of El Superbeasto finally gets a release. Sadly, the clips available make it look pretty terrible, like Ralph Bakshi as done by a cut-rate Korean production house.
Another deserving BD reissue of a cult movie: Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. A friend of mine introduced me to it not long after it came out on video; the emotional impact it had on him was all the greater since the girl he was dating at the time looked exactly like Henry's girlfriend in the film.
Discotek Media has a bunch of stuff on the slate for the rest of the year: a reissue of the interesting-but-failed Uzumaki (which I reviewed), Sex and Zen (which Ebert liked!), Storm Riders, adapted from the comic of the same name, and a few others not solicited yet. A post over at Discotek's site mentions that some of these titles have needed a fair amount of restoration to be watchable.
The animated version of Blade of the Immortal also has a solicitation. What I have seen of it was impressive but from what others tell me, it cuts short before it really goes anyway. I'll wait for the official release to really sink my teeth into it.
I suspect few people reading this don't know about TVTropes, one of the few sites that gives Wikipedia itself a run for the money in the Where Did The Time Go Dept. It's also easy to read it, to ignore the very advice the site's creators give about it (tropes are not bad, they're just ingredients to be used for well or ill), and to go on a mad Trope Purging / Subverting Spree in your own work. Or to look at other people's work and crush it under a critical thumb because it dares to employ hoary old cliché X.
Back in my salad days as a writer I took a few pages to pound out a short story about a future where creative exhaustion has become so complete that nobody bothers to create anything new anymore. Instead, everyone's become a critic or a collector, trading back and forth but never bothering to actually read anything because they already know how it all works out. The story's since been lost to time and entropy (and bit rot), but I think about it whenever I see how enthusiastically people have taken to singling out, labeling and picking apart everything that comes to them along the cultural conveyor belt.
The best way to approach TVTropes is as a kind of museum. You see what else has been done, and you look at it with a bit of distance and remove. By having that distance artificially inserted between you and the other thing, you get a better idea of when it works and when it doesn't. This is more than just the whole "there is nothing new under the sun" argument; there are new things under the sun, they just consist of the old things in unexpected arrangements. The trick is being able to liberate your own vision so you can in fact see the David in that eighteen-foot-high slab of useless marble that once sat in Michelangelo's studio.
Or file this under "How'd I Miss This?" if you will. Another of Osamu Tezuka's creations, Swallowing the Earth, is coming out Stateside thanks to Digital Manga. I'd expected Vertical, Inc. to pick this one up — they've become a one-stop shop for all things Tezuka, anyway — but as long as it's done well and has a good translator at the helm (Camellia, is this one of yours?) I'll be happy.
Volume 29 of Berserk is Berserk as we may well have to like it. That must sound miles removed from the fanboy-ish praise I know I’ve lavished on this series in the first ten to twelve volumes of its run. But there’s no denying that the story has undergone major changes of direction, major shifts in tone, major alterations of focus. That might well be the karma, the fate of any long-running series; there were dozens of books in the hundred-plus Guin Saga series where protagonist Guin himself doesn’t even appear or only enters as a peripheral figure. That doesn’t make it any less problematic to grapple with whenever it comes up.
The first dozen or so books of Berserk were all setup. They gave us the three key characters and their conflicts: Guts, the demon-chased Black Swordsman; Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawk, who traded earthly life as a warrior (and the lives of his comrades) to be reincarnated as an embodiment of evil; and Casca, the woman mercenary caught between both of them. Now Guts has a new group of hangers-on — the witch Schierke, the would-be kid warrior Isidro, and the former holy knight and now potential witch-in-training Farnese; Griffith has returned to the earth and created a new Band of the Hawk, and seeks nothing short of world domination; and Casca is now a near-insensate husk of a woman, whom Guts and his crew have plans to take to a distant land in search of a cure for her madness.Read more
A quick shout of thanks to Scott Green's Anime AICN column for mentioning me. Go here and search on "Genji Press".
... most of the NYAFF's ... movies will be reaching a theater near you, uh, well ... Hmm. I'm not exactly sure when, but here's a good guess: never. In fact, precisely none of the four dozen or so features in this year's NYAFF have United States theatrical distribution lined up.... That's precisely what happened with huge Asian genre hits like "Tokyo Gore Police" and "The Machine Girl," which got blink-and-you-miss-it releases from tiny distributors. ...Asian movies are dead in America and no one cares," says Grady Hendrix, co-director of Subway Cinema, which runs the NYAFF. "We're right back where we started."
Except that the trends being discussed here are not unique to Asian film in Western territories. They're pretty much the case for movies as a whole. It's becoming harder for any film to get a sustained theatrical release unless it's a double-A-list-actor super-tentpole production. Most of the reliable money for these products comes from video licensing now, which is about where most people can expect to run into these films anyway. (And the line about Gore Police / Machine Girl getting millisecond releases in theaters is missing the point: the company that financed them, Fever Dreams, is an arm of Media Blasters, whose major work has always been video licensing.)
To be honest, I'd rather have NYAFF-style festivals and video releases — where the movies in question can get specific attention and care and actually reach audiences in the first place — than the drop-and-forget assembly-line handling which ensures that films will not get booked into theaters remotely close to their target audiences. The audiences for these things are going to get more fragmented, not less, which means specialty showings like NYAFF and video licensing deals and streaming distribution through NetFlix or Joost or what have you are more important than ever.
The Japanese word otaku has been backported into English, where it has the relatively innocuous meaning “Japanese pop culture fan”. In Japanese, however, the word carries far nastier baggage — it’s nerd multiplied by geek and then raised to the power of loser. It’s used to describe people with fixations so narrow and exclusive, what they keep out is far more important than what they let in.
Onizuka, the hero (if that’s the right word) of Maiko haaaan!!!, is a geisha otaku. He loves geisha — loves their outfits, their dainty mannerisms, their hair, their elevated shoes, and their sheer inaccessibility. The latter mostly because he’s a low-level salary-schlub in a corporation nowhere near Kyoto, so he has to be content with taking pictures, keeping a fan website and dreaming his mad little dreams about someday playing strip baseball with a whole coterie of coiffed cuties. He loves geisha, it would seem, as a way to have something in his life that he can point to and say, “I love this, you hear me? LOVE IT!” Read more
Happy birthday, United States. You made it this far through a lot.
I wish I still lived in the city for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest was being able to walk to the East River and see the show, or simply go up to the rooftop and watch the whole thing bursting over the whole of Manhattan.
(And yes, fireworks are flat when viewed from the bottom. [Anyone gets that joke, I'll be impressed.])
Although, last evening, we had a bit of a firework-y sunset:
Kaidan’s an experiment in contrasting forms, shilling for conflicting. Take one of the samurai-horror flicks of the Fifties and Sixties, bring it up to date with modulated acting styles, psychological realism and understated visual style, and then force the conceits of the first to co-exist in the same story with the manner of the second. It’s probably not a huge surprise that the scientist responsible for this experiment is Hideo Nakata, he who gave us the sum total of modern Japanese cinematic horror in Ring and all of its derivatives.
As with many such experiments, I enjoyed it in the abstract more than I did in the particular. As a filmmaking exercise, it’s impressive; as a story, it suffers from having the conceits of two totally dissimilar approaches forced to share the same film. This doesn’t mean the old-school approach worked better than a more modern one; they’re both of a piece. It’s just that when shoehorned together, the end result is a kind of cinematic cognitive dissonance. Individual moments may work, but the whole thing doesn’t quite hang together. Read more
I once theorized that the difference between Japanese and American comics is that the former are about characters and stories while the latter are about franchises. I’m in the process of being proven wrong about this — or maybe it’s just the scope of the theory’s in need of revision. Case in point: the Blood: the Last Vampire continuity. It started with a short animated film, and then was rebooted into the Blood+ continuity: a long animated TV series (two seasons), a set of novels based on the TV series, a manga based rather loosely on the TV series, and now a new prequel manga series.
And yet, through all of these variations and offshoots, certain things remain consistent — much as they do, I suppose, in American franchise comics. The Hulk is always green and angry, Tony Stark is a genius playboy alcoholic, and Saya of Blood+ is always a mixture of girlish naïveté and deadly precision. Case in point once again: Blood+ Adagio, the newest installment in the franchise. It’s a prequel series, set in the early years of the Russian revolution, and purports to fill in backstory as to what happened to Saya and her compatriots during that time.Read more