The plot actually sounds like it has a bit of a Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance vibe to it: "Kyung-chul is a psychopath who kills for pleasure. One day, a victim’s fiance, a top secret agent Dae-hoon tracks him down by becoming a monster himself."
Want this now, please.
The fact that Yuasa Masaaki's Mind Game still has no American distribution is shameful. Last I heard Go Fish had the title (same with Casshern), but never even bothered to give it a video release. Why?
Well, at least Masaaki has a new movie out: Yojohan Shinwa Taikei. Based on the trailer at Twitchfilm, it appears to be about a young man entering college, but that's a little like saying Moby-dick was about this bigass fish, and it seems as unlike Mind Game as Mind Game was unlike anything else.
The Times has a few words about Gil Sorrentino's last novel, The Abyss of Human Illusion. It's a short one, but it looks like a beaut. I talked before about his riotous Mulligan Stew, and at some point I should take a few grafs to talk about Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things. That for me was Gil at his most barbed and incisive, taking a scythe to the heads and torsos of the art-world phonies littering his world. And then planting the corpses upside-down on the beach for the gulls to pick at.
Dan (real name, Yoshihiko Kuroiwa) didn’t just write S&M. He practically made it into a one-dirty-old-man cottage industry. He wrote over a hundred novels that were probably sold in several forest’s worth of plain brown wrappers, and penned dozens of scenarios for films whose posters you wouldn’t want hanging in your living room when your parents came over. Not unless your dad happened to be Oniroku Dan — and if he was, you had bigger problems.
Some of Dan’s movies, like the infamous Flower and Snake, have shown up in English, but until Vertical brought out Season of Infidelity earlier this month nothing he’s written has been given the same treatment. Infidelity culls four stories from Dan’s back catalog, and what’s most fascinating is not the gamut of fetishes and perversities that Dan catalogs for the reader — that part’s pretty predictable — but the tone of the whole thing. Dan mines his various autobiographical anecdotes as much for sentimental self-pity as he does for salaciousness. Read more
“Now I told you that story to tell you this one.”
That was Bill Cosby, between two of his best routines. That could also have been Naoki Urasawa, right before he made that dozen-year leap forward in the middle of the last volume of 20th Century Boys. What’s past is prologue — not just the childhoods of the characters in the 1970s and their adolescence during the 1980s, but the whole “present time” storyline of the 1990s was itself also just prelude. It’s the most daring storytelling chronology I’ve seen in manga since Tezuka sliced and diced time and leapt across the eons in his many-times-over-epic Phoenix.
It’s also not a stunt. The further Urasawa delves into his tale of Apocalypse Now (And Always), the more you see why he chose to tell his story like this, with so many key pieces deliberately missing. For one, it builds suspense; here it is, fourteen years later and the fates of many characters are still up in the air. Last volume we learned about little Kanna, still carrying a torch for her father and the resistance he manifested against the Friends. And in this installment we finally learn what happened to another crucial member of Kenji’s crew: Shogun. It’s not pretty. Read more
Ebert's new Great Movie choice is ... Pink Floyd The Wall. He treats the film with diligence and respect, and I like his conclusions: it's not a fun movie, not uplifting, but exhilarating and daring and still very cutting-edge. I felt the same way, although I still think the movie has a misogynist streak that might not have been deliberate (and all the more distasteful for that reason).
Also striking is the movie/album's solipsism — not just in the sense that the Pink character is disconnected from his world, but there isn't even a single scene that involves him with another bandmember; the sum total of his experiences as a rock star involve sitting in a room being miserable. I wonder how much of that is a product of Roger Waters having been equally alienated from the other bandmembers (and vice versa) during the recording of it. Small wonder the band barely lasted one more studio album after that.
Not every day you open the paper and see news about how key concepts in human history may be upended.
... it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple ... drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city. ...
... The temples offer unexpected proof that mankind emerged from the 140,000-year reign of hunter-gatherers with a ready vocabulary of spiritual imagery, and capable of huge logistical, economic, and political efforts.
Given that there's neuroscience to support the need to find something greater than the self (the "religion instinct" or "transcendent urge"), this makes sense. I'm expecting a lot more work to be done on this subject, both in terms of new research and re-evaluating everything that's already crossed our desks. (Is language itself a product of this, for instance?)
Before this, Turkey had Çatalhöyük; now, they have something to be even prouder of as far as historical treasures go.
Jim Hines has linked to a rather grim story about a woman who was sexually assaulted by someone she met at a convention. The response she gave (and the support she's received) are heartening, and I'm hoping she'll be able to go back to that particular show without feeling like she's sticking her hand into a wasp's nest.
And a question did arise in my mind: Are some areas of fandom more prone to shielding predators than others? I'd need more feedback from other people to really tell, since my experiences are biased. In the parts of anime fandom that I've circulated in, I've never gotten the sense that the people there would hesitate two seconds to close ranks and protect one of their own. That and the general ratio of men to women (or women to men, your choice) is heartening — it's, I think, part of the general atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance that goes with the scene. Other fandoms and locales — YMMV, and based on this alone, it does. Wildly.
Acceptance and tolerance does not exclude defending your own. If anything, it means guaranteeing it all the more. At some point when I have more of the story I should post here about a couple of people who've abused their authority in that scene. They're currently doing prison time. They got off easy.
Then there's something that happened to me, which does not come remotely close to what happened to logansrogue but was unnerving because of how other people responded to it.
A couple of years ago, I was at a party up in someone's hotel suite at a con. There, I was groped by a woman about ten years my senior, who was also rather drunk. I stepped away and she let go, and I beat a pretty hasty retreat back to the safety of my room. (I didn't think she was unsafe there, but at the same time I realize now I should probably have done more to make sure she was safe.)
Now. I know some people who smirked when I told them this story, and told me with a straight face that I shouldn't turn down a good time. They were further amazed that my idea of a good time doesn't include that.
I now know who not to go to for advice about such matters.
As Lester Bangs once said, "Sometimes I think nothing is simple except the feeling of pain."
First off. Ebert, as usual, nails it.
We need to pull in our belts, pay more taxes, demand more value for our taxes, and say no to an ideology that requires converting our health money into corporate profits. We should to raise the lowest wages, and lower the highest ones. We have to return to the saying my father quoted to me a hundred times: "A fair day's work for fair day's pay." No, I don't think everyone should be paid the same wage. If you earn a lot of money, you have a right to a lot of money. If you earn it. But when Wall Street bosses are paid millions in bonuses for bankrupting their firms, and their political tools in Congress oppose a better minimum wage, that's plain wrong. It's rotten. People who defend it with ideology are strapped to a cruel ideology.
There's some other good notes in there about how Chicago really screwed itself to the wall when they privatized parking meters. How did they not think that would simply allow the company that controlled them to raise prices through the roof, with the city getting nothing but some chump change upfront? Why do we insist on, as Crass put it, bailing out the basement when there's holes in the roof?
As Paul Krugman also put it, it's time to make banking "boring" again and stop trying to create money out of nothing — with its concomitant consequences of taking blood from stones. (I like how one commentator tried to slap back at this by insisting that bubbles are nothing new. Well, sure, so is war and famine; that doesn't mean we should sit around and let them happen.)
Second, some insight into why things like this might be happening: people tend to focus on the messenger (are they like me?) and how closely the message matches their own existing beliefs than what the evidence itself suggests. The article itself is about climate change, but you could apply this to most any debate where there's evidence to be bandied about. Yes, that major snow- and rain-fall we've had on the East Coast actually confirms what's going on: a hotter overall climate = more evaporation = more precipitation in places that get it and less in places that don't.
Third, a truly amazing story about composer David Cope — wait, he's actually a music professor with a side gig in teaching computer science. He writes programs that compose music — and his compositions are startlingly, well, human. Play the samples in the article. That said, giving credit to anyone — or anything — other than Cope seems premature.
Here is another instance of the same material being adapted multiple times — both in live-action and in animation, and with the animated version turning out far better in every respect. The original story is Hundred Stories by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, he who gave us the intriguing Summer of the Ubume — a supernatural detective story where the Fox Mulder in question doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and where the strangest thing of all is the human mind.
I enjoyed Ubume, and also enjoyed Hundred Stories in its anime incarnation, marketed in English by Geneon as Requiem from the Darkness. When I found out a live-action adaptation of Stories had been released, I made an effort to find it, but I’m now convinced my efforts would have been better put towards getting Requiem re-released now that Geneon’s U.S. arm went poof. I suspect it’ll show up as a FUNimation reissue somewhere along the line — but if this version doesn’t turn up here you won’t be missing much. Read more
Odd, this. I’ve had Toshiyuki Sasagawa’s AQUA=MIZU in my daily playlists for almost two years now without ever eking out a coherent statement about it. I suspect that’s because it’s become such a familiar presence that it’s a little like describing the air. I also suspect talking about it will seem strange because it is so radically out of phase with the other music I tend to write about. What’s a guy who likes Merzbow and Fushitsusha doing writing about an album of soft solo piano that might easily have come from the Windham Hill label?
Well, I have my reasons — and if they seem more like excuses, then excuses they are. It was through folks like the noise-mongers described above that I backtracked into folks like John Cage, and then from Cage into Erik Satie. And from Satie into Harold Budd and Brian Eno, whose The Pearl I managed to listen to for hours on end without ever feeling like I knew where any one song really began or ended, or knowing where the whole record itself was meant to begin or end. It somehow in time became a part of the very environment of the room I was in, as did AQUA=MIZU when I played it. That said, I have to accept the possibility that what I hear in the record is only what I’ve chosen to hear, and that other people are going to simply compare it to all the other piano albums they’ve heard with a picture on the cover of some curtains blowing in the breeze.Read more
So why, you might ask, am I now reviewing volume 8 of Black Jack when I was only just reviewing volume 9? Happenstance, mostly. Somehow I ended up missing volume 7 in a mail mix-up, although when that comes in I’ll be sure to fill in the gap. For now, I’m walking backwards.
And as I did with 9, I’ll say the most important part first: This is one of the better volumes in the series. That doesn’t come from the cleverness of the conundrums Black Jack gets to untangle, or because he’s extra-dexterous in the operating room this time around (because, when is he ever not like that?). The reason the better stories in Black Jack are the better stories is because they serve all the more to underscore how Black Jack stands apart from the world he’s torn between serving and exploiting. Read more
Most every anime-related news outlet has been babbling about the announcement that a live-action Vampire Hunter D is finally on the rails. The animated movies may also be joined with a third production, possibly a full-blown TV series. I remember Hideyuki Kikuchi himself stating he'd be interested in the book Mysterious Journey to the North Sea used as the source material for such a series, although I'd bet the first book will be the template for any live-action production.
As odd as this may sound, I'm hoping this winds up being a smaller-scope production along the lines of the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire. They didn't have as big a budget to work with there, but that also meant that much less was at risk — and they didn't have to pack the box with stars to ensure a return on their investment. They could make a movie that was better suited to paying respect to the original, and they did.
Also turns out that Laeta Kalogridis, she of the current Scorsese flick Shutter Island and the Ghost in the Shell live-action production, was also James Cameron's collaborative partner on — you guessed it — the as-yet-unannounced Battle Angel Alita flick. (ADV's pressing of the current animated version is officially out of print but can he had fairly easily, and is well worth checking out.)
Learning that made me hearken back to graf #2 above: it's great that someone with Cameron's clout and vision can be attracted to a product like Alita and make it happen. But that's the extreme exception and not the rule. Most of the time you get people who hedge their bets and give us Dumpster juice cocktails like Dragonball Evolution.
Some paradox. You can either get the size of the production to do the concept justice, but at the cost of it being that much truer to the source material. Or you can dial down the scope and the budget and get something that's tonally and thematically correct, but at the risk of having it look all the cheesier.
I didn't want (and still don't want) a live-action Akira for that exact reason: the only budget you could find to do it justice would be a Hollywood budget, but a Hollywood budget also means Hollywood thinking, Hollywood compromises, and Hollywood blandness — exactly the things you don't want with something that inherently crazy and daring. I say, skip it entirely and go focus on something that both filmmakers and audiences have a better time putting their arms around.
I spent some time with my folks and my aunt in Jersey yesterday. Time well spent. All smiles, with some fun conversation over lunch about the way languages borrow words from each other.
Most of us probably think about the old line where English follows other languages down dark alleys and mugs them, but the reverse is of course true. Japanese has tons of borrowings from English, but also German (for scientific and medical terms), Portuguese (the word for "Englishman" or "England" is the Portuguese word!), and Dutch. Turkish, as it turns out, is the same way: their word for "clown" — the European painted-face variety — is a variant on the Italian word Pagliacci.
Since my aunt doesn't speak much English, my parents had to translate both ways. Not always easy, although I did manage to get across the plot of Götz Spielmann's Revanche (excellent movie, go see it) without stumbling too badly. Apparently whenever she and Mom go see something together in the theater here, they have to sit somewhere secluded and Mom has to translate for her on the fly.
Dropped through Book-Off on the way back home. Bad news: They're closing the NYC store. Good news: They're re-opening it in a larger location a few blocks uptown. Since a ton of stuff was on sale (they're trying to clear inventory before the move), I ended up with a few really interesting things dirt cheap. Apparently Japanese novelizations exist for many films that normally never have them. To wit: Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (rather ironic since the movie was inspired loosely by a short story, Liu Yu-Chang's "Intersection") and the Korean megablockbuster Shiri (!). I've collected movie tie-ins ever since I was a kid, and this just seems like the next logical extension to that hobby. (I'd earlier found a tie-in version of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the absolute last movie I'd ever expect to find a tie-in novelization of, Japanese or otherwise.
Was it coincidence or serendipity that the day before I watched Black Dynamite I was having a long, thoughtful discussion with my wife about the differences between satire, parody, farce and spoof? Because here’s a movie that might be all of those things at once, with a generous dollop of loving homage spooned on top. And if categories and labels drive you nuts, I’ll just say the last time I laughed this hard at any movie was when the dog got it in A Fish Called Wanda.
Here is a movie that so perfectly reproduces the look, feel, attitude, tone, style and camp factor of the original blaxploitation productions that at least one friend of mine was fooled into thinking he was watching a reissue. It’s the first spoof of its kind that could easily be placed side-by-side with the originals to do them justice — if only because at their best the originals knew they were preposterous (cf. Cleopatra Jones — seriously, Shelley Winters as a Big Bad named “Mommy”!?) and had fun with it. By the end of Dynamite you know for sure you’ve been watching a spoof, but the put-on’s done out of affection, not sneering.Read more
A former music industry exec has a few words about why the publishing industry is quickly recapitulating the implosion of the music industry.
...instead of music coming off the streets and up to the marketing office, it was imagined in the marketing office and then shoved out onto the street. Of course with this kind of creative process, someone new is going to win the popularity contest today and by tomorrow, Mr. Today will be Mr. Yesterday. It's just what happens when instead of starting with the musician and working forward to find the audience, music starts with the audience and works back to what kind of artists it will sign. This is the only model the industry can support now..
Emphasis mine. Susan used to work for (among others) Rounder Records, so she clearly knows a thing or two about music scenes that do not depend on hit-of-the-millisecond strategies to stay vibrant and even profitable.
The same thing clearly applies to books as well, although the publishers seem to be just as clueless as ever about how to use social media and networking (and, yes, Amazon itself) to figure out what sort of audience a given talent can be paired up with. It still involves taking someone and shoehorning them into a number of easy buckets. The fact that the buckets are becoming ever-more subdivided — romantic fantasy, or fantasy romance, or whatever you want to call the latest wrinkle in said fabric — doesn't mean the strategy is becoming that much more refined; it just means they're swapping one set of old, unattractive labels with new, sexier ones. It doesn't mean there's any less effort going on to tailor things to more readily accept those labels ... and, correspondingly, it means that much less room for real diversity and creativity.
Funny how one train of thought produces another. First, a few thoughts about transparency:
I'm not sure I follow what he says. It's not that we distrust the government all the more because of transparency; it's because the transparency we are given is not what in itself imparts trust. Oversight is only one of several ways that trust is built. If I follow Brooks's argument, the very fact that law is made behind closed doors should be an incentive for people to fight that much harder to get in, but that's not an analogy I put much faith in.
Not long after I read that piece, though, I got to thinking about how transparency in creative work, as opposed to government, might well be counterproductive.
A while back, a friend of mine talked about the idea of writing a novel — line by line, page by page, chapter by chapter — on the web. Not just posting things as they were written, but essentially "wiki-fying" the book so that people could "fork" the text as they pleased and create their own versions of it on the fly.
I wasn't crazy about this idea, and I explained why.
The creative process is essentially private. Up until very recently, the writer has worked alone in his room, scratching or tapping away. The rest of the world only knew he was done when a finished product emerged. He might consult with others during the process — an editor, a colleague, a trusted creative ally or adversary — but there was a tacit understanding that his work was his work, and that he had final say in the end result. If someone else wanted to rebut his points, they were free to do so, but on their own terms. Your work might well be flawed, but perfectability was not even the goal. It was to produce something that stood on its own and could be addressed on its own.
When you take a private process and make it public, you turn one person's conversation with himself into a free-for-all. A creative train of thought that must go all the way to the end to mature is all too easily derailed along the way by the suggestions of others — maybe well-meaning suggestions, but outsider's suggestions all the same. The end result is not a singular product, but a mishmash of threads that go off in all directions. It's not a thesis, but instead a committee debate, and about as aesthetically satisfying.
Sometimes this is useful. The wiki approach is handy when you want to get a lot of different minds brainstorming. It's not as useful when you need to clear out all the noise and clutter and draw on something from within to shape something that is clearly a product of one person's vision. It's good at aggregating raw data, but not as much at shaping it or imposing a structure on it. The article templates and portals that exist in Wikipedia didn't spontaneously arise; they were crafted by specific people who had specific ideas about how data should be presented.
When there can be any number of possible versions of something, there exists very little motivation to experience the work in any particular way — and even less motivation to produce it in any particular way.
After my last grouse-and-grinch episode about the live-action Akira movie, I come back to you now with what may sound like heresy in my own terms: The live-action Ghost in the Shell project currently on the rails may not, in fact, suck after all.
The reason I have that much more confidence in this opened this weekend: Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, which is currently making big critical noises (Ebert liked it, although the Times bagged on it hard).
Check the screen credit for Island: Laeta Kalogridis. Same one with a writing credit attached to Ghost. This means at the very least we have some new, recent, concrete idea of what caliber of work we can expect, apart from Alexander and Nightwatch.
I'm still not jumping up and down, but at least I don't feel like I've swallowed cement anymore.
I’ll put this part behind me right away. As Black Jacks go, volume 9 is only fair. That makes it an okay part of a great whole — but that doesn’t dilute the quality of the whole. It simply makes the good parts of this series all the more worthy.
It also doesn’t mean volume 9 should be ignored. In fact, reading it compelled more thought about the series and the way I’ve approached manga in translation than most anything I’ve laid eyes on in months. The reason? This is the first volume of BJ I’ve read in Japanese long before the English version ever landed on my doorstep.
I hadn’t planned to do it that way. Insights are never planned. Late last year, in New York City’s Book-Off, I ran across a used copy of the untranslated volume 9 for the whopping price of $1. I needed no persuasion. At that price, any book would have been worth it; this one, doubly so. I slapped down my credit card, ran home, and that night read it cover-to-cover with my electronic kanji dictionary close at hand. But somehow I’d grown so used to Black Jack as a translated work that I couldn’t help but feel I’d only read half the book — that the other half was Vertical’s own yet-to-be-released edition, which now sits to my left as I type this.Read more
From Scott Green's current AICN Anime installment:
My concept of "bookshelf manga" has never caught on, but that's not going to stop me from evangelizing it. Most manga is written as disposable entertainment, and doesn't transcend that. Even for a compelling title like Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE or Fullmetal Alchemist, to name a couple of best sellers, are they really works you'll want to read five or ten years from now? Then, there are works that rise to the level of literature, the Dickensian serials of Naoki Urasawa, Osamu Tezuka's serious explorations like Ode to Kirihito or Town of Evening Calm.
Funny that I should have just been reading Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood, since it was Sturgeon who most memorably insisted that 90% of anything at all is mediocre. Most manga is written as disposable entertainment because most entertainment of any kind is disposable — the jolt you got out of it the first time isn't going to repeat itself. Or the jolt you got out of it as a younger person isn't going to be sustained as an adult, because your worldview has evolved past accepting something like that. When you have an exception, like Osamu Tezuka or Naoki Urasawa, you tend to cherish it simply because you don't often get something worth coming back to more than once in such a field.
Like Black Jack himself, performing surgery in the dark: taking something ephemeral and making something not-so-ephemeral out of it is a rare skill. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone can hone themselves to do it. Not everyone who tries to do it pulls it off. And not everyone who pulls it off gets noticed or has an impact. How those things last are sometimes accidents of history. They can fill a space — "hittin' 'em where they ain't" — and out of that create the sense of something truly new.
Now comes the hard part: How much of that can you do on purpose? I've debated this point with other people a lot. I don't think you can do a lot of it on purpose. Some of it is just doing the things that keep you in the right place at the right time; some of it is happy accidents. You can't really make a cultural phenomenon — there has to be something about them that is primed to catch fire all on its own. If you try to engineer that, people smell it. They shove their hands back into their pockets and walk on. The real originals are unfakeable.
And maybe it's because something is borne of ephemeral origins that makes it that much more unfakeable. I once saw a man blow a square bubble, a trick that involved a cluster of other bubbles and some cigarette smoke. It didn't last for more than a few seconds, but that was the charm of it all. That and knowing in a day or two he'd be in front of another audience somewhere, in Pittsburgh maybe, doing it all over again for people now lucky enough to see it for the first time.
Lester Bangs, again:
If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each other's objects of reverence.
He wrote those words on the eve of Elvis's death in the summer of '77, lamenting not only the passing of an entertainer but the whole concept of a shared piece of cultural pie. "We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis," he said, and while Elvis was just his easy example, he could have been talking about a great many other things. He probably was.
"We will continue to fragment in this manner," he wrote on, "because solipsism holds all the cards at present." Solipsism is not the same as believing nothing, although it's sometimes tricked up to sound like that. It's when you believe you have all the answers you need — and that everyone else can either go hang or probably thinks the same way you do, too.
It's not that we've all suddenly turned into this. It's that we've always been like this, to some degree, and it's just taken the last few decades to make us acutely aware of how high the walls really are, by being shown how we can find out so much about everything and yet know so little about ourselves. Shared taste isn't enough; there have to be shared values of substance. They don't have to be dogmas, but we often grope for those as a fast substitute to just skating over a void.
I had my own run-in with such a thing when one of my best childhood friends, someone with whom I shared tastes in everything from David Cronenberg's body horror to the new Skinny Puppy record. Then I found out I didn't want to trust the guy with my lunch money, let alone my hopes 'n dreams, and I felt not only betrayed but terribly alone. This guy was an alien in human skin, and shared taste had added up to exactly nothing to protect me from that.
There are other things we use to bind ourselves together, of course — a common background, a shared outlook on parts of life that don't reduce themselves to a formula. Among them I find the one that makes me happiest is when I find others about which I seem to have almost nothing in common but whose questing spirit, inquisitiveness about life and ceaseless thirst for understanding are completely familiar.
Maya Kitajima would love nothing more than to be someone else. At the opening of Glass Mask, though, her options for escape are quite limited. She works in the same Chinese restaurant where her mother slaves away, lives with her in a single-room apartment, and with her lousy grades and unfocused work habits she’s most likely headed for a life of minimum-wage drudgery — just like Mom. Small wonder Mom’s an embittered woman with no expectations for her daughter other than mediocrity at best and abject failure at worst.
The only thing Maya can do is dream. When she does, she dreams vicariously — through the characters she watches longingly on her favorite TV dramas and on the big screen. Like someone afflicted with Stendhal Syndrome, the mere sight of acting sends her into a rapture. This is the way out. Small wonder she delivers a ridiculous number of meals over the course of an evening for the chance to snag a spare ticket to a stage play. (When said ticket blows out into the bay, she throws herself into freezing water to rescue it.) She doesn’t just want to watch such a performance, either: she wants to do it, to step out in front of an audience and become someone else again and again.Read more
During a discussion with someone else about giving things away that you'd normally charge for, this insight came up: When you take the price tag off something, you deprive most people of the easiest way they have to gauge its value.
I meet a lot of folks at cons who aren't rich, but they've often doing okay and are at the con because they can spend a little something for themselves. Or they may be folks who don't have money to spend right then, but spend money in general. In both cases they see that $12 + sales tax for a paperback book is a good deal, especially when many other people in the same space are charging $25 and up for same. (News flash to self-published authors: you need to achieve price parity with mainstream publishers, not other indie authors, because you're competing with all of them too.)
There are a few things I give away, but they're adjuncts, not the main product. Every book has a PDF sampler, and I sell paper copies of those at the conventions with the price of the sampler applicable towards a discount on the full book. The main event, though, will always have a pricetag on it — because that gives people a commonly-understood way to budget their degree of involvement with it.
If I took that away and started simply giving out copies of the book online, I'd be doing myself more harm than good. The fact that I'm willing to charge a price for what I do is a message that I think it's worth something, that I think it's going to be that much more developed and substantial and noteworthy than something just slapped up onto a webpage. Henry Rollins once talked about his publishing company 2.13.61 like this: "I am just pretentious enough to assume someone will want to read what I wrote." Just pretentious enough to package it up, print it, charge money for it. He seems to be right about that: his books sell well enough that he can keep bringing them out quite reliably.
I'm not trying to denigrate people who, for instance, have their own webcomic. The model there is to give away most of the content up front. But a lot of those folks anthologize their work and sell it in print form, which means on some level they think it's worth paying for. Apparently they do pretty well with such things, because — surprise! — people feel those things are more than worth paying for.
I myself am still flirting with the idea of developing a serially-published story that will be initially given away, but eventually turned into a kind of "donate this much to continue" project (with anthologies available later on as part of the donation process). But I want the story I have in mind to congeal that much more before I attempt it. And I plan to sell it in its completed form — whether that comes to 200 pages, 500, or what have you.
I like the idea of the Creative Commons, and I know I've made use of material licensed as such in the past (the cover for Tokyo Inferno was taken from a CC-BY photo). But I think it's an adjunct to existing systems and not a replacement for them — not unless you plan to do away with money. And look how well that's worked out in the past.
Francis Ford Coppola once said, "I like all kinds of films, but what I really want is to be moved by a film, to feel as I've never felt, to see things I've never seen before."
Before I go any further, ask yourself this: What does Coppola mean by "see things I've never seen before"? I'd bet most people would assume he meant something like Avatar or even Lawrence of Arabia, a movie that uses a) visual effects wizardry or b) scenic vistas (or a combination of both) to give us something to look at.
I think both of these ideas are wrong. Or, at the very least, an extremely limited way of looking at the issue.
I'm most moved in a film, most compelled to feel, when someone takes a camera and shows us an aspect of our lives we have left unexamined. Chop Shop, Araya (as yet unseen by me but on my list for sure), A Woman Under The Influence, Naked — movies that probably don't use any visual effects at all, that have nothing flashier than a jump cut in their editing, but which are still spellbinding.
I shouldn't dismiss the filmmakers who create something out of nothing. That would mean ditching Stan Brakhage, or pretty much every animated film ever made. A bad idea. But I also know that it is a little too easy to put such things first — to think first of the director who concocts his world whole, instead of going out there with a camera to find some piece of it. Yes, he will inevitably shape what he films, and in that process he is creating something new out of whole cloth (Chop Shop is a drama, not verité footage); but the raw material will be coming from a very different place. He will not simply be taking something that was put on the screen before and reshaping it to fit an audience that wasn't lucky enough to see those tropes the first time.
I mull this over a lot in the course of my own work — how much of what I'm doing is just lifted from other creative end product (not in the sense of plagiarism, but in the sense of inspiration), and how much of it is inspired by things that actually passed in front of my own senses. The latter inspiration should always fuel the former, because the latter includes everything we know about true human behavior as we've experienced it, and that might well be the ultimate subject of any of our pursuits.
Today, go spread some love. How you do that, I leave entirely to you.
It doesn't matter if there is or isn't chocolate; it doesn't matter if there is or isn't a card. It doesn't matter if there's something you spent money on or not. It doesn't matter if there's bows on it or if it's red or some other color.
Here's what I decided to do.
Last night, I told myself: I don't want to just grab something off a shelf and give it to my wife of nearly fifteen years. I want to do something a little more personal.
I took a piece of paper and cut off a rectangle of it measuring about 6 mm x 10 mm. On this piece of paper, with the finest point pen I could find in my collection, I wrote:
I folded it over and drew a heart — a really, really tiny one — on the cover. The whole thing was barely big enough to cover the pad of my index finger.
I was going to present the whole thing to her today, but last night we were both still up after midnight, and I figured, what the heck, it's the 14th already.
"Here," I said. "I bring you the world's smallest Valentine's Day card!" And I held out my finger with this thing barely the size of the corner of a postage stamp on it.
She loved it. Because she loves me, y'know, and because it was something from me, to her, to show that the feeling is oh so very mutual.
Now I just wonder what I'm going to do next year.
Oh, and 新年快樂!
There’s little more disappointing then a movie where there’s not much, you know, movie. Doubles is about two hundred percent concept and almost no percent actual story, an experiment that most assuredly failed but one where we’re forced to read the lab notes anyway. It was admittedly filmed on a tiny budget and with constrained resources, but a great movie can come from those things without turning into a snake that gobbles its own tail.
The movie is about two disgruntled men who only know each other by their Internet aliases, Gun and Key. Gun’s one of those young techno-wizards with tons of esoteric technical knowledge but lousy people skills. He’s bitter from being ousted at his position at a dot-com outfit, and wants revenge on his former boss. Key is a locksmith, a gloomy man in his forties with money trouble and nothing to lose by helping out someone who needs his magic touch to crack open the company’s safe. They’ve got it all worked out: they can break into the building, loot the office, walk out of there with sixty million yen, and retire to Tahiti or something, all without anyone getting hurt — least of all themselves. Read more
There are many things wrong with Onimasa, and it pains me to no end to say that one of the very worst is Tatsuya Nakadai. Here is one of the finest actors that Japan ever produced, under the direction of the very capable Hideo Gosha, and there is barely a scene in this tiresome film where Nakadai comes off as anything but a scenery-chewing, cotton-in-the-jowls ham. It takes a special kind of miscalculation to reduce the most piercing pair of eyes in all of Japanese cinema to something that looks like a photo from an ophthalmology textbook.
I linger on Nakadai because he serves as an emblem of so much of what is wrong with this film: poor choices. He’s miscast, brutally so, as the pre-WWII Kyoto underworld boss Onimasa. Nakadai is best at playing haunted and tormented souls — the tempest-tossed lord in Ran, the homicidal anti-hero of Sword of Doom. He’s also skilled at giving us men who are beaten on the outside but still spirited on the inside, like Genta from Kill! or Komatsu from When A Woman Ascends the Stairs. But he’s hopelessly ill-suited to the role of a powerful gangster boss; his strutting and sneering and rolling of his Rs seem better suited to a TV comedy sketch than a two-and-a-half-hour crime family saga. Watching his performance in this movie is like seeing a bystander end up wedged between two colliding cars. He just plain doesn’t belong here, and no amount of trying to shoehorn him into the role works.Read more
On this blog, I've talked recently about two Blu-ray titles that I felt were substandard and should not be purchased: the U.S. edition of Ghost in the Shell 2.0, and the Lionsgate / Canal+ version of Ran.
I want to make it clear that despite my feelings about these titles — and despite my feelings about Canal+ generally — I am not calling for people to avoid both companies (Lionsgate and Manga Video/Starz) entirely. My concern is focused entirely on these two titles, which I feel are substandard products. (The GITS BD is not bad if all you want is the remix version of the movie, but to me that's a little like preferring the colorized Casablanca to the pristine original.)
I'm more than willing to consider that future Lionsgate BD titles in this vein will be well worth the cash. Ditto Manga; I don't at this point have a problem with either of them in an existential sense. I just feel these two titles are not worth the money. If they are reissued in improved editions in the future, I won't hesitate to recommend people run out and grab them.
Some of this concern stemmed from what has become the third (fourth?) installment in the unfolding drama of the cancelled GLBT zombie anthology, where the whole thing has actually gone back on the rails but with some wholly unneeded snark directed towards people who were having problems with the way it was handled. Well, bait-and-switch is generally a lousy business plan, so at this point I'm not surprised if a lot of people have second, third, and fourth thoughts about participating anyway.
And you thought you had it bad bringing your camera through TSA?
I don't think it's much of a stretch to point out how rules like this do little or nothing to inhibit the doing of evil, and simply wind up creating that many more problems for those of us who are already inclined to follow the rules. Not to mention they're lousy for business.
First, the bad news. Lionsgate/Canal+'s Blu-ray of Ran (affiliate link for reference only; I do not recommend the purchase of this disc) looks like a dud. Apart from some nice bonus features, which mostly likely would have shown up in a Criterion edition in the first place, the disc itself looks pretty wretched — like a 720p master created for broadcast that was blown up for 1080p.
The same sort of thing happened when Ran was released on DVD, come to think of it. The original Fox/Lorber version was nothing but a port of the LaserDisc D2 master; the subsequent reissue by Wellspring was heavily denoised (and looked like garbage as a result); but the Criterion disc was well worth the wait. Well, fine — if we have to wait for Criterion or someone else to renegotiate rights to get this thing issued in a decent edition, then I'll hang onto my DVD copy for now. The really cynical side of me thinks that this edition is just being hustled onto the market to take advantage of the change in the rights, and that we'll have to wait until someone has the wherewithal to actually work to get a good edition produced.
If I go on and on about this movie to the point of self-parody, it's only because it may well have been my big entry point into Japanese culture and art generally, and seeing it getting kicked about like some kind of cinematic soccer ball is downright painful.
But now the good news: some new Criterion titles. Some great new Criterion titles.
First and most striking: a Blu-ray edition of By Brakhage (as well as the second volume of same on DVD). Idiot that I am, I never did sit down with the DVD edition of this set and give it a proper look-see. This will give me a chance to rectify that. I feel immense kinship with filmmakers who work on their own and who use what few resources they have lying around — a fairly broad spectrum of people that includes Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch and Brakhage himself.
Next: Stagecoach. The ultimate road picture, the ultimate Western, and maybe the John Ford film that most everyone can see and enjoy for being nothing more than what it is.
Next: M. No explanation needed.
And finally: Walkabout. Another movie I have learned to interpret differently in different stages of life, and which was also seen as being a much more optimistic film in its day than it probably was.
AND! A NAGISA OSHIMA BOXSET! Which includes the never-released-here Pleasures of the Flesh (based on a Fūtaro Yamada [Basilisk] novel, no less); Violence At Noon, Sing A Song of Sex, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, and Three Resurrected Drunkards. Most of these have only been available as imports, or gray-area bootlegs for god knows how long.
Based on his words and the editor’s first statement, this anthology was pulled for fear of people’s reaction. (The editor now says there were concerns the anthology would be seen as a gimmick, and that it wouldn’t have good stories.) ... Whatever his personal views on homosexuality, I find that disappointing in the extreme.
(Jim's take is that the nice-guy defense is not apropos here, because even nice people can do foolish things, and it's his actions and not his attitude that are being questioned here.)
If what I see in the linked piece is right, that sounds like the anthology was cancelled more because of fears that it would offend people in the GLBT community, and not the knee-jerk bigots who find reasons to be offended about things no matter what.
But wait a minute. It's no better to cave in to perceived (not even manifest!) pressure and rejection from your own side as opposed to from someone else's. And plus, wouldn't the only way to tell if the stories were good would be to put the thing out there and get some feedback instead of second-guessing reactions to it? (There's always the chance the editor did in fact do that, and got cold feet when that someone he trusted told him this was a Bad Idea, but I haven't seen anything yet to suggest such a thing happened.)
This whole thing made me wonder about listening to people who claim to speak on behalf of a specific group. I say, take their professed identification on behalf of the group with a grain of salt. People within a given population who want to be empowered need to do that by speaking for themselves and not letting someone (self)-appointed do that frequently messy and difficult work for them.
No, it isn't easy; who said it was going to be? This free speech thing works both ways, y'know.
One for the Loaded Questions Dept.: Do School Libraries Need Books?
My favorite line: "Books offer a place away from the inbox, where we can go to quiet our minds and reflect."
I'm a little dismayed at how much more difficult it becomes with every passing year to disconnect from all this stuff and just sit somewhere quietly with nothing but a book and our own mind for company. (Or another human being, for that matter.) The Kindle's got a wireless connection — bingo, instant distraction. Yes, you can turn it off, but that's not even the real point. I like the fact that a book is a thing in itself and nothing else, and you have to take it as it is and not change the channel, so to speak.
Something else that came to me as I was shoveling out the driveway: "How does extreme weather affect the public’s understanding or misunderstanding of global climate change?" The way I understand it — warming means more melting, which in turn means increased precipitation in parts of the world where you have such things. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if we uncover plenty of good evidence that putting all that vapor and CO² into the atmosphere makes things all the more violent.
And here's a bit of dismay about the "new global novel", which is inevitably going to be in English (since, so goes the thinking, if you're not published in English you aren't really published):
What seems doomed to disappear, or at least to risk neglect, is the kind of work that revels in the subtle nuances of its own language and literary culture, the sort of writing that can savage or celebrate the way this or that linguistic group really lives.
The comments go on to argue whether or not this is the case for genre fiction (Stieg Larsson's books come to mind) or truly ambitious literary work (Jorge Luis Borges).
If I recall correctly this is something that has been already bemoaned about modern Korean literature (I can't remember the reference, assume it's someone else's): much of modern Korean writing relies heavily on words ported in from English and other languages rather than Korea's own native pool of cultural references and linguistic choices. Not long ago I read Young-Ha Kim's I Have The Right To Destroy Myself, and while I was stuck reading a translation (!) of the original I could see how that might be considered a case study for just such capitulation.
...last month, Library of the Living Dead Press put out a call for an LGBT zombie anthology (which sounds like a very cool project, actually). Yesterday, the publisher pulled the plug on the anthology. From the editor:
“It is with deep regret that I must inform you that the publisher has pulled the plug on this anthology. It seems that homophobia had reared its ugly head..NOT from the publisher, but with some authors that are contributers to the publisher.”
In other words, it sounds like some of the authors who publish with LLD found out that their publisher was doing an anthology that had teh gay in it, and complained.
Without speculating as to who complained or to what end (or how much of a roadblock that created), I'll add my 2¢ by saying I've met a remarkable number of people who have what I could call a "patchwork open-mindedness". Dead bodies eating each other? Great! Same-sex romance? NO SIRREE.
It sounds like a brain-breaker at first — why would someone get all squicky about one and not the other? — until you realize that not everyone can be uniformly open-minded about transgressive subjects.
My take, based on what little I've seen, is that some people cannot give homosexuality the OK without feeling like that means they somehow should consent to it. Some folks don't understand on a gut level that there's nothing that says you have to be the subject of homosexuality as part of being okay with its existence — that if you say yes to it in a broader social context, that you are somehow saying yes to it in a personal context.
Yes, it's stupid. Yes, it's juvenile. The problem is, people's minds do work like this.
I once had a friend — note the past tense — who was easily one of the smartest and most open-minded folks I'd ever known. He also had a bizarre streak of homophobia, so much so that he wouldn't even allow his openly-gay first cousin to sleep in the same house as him because he was worried the guy might sneak into his bedroom and do Naughty Things to him while he slept. Any attempt to discuss this with him — or even just flat-out ridicule his paranoia as exactly that, paranoia — bounced off him like bullets off Superman's tuchis. It wasn't a state of mind he had been argued into, and so there was no point in arguing him out of it.
I had — and still have — friends of pretty much every sexual orientation you could think of. A couple of them have hit on me, and I've always responded the same way: thank you, the attention is flattering, but I'm sorry, I don't swing that way and I'm married and monogamous besides. The least I can do on my own is not fuel further dischord. I'd like to think we're, as a culture, past the point where such things should be grounds for a beating or a shoot-out, but then I run into something like this and get a hard reminder that no, we're not.
AICN Anime has news about Live Action Akira by The Hughes Brothers.
New York's Vulture blog has learned that Warner Bros. to sign the Hughes brothers (From Hell, Dead Presidents, Menace II Society) to direct a live-action remake of the cult favorite Akira, from a script by Iron Man scribes Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby.
Ten to one Les Freres Hughes were signed on based on The Book of Eli. Let's see if a movie actually comes from this deal.
The same article has a poster — and an awesome-looking one, too — for the live-action Space Battleship Yamato film.
This whole business about a live-action Akira has started to feel entirely too much like the continued attempts to make a live-action Dune. Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and John Harrison each had their way with the material, resulting in two attempts that failed and succeeded in entirely different ways and one non-attempt that has gained mythic status as the Greatest SF Movie Never Made.
Akira's becoming a lot like that: it's more interesting as an idea at this point than as a completed project. For decades now, people have been lining up to throw themselves at the project only to go splat against it. The lucky director who manages to do that and make a good movie out of it gets a hell of a nerd-cred feather to stick into his cap ... and the studio that backed it might get to make some decent bank, too. Heck, we're getting to the point now where some of the people calling the shots in those places might well have copies of Akira on their own shelves at home, but that doesn't mean they're automatically going to spend $175-$250 million on it.
My biggest reason for being hesitant about a Western live-action remake of Akira is simple: it's a story that is deeply bound up in its setting. Inextricably so. You cannot move a story like this to, say, Manhattan (as was the premise in one of the more recent versions of the script) and also port over all the subtext that made the story what it is. Granted, most of the non-fans may never know the difference, but it's exactly the kind of misstep that causes projects like this to break from the inside and become mere curiosities instead of breakout/crossover hits. Non-fans watch it and sense something is missing, but can't put their finger on it — like a cover version of a song where every third measure went missing.
And of course no Western studio is going to throw gobs of money at something that isn't — well, Western. Unless you're talking about a glossy period-piece soap opera like Memoirs of a Geisha or The Last Samurai, both of which had at least some degree of built-in U.S.-based box-office star appeal or name recognition. Or unless it's Blood: The Last Vampire, which was actually an English-language Hong Kong coproduction and didn't cost very much to begin with.
If we're going to have live-action anime, the least we could do is start with stories where the venue isn't Japan in the first place. It's not like we have any shortage of such things: Claymore, Vampire Hunter D (which I hear is actually in progress now), Black Lagoon, Monster, Detroit Metal City (why not?). Even Guin Saga or Berserk, as long as you don't care about making back a dime of your $200+M investment ... although I'd place my poker chips on Guin making back at least some of that money.
Interesting piece about Warner Brothers' new head:
Obviously the DC stuff is of big interest to me (and most everyone else who probably reads this). I was dismayed Watchmen didn't cross over / break out as aggressively as it might have, although I suspect it's going to be one of those pictures people savor much more in the long run, when they realize just how few movies of that particular flavor ever get made at all.
The folks at Warners have been favorites of mine for some time now — both for the way they've lavished love on home video versions of titles and for the way they've stuck their necks out a bit more than some other folks. They gave the go-ahead to make The Matrix; they worked with New Line Cinema to get Lord of the Rings into theaters; they gambled on Watchmen and are now carefully making the rest of the DC Comics properties into big things. Things have, I hope, changed a great deal since Tim Burton's ill-fated time in their salt mines, when he tried (tried) to bring Superman back into theaters and walked off in disgust when they wouldn't let him do his thing.
... So, Jeff! Guin Saga? Hey, a man can dream.
The fan in me wants to rave and drool. The critic in me will be more modest but still enthusiastic. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo uses the Alexandre Dumas classic as raw material for a story that spans lifetimes and solar systems, and the end result is an explosion of creativity that’s almost intimidating. The story’s been reinvented, not just retold, and everyone — from the writers to the design directors to the voice actors — has brought something new to the material. This show’s a bar-raiser.
What’s best is that as flashy as Gankutsuou looks — and most of the critiques I’ve read of the show so far revolve mostly around its visuals — it’s not just a graphics showcase. I ended up watching the entire series not once but twice, once for the plot and again for the nuances and characterization. It holds up well enough on repeat viewings to convince me it’ll be a perennial, one of those titles that is always in print somewhere. Shows like this are the whole reason I started watching anime in the first place: to see something new. Read more
It's been a while since my last deep-dive of upcoming titles, so here goes...
Dogora has been described as the child of films like Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka, with Cambodia as the set and Patrice Lecomte (The Girl on the Bridge) as the director. A description like that has my interest piqued in too many ways to comfortably list here.
So do we finally, finally, finally get to see Versus on Blu-ray this March? FINALLY? At last? Or do we have to cross our fingers and hold our breath and wonder what sort of delays are going to be dropped on us yet again? (Yes, I'm just a tot irate about this right now.)
Both versions of Red Cliff are headed our way! The admirably-compressed theatrical version or the über-long international version; your choice. I plan on checking out both if I can possibly pack it in, although people tell me the short version is a very efficient reduction of the whole.
Another perennial favorite of mine has finally crawled out the other end of an arduous multi-year restoration process: The African Queen. For a long time it was the only film on the AFI Top 100 list with no current home-video edition, and I'm wildly curious to see how the restoration compares to the TV prints I've seen.
The sleeper has awakened! Yes, a Blu-ray edition of David Lynch's Dune, which I both love and hate at the same time. Love for its hallucinatory quality and epic scope; hate for its trashing of the original story (probably inevitable for any movie adaptation of this book) and its many, many, many awkward moments.
Another underrated HK flick, Seven Swords, makes its way to BD (the echo of Seven Samurai in the title is more than deliberate), along with Fist of Legend — although it's not clear if the latter is the full international version or the bastardized U.S. print.
In Kenji Misumi’s breakthrough film, Ichikawa seeks revenge and redemption after his family is murdered by a rival clan. An astonishing, dreamlike samurai film written by Kaneto Shindo, Destiny’s Son is a demonic masterpiece: designed with quasi-expressionist artistry, awash with surreal landscapes, and subsumed in an otherworldly beauty that fuses Zen and sword.
This one's been rarely seen, so if you can hustle yourself over to the Japan Society to check it out, do it. Or, check out the Sleepy Eyes of Death movies on DVD thanks to the good work of the AnimEigo folks.
A pretty good summation of the e-book pricing squabble at POD People, which spurred some thought about how much prices can be driven down. My quick answer: not much.
If a hardback book, as an example, is priced $26.99 retail, and the subsequent paperback is priced $15.99, regardless of windowing, is the publishing company saying the author’s words are worth less? Of course not. Between the two editions nothing has changed as far as content, editorial services, cover design, etc. So why is one priced lower than the other if the content is exactly the same? In the simplest of terms, the packaging has changed.
There's a problem with the idea that the packaging alone dictates the price — one which I've recently had explained to me, and which is in fact a mirror of how things work in the anime industry in the U.S.
For a long time — and to some degree right now — the standard model for releasing an anime series in the U.S. went something like so:
1. Release individual volume sets.
2. When those sell out, release a slightly priced-down box set.
3. When those sell out, release a thinpak box set.
(This is of course ignoring things like TV licensing, streaming, etc.)
Why do this? Because selling individual volumes first at MSRPs of $25 or so provides two things: 1) that much more of an upfront recoup of costs, and 2) it sets a premium price on early access to a keeper version of the material. You could watch the whole thing on TV, but the quality wouldn't be the same, and you wouldn't get those extras and multiple language tracks. By the time you get to the $50 (or even $40) box set, the basic costs for licensing the series have been paid off, and nobody except for the die-hard collectors cares about the individual volumes anymore. The early-access cost has been paid.
Hardback pricing seems to work the same. You're charging that much more for early access to the material, since a bestseller almost inevitably comes back out in a priced-down TPB edition anyway — and you're trying to quickly recoup as much of your investment in developing the product as you can.
Another thing that gets tossed around a lot about e-books is how the manufacturing costs for backlisted titles approaches zero. That's true, but I'm skeptical how much of backlist sales alone, even if it's 98% pure profit, would be enough to subsidize even a moderately-sized publishing house. The people who keep the wheels turning — the folks who acquire new content, promote the existing stuff, sign the contracts and put together the ad flyers — all have to get paid, and the best way to make sure they get their checks on time is to keep looking for and producing new material.
Same in anime: those lawyers, dub actors, translators, copy editors, and managers all have to get something for their work. And the more people you leave out of the equation, the less professional a product you end up with — and the less likely you'll be doing business with that licensor (or those retailers, or those fans) in the future.
The other implication of e-books seems to be that the more you rely on them to drive your sales, the less you need to pay for the overhead associated with physical merchandise. That could well be true in ten years, when e-books make up enough of a chunk of publishing that a new company could open its doors with electronic-only titles and no one would bat an eye. Today, that would be like operating an airline with a 2,000 plane fleet — but which only flies between Denver and Salt Lake City.
I've had my own experiences with anime fans who don't seem to be terribly aware of how the economics of the video industry works, and I'm realizing there may be just as many readers who don't know much about publishing. Me included, as for a long time I thought it would be in the publishing industry's best interest to nix hardcovers altogether. Now I realize it's one of the few things that keeps them afloat — and that the early-access / premium-cost model may have to follow in the e-book world as well.
You know what I see here? A time-bomb effect, one which the publishing industry may have to fall back on plain old print to circumvent — either by keeping e-book pricing that much higher, by releasing e-books that much later after the print version drops, or by offering some kind of premium e-book version (akin to the hardcover) which will better justify the higher pricetag. I can't think of what such a thing would consist of while sitting here typing this, but I can say that the rule of "What If Everyone Did That" certainly applies. You don't want to give everyone an incentive to simply wait (and buy nothing); the last person you want to undercut is yourself.
For a long time, the music industry was content to maintain three formats for everything: LP, tape and CD. The first format became a boutique/specialty offering — marginalized, but still alive. Commercially-produced cassette tapes are all but dead, and the CD is still very much a de facto standard format but has been flanked and eaten into by (legit) downloads.
The difference between music and books is, you don't need electronics of any kind to read a book. There's a part of me that would really rather keep it that way.
When dealing with storytelling and writing, one of the fun exercises I like to run through is something I call Turn That Around. It comes out of something Ridley Scott talked about having picked up from Stanley Kubrick: when you are confronted with something where you have an automatic "oh, I'd do that" response, you stop and ask yourself: What happens when we turn that around?
The first time I heard Scott talk about this was re: Blade Runner, when they were assembling the opening sequence where Leon shoots Holden under the table during the V-K test. Scott was uneasy about just showing a regular shooting with a regular gun, and toyed with the idea of the gun behaving differently. Maybe it didn't shoot bullets but instead caused the target to implode, he theorized. The idea ultimately never went anywhere, and so for various reasons (most of them budget and time) they just went with a more conventional gun-that-shoots-bullets approach. (I wondered if he had been thinking, however distantly, of the striking-looking "gas gun" that was featured in Logan's Run.) The idea itself might not have gone anywhere, but the impulse to not take on face value ideas that come automatically to mind stuck with him.
It's a good habit to get into — as long as you're using it to break the ice of habitual thinking and not using it to overturn a way of doing things that exists for a very good reason. If you break a rule, you have to replace it with something at least as good or better. Science is the same way: no junking a theory unless your new one encompasses the old.
So, no, I don't think Blade Runner would have been better off with Deckard firing a "black hole gun". That would have been like putting a fringed doily on the hood of a racecar.
Most authors, we read, and that's about it. They produce the words and we consume them like we're slurping down so many yards of some restaurant's house-recipe pasta.
A few of them, a very small Elect, seem to be whispering right into our ear and our ear alone. The authors in question will vary among us, but the effect is the same: we feel, without an explanation being possible or even needed, that they are talking to us through the pages and right across time's walls.
My own list of such authors is as esoteric as anyone else's: Hubert Selby, Jr.; Ryūnosuke Akutagawa; Dostoevsky (reading him in a good translation was like discovering an entirely new author); Philip K. Dick, whose Electric Sheep? inspired me to say to my brother "I think I've found the first writer who understands how I see the universe"; maybe Theodore Sturgeon, too; and a small fistful of others.
Then there are the authors I have wrestling matches with. Authors which I do not exactly hate, but which I cannot help but argue with at almost every line, because they may be brilliant writers but espouse world-views or social theories way the heck out of phase with anything I could call my own. Mishima was like this; Heinlein; Henry Miller; William Burroughs; Céline (somewhat mitigated at this point, I admit).
Both parties are indispensible. Sometimes, you need to someone to tell you something you already know deep down, in words you'd never think to use. Sometimes you need someone to tell you something you never wanted to hear, and in a way that could seem like the only truth there is.
Earlier today someone else posted: "Part of growing up means admitting to yourself that you don't matter."
Like a lot of things, I suspect this lends itself to all kinds of wrong interpretations. Here's what I hope is the right thing (which I posted in reply, with some editing and extension here):
With enough care and introspection you reach a point where you realize you don't mean much in the big scheme of things, but that — paradoxically — you are of vital importance to the things that you are nearest to. Everything's interdependent, which means that no one thing is the most important thing.
Now we get to the part that screws people up. If no one thing is more important than any other, then how do you decide what to do next? There's a long and involved answer, but the short one goes like this: you pick the things that will bring the people around you that much closer to liberation. Yourself included, but by putting them first you do more for your own salvation than it might seem, because you're allowing yourself to be surprised.
It's entirely possible you will matter to millions, but what's more important is what effect you will have on the people immediately around you, and yourself as well. Start there, get that right, and odds are you'll transpose that behavior onto everyone else — including, potentially, those millions many people dream about being able to affect. You'll have gotten the practice right where it counts. The rest is just gravy.
Two ends of the spectrum. Or maybe better to say two pieces of it.
On the one hand, there is Cat Valente's impassioned defense of traditional publishing over the freemium money-later model, where (in her purview) a few short-term gains are weak compensation for a long-term denaturing of publishing as a whole.
Then there is C.E. Murphy's notions about sustainable crowdsourced funding for fiction, a way to get the fanbase to support you in a more graduated way.
I don't think these two points of view contradict each other or are in competition. I think they're highly complementary.
Yes, on the one hand, the current system of publishing is monolithic and clumsy. But the alternatives that have been proposed — the solutions that amount to dumping the whole stinking system and living with the consequences (as the UNABOMer once put it) — are not solutions. Scrapping publishing as we know it and replacing it with what amounts to a long-term honor system will only ensure that the people who get paid poorly enough now (both authors and publishers) will get paid that much more poorly and inconsistently in the future. By and large, a tip jar is not a business model by itself — unless you're a waitress, and even then it's not really a business model either.
That doesn't mean we can't find transitional steps, which is what Item #2 above is about. Yes, by all means explore ways to make use of your current fanbase to more directly support the work you want to do as opposed to what your editors simply think will sell. Given enough time and enough variants on that basic scheme, I suspect we'll be able to see just how sustainable — and with what specific types of fanbases — such work models can be.
This last part, the matching of the work model to the nature of the fanbase, does not get nearly enough discussion. Stephen King's pay-as-you-go experiment tanked because the biggest and most valuable chunk of his readership are people who are accustomed to paying one upfront price for everything. He might have better luck with it now than before, but I suspect the people who'll have the best luck with such things are folks who have a closely-knit connection with their fans and who started off having no choice but to develop such a thing. The newer generations of 'Net-savvy authors, the ones who start with webcomics or whatnot, they seem to develop this sort of thing far more easily. They're used to talking one-to-one via blogs and LJ and TwitterBookFaceFeedTubeSiteEtc. They don't need a PR guy or two to three levels of remove from their own readership to keep from stepping on their own tongues.
This stuff's hard to cultivate. It should be. It means the people who can't do it (or do it badly) get weeded out, and the attention goes to the people who know how to create and keep an audience. Kind of the point of being a writer. Communication to an audience has to continue even outside the pages of the work itself.
So from now on, it's in our best interests to find out what else might be possible — how to take the existing citadel and add new wings to it without wrecking the foundation and letting the roof collapse from neglect. Feel free to invent your own metaphor.
What we have here is not a sequel to the original Ong Bak, and most everyone with some clue about either film knows this. It’s Tony Jaa’s attempt at creating the sort of spiritually-fueled martial-arts epic that Bruce Lee was exploring immediately before his death. Check out the bonus features on Warner Brothers’ Enter the Dragon DVD for some hints of what Game of Death was to have been if Lee had lived to finish it.
I can’t yet say if Jaa did in fact pull off something that ambitious, because 2 isn’t really finished either. It’s a part of a larger whole that will only snap into place when the third film in the cycle comes out later this year. I can say that as far as action on film goes, the bar raised by the original Ong Bak has been blown off its supports and left protruding from the ceiling. I have my quibbles with the story construction, sure, but they take a major backseat to the stuff Jaa does in this film with sweat, muscle, sinew, blood, fists, elbows, knees, knives, swords, arrows, and … elephants. Read more
Is anime still an "underground" taste? That's the claim from a Baltimore City Paper article — although funny they should make that claim since Baltimore annually hosts the country's biggest anime convention every year, with an attendance of 35,000 and climbing.
... Ponyo's reception, in Baltimore and nationally, typifies the problems anime has had since it first arrived here in the 1980s. American anime fans are legion, but their enthusiasm for the form has not spread to a broader public, or even to the broader moviegoing public.
This is true, though: the fandom is fierce, but still tends to be insular. There really hasn't been a single, big, breakout / crossover hit. Not even the CGI Astro Boy movie, although that also opened during a year of pretty stiff competition from other genuinely good, creative animated films (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, Coraline).
What there has been, though, is a series of little chiseling-aways at public awareness. No one title, character or author has really made a major impact, but there are minor success stories. Vertical, Inc. brought much Osamu Tezuka's more daring and adult-oriented work into English; VIZ had been doing some of the same with his Astro-Boy manga (and also, it has to be said, his inimitable Phoenix). Here and there, people bump into the broader outlying edges of the whole thing without ever really delving into it. Many fans themselves never find out about such things, but I suspect that's mostly because in any field the only attention paid to things like impact and influence is by people with some interest in the history of the field — a minority. It's not a conscious snub; it's just that they're interested in what's new now.
I am currently working on a longish post about fan-evangelization, about the whole process by which fans communicate their fandom to nonfans (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). There's actually two parts to it — one is a quick-and-dirty guide to anime/manga recommendations, a list of titles to suggest to people based on their existing interests. The other is something I might as well talk about here.
Fans, by and large, make the mistake that other people (the Great Non-Fan Unwashed) are always curious about their fandom. By and large, they aren't. They have their thing(s) and stick to them, and anything outside of that tends to zing right off the walls of their Reality Tunnel like bullets off Superman's gluteus.
We are all like this. Even other fans are like this: viz., the number of Trek / Stargate / Firefly / $FRANCHISE_NAME fans with a studied disinterest in That Other Fandom With The Starships. Or even anime fans themselves.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to reach out. What it does mean is that you need to cultivate some degree of diplomacy about it, and accept failure or indifference as gracefully as you can.
My parents are the furthest thing from fans, but I thought they might be amenable to the odd show that stands out from the pack by dint of being artful and thoughtful (e.g. Mushishi). They watched it, but were only politely interested, and were at least as bewildered as they were curious. (I'm growing certain that some people use a certain degree of self-imposed confusion they don't actually suffer from, as a defense mechanism against things which they feel are simply not worth their time.)
Me, I took it in stride. Anime's a loss? Big deal. We can always talk about Pedro Almodóvar.
The two hardest things in art are being funny and playing stupid. Gilbert Sorrentino must have been touched by genius, because he did a better job of portraying an irredeemably bad writer — i.e., playing stupid — than anyone else I’ve read yet. He also managed the difficult juggling act of of being both highbrow and lowbrow at the same time, without letting either extreme eat him up. He did this sort of thing through a number of books, none of them bestsellers but many of them worth seeking out, and of the bunch of them Mulligan Stew remains a perennial favorite. (Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is my other favorite Sorrentino overall, but it’s so dissimilar from Stew that it would be unfair to talk about it in the same review.)
To paraphrase from a press release for a film I hated, Mulligan Stew is “a car bomb of post-modern textual self-deconstruction”, rammed head-on into the present-day crop of literary pretensions. In plainer language, it’s a hoot, an indictment of the self-importance of those who seem more interested in pleasing critics and snobbish literary professors than they are in telling a story (!) or communicating something genuine (!!). Sorrentino accomplished all this by taking on the form of the very thing he wanted to critique: a Post-Modern Novel, consisting of books inside other books, with all the characters in search of an author. It’s not bad enough that they have to endure the indignity of being mere fictional creations, but they’re doubly miffed that the one who created them is such a humorless, egomaniacal twit. Read more
So not only is Criterion's Ran out of print no thanks to Canal+'s licensing, but a whole slew of other Criterion titles are also getting deleted. According to a post at Blu-ray.com, they are:
Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy (Eclipse Series 6)
Coup de torchon
Diary of a Country Priest
The Fallen Idol
Forbidden Games (Criterion and Essential Art House editions)
Gervaise (Essential Art House edition)
Grand Illusion (Criterion and Essential Art House editions)
Le jour se lève (Essential Art House edition)
Last Holiday (Essential Art House edition)
Mayerling (Essential Art House edition)
The Orphic Trilogy
Pierrot le fou (DVD and Blu-ray editions)
Port of Shadows
Quai des Orfèvres
The Small Back Room
The Tales of Hoffmann (Criterion and Essential Art House editions)
Variety Lights (Essential Art House edition)
The White Sheik
All of them are probably going to surface again in other editions, but I have no reason to believe those versions are going to be anywhere nearly as good as Criterion's work — and they're almost certainly not going to include Criterion's wonderful extras.
If you hit up Criterion for these titles directly from their site you'll get a $5 discount; grab $50 or more and you get shipping free in the continental U.S.
How's this for a nyah-nyah duel? Amazon Vs. Macmillan, Round Three: Amazon caves and agrees to allow e-book pricing to be set much more competitively, but does so via an announcement worded for maximum acidity:
Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.
We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.
Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!
Good going, both of you. I guess we should quit expecting corporations to exhibit anything like civility or class or decorum — but silly me, I keep getting my hopes up.
Press releases this snarky are events all by themselves. I remember 20th Century Fox being every bit as blunt when they axed the director of one of their biggest flop-busters of decades past:
In exchange for top compensation and a considerable expense account, Mr. Joseph Mankiewicz has for two years spent his time, talent and $35,000,000 of Twentieth Century-Fox's shareholders' money [in 1963 dollars] to direct and complete the first cut of the film Cleopatra. He has earned a well-deserved rest.
A few words about J.D. Salinger's self-imposed silence:
People have speculated about Salinger's reclusiveness as being everything from an untreated social-anxiety disorder to a simple shift of taste: for whatever reason, he found dealing with the attention other people gave him because of his work (or just him in general) was exhausting. Unfortunately, that just made him all the more interesting to the outside world, which sees reclusiveness as a sign of something fascinating being cultivated in secret.
There's something Salinger could have done to completely dispel interest in himself, if that's indeed what he wanted. He could have come back out and said, "I gave up writing a long time ago. I'm going to be a financial consultant." Nothing kills people's interest in a creative person faster than finding out they've become anything but.