Friends of mine and I often get into disputes — good-natured ones — about a concept that is expressed most commonly in Zen: that everything you need is right inside you, and that you don't need to seek outside yourself for truth but can find it right here in your own backyard.
It's a concept I've gone to the mat with constantly, because I've seen at least as much to refute it as I have to support it. Or maybe because it's easy to misinterpret as a kind of sullen, solipsistic screed. You don't need to learn anything from the outside world! Forget about all those nasty life lessons! Just dig down inside yourself and unearth the Riches Within! Usw.
I've deliberately caricatured this point of view as a way of demonstrating how easily it can slip into precisely this sort of goofy non-think. Goofy from the outside, maybe, but pretty seductive when you're wrapped up inside it and using it as a way to ward off anything that might pop your bubble.
After my own wrestling matches with this concept, this is what I was able to take back from it.
The lessons of the outside world are a given. You can take them or leave them, but they will always come on their own. What doesn't always come on its own is the spark from the inside — or, rather, it isn't always given the freedom to emerge spontaneously. To let that spring out of you requires a certain amount of putting things down and letting things go, so the signal can emerge without extraneous noise. (Sez Andrew Mckenzie: You're trying to become a radio receiver, rather than a radio transmitter.)
Remember John Cage's experiences in the anechoic chamber, wherein you could hear your own blood and nervous system? Proof to him there was no such thing as "complete silence", except as a concept in the abstract or as a direction to lean towards. The more you try to drop everything, the more you find already there in some form, waiting to bubble to the surface. I could make any number of analogies. I might well do that in time.
"The truth is inside you" isn't a substitute to the outside world — it's a complement to it. It's the oven in which the ingredients of your external experiences get baked. Then you have a nice loaf of garlic bread to go with your salad and your penne in vodka sauce.
So now I stop to take stock, and I realize I haven't the faintest idea what's happening in 2010.
I just left the fulltime gig I was doing for two years. The reasons for this I'll not go into here; most anyone who is close enough to me knows the whole story. (The rest of you are not missing anything major, trust me.) I'm in the middle of getting my resume into various people's hands and talking to folks, so all this will take care of itself in good time.
But a lot of other things have been thrown into a kind of limbo. Travel plans, mostly. I'm tentatively mulling getting a table at I-CON, but it's expensive — a kind of reverse compensation for the fact that I don't need a hotel room. AnimeFest! is happening one way or another; I'll sell blood to get there if I have to. The rest of it is, well, rather tentative, to put it mildly.
One thing that is happening, and that you would need to put bullets through my face to stop, is The Underground Sun, my Next Big Thing. If there was ever a time in my life to sit down and create something that mattered to me apart from jobs, career or money, it's now.
Earlier today, I stopped between one thing and another, and opened the files for the project. Fifteen minutes later I was in the middle of cutting and pasting notes to assemble the first couple of pages of the first draft.
They call it a writer's instinct for a reason: it comes out of you the way the eggs come out of the chicken. As e.e. cummings said about the coming of spring, you couldn't stop it with all the policemen in the world.
The rough plan is like so: Jan-May, write; Jun-Jul, edit; Aug, finish and proof and ship; Sept, sell. About the same plan of action I had last year for Tokyo Inferno, and I have a fair chunk of material already written which might well be used as-is (or which at the very least will inspire a lot of swift rewriting rather than slow creating from scratch).
It's those first couple of chapters that are always bumpy, because I keep asking myself if they're hook-y enough. I looked at what I had and felt it was a little static, so I popped it apart and stuck it back together again to see what would happen. It's a little early to tell, but I'm hoping it'll fire off the same sort of avalanche of enthusiasm that allowed all the other books to achieve cruising altitude in jig time.
Look for a status update sometime in January about this. I'm finding it helps not to talk too much about such things, lest I get tempted to substitute talking about them for working on them.
Between one year-end closet cleaning and another, I ran into a little bullet-point list I wrote up a while back, partly for myself and partly for other folks. (Full article after the jump, for the sake of those skimming. I have to remember to use that feature more often.)Read more
AICN Anime has news on a couple of upcoming books in translation.
The Maid was previously published in English by Kodansha, if memory serves, but has been extremely tough to find without shelling out various limbs and internal organs. Audition should be an eye-opener — maybe we can also get the novel that inspired Tokyo Decadence (aka Topaz)?
Evidently Norton/Symantec thinks the best way to get people to protect their computers is through bad analogies with poultry and 80s metal bands.
My chicken is already safe from Dokken, thank you. And I don't think Lemmy of Motörhead is going to make any problems for my hamburgers either.
Daisuke Aurora’s a lanky blond-haired fellow with an easy smile and a knack for being able to fall asleep on any soft horizontal surface. His partner, J, is an android, a synthetic creation somewhere between John Connor’s hacked T-800 and the robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw in Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories. They’re detectives, sort of — partners in a new experimental law-enforcement program where human officers are paired with androids, each filling in where the other falls short.
Even if they were both human, they couldn’t be less alike. A good day for Daisuke means hanging out with the girls down in the sleazy part of town, slacking off on typing up his progress reports, and sleeping in as late as humanly possible. J, on the other hand, was programmed to be a dyed-blue-in-the-wool cop, something that just makes Daisuke roll his eyes at first. Then they go outside and pound the pavement (in J’s case, it’s quite literal), and the underworld of the city-state of Judeau trembles.
With a story summary like that, I’m actually rather surprised Guy J turned out to be as good as it was. Where it starts out — buddy cops, near-future quasi-dystopia, etc. — isn’t also where it ends up, because the folks who put it together ensured that everything unfolds in a strongly character-driven fashion. Motives are important. People and their personality quirks get the attention they deserve. I was actually reminded of another, more recent show, Darker than Black, where the premise was simply a springboard off which we were bounced to bigger and greater things. Read more
August used to be a missionary somewhere overseas, trying to do good works in places where good works are seldom seen. One day he returns home to his native Denmark, and walks in on his sister Christina while she’s in the middle of one of her porno shoots. She wants nothing to do with him, especially now that she’s about to have her daughter. When August asks her if the girl deserves a better life than what she’s created, she shouts “Plenty of other people need salvation — go and find them!” and slams down the phone in his ear.
Five years later Christina’s dead of a drug overdose, and August has renounced his vows. His new mission is not to preach to anonymous flocks but to do his best to bring up Christina’s five-year-old daughter, Mia. She’s been living in and around the nebulous pseudo-family of people that sprung up around her mother’s porno production mini-empire. August plans to take Mia out of that environment, keep her safe under his wing, and do right by her. He winds up doing wrong by almost everyone around him, himself included. Read more
Back home after Christmas getaway. I'll be sorting through mail and some work-related stuff for a couple of days, but expect some posts on Monday.
... when you go out of your way to suggest that people should be thinking less — that not using one’s capacity for reason is an admirable position to take, and one that should be actively advocated — you are not saying anything particularly intelligent. And unless you live on a parallel version of Earth where too many people are thinking too deeply and critically about the world around them and what’s going on in their own heads, you’re not helping anything; on the contrary, you’re acting as an advocate for entropy.
Someone finally came out and put into words what's been swimming around in my head for a good long time now. Attaboy.
I always had the suspicion that people automatically assumed "criticism" means "slagging", not "analysis", and have been reacting appropriately. The whole Why Can't You Just Relax And Enjoy It stance stems from that. Oh, you don't like it because you're just jealous is another common knee-jerk I've seen people get hit with a lot. (Clearly some people don't understand that others of us would not want a movie like The Phantom Menance on our résumé.)
When I look at something critically, all I'm trying to do is put answers to a few questions:
There's really nothing more beyond that; the rest is just some corollary of those five things. And #3 isn't even the first in the list.
There's a lot of room for variance here. I don't know that I ever want to see Salò again, but I know that it accomplished what it set out to do with merciless efficiency. I'll watch Machine Girl any day of the week, knowing full well it is about as deep as a cookie sheet. And many people are not likely to seek out Away with Words on their own, but that's exactly why I try to get them to look for it; it'll be worth the effort.
The other thing is, none of this is my way of insisting that other people must do these things too. They're welcome to try, but I'm not going to lose respect for people for just being an audience. They have the freedom to be bored, to seek out the material that interests them and avoid the stuff that doesn't. I'm just one of the signposts on the road, pointing the way — an invitation, not a commandment, as I put it.
I'll point the way. I do it because it's fun, and because you learn as much from others as they learn from you when you do it. Just don't tell me that I should put my arm down because it must be getting mighty tired, and that I need to switch my brain off and stop thinking so much, because odds are you have no idea how insulting that is.
Or maybe you do know. In which case — door's that way.
In this post I talk about some personal, end-of-the-year stuff.
An interesting assessment of how things have changed in the anime world across the past decade. The most obvious touchstones: the Internet; digital production techniques; the moe-splosion; the hard times across the industry affecting what gets produced and how.
I accepted some time ago that certain things are just plain gone for good. The work conditions that allowed something like Akira or Giant Robo to be made have evaporated. What does get made has to find an audience immediately — either a domestic or foreign one (i.e., an American audience) — or it won't even merit consideration. That means many more adaptations, a whole lot less original material, a lot more quick-and-dirty 13- and 26-episode shows with potentially abortive story arcs.
And yet even with all of those constraints, there are still some amazing pieces of work being completed. Gankutsuou; Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; Saiunkoku; Ergo Proxy; ×××HOLiC; Basilisk; Le Chevalier d'Eon; Mushi-shi; Samurai Champloo; the list goes on. I'd add any of these to a list of best-of that spanned the decades, and they're all from the past ten years alone.
So: down, but not out; bloodied but unbowed. Great things are still possible.
What next? For one, far greater collaboration across the ocean. Co-financed American and Japanese productions might well become the norm at this point, since a divide is growing between projects that have explicit domestic appeal (the endless moe productions), the stuff that's borderline (Akagi — what American licensor is likely to pick up a show about a mah-jongg jock?), the stuff that's crossover (Basilisk, Mushi-shi) and the stuff that's "mid-Pacific" (Burst Angel, gag me with a shotgun).
From all that, a few other things become clear.
It barely feels like the same industry anymore, and I suspect that's because it isn't. It's no longer an insular business that provided content solely to Japan, with the rest of the world as an afterthought. I just hope its internationalization doesn't also become its undoing.
People have asked me, why is it that Japan always seems rife with problems like this? Is it just what we see from the outside, or is it really that much more endemic there?
Back when I read North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter, what struck me most about Mrs. Yokota's ordeal was the way so few people seemed willing to do anything substantive, because they always feared someone else's breath would be on their necks. Not any particular person, either. Not just someone above them, but anyone at all, anyone capable of shaming them for deviating from their respective role. It was not their job to rock the boat — it isn't anyone's job to do that.
I suppose the only real answer to such things, then, is to have people like Mr. Shige step up and fill the void with their humanity. The problem, again, is that there is no guarantee someone will, in fact, step up and do the job. We look at the exceptions, like this one, and we assume there will always be an exception to each instance of the rule. Wishful thinking.
Also, from what I've seen, there is little emphasis on having a private place to go with your problems in Japan and not experience censure for it. People there are still largely wary of psychoanalysis or therapy in anything other than a wholly clinical setting, and sometimes not even that. A salaryman can go to a bar hostess and get some temporary relief — and a few drinks — but that's not the same thing as a proper support structure. (That and alcohol is a depressant, which doesn't allow for much in the way of true reflection or constructive insight. Consult your local barfly for firsthand details.)
I sometimes wonder if we have the exact opposite problem in the U.S. We have a surfeit of channels for such things — so many, in fact, that it becomes easy to assume the slightest problems on our part require a public confession, or they're not worth the worry (and therefore we feel stupid for worrying about them). That means the real problems get pushed even further down, and the stuff that rises to the top is the cheap misery that's used as a proxy for everything else — a Method Acting version of therapy.
I admire this man. Not everyone wants to admit that at least some of their job as a human being is to be there for others — whether a friend, or a sibling, or a total stranger standing on the edge of a cliff looking down and down.
The guy did a lot more after that, but Alien is what he's most remembered for. I always thought of him as one of the founding fathers of modern SF in the movies — the post-Star Wars generation, eager to fuse spectacle and ideas in about equal measure.
Funny that this news should come the same week as the release of Avatar, which seems like the endpoint culmination of a lot of what he started — from O'Bannon to Cameron by way of Alien(s).
My favorite O'Bannon story — there's a bunch of them — comes from an interview he gave with OMNI right before Alien was released. He'd suggested that Ridley Scott see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a possible point of inspiration for the film:
... I was sweating bullets the whole time. I kept thinking, Oh, he's British and he's got very refined sensibilities. He'll hate it and think I'm a jerk. And then he came out raving. He said, "Alien's got to be like that but better!"
... I know what people are gonna do. They're going to go into the film and tap their toe and say "Okay, show me the monster, show me the monster." And when we show you the monster, you will jump up and run out of the theater.
Good night, Dan. You were a game-changer.
Some tidbits from this week's AICN Anime column:
Bloody Disgusting is reporting director Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge franchise, The Shock Labyrinth 3D) will be producing a feature film adaptation of Satoshi Kon's TV series Paranoia Agent.
Paranoia Agent is about as good as this sort of thing gets, so sign me right up — I'm a little iffy about Shimizu on board but at least they got someone with major credits to their name.
... About.com:manga on Tokyopop's movie plans, including vampire manga Lament Of The Lamb - on which Stu Levy says "The plan is now to have it directed by myself and a great Japanese director, Takahiko Akiyama, who directed a film called Hinokio.
Lamb was created by Kurogane artist and author Kei Toume, who has a lot of work not translated into English yet. If they can preserve some of the melancholy, elegiac spirit that Toume put onto the page ...
... Masahiro Minami, producer on Studio BONES’ chambara epic Sword of the Stranger, and alumnus of Sunrise Studio, will be serving as a “creative manager” in the upcoming 20th Century Fox adaptation of Cowboy Bebop.
Another adaptation I can't see anything good coming from, if only because it's such a huge, risky job. I know that sounds paradoxical, but maybe it would have been better for them to pick something more modest first and cut their teeth on that before attempting something this ... well, colossal in fan's minds.
You don't need to convince me to check this one out.
.... Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira creator) and Shinji Kimura's (veteran anime background artist, Genius Party: Deathic 5) picture book Hipira: The Little Vampire (Hipira-kun) will be adapted into a televised anime miniseries. The anime will run for five consecutive days within the BS Fuyu Yasumi Anime Tokusen program on the NHK BS2 satellite/cable channel.
Friends of mine at AnimeFest surprised me with a signed copy of Hipira (thank you, Janice!), and so seeing this one come to life is a real left-field delight.
And now, the generic fantasy novel, in less than a hundred words:
He was young and scrappy, from some forgotten backwater where they had never heard of foreshadowing or heroic tropes. He took up his sword and killed a great many people unlucky enough not to have last names.
Unfortunately, he was never put out of his misery. Instead he went on to enjoy a great career of being a pest to everyone who got in his way.
The other six books follow in the same vein.
Studio Ghibli has made formal their plans for 2010 with the new theatrical feature, The Borrowers, which is based off of the novel of the same name by Mary Norton.
The director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, has been with Ghibli for some time...
The books were also adapted into a live-action film and TV series (neither of which I've seen).
This may not be a Miyazaki production, but it is a Ghibli production, which automatically makes it that much more of a class act.
... a number of you have asked about possible Blu-ray releases of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and KiKi's Delivery Service, which Disney is re-releasing in new DVD special editions on 3/2. Consider this Rumor Mill-worthy, but our sources tell us they are in the works, however they'll likely be released in Japan first. They're probably at least a good year away from U.S. release.
So, Christmas 2010? We should have plenty to keep us busy between then and now.
I am glad that we're getting interim DVD remasters of the Miyazaki titles. The current U.S. pressings are terrible compared to the imports — Spirited Away in particular is extremely bad, which makes me glad I didn't give up my Region 2 edition, funny color balancing or not.
So what's a good book to have next to your computer? Yes, I know there's some irony in the idea of keeping a book next to the computer. But everything is not digital yet, and so here's a quick jog through my Most Useful Reference Books:
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. No other book I have ever seen shows you how to accomplish so many useful things in so succinct a fashion. This is the book to have at your elbow if you're a UI engineer, a web designer, a graphic artist — in short, if you're dealing with representing information visually, period. And "information" doesn't just mean statistics, either; it also means ideas, concepts, whacks-on-the-side-of-the-head that you might not get by simply reading words cold off the page.
Strunk & White's Elements of Style, 4th Ed. This book does not teach people how to write; that's something far too broad to glean from any one book, and far too complex to be distilled into such a thing anyway. What it does teach you is how to refine and clarify your writing with simple and specific advice. Use the active voice; don't fight syntax; cut to the heart of your meaning first and work outwards from there. His advice is to be applied in the moment, not simply mused over. It's also remarkable how little the book has changed. The glossary of misused and tired words received a slight makeover since the last edition (which was published in I think the 1970s), but the bulk of Style's style remains as classic and timeless as a tuxedo. And to think it's still barely over a hundred pages, including the index and front matter.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. It's grown a bit top-heavy with pop-cultural cruft (no, we do not need an in-print replacement for the IMDB Quotes section), but it's still a fine way to put a name to that phrase on the edge of your tongue or to find a new bit of wit to keep the last graf in your essay from coming down with a bump. Quick: who was it that said "A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing"? No, the real author. Misattributation is a bugger.
Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary. For anyone who's ever pointed at something and muttered, "What do you call that thing?" Which, I imagine, is just about anyone reading this. It's one of those reference books that you can get lost in without feeling like you're simply trying to acquire useless knowledge. (In the same vein is Descriptionary, which is a worthy companion to this book.)
I've also been tempted to recommend at least one dictionary and one desktop encyclopedia, even if those things have become almost entirely eclipsed by Internet references. There's a value in having a work that represents a snapshot of professional opinion, and isn't constantly being revised to reflect the prejudices of the moment.
Dillinger Is Dead was one very strange film — and this is me saying this, the guy who actually liked things like Themroc. I'm honestly surprised to see it show up in the Big C Catalog, but in a good way: it means they're not just throwing the same buckets down into the same wells.
This March, we bring three new filmmakers to the collection —
idiosyncratic, daring directors every one: Nicholas Ray, with his 1950s suburban nightmare Bigger Than Life, starring James Mason; Marco Ferreri, whose Dillinger Is Dead, with the ever-charming Michel Piccoli, is all kinds of crazy; and Pedro Costa, an important name in contemporary cinema whose Fontainhas trilogy will introduce you to people, real and imagined, you’ll never forget.
Call it CLAMP: The Remix. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE is one part original adventure and one part spirited romp through the gallery of CLAMP’s characters that have accumulated over the past two decades. You don’t need to be a CLAMPophile to follow along, but a) it makes some of the plot transitions a little less jarring and arbitrary, and b) you can play spot-the-cameo and put one over your less clued-in friends.
The most crucial characters in Tsubasa are lifted straight from Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura herself and Syaoran, albeit older than they were in that series and placed in a completely different setting. She is a princess, he the son of a prominent archaeologist, and they live in a desertlike land entirely different from the original Cardcaptor world (and, for that matter, from our world as well). One day they’re inside one of Syaoran’s father’s excavations when there’s a curious supernatural accident: Sakura’s memories are stripped from her, transformed into a flurry of feathers, and scattered across any number of different worlds. The two of them must now leap from world to world to reclaim what she has lost. Read more
The book publishers are making the same mistake the music industry did: they assume the customer is an adversary.
I decided earlier this month that I would be offering e-book versions of my novels. It was more a question of through what venue and in what form, not if I would do it at all. It's high time I got the wheels turning.
I don't mind selling an e-book version of my work for less than the printed book. Maybe that's because there are that many less stages of remove between me and the customer, and that I can put the same amount of money back in my own pocket with an e-book — perhaps even more, depending on the final pricing I set.
Digression time. When I first started self-publishing, I did some poking around to see what other people were doing, and I was stupefied to see people charging $35 and $45 a copy for their indie publications. Their justification was that the price per copy for print-on-demand was so high, they deserved to recoup something for their investment — right? Except that there's generally no initial outlay for POD, and so the "investment" is not the same as buying a thousand copies upfront from a printer.
Again and again, I found people who seemed to be completely unwilling to see things from their own customer's POV. One guy I know was perfectly okay with charging $35 for a single book (as mentioned above) because he didn't plan on selling that many copies anyway. Not hard to see why.
Sob stories are bad drivers of sales. Nobody cares where you get your books from, or how much it costs. They care how much they have to pay for it, and whether or not it'll be worth buying in the first place.
A central rule of marketing: Give the customer as few reasons as possible to say no. If you are giving them classy merchandise for a good price that they can't get anywhere else, you have a lot more covered than many other people.
Thinking Outside the Box - From the Current (Criterion.com)
... we had hoped to celebrate the actual centenary, in March, with a Blu-ray edition of Seven Samurai, but weeks of additional restoration have turned into months — yes, it looks really amazing — and the release won’t be until later in 2010. Instead, on March 23, we’ll be releasing Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro. They look great, too.
2010's looking like the banner Blu-ray year most of us have been holding our breath for.
Gothic and Lolita…the fashion reflects her dark and childish mental state. YUKI, the heroine, saw her mother killed by cruel gangs. Now she vows revenge! Knock off the enemies with her transformable umbrella. So gorgeous and so savage…Who killed mother? What the hell are the gangs? What is the truth and purpose that father knows? Her coming terrible destiny is going to littered with the dead.
Yes, that's the same Gō Ohara who gave us Geisha Vs. Ninjas. The plot sounds like the usual melting-pot of grindhouse clichés that they love to tap into, but what part of "Gothic Lolita Assassin" doesn't make your smile? Reminds me of the loonier parts of X-Cross, too.
"I haven't worked on it for about a year ... We were going to adapt the whole six-episode graphic novel" says Whitta.
He adds that he got notes from Otomo while working on the script, but his work "was very, very preliminary. We did a couple of drafts of the script but, when I was there at least, it never got wrapped up to the point where I think he would get really hands on."
Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby now have scripting duties on the project...
I haven't been holding my breath for this one. Not least of all because the animated film really was everything a project like this needed to be, and any Western remake just promises to be too far removed from the original to be worth the same name.
A big part of what made the original work was its origins, setting and milieu — what it evoked, and where it evoked it from. You can't just move that arbitrarily to "New New York" or something of that ilk without losing a lot. Maybe their idea was to have a kind of post-9/11 NYC vibe as a substitute for the neo-Hiroshima disaster in the original story, but the two aren't interchangeable.
I'm in the middle of reading the newly-republished edition of the original manga — look for a full writeup on that soon-ish. Rereading it reminded me of just how jaundiced a view the story has of humanity — that no species so preoccupied with status, petty territorial disputes and other egomania deserves to evolve into anything better. Which, now that I think about it, isn't all that outlandish.
In a recent interview for Reel Time (a programme on the CineMagic XM radio channel), Peter Jackson said he is currently restoring his "early films" for release on Blu-ray. No specific titles were mentioned, but Jackson was probably referring to his three first movies, which have become cult favorites in their own right: 'Bad Taste', 'Meet the Feebles' and 'Braindead' (also known as 'Dead Alive').
Thumbs up to all three. How about a BD of Forgotten Silver, too, one of Jackson's most creative and least-sung projects?
We told you last week that Warner Home Video was getting close to making an official announcement on the long-awaited release of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-ray, and now they've finally gone and done it. Their 6-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray box set will finally arrive in stores on 4/6/2010 (SRP $99.98 - available for pre-order on Amazon NOW for just $69.99), obviously on their New Line label. As we've reported previously, the box set will contain only the theatrical versions of the three films. Per Warner's press release "Extended versions of the films will be released at a later date on Blu-ray Disc." Our own sources tell us that the extended cuts are being held back at director Peter Jackson's request so that he can prepare more elaborate Blu-ray releases of those for debut closer to the theatrical and home video release of the two Hobbit films (now due in 2011 and 2012).
Most every Ring-bearer amongst my circle of friends groaned when they heard this news. Why double-dip, when most anyone with half a brain is going to skip the truncated releases and go straight for the full-blown extended cut?
The answer, I think, lies in something I gleaned a while back when talking to the folks at FUNimation about their "Viridian" line of series reissues. One of the reasons there's such a constant stream of reissues of the same material — original individual volumes, series set, economy series set, etc. — is to keep a steady profit stream coming in. If you have a title you know you can sell a certain number of copies of — even if it's being eclipsed by something else later on — you get it out there and take what you can from it.
The other is to establish "shelf presence". If you don't have something with your name and logo on it on the shelves of Best Buy and Target, you might as well not exist anymore. (I sense a parallel with the Asian film industry, specifically Hong Kong: if you didn't show up in a movie every four months or so, people assumed your career was over.)
Reason #2 is just that much more proof the retailers, not the consumers, are the ones who call most of the shots here.
I don't blame Peter Jackson here: he wants to give his fans something worth waiting for. New Line and Warner Brothers evidently plan to keep the wheels of commerce turning with or without him.
Most people are busy compiling their best-of-the-last-ten-years lists. Me, I thought I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes do something more in keeping with the general theme of the site, and run through the greatest discoveries I've made over the past ten years which remain undeservedly obscure.
Here, then, are the Ten Best Films You Didn't See This Decade, in no particular order.
Princess [review coming soon] A genre-breaker, like Ralph Bakshi filming an Andrew Kevin Walker script. A priest returns from his missionary work to find his sister dead after a disturbingly prolific porn career. She's left behind a four-year-old daughter with scars both mental and physical, which inspires our (anti-)hero to do a little … housecleaning. Not for all tastes or stomachs, but hard to put out of mind — and not just because it's "transgressive". Proof that animation industries apart from Japan are experimenting boldly and getting away with it.
Casshern [^] One of a very small category of movies I call “experimental epics,” where a groundbreaking look-and-feel is combined with an engaging story to produce something totally new: part science fiction, part retro-futurism, part mystic fantasy and part family epic. It could have been a mere exercise in effects technology, but it has a fearless passion to it, a heedless excess that makes it transcend its pulp-fantasy roots. Fans of the steampunk aesthetic who haven't yet seen this film will drop dead in their tracks when they finally do lay eyes on it.
Mind Game [^] The greatest animated film you have never seen. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously described a film as a “feel-good experience,” but Mind Game earns the label. Tells a story that is life-affirming and inspiring, and uses animation in an absolutely unparalleled way to do it. Amazingly, it is not yet available in a domestic edition.
Gojoe [^] Even after Twilight Samurai and all the rest, this remains my favorite samurai film of the decade — not just for the story but the storytelling, the imagery, the feel, the sheer audacity of the whole thing. A retelling of the Yoshitsune and Benkei story, with the former now an avatar of Nietzschean will-to-power and the latter a tormented and conflicted man certain that he can only fight evil by embracing it. The finale on the bridge alone would make the film, but the rest of it is no less a knockout.
Tekkonkinkreet [^] The other greatest animated film you've never seen. An adaptation of the Taiyo Matsumoto manga, it was the culmination of ten years of work by its director to bring it to the screen, and there isn't a frame that isn't stuffed to the sprocket holes with ambition and love.
Facing the Truth (At kende sanheden) [^] Powerful and moving story taken from the real life of a doctor who garnered great fame in Denmark, only to become a pariah. It is one thing to be punished for being evil, and another thing entirely to be punished for being the wrong kind of good. Not available domestically.
Nobody Knows [^] Based on a true story about a cadre of children who lived for months on end without their parents, surviving by sheer force of will and what native ingenuity they have. Heartbreaking stuff, served without sentimentalism or cant. Yuya Yagira, the lead actor, matures almost in real-time on the screen, and quite deservedly won an award for his performance. Also excellent is pop star You as his ne'er-do-well mother, who never seems to understand she is condemning these children to live without having a childhood.
Izo [^] Takashi Miike's Art Theatre Guild moment, a movie that divided even his most loyal adherents. A samurai condemned to death pulls a Billy Pilgrim and becomes unstuck in time, and attempts to use his mounting rage to break out of the cycle of birth and death itself. Unfortunately the universe is a good deal more implacable than he realizes. Everyone I know hated it, which tells me I'm either an idiot or I saw a lot more in it than they did. See it for yourself and judge. I prefer this to any number of Miike's yakuza/gang-war retreads, as creatively-executed as those may be.
United 93 [^] Most people I know refused to see it on principle. Too soon, they said. Too depressing. Exploitive. All wrong: this is as good a movie as could ever be made about a subject this inherently divisive and difficult. Real-time filmmaking and low-key acting make it feel doubly documentary-like. Amazing how Paul (Bourne) Greengrass generates an amazing amount of tension from a subject where (we think) the conclusion is obvious. The final seconds wrung tears from me, when almost no other movie has.
Kao [^] Another genre-breaker. Mousy seamstress Masako becomes a criminal on the run and remakes her life on the fly against a panoramic backdrop of Japan. Funny, touching, enthralling, horrifying, and finally heartbreaking, its greatest shocks and most powerful moments sneak up on you from behind and stay with you for a long time.
If there’s one thing the Japanese movie industry has always wanted, it’s a massive international box-office hit on the order of Star Wars, Titanic or Jurassic Park. They’ve tried by aping the formulas of Hollywood blockbusters — but ironically enough the most successful of Japan’s movie exports have been Hayao Miyazaki’s animated productions. Spirited Away may have seemed “too Japanese” for other audiences by its own creators, but that also gave it a charm that couldn’t be copied, and it grossed over $250 million worldwide.
Japan’s other attempts at international blockbusters are strange creatures. Godzilla wasn’t really meant to be one (at least not at first), but it turned into just such a franchise after its studio, Toho, discovered an endless array of sequels and spin-offs not only made money but turned their giant radioactive lizard into a character as iconographic as Darth Vader or Indiana Jones. And there’s been other Japanese productions that were intended to make it big worldwide, and while some of them made big bank at home they ended up falling flat on their faces elsewhere: Kinji Fukasaku’s Virus (which I still need to see), or Sayonara Jupiter. Read more
The idea that the perpetrators of the current financial mess never have much of the mess hit their own shoes is not something limited to this particular disaster, either: it's human nature to wall ourselves off from what we've done, and to have a bad grasp of events delayed by time and space. It's something to be overcome, but it all too often becomes something willfully indulged in.
That's what science is supposed to help us with, by providing us with a mechanism for seeing through such obstructions. But I'm debating whether or not economics as we currently know it classifies as a science anymore, or as a way to justify existing bad behavior.
And to think this was in a column about the movie Up in the Air.
During an interview for the Los Angeles Times to promote the theatrical release of 'Avatar', actress Sigourney Weaver (who plays a botanist in James Cameron's movie) discussed all her movie career and her status as "queen of sci-fi". She also revealed that in the weeks to come, she will record a commentary for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the 'Alien' tetralogy.
“I've never done that, watched all of [the Alien movies] in a row,” Weaver said. “I just recently made my [19-year-old] daughter watch them. She had never seen them before, believe it or not. I think she just prefers to think of me as good ol' mom, you know, not some person running around a spaceship with a flamethrower.”
I hope they keep the bonus materials that were compiled for the original tetraology special editions; they're among the best compiled for any movie.
I'm of course far more excited about the first two movies in this set than the last two. The third is a failed opportunity and the fourth was a disaster from the git-go with two or three good scenes floating around in a Sargasso Sea of junk.
Which reminds me of something: can you imagine an entry in this series as directed by Kathryn Bigelow? At this point I'd opt for her over Ridley Scott to direct the new prequel in the works.
But wait! There's more!
From the back catalog, reviews of:
Anthology films get no respect, if only because the vast majority of them tend to never be more than fair-to-middling. Most of them just grouped together a bunch of related stories that couldn’t be blown up to feature length. The best ones use the anthology format as a vehicle for other concerns: Bizarre was a satirical exploration (exploitation!) of the war between the sexes; The Animatrix used multiple animated segments to explore different facets of the Matrix universe that the movies couldn’t examine in depth independently.
Memories is an animated anthology film with three segments, each created by a luminary of the Japanese animation industry: Kōji Morimoto (of Mind Game and the “Beyond” segment of The Animatrix), Tensai Okamura (Wolf’s Rain) and Katsuhiro Ōtomo (Akira, Steamboy). Ōtomo created manga from which each segment was derived and wrote the second and third segments himself, while the first was penned by none other than Paranoia Agent creator Satoshi Kon. The segments are only vaguely related to each other; all are science-fiction themed, but they are more concerned with personality and possibility than graphics or hardware. That automatically makes them all the more interesting, even if the segments vary in quality.Read more
Every time I get that much closer to using a webpage as an application of some kind, cold hard reality leaps out of the closet and tears my head off.
Movable Type 5's default in-browser rich text editor is pretty lousy, so I've tried customizing it or replacing it. Every since one of these attempts has ended in failure, because it is next to impossible to precisely define the behavior you want in a browser as opposed to what you get in something like Windows Live Writer.
I could go on. My point is that when you run a webpage as an "app", especially a page with an advanced degree of human interaction like an RTE, you're totally at the mercy of the browser's interpretation of the RTE. And since no two browsers are different — and sometimes they're not even the same after a point revision (I'm looking at you, Chrome), you get wildly unpredictable results all the time.
I've since gone back to using WLW, which may require a separate install and whatnot, but I will gladly pay that price in exchange for getting something which works and which has consistent behavior.
I guess it all comes down to which you value most: consistency or convenience? I don't have to think very hard about that one.
Ebert says Avatar is an Event with the cap E.
Watching "Avatar," I felt sort of the same as when I saw "Star Wars" in 1977.
... It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected.
This comes out on my birthday. I think that's a sign?
In an announcement for the merger between Lorber HT Digital and Kino International, it was revealed that Kino is planning to release the recently restored version of Fritz Lang's legendary silent film 'Metropolis' in theaters next year, followed by a Blu-ray release. No word on a release date, but the film is currently scheduled to be revealed at the Classic Film Festival in April.
The previous restoration lacked a number of scenes which had been lost or irreparably damaged since its original 1927 release. Recently, a complete version of the film was found, though in poor condition, and work was conducted to fully restore the film to its original cut. Due to the dedication of many film professionals, only a single scene remains "lost" today.
Did someone say in theaters?
The last time I saw the movie on a big screen was when the Girgio Moroder-scored, color-tinted version was released (1986 or so). I'd love to see that version re-released as well, if only for the sake of comparison.
Now, about the merger ... I hope it's Kino that end up being the winners in this deal, as I have been (cough) less than thrilled with the Lorber releases I've seen in the past. Kino's best works have only been second to Criterion in their finesse.
Most of the time I don't mind when people believe weird things. What I do mind is when people believe weird things that are counter-scientific — that is, when they fly right in the face of things for which we have plenty of evidence.
The former is things like belief in one or more (or no) gods. The latter is things like the Jenny McCarthy brand of antivaccination know-nothing-ism.
The former is something for polite debate and spirited discussion. The latter deserves to be dragged out into the open and exposed for being downright dangerous.
To wit: the Jenny McCarthy Body Count. I admit the name of the site's not terribly diplomatic (and the sea is also broad, salty, and rather damp). I'm also not sure diplomacy will work anymore, because the anti-vax movement and their associated counter-scientific cronies are not interested in playing nice and are not interested in debating the issues at hand. They are politicians in the bluntest and most cynical sense of the term. They want a captive audience that will help them bring that many more people around to their way of thinking.
Orac over at Respectful Insolence has been pounding on Jenny for a while now, underscoring how the anti-vax crew has no good evidence to support their position (c.f., this recent tidbit). What's become clearer over the last couple of years is how the anti-vax crew could, in the abstract, care less what evidence there really is for their position — it's just that much more fuel for the fire. And unfortunately, many people lap it up because they don't know and don't care that science isn't a popularity contest or a matter of what feels right or a question of who's the underdog (because the underdog is always right).
I am grateful that the public-facing portion of the scientific community is finally realizing that not everyone is going to play nice, and that the other side is far louder, mouthier, and more reckless than they would ever give them credit for. But they need to ramp way up and head off the next wave of counter-scientific lunacy before it gets traction enough to put people at risk.
[Also worthy of note: StopJenny.com]
Donald Ritchie remembers the Emperor.
... in Kurosawa’s films, the major theme is that the heroes are always, from Sugata on, not being but becoming. They live in a present where, though history may indicate, it does not define. You cannot sum up a living person. You can sum up only the dead.
And, of course:
Not that he himself wanted to be remembered. Rather, he wanted his work to be remembered. He once wrote: “Take ‘myself,’ subtract ‘movies,’ and the result is ‘zero.’”
Artists do not talk much of immortality through their art, maybe because they feel it is not necessary to talk about it. They go and do it. The achievement of immortality is a process, one which reaches its full flower only when the creator dies.
I think now, strangely enough, of Steven Spielberg — a director I have mixed feelings about but from whom I have come to always expect something interesting at the very least. At some point there will be no more of his films, and the dynamism will vanish. That's the way we've become accustomed to how he moves from one thing to another, from unabashed populism to ruminative work like Schindler's List or Munich (which, whatever their faults as history or political thinking, cannot be said to be the product of someone who takes their subjects lightly). The mere fact that he always seems to be working on the next thing, the next thing, the next thing — when that's gone, it's going to be rough dealing with it.
I remember hearing about Kurosawa's death: 1998. He had been working on, it was said, an adaptation of The Masque of the Red Death. Nothing of this project remains now but a few notes, meticulously archived on the Internet for those who can read both Japanese and his handwriting. Ninety years, I told myself: who at the age of ninety would even consider starting a project of any scope, let alone the sort that would result in a major feature film? And a year later, Stanley Kubrick died, himself only seventy and only a few days after delivering the final print of Eyes Wide Shut. To know that neither man would ever make another film was like being told Orion's belt had vanished from the sky.
Ah, Nina Matsumoto, welcome back. And here I was, terrified that one of the best original English manga I’ve yet seen was consigned to never get past its first volume. Yōkaiden’s first installment charmed the cheesecake out of me, making the wait for part two all the tougher to stomach — but here it is, and it was more than worth holding my breath for.
The first book introduced us to Hamachi, fan of the yōkai, or the panopoly of monsters from Japanese folklore. After one such beast (which he’s christened “Madkap”) kills his grandmother, Hamachi girds himself for a journey into the underworld. His mission: find Madkap, and make the wrong things right. His equipment: a length of magic rope, a sentient (and sarcastic lantern) and an also-sentient (and rather dim-witted) umbrella. He has far more enthusiasm than skill, but hey, that’s how heroes are born. Read more
Interesting perspective on the Twilight books / movies:
As Twilight demonstrates, not everything girls like is good art — or, for that matter, good feminism. Still, the Twilight backlash should matter to feminists, even if the series makes them shudder. If we admit that girls are powerful consumers, then we admit that they have the ability to shape the culture. Once we do that, we might actually start listening to them. And I suspect a lot of contemporary girls have more to talk about than Edward Cullen.
In a weird way, Twilight is like a good deal of anime: to the outsiders / uninitiated, its appeal is incomprehensible. You hadda be there, and a good deal of how you get there in the first place with Twilight is by being the target audience.
I keep wondering about the dichotomy you get between a creator and the target audience. Most of the genre writers (to say nothing of the non-genre writers) I know are holding their nose at the whole of Twilight, but it's impossible to ignore that the books command an audience. Yes, an audience that may soon outgrow the material in a couple of years, but an audience nonetheless — and when you fall out of touch with what the potential audience is, you do yourself a disservice. That explains why something like The Catcher in the Rye falls so flat with today's kids: the youth it was written for probably ceased to exist thirty years ago or more.
Bad Astronomy is great any day of the week, but of particular note is a current post wherein Phil Plait pillories Deepak Chopra for an article in which Chopra slaps at "skepticism". "Skeptic" is apparently Chopra's word for "someone not gullible enough for me".
That the latter piece was written for the Huffington Post is all the more depressing; over the last several years they've turned into a breeding ground for alterna-"science" nonsense of all stripes (anti-vaccination being one of the most prominent and blatantly offensive).
Chopra blows awful hard on the trumpet of Wonder, the idea that having a cold sterile scientific worldview kills your sense of joy in life, an idea only slightly dumber than wrapping your noggin in tinfoil to keep out the alien radio waves. Plait himself is a beautiful example of how science evokes a sense of wonder: most every week there's a picture of the surface of another world, or the depths of the cosmos — images that cry out to be captioned with Douglas Adams's quote "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
I had a parallel discussion of sorts the other day, about (of all things) the Large Hadron Collider. No matter what happens, the results are bound to be interesting. If we don't discover the Higgs Boson, that's as monumental as if we do — either way, science moves forward, and everyone on both sides will gain something. Truth is not a zero-sum game — unless you're Chopra, and can only support your worldview by picking and choosing. (Anything with the word "quantum" is good, because you can fuzz up your definitions aplenty by simply attaching it wherever needed, even when it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Anything with "evidence" or "skeptic" is bad, because it's that much harder to pull the wool over your own eyes when you have good experimental controls.)
Maybe it's the wording that's the biggest problem. One of the commenters put his finger on this:
A skeptic is not someone who says “It is not true”–that’s just another flavor of dogmatic. A skeptic is someone who says “How can I be sure it is true?” and lives honestly according to that fundamental uncertainty. This is why science is so closely associated with skepticism. It is not the handing down of dogmas about what does exist (NOR about what does not exist). It is a method for trying to attain certitude in a universe wherein certainty might not be possible.
Or maybe not. Saying things like this does not keep the woo-meisters (I love that word) from attacking the concept of science's perpetual inquiry itself as another kind of dogmatism — the dogmatism of uncertainty. At which point the word "dogmatic" has been redefined to encompass every possible stance, and the nature of the argument has been revealed to be nothing more than whoever can score the most points with whatever audience is looking on.
I go back to Holocaust denial a great deal as a reference point for this sort of thing, because I see the same mechanic there in a different form. It isn't about finding the truth. It's about gaining and keeping an audience who will support you, and by doing anything — lying, distorting facts, smearing opponents, stabbing your own people in the back — to get there. It's the other guy who's dogmatic and closed-minded, not you. It's the other guy who's Suppressing The Truth. It's the other guy who's Keeping You Down.
You never see Chopra grousing about how, say, aviation engineers need to have more of a sense of wonder and trust in the quantum unity of the cosmos, &c. Maybe because he really doesn't feel like having the plane he's flying in spontaneously depressurize at 37,000 feet while he's on his way to his next lecture gig?
Burst Angel is aptly named: the girls look great, but the story pops like stale gum. It’s a chicks-with-guns action vehicle bolted together out of parts recycled from a dozen other places — the kind of show you watch in the background while doing something else, because the more attention you give to it the less you get back.
Call it another “mid-Pacific” production — a work calculated to appeal as much to the export market for anime, maybe even more so than the domestic market. The problem is such projects often end up being terribly bland, a mixture of cynical second-guesses about what’ll appeal to a demographic instead of a story with confidence in its own narrative.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Angel was assembled from notes left behind by someone who never lived to see the project completed. But this wasn’t a salvage job, and that makes it all the more depressing. Ugetsu Hakua (of Tower of Druaga fame) contributed classy-looking character designs, and veteran mecha designer Koichi Ohata (Gunbuster, Blue Gender) took the director’s chair and added some equally striking 3D CGI machinery to tear things up. All they forgot was a screenwriter, and a tale worth spinning. Read more
A quick closet-cleaning of interesting stuff garnered over the past month.