Previous Posts: May 2010

Book Reviews: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 1

I’m going to start this review with a position I fully expect others to find irritating at best and indefensible at worst. I hated Axis Powers Hetalia so much that for a long time I didn’t dare tell anyone how...



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I’m going to start this review with a position I fully expect others to find irritating at best and indefensible at worst. I hated Axis Powers Hetalia so much that for a long time I didn’t dare tell anyone how much I despised it.

The show has a strong fanbase, but I know better than to try and lecture people about taste. I only know that the show makes my stomach bubble and my temples pound in rage. Hetalia reminds me way too much of exactly the sort of nationalist, race-baiting propaganda produced by the very countries depicted in the show during WWII — including, I must add with no small amount of chagrin, the United States itself. That it tries to be cute and inoffensive only makes it all the uglier to me. And yes, I’m intimately familiar with the whole “Japan has very little political correctness as we understand it in the West” argument; it doesn’t make the damn thing any less uncomfortable for me to watch. There’s plenty of other stuff out there that I know I want to check out, and that I know isn’t going to give me a case of the sociological squicks.

(Pause for deluge of hate mail. Delete. Onward.) Read more


Tags: history Japan manga review


The Fanboys Are Back In Town Dept.

Okay. This could get bristly. A while back I started learning the C# programming language -- (okay, okay, don't freak out, this is going somewhere) -- for the sake of rewriting a major website project which had been languishing in...


Okay. This could get bristly.

A while back I started learning the C# programming language —

(okay, okay, don't freak out, this is going somewhere)

— for the sake of rewriting a major website project which had been languishing in disrepair for entirely too long. I had a good teacher — or at the very least, a good inspirational guru, a professional programmer who was as interested in the philosophy of programming as the mechanics. This was, as I found, a fancy way of saying he had a morbid fascination with the way programming as a job can turn into a sixteen-car pileup.

I'd already known about the Mythical Man-Month long before I met him, so I was familiar with the whole fallacy of how throwing more programmers at a job that's behind schedule only tends to make it even more behind schedule. From him, though, I learned about Parkinson's Law of Triviality, a/k/a "bikeshedding". To quote Le Wiki:

Parkinson dramatizes his Law of Triviality with a committee's deliberations on a nuclear power plant, contrasting it to deliberation on a bicycle shed. A nuclear reactor is used as example because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that average people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks he or she does), so building one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed.

You know what else that sounds like to me? Fandom, at its worst.

Most every fan discussion that generates heat turns into a bikeshed argument by default. The more of an emotional stake each side perceives to have in the argument, the faster this happens. The biggest reason it turns into a bikeshed argument is because fans believe they, of all people, understand the True Implications of the issue they are discussing by dint of merely being a fan. Their passion, in their minds, can be substituted one-for-one with actual experience with the topic at hand.

Because fandom is about passion, the more passionate the defense of a given position, the more right it is. This has led, in my time, to out-and-out screaming matches over any number of issues:

  • right-to-left printing vs. left-to-right
  • subs vs. dubs
  • the faithfulness vs. the readability of a translation
  • fansubs vs. piracy
  • the legitimacy of fanfiction
  • how members of a particular fandom are all clearly God's chosen idiots
  • why groping someone unsolicited at a con is not remotely excusable in any context

This isn't to say that any of these issues has been settled, save almost certainly the last one. (The fansub-vs.-piracy issue is still virulent as hell after all these decades, and I don't expect it to ever die down completely.)

It's that any discussion of them needs to be informed by both facts and a degree of respect for the other guy, which also means being willing to admit you're wrong. I prefer right-to-left formatting, but I'm not going to scream that the left-to-right formatted version of Blade of the Immortal is an abomination in the face of the Lord, especially not when the author himself asked that the book be released that way in English.

(This inevitably cues up another all-too-familiar argument: The Creator Doesn't Always Know Best, which is such a headache to even mention that I'll save detailed discussion of it for another essay.)

I learned the hard way that you cannot swap passion for experience, one-for-one, which is why I spend at least as much time reading about Japan generally, for context, as I do experiencing its actual cultural products. Not just for the sake of getting this or that in-joke, but so that I know when I'm obviously in over my head on a given subject and need to turn to an actual expert, instead of opening a Pandora's Box of wild-ass guesswork.

I also remind myself that a lot of what I know is not firsthand knowledge, but distillations (and sometimes distillations of distillations). With that will come bias that I might not even realize I have acquired. It helps to remember that your opinions are just that, opinions, and when the facts show them to be baseless you have to scrap them and move on. (To wit: Louis-Fedinand Céline's antisemitism, which I still find hard to deal with but at least I know now I have a context for it.)

More than almost anywhere else in manga/anime fandom, I see bikeshedding in the translation issue. This is something I have discussed before. I see fans with a working knowledge of Japanese made up mainly of trivia and footnotes arguing the finer points of translations with paid professionals who do more paid translating in a month than these people read in their entire career. This isn't to say that amateurs sometimes have a point about this or that translation being lousy, but it's bad faith to assume pros are a) malicious or b) have no idea what they're doing simply because they're "not a fan."

(As if being a fan and a pro, in different contexts, is somehow mutually exclusive.)

It's even worse when the translators cave in to such bitchery and start to believe that yes, they are Doing It Wrong, and the end result is translations that are fan-friendly without being reader-friendly. The less likely a title is to break wide, the greater the temptation to translate it in a fandom-centric way ... and the greater the chance of producing a translation that will be downright unreadable to anyone else. I don't know if this was what happened with Ōoku, but I'd bet at least my lunch money on it.

I'm not arguing that all fandom is like this, or that it is an inevitable consequence of fandom. I've been in more than a few tough, heated discussions that never sunk to that level.

But that requires some understanding on everyone's part that it can sink to that level, that you need to work to not let it sink to that level, and that the difference between a discussion and an argument is that everyone understands nobody needs to win at the former.

The arrogance of ignorance builds many nests in our world, but it seldom rests as comfortably in them as it does in fandom simply because there are so many opportunities for peer reinforcement.

To sum up: You can still be a fan without having anything to prove. All it takes is practice.


Tags: dharma fandom sociology


The Door Is Still Open Dept.

Dave Winer makes a point about Apple and their ecosystem that is precise enough to inspire jealousy in the rest of us who have been seeking to make the same point. ... computers are meant to be more than DisneyLand,...


Dave Winer makes a point about Apple and their ecosystem that is precise enough to inspire jealousy in the rest of us who have been seeking to make the same point.

... computers are meant to be more than DisneyLand, they are meant to solve societal problems and help our species evolve. That means we must have freedom. And freedom and control are exact opposites. So I'd rather have wire-cluttered desktops and TV stations, than have Apple decide what I can and can't watch.

The whole issue of Apple-good-or-bad is so tangled and thorny you could rip the flesh from your hands just trying to pick it apart. I like Apple's products and technology; I don't like the company's behavior as a whole. I definitely don't like their authoritarian approach to content. I esent the idea that buying into Apple ecosystem is turning into the techno-ideological equivalent of buying a condo in a development where there are no pets and nobody with funny last names. The PC is a mess, but out of that mess has come some of the best of computing as we know it. (And as of late, it isn't nearly as much of a mess as it used to be.)

The other side of this is the practical side — that there are plenty of people more than willing to pay piles of nice green money to buy into Apple's computing condo. They got sick of spyware-'n-viruses, or maybe they got started with Apple to begin with and everything else is just not where they want to be. I have no argument with that. I doubt anything I say would persuade them to leap back over the fence, and I'm not going to try because that's not the real point of posts like these. It's to argue that there is virtue in not micromanaging everything, that when you close all the doors you also shut out the things that make it possible to evolve in leaps and bounds instead of stage-managed turtle steps.

There is room for Apple's condos, but there should also be room for things that are not nearly as closed-ended. Or — better to say — things that strike a more generous balance between being freely changeable, and being a place where (as someone else once put it) a place where Man may romp but not bite.

Yes, Harry Lime's line about the cuckoo clocks comes to mind.


Tags: dharma links sociology technology


Mailbag Dept.

Review material, sent my way or purchased, for which detailed reviews will probably appear before long. Here's my quick-and-dirty rundown of what's currently in the bag ... Audition, Ryu Murakami -- yes, this is the novel that was adapted into...


Review material, sent my way or purchased, for which detailed reviews will probably appear before long. Here's my quick-and-dirty rundown of what's currently in the bag ...

Audition, Ryu Murakami — yes, this is the novel that was adapted into the legendarily perverse Takashi Miike horror film. If it's anything like Murakami's other excursions into this territory it should be a good 'un — I read In the Miso Soup not long ago (American serial killer ends up in Japan, oddly heartfelt material mixed with splatterpunk) and this seems like a brother in spirit. And what idiot designed the horrible sub-manga-style artwork for the Kindle edition?

Afterschool Charisma, Kumiko Sekane — the manga-ka behind one of the Blood+ spinoffs has an original story about a high school populated entirely by clones of historical figures. On first read, it plays off a lot better than such a premise might indicate — it could have been offensive and stupid (which was how Axis Powers Hetalia came off to me) but manages to be snappily entertaining if nothing else.

Black Lagoon #9, Detroit Metal City #5 — no introduction needed. If you know 'em, odds are you love 'em. American live-action remakes of both of these franchises seem like they should be inevitable.

From Haikasoru: Slum Online, Hiroshi Sakurazaka — from the author of All You Need Is Kill (thumbs way up) comes a story about life lived online. Looks intriguing and doubly timely. Also, The Next Continent, Issui Ogawa — from the author of Usurper of the Sun (thumbs up too) comes another space story about a Japanese effort to create a moon base suited for civilian use. Also timely given Japan's recent talk about setting up a robot moonbase.

FUNimation also sent over four flicks from their recent licensing deal with Celestial Pictures and their Shaw Brothers kung-fu catalog: Shaolin Handlock, 14 Amazons, Opium and the Kung-fu Master, Hong Kong Godfather. Haven't seen any of these before as far as I know, but they're all remastered from camera negatives (HK Technicolor looks great on DVD).


Tags: books Hiroshi Sakurazaka Hong Kong Issui Ogawa Rei Hiroe Ryū Murakami


Finite Dept.

An interview with David Foster Wallace during his book tour for Infinite Jest that was commissioned for Rolling Stone finally sees the light of day as a book. To say I didn't like Infinite Jest is the mildest possible way...


An interview with David Foster Wallace during his book tour for Infinite Jest that was commissioned for Rolling Stone finally sees the light of day as a book.

To say I didn't like Infinite Jest is the mildest possible way to put it. The only thing worse than Thomas Pynchon himself is someone gleefully imitating his every quirk and modality, and IJ was DFW pulling off a Pynchon-clone job for no discernible reason other than to point to it and say "Look what I did!" Dale Peck's "hatchet-job" review of the book (in his own book of almost the same name) covers a good deal of why I disliked the book on such a visceral, nearly personal level. It was the embodiment of everything I'd come to hate about modern fiction, which favored concept over any kind of empathic connection between reader, author and characters.

It bothered me all the more because there was a time, when I was fresh out of high school and too smart for my own good, that I could have easily fallen into a career of writing too-clever-for-your-English-department fiction. And when I dug a little deeper into my own feelings about Wallace, I realized what pained me most was a sense of missed opportunity. The guy was talented and no dummy (he'd spent a thousand-plus pages making sure I knew that), but it pained me to think he was throwing his effort into stuff this glum and reductionistic and ultimately, well, shallow.

I was dismayed to hear that Wallace had killed himself, because I kept thinking, "You know, maybe he's going to shuck off all this post-everything blather and write something as honest and true as only he can make it." But it never happened. The week the news broke, if memory serves, I was reading the first volume of the Black Jack reprints, and I think one of the Vampire Hunter D novels. The irony of this, as much of it as could be mined out of the situation, was not lost on me.


Tags: fiction links postmodernism writing


External Book Reviews: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Graphic Novel 6

Much as I hate to admit it, at this point Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei has hit something like a comfortably formulaic plateau. What was funny and startling in the first couple of volumes has been reduced to a set of dance steps....



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Much as I hate to admit it, at this point Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei has hit something like a comfortably formulaic plateau. What was funny and startling in the first couple of volumes has been reduced to a set of dance steps. They’re well-executed, but they’re a far cry from the wild fandango that kicked off this series, and so a comment like “How I laughed!” now carries with it a “but…”.

And yet, at the same time, there really isn’t anything else like this right now. Would that I had to find shelf-space partners for Zetsubo-sensei, they would consist of a very small, oddball list of other comics — the riotous Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga!, or maybe Usamaru Furuya’s indescribable and hilarious Palepoli. All of which, now that I think about it, are united in that they tap into humor that’s as peculiarly Japanese as it is a tough sell for people who are not already fans. I’ve talked before about this, and with each passing volume SZS gets no easier to stump for, even as it becomes that much more predictable. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


Movie Reviews: K-20: Fiend With Twenty Faces

The first five minutes of K-20 feature, get this, the theft of Nikola Tesla’s wireless-power transmission device by the masked-and-cloaked Fiend of Twenty Faces. If that description makes you grin, then you are most likely the right audience for this...



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The first five minutes of K-20 feature, get this, the theft of Nikola Tesla’s wireless-power transmission device by the masked-and-cloaked Fiend of Twenty Faces. If that description makes you grin, then you are most likely the right audience for this film. If you didn’t grin, then you, sir, are no fun.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen something this unpretentiously fun that wasn’t weighted down with irony and too-hip-for-the-screen injokes. K-20 bears most direct comparison to something between the recent redux of Sherlock Holmes crossed with Casshern. It even shares a few cast members with the latter, but it’s far more lighthearted than that film, with swashbuckling and good-humored adventure instead of global destruction and general gloom. I still adore Casshern for what it is but if you’re new to this sort of material, grab K-20 first, then graduate to the other film as your 200-level course. Read more


Tags: Edogawa Rampo Japan Jun Kunimura movies review Takeshi Kaneshiro


School Days and Roots Lessons Dept.

Here is something which sounds like an entry in a You Know You're Getting Old When list, so I might as well phrase it like that: You know you're getting old when the stuff you consider "classic" is just "old"...


Here is something which sounds like an entry in a You Know You're Getting Old When list, so I might as well phrase it like that: You know you're getting old when the stuff you consider "classic" is just "old" or (polite way to put it) "old-school" to everyone else.

I was born in 1971, and immediately started doing everything in my power to fix that sorry state of affairs. To that end, I have a slightly skewed idea of what constitutes old-school anything.

But since the original conversation revolved around anime, my rundown of old-school in that department went something like Gatchaman / Battle of the Planets (depending on where you came in), Galaxy Express 999 and most of Leiji Matsumoto's work in general, Ikkyu-san (which aired on UHF in Jersey), etc. Other people chimed in with "old-school" titles that for me were the cusp of my involvement with anime generally: Utena, Lodoss Wars, Bubblegum Crisis, Akira.

Several things become clear from all this:

  • The cutoff for old vs. new is always personal.
  • It also doesn't have to be tied to one's personal experiences, but rather one's perceptions of personal experience. The stuff I was watching as "old-school" had already been out for a good long time; it wasn't "new" when I saw it — and I think I had some perception of that.
  • Calling something "old-school" isn't always dismissive or derogatory, although it can come off that way to people who think of such things as roots or essential. They feel those things need to be seen to understand the presence of current things, but more recent viewers aren't, by and large, scholars or cultural archaeologists — and it's a little unfair to suggest their enjoyment is going to be that much shallower if they don't take up such a role.

This last point's the most crucial one: Most people don't care where something came from. They don't care that Xerox PARC invented the mouse or the windowing system; they just care who's currently doing it right. Likewise, they don't care what the roots of this shonen trope or that character type came from; they just care about the most current incarnations of it. Archaeology is for nerds.

It's one of those things that every "second-order" fan — fans who write about, critique or otherwise go that extra mile with their fandom — has to make their peace with. Otherwise, you just make yourself feel like it's you vs. a universe of uncaring dolts, when the reality is far less adversarial.


Tags: anime dharma fandom manga roots


Project X Dept.

The whole recent foofaraw about fanfiction (which apparently erupts with tiresome regularity every time a Big-Name Author opens his mouth about it and says something mildly non-fan-friendly) got me thinking about a project I had considered briefly a while back:...


The whole recent foofaraw about fanfiction (which apparently erupts with tiresome regularity every time a Big-Name Author opens his mouth about it and says something mildly non-fan-friendly) got me thinking about a project I had considered briefly a while back: creating a fanfiction-friendly "shared universe" project which anyone could contribute to.

The core of the idea is simple. I create a world, documented in a wiki or some other central location, which I also use as a source for my own fiction. Other people can do the same, under the caveat that the results have to be distributed in a non-commercial context. They would be free to contribute copies to the wiki I've created as well.

It sounds simple enough, but there's a part of me that thinks such things have a tendency to outrun their creators. One wrinkle is the relative lack of legal weight for things like the Creative Commons license — from what I can tell, it has never been tested in court, and essentially consists of a civil contract not to press legal action. (CC-BY-NC-SA would, I presume, be the exact license in question.)

Further complications include vagaries about what constitutes commercial use: "Whether or not a use is or is not commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user, as stated in the definition." So I'd probably have to draft my own notes about what I'd consider commercial use, and even then I'm not totally sure what applies and what doesn't. E.g.: if someone writes a one-off fanfiction for hire, is that "commercial use" in the same manner as selling multiple copies of a story for profit?

Gray areas, it seems, are par for the course.


Tags: fanfiction writing


Bird Droppings Dept.

What, expect consistency from the likes of Twitter? Their new ad rules are guaranteed to upset people, and so far they have: My instant review of Twitter's new business plan. (Scripting News)The biggest difference between an open platform and a...


What, expect consistency from the likes of Twitter? Their new ad rules are guaranteed to upset people, and so far they have:

My instant review of Twitter's new business plan. (Scripting News)

The biggest difference between an open platform and a corporate-owned platform — he can change the rules after we've all invested. With an open platform, you know the rules when you start, and they can't be changed later.

Or, better to say the only practical way to change the rules is to do so in a parallel iteration of what you're already doing. But I suspect it's going to take multiple rounds of being screwed by the likes of FaceTwitTubeSite LLC before realize just how tough the tradeoffs really are. Your convenience or your privacy, you choose which one you wanna give up more of. (Nobody describes Facebook as a social ad platform, but maybe it would be more universally honest if we did.)

What I would like to see more of is substitutes for Twitter and Facebook that are built more along the model of the original iteration of LiveJournal. The one big restriction is how many people can join the service and use it, with expanded service capacity given to those who buy it. Or the Flickr model: a not-too-crippled basic tier of service (with no ads), and a totally unlocked for-pay version. (Although I suspect a good deal of Flickr's subsidies come from Yahoo! at this point, so that probably sinks them as a model for such things.)

The problem, of course, is that if such things only scale modestly well, then they're not businesses that present enough growth to be attractive. They're curiosities in the minds of most businesspeople, not the masters-of-the-universe that TwitTubeBook are.

Is it really impossible to want a web that isn't just one giant ad-rotation platform?


Tags: links technology


No Cannes Do? Dept.

A sad pall hung over Cannes, in Ebert's eyes: Cannes postmortem. Is that the wrong word? - Roger Ebert's JournalWhile the festivals was underway, the announcement came that some studios want to release their big first-run films to On Demand...


A sad pall hung over Cannes, in Ebert's eyes:

Cannes postmortem. Is that the wrong word? - Roger Ebert's Journal

While the festivals was underway, the announcement came that some studios want to release their big first-run films to On Demand TV within a month of their theatrical openings. This is bad news for theaters, bad news for what seeing a movie has traditionally meant, and bad news for adults, because that distribution pattern will lend itself to easily-promoted "high concept" trivia. I've been to 35 festivals in Cannes. I'll tell you the truth. I doubt if there will even be a Cannes Film Festival in another 35 years. If there is, it will have little to do with the kinds of films and audiences we grew up treasuring. More and more, I'm feeling it's goodbye to all that.

The slow death of theaters means the death of a lot of things, but more than anything else in my mind it means the death of a certain experience that existed nowhere else. The sense of going somewhere that wasn't your living room and doing something special, with a whole bunch of strangers.

Truth be told, the distribution system isn't the only culprit. There's the death of civil society, so that yacking on cellphones and kicking the seat in front of you suddenly became acceptable behavior (except when you were the one in the kicked seat). Maybe the distribution system is just the most obvious symptom of how things have gone wrong — or, better to say, how they now have that many less ways of going right.


Tags: Cannes links movies


Good Old Days Dept.

The Japan Society's newest newsletter brings word of this event: Japan Society, New York - Authors on Asia Tsunenari Tokugawa: The Edo InheritanceThe Tokugawa Era (1603-1868), brought three centuries of peace to Japan. In The Edo Inheritance, Tsunenari Tokugawa, the...


The Japan Society's newest newsletter brings word of this event:

Japan Society, New York - Authors on Asia Tsunenari Tokugawa: The Edo Inheritance

The Tokugawa Era (1603-1868), brought three centuries of peace to Japan. In The Edo Inheritance, Tsunenari Tokugawa, the eighteenth head of the Tokugawa family, argues that the unique cultural values fostered during the Tokugawa Era have much to offer the world in an age of globalization and uncertainty.

I haven't read the book, although a cursory examination of reviews from various places (e.g., The Japan Times) make me think it is more inspired by an impulse towards cultural rehabilitation than scholarly thought — more Shintaro Ishihara than G.B. Sansom, if you get my drift. I'll probably check it out at some point, but I plan to keep a 55-gallon barrel of salt handy.

The title brought to mind The Shogun Inheritance, a glossy book issued in conjunction with a BBC-TV series on Japan back in 1980 or so. A decent introduction for beginners, but more notable for the photography than for its insights or analysis, which are already dated in more ways than one.


Tags: events Japan Japan Society links


Tee'd Off Dept.

The New York Review of Books has a fine look at the "new populism", which might be better classified as the New Libertarian Nihilism: Quite apart from the [Tea Party] movement’s effect on the balance of party power, which should...


The New York Review of Books has a fine look at the "new populism", which might be better classified as the New Libertarian Nihilism:

Quite apart from the [Tea Party] movement’s effect on the balance of party power, which should be short-lived, it has given us a new political type: the antipolitical Jacobin. The new Jacobins have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing — and unwarranted — confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.

Emphasis mine.

What galls me is how this blanket distrust is not manifested as healthy skepticism, which involves testing the information we're given. I suspect that's because most people, TPers included, aren't in the habit of testing things empirically — it's a skill you have to learn, and not something which just drops into your lap from heaven. It's the difference between "Please don't lie to me" and "I already know how to think". (Not what, but how. The process by which you arrive at your answers is far more important than the answers themselves, which can change.)

There is a good deal more, including this unnerving suggestion: "...as voters have become more autonomous, less attracted to parties and familiar ideologies, it has become harder for political institutions to represent them collectively." Call it the Balkanization of the Electorate, which fits perfectly side-by-side with a culture divided up into inches on Best Buy's shelf space. The only thing that can draw such people together is the crassest possible least common denominator, which is what we're seeing now.

Another nail hit on the head: how appeals to personal authority are trumping scientific and rational authority. The anti-vax crowd gets mentioned by name, along with the "health freedom" contingent, all proponents of the don't-tell-us-what's-best-for-us mindset. I find those trends far more dangerous than the political ones. You can always vote out a lousy politician, but death and disfigurement are forever.

You don't want anyone to tell you what to think? Wow. Join the freakin' club. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong, or they're stupid, or that their limited experiences do not constitute a scientifically broad sample of reality. The difference is that most of us don't make the anger of being in ignorance into a political position, because that only turns into the kind of paranoia where you end up purging your own buddies for stepping microscopically out of line.

And if you can choke it down and admit that sometimes you don't know everything, that the millions who came before you and set things up might know a thing or two about how it all works ... congratulations. It's a sign of growing up. Maturity is when you can live with being wrong and not only not take it personally but come out better the other side. But I don't see a lot of that in what amounts to a culture of instant political gratification.


Tags: dharma links politics sociology


Thai Cannes Do It Dept.

One for Thailand! Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of Mysterious Object at Noon, copped the Palme d'Or for his Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. In honor of the award I've put my review of Object back online; it was...


One for Thailand! Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of Mysterious Object at Noon, copped the Palme d'Or for his Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

In honor of the award I've put my review of Object back online; it was one of the many reviews that got lost in the shuffle of the move to Movable Type.

More from the same director: Syndromes and a Century, Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours.

Ebert weighs in, too.


Tags: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Cannes links movies Thailand


Outlaw's Art Dept.

On the eve of the release of that long-awaited Nagisa Oshima box set from Criterion, a long and marvelously detailed essay about the four films in the set. Oshima’s forty-year career, beginning in 1959 and ending in 1999, was that...


On the eve of the release of that long-awaited Nagisa Oshima box set from Criterion, a long and marvelously detailed essay about the four films in the set.

Oshima’s forty-year career, beginning in 1959 and ending in 1999, was that of an outsider. A theorist and critic as much as a director, Oshima, writes scholar Maureen Turim, “saw film as an activist intervention.” Naturally, this iconolast found it difficult to function within a studio system, and the titles gathered in this set hail from the period, in the midsixties, when he had just broken away from those strictures and started producing his films independently.

I'm still jonesing for the possibility that the novel Pleasures of the Flesh was based on (by, of all people, ninja-action master Fūtaro Yamada) will be translated into English, although it's a long shot.


Tags: Criterion Fūtaro Yamada links movies Nagisa Oshima


Words Worth Dept.

A very good piece about translator Juliet Carpenter: The bright career of a literary 'shadow hero' | The Japan Times OnlineCarpenter isn't a stickler for literal meaning. She likens translation to acting, in that translators take words written by someone...


A very good piece about translator Juliet Carpenter:

The bright career of a literary 'shadow hero' | The Japan Times Online

Carpenter isn't a stickler for literal meaning. She likens translation to acting, in that translators take words written by someone else and bring them to life in a different form, based on the translator's own knowledge and experience.

Certainly, inherent differences in Japanese and English writing conventions can complicate the translator's task, such as the penchant in Japanese for vagueness and sentimentality, or the contrast between the Western love of irony and the value Japanese assign to being sunao, or sincerity. "You don't have to translate every polite phrase. You don't want to make conversation sound exotic to the Western ear. It should seem to be normal people talking."

I have plans to look at more of Kobo Abe's stuff (she translated his Secret Rendezvous) in the wake of screening the movie version of The Face of Another, starring none other than acting chameleon Tatsuya Nakadai.


Tags: links translation writing


Movie Reviews: Heaven's Door

If it weren’t for Michael Arias’s name on Heaven’s Door I might never have bothered to say anything about Heaven’s Door. When I heard the director of Tekkonkinkreet was directing his first live-action feature, I was intrigued. Then I actually...



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If it weren’t for Michael Arias’s name on Heaven’s Door I might never have bothered to say anything about Heaven’s Door. When I heard the director of Tekkonkinkreet was directing his first live-action feature, I was intrigued. Then I actually started watching the movie, and intrigue gave way to disappointment and finally annoyance. All the imagination that fueled the former movie has been siphoned out and replaced with clichés.

Door’s premise is simple enough to fit on a gum wrapper. Two young people, garage mechanic Masato (Tomoya Nagase) and hospital aid Harumi (Mayuko Fukuda), are both dying of cancer. They walk out of the hospital where he’s currently staying (after a very funny scene where they both get drunk on tequila left by a former patient who died of alcoholism), steal a car, and decide to live a little before they’re dead. Unfortunately the car belongs to a corporate mogul, and it contains his stash of dirty graft money — which the two of them spend on hotels and boutique clothing. They then end up with both the cops and the businessman’s henchmen after them, and their whole life boils down to not getting shot or arrested long enough to sit together at the seaside for the first time. Read more


Tags: Japan Michael Arias movies


Music: Onze Danses Pour Combattre Le Migraine (Aksak Maboul)

Categories are devilish things. They seem to exist solely for the purpose of being defied. This goes doubly so when it comes to music, where the albums I find most fascinating and personally resonant resist having a single, easy label...



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Categories are devilish things. They seem to exist solely for the purpose of being defied. This goes doubly so when it comes to music, where the albums I find most fascinating and personally resonant resist having a single, easy label applied to them. They say: Just listen for yourself. Months of trying to explain this album to others gave way to me simply pointing to the audio samples. Even a collage of thirty-second snippets speaks louder than any label, and most descriptions too.

I have the equivalent of a whole shelf of music that has nominally been labeled “jazz”, but which could easily sport any of a dozen other categories. Onze Danses has been variously lumped into “jazz”, “world”, “avant-garde”, or that lazy big-box-store catchall “rock”, and while it easily touches down in every single one of those categories it never stays in any one of them long enough to set up housekeeping, or be mistaken for a resident. When writing an earlier draft of this review I came up with the term “gypsy music”, and it stuck. Read more


Tags: Aksak Maboul Crammed Discs Marc Hollander music


Mangafication Dept.

After my last post, I remembered distantly I'd written another article on this topic a while back, but time and happenstance shoved it to the bottom of the To-Post pile. One archaeological expedition later, here it is: my Totally Non-Canonical Guide...


After my last post, I remembered distantly I'd written another article on this topic a while back, but time and happenstance shoved it to the bottom of the To-Post pile. One archaeological expedition later, here it is: my Totally Non-Canonical Guide To Making Good Live-Action Films From Manga And Anime.

  1. Hollywood-only rule: Pick a property that you can "Westernize" without destroying. I've hit on this point so many times by now I run the risk of breaking my wrists. The more a particular property is tied to its cultural milieu for its net effect, the more difficult it is to relocate it without breaking everything.

    Hollywood tends to think of everything as raw material to be reworked in any number of ways, and in fact the whole process of pitching ideas revolves around such plug-and-play conceptualizing: "It's South Pacific in space!" But not every such thing survives being uprooted and transplanted, so you're best off picking a property hardy enough to thrive in any soil. Blood: The Last Vampire was a good pick for a live-action production, because it had one foot in both the culture it was coming from and the culture it was being marketed to.

  2. Keep the budget sensible. The less you spend, the less you have to make back. The global culture of filmmaking (South Africa, Eastern Europe) makes it far easier to create epic-looking movies on $30-50M budgets (District 9, Doomsday). That and having a smaller budget forces you to think that much more about your actors and your story, instead of your effects sequences. This was, ironically enough, something originally made most clear to me by the folks who graduated from the Nikkatsu exploitation-film factory.

  3. Don't depend on star power unless your stars work cheap. This rule applies to most any movie made today, really. People are growing increasingly disenchanted with stars, and that much more hungry for stories — right at the same time moviemaking has become that much less interested in stories and that much more driven by marketing and distribution. Build the movie around characters we given a darn about — much as the best manga themselves are! — and you'll get the audience you deserve. Even Chow Yun-Fat couldn't save Dragonball: Evolution. I'm not sure he would have cared to, either.

  4. You can't make everyone happy. You're never going to make all the fans happy. But you can keep from ticking them off more than you need to. Keep the things that make the story what it is: the attitudes, the mannerisms, the way things look and feel — and most of all, the characters themselves.

  5. Do justice to the story that matters. If you're adapting material that runs to many volumes, don't go nuts trying to include everything. You can't make everyone happy, and you shouldn't try. Dig out the dynamics between the most crucial characters and stay true to that. If you have a self-contained arc in the first few volumes, use that; it's hard to go wrong there. 

  6. Your fans can only spread the word so far. Using an existing fanbase as your way to spread the word about a property is, I fear, a double-edged sword. Their enthusiasm is boundless, but they are not always capable of reaching the Masses of the Great Unaware through the sheer force of their enthusiasm. James Cameron was able to get most of Western civilization to see what amounted to Pocahontas in 3D with blue space elves, and did it without relying on fandom. He relied, instead, on many more time-tested Hollywood hype machines, which were correspondingly more expensive ... but also that much more far-reaching.

    It doesn't even work between fans a lot of the time. As geekish as I am, my interest in Firefly/Serenity (to pick a random example) was never more than lukewarm despite many fellow fans' propagandizing it to me, and when I finally did see it for myself I was pretty unimpressed. Now is not the time to go into my whole lecture about FF/S, but I feel a lot of the ferocity behind its fandom revolves around it being an underdog that never had a chance to fully blossom, and not because the show was all that great to begin with. Send your hate mail to the usual place.

Note that I don't expect anyone to actually follow this advice, but some open discussion about how these things do and don't work should be useful in the long run. Plus, it's fun.


Tags: live-action anime movies


Boot To The Head Dept.

Once upon a time, in the $1 bin at a library book sale, I discovered a little volume named Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. A Chinese classic that mixed Confucian ideals with some startlingly modern detective-story tropes, it's often overlooked...


Once upon a time, in the $1 bin at a library book sale, I discovered a little volume named Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. A Chinese classic that mixed Confucian ideals with some startlingly modern detective-story tropes, it's often overlooked when compiling lists of Chinese literature for neophytes — which is a shame, because it's a) far shorter than stuff like Three Kingdoms and b) far easier to get into.

Flash forward to today, and what do I find? Tsui Hark directing a movie adaptation.

Well, actually, from what I can tell, it's not an adaptation of the above book, but rather a new story featuring the character of Detective (Judge) Dee, who inspired a whole slew of books by the translator of the above title. They also  have Andy Lau in the lead and Sammo Hung doing action choreography, so it sunds like they're going to emphasize swashbuckling and Sherlock Holmes-style "detective work" over plot knots.


Tags: Andy Lau Hong Kong movies Tsui Hark


OM NOM NOM ADAPTATION Dept.

Between one thing and another over the past couple of weeks I squeezed in a few episodes of Soul Eater. I had no overriding reason to seek it out other than the recommendations of a friend, but it was easy...


Between one thing and another over the past couple of weeks I squeezed in a few episodes of Soul Eater. I had no overriding reason to seek it out other than the recommendations of a friend, but it was easy to get hooked on it — it's just plain fun.

After putting about ten episodes away, I turned to the same friend and said something like, "You know, if they decided to make a live-action version of this show, too, I probably wouldn't run screaming."

Him: "!?"

Me: "Two words: Tim Burton."

He saw what I meant. The show has a very TB-esque vibe to it, the sort of look that we've had a fair amount of practice at rendering as live-action. And the very things you'd use to cut costs would actually make it all the more appropriate-looking: Death City in the show looks like a movie set in the first place, not like a place where people actually live. (Or die, as the case may be.)

I badminton'd it back and forth for a bit with other friends, and finally hit on this question: Is it easier to make something into a live-action production when you can just let it be theatrically unrealistic?

Then again, maybe "easier" is the wrong word, because it's still pretty hard on a technical level to create the costumes, props, FX. Maybe better to say "less likely to be a mess", because you're just following the existing suspension of disbelief created by the material instead of tearing it down and rebuilding it in a new incarnation.

For perspective, talk of Bleach as live-action made me balk not because of what they would show but the ties the show has to its own milieu: a Westernized Bleach is as illogical as a Westernized Akira, which is as illogical as ... etc. Being faithful to the look of the original there isn't as important as the fact that you can't really retell those stories outside of their milieu without turning them into mere dumbshow.

In more than one sense of the word "dumb".


Tags: live-action anime Soul Eater


Tinier And Tinier Dept.

Paul Greengrass (of United 93, but not of Watchmen) has, in my opinion quite wisely, turned down a chance to direct the remake of Fantastic Voyage. Fred Pohl talked about the movie in his Science Fiction: Studies in Film, way...


Paul Greengrass (of United 93, but not of Watchmen) has, in my opinion quite wisely, turned down a chance to direct the remake of Fantastic Voyage.

Fred Pohl talked about the movie in his Science Fiction: Studies in Film, way back when, and I was surprised to find it had been changed drastically from its original concept. Jerome Bixby (of Star Trek and Twilight Zone) and Richard Matheson* wrote the original script, which was more in the vein of a Jules Verne / "steampunk" adventure — "bronze laboratories, crystal instrumentation, that kind of thing", as Bixby put it. Then it was rewritten by Harry Kleiner, who took out all the fun stuff and put in Donald Pleasance — made it into "cops and robbers inside the human body".

The movie's interesting mostly for its effects work, which cost a ton of money and is fascinating today because it was all done in front of the camera, with the cast hanging from wires and with lighting and creative use of materials on the set instead of matte photography. It also featured an ending so dumb that Isaac Asimov's then-eleven-year-old daughter saw right through and out the other side.

The one innovation they plan to bring to the remake is to make it happen inside the body of an alien, or so it has been said. I think it would be best improved by making it happen inside the head of Ben Stein, so they could laser away the blood clot that turned him into a supporter of Intelligent Design.

Even stranger, by my book, is Robert Rodriguez picking up the rights to a live-action version of Ralph Bakshi's Fire and Ice. The original is mostly interesting for the sake of nostalgia value: Frazetta's design work looks better on the poster for the film than it does onscreen (it seems to consist mostly of putting people in as little to wear as possible), and the story's only intriguing if you're fourteen and still have Iron Maiden patches on your denim jacket. No offense to Iron Maiden fans.

* You know you've arrived when you don't even need to have credits attached to your name. I'd have to think I have to tell anyone reading this Matheson was the dude what wrote I Am Legend (the original story, you doof, not the lame movie), but hey, I guess it happens.


Tags: fantasy Frederik Pohl Isaac Asimov links movies Paul Greengrass Ralph Bakshi Richard Matheson Robert Rodriguez science fiction


Your Head Asplode Dept.

Dark Horizons | News | Tim Burton Into "Mai, The Psychic Girl" - May 19th 2010... Burton had a film adaptation in preparation long ago but it never came together and he has only now been able to reacquire...


Dark Horizons | News | Tim Burton Into "Mai, The Psychic Girl" - May 19th 2010

... Burton had a film adaptation in preparation long ago but it never came together and he has only now been able to reacquire the film rights from Sony Pictures. Burton is apparently supervising work on the screenplay.

The artist for the series was Ryoichi Ikegami, whose distinctive designs brought more to the three-volume series than Kazuya Kudo's derivative story. At the very least, the whole thing does lend itself to being pretty easily adapted, but I'm not exactly ripping off my clothes with joy here.


Tags: Japan links manga movies Ryoichi Ikegami Tim Burton


Laugh When Ready Dept.

The Refusers: Proving Orac's corollary to Poe's Law The anti-vaccine movement has degenerated to the point where it is impossible to distinguish real from parody. It's just like Poe's law with fundamentalists, only this time with antivaccinationists. I sometimes wonder...


The Refusers: Proving Orac's corollary to Poe's Law

The anti-vaccine movement has degenerated to the point where it is impossible to distinguish real from parody. It's just like Poe's law with fundamentalists, only this time with antivaccinationists.

I sometimes wonder if a basic variety of reality-checking is inherent in being able to say that you can no longer distinguish the real thing from a parody. Knowing that the distinction exists at all is pretty vital, too.


Tags: dharma links science


FORMAT D: Dept.

After looking over the post I made on Sunday about review formatting, I've decided to create a couple of reviews as experiments in new formats. Since I did this with Blade of the Immortal before as an anime, it seems...


After looking over the post I made on Sunday about review formatting, I've decided to create a couple of reviews as experiments in new formats. Since I did this with Blade of the Immortal before as an anime, it seems logical enough to do it with the manga as well. Look for that in the next few weeks, after work lightens up a little bit and I'm not quite so dazed and Led Zeppelin.


Tags: review writing


FORMAT C: Dept.

I have been wrestling with a problem for a while now: what is the best way to review something that runs over a long period of time and appears in installments, like Berserk or Blade of the Immortal or ×××HOLiC...


I have been wrestling with a problem for a while now: what is the best way to review something that runs over a long period of time and appears in installments, like Berserk or Blade of the Immortal or ×××HOLiC (to cite three personal favorites)?

The way I've done this for a long time has echoed other sites of the same ilk, where each installment is reviewed separately. But with the sheer amount of material out there, and the effort required to do such things, I'm inclined to try a wholly different approach.

Here's a few possible ways I could do this:

1. The "review stub" approach. This is akin to what I did with Blade of the Immortal (the anime): write a short placeholder that explains the concept, adorn it with a couple of screenshots, and then write a full review later. This works better with anime, I think; you can cover a whole season of a series (or a whole series) more efficiently this way instead of reviewing each volume or even each episode.

2. The "expanding overview" approach. This would involve creating a stub something like in #1 above, and then adding short notes to expand the plot description with each successive volume or concluded plot arc. I resist this approach if only because it imposes a format that clashes with the general review format — but then again, if I'm coming up with a new format anyway, I might as well make this one that much more distinct from the conventional reviews.

3. The "encyclopedia entry" approach. My least favorite right now, and the most redundant with other sites. I'd only be inclined to do this if I was creating something that was primarily a reference work anyway.

4. The "first few volumes" approach. This would involve a review based on only the first X volumes of a series, not intended to be authoritative.

5. The "every X volumes" approach. Closer to #2, where the review would be updated / refreshed every, say, 10 volumes with new information.

What I might do is hybridize a couple of these approaches and switch between them as the material demands. Reviewing every volume seems like the right approach to take for something where I want to write about every volume, especially if it doesn't get nearly enough press (2001 Nights).

I've been too obsessed with consistency over flexibility, and now that I want to concentrate all the more on titles that matter as opposed to just anything and everything out there, it's high time I broke with a tradition that doesn't serve me or anyone else.


Tags: anime manga review


External Book Reviews: Black Jack Vol. #11 (Osamu Tezuka)

This is the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. It is also not the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. Not the last volume that Vertical, Inc. will be publishing in English; and not the last of such...


Note: This article was originally written for Advanced Media Network. Its editorial style differs from reviews for this site.


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This is the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. It is also not the last volume of Black Jack, the manga. Not the last volume that Vertical, Inc. will be publishing in English; and not the last of such stories that was originally published in Japan, either.

It’s complicated. So much so that at the end of the volume, the editors have to step in and explain why there will be more Black Jack even though the final story does feel very much like a sign-off: there was such a clamor for more Black Jack that Tezuka filled orders for more stories in the series, on and off, for half a decade after it was officially shuttered. To that end there are several more volumes to come, which explains why the ending we get is a non-ending — and why it might be best to start there and work my way back through the book.

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Tags: Japan manga Osamu Tezuka review


Critical Criterion Dept.

Criterion's new wave of titles has been posted! First and most crucial: Early Kurosawa. A box set featuring both Sanshiro Sugata films, The Most Beautiful, and The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail. These have not been available on...


Criterion's new wave of titles has been posted!

  • First and most crucial: Early Kurosawa. A box set featuring both Sanshiro Sugata films, The Most Beautiful, and The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail. These have not been available on DVD with English subs except in rather weak Hong Kong import editions, so to have them in good pressings here is a blessing.
  • "Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg features the Oscar winners Underworld and The Last Command and the atmospheric masterpiece The Docks of New York, with new scores."
  • "We also have a pair of documentaries from Terry Zwigoff (his delightful debut, Louie Bluie, and the landmark Crumb), the searing first film from Maurice Pialat (L’enfance nue), and Blu-ray and DVD editions of Black Orpheus..." The last one will be well worth seeing on BD; even the old DVD edition was dazzling to behold.

Tags: Akira Kurosawa Criterion links movies


Movie Reviews: Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo isn’t just a movie for children; it’s a little like one made by them as well. It doesn’t have the epic emotional scope of Nausicaä or even Spirited Away, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to. At...



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Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo isn’t just a movie for children; it’s a little like one made by them as well. It doesn’t have the epic emotional scope of Nausicaä or even Spirited Away, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to. At heart it’s a loose retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, but its spirit is entirely Miyazaki’s, and its way of seeing the most absurd of happenings through the eyes of a child has infectious charm.

Ponyo opens with the daughter of a deity of the ocean sneaking away from her father, Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson in English). After a mishap with a glass bottle and a trawler’s net, the fish-girl ends up in the hands of five-year-old Sosuke. He’s your typical boy of that age, wildly curious and only too happy to adopt as a pet what to him appears to be a goldfish. But it’s not, and one of the old folks in the neighborhood can see the all-too-human face on “Ponyo” (as Sosuke) calls her: “Fish with faces cause tsunamis!” (There’s a clever bit of filmmaking sleight-of-hand here: we see the face on the fish, but it’s clear Ponyo and his mother don’t. Give them time.)

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Tags: anime Japan Miyazaki movies review


Seeding Dept.

Diaspora*: The escape hatch from Facebook, et al. (And maybe also from the dead end that LiveJournal is turning into.) Even the New York Times is interested. Is it feasible? Yes; everything I've seen tells me this is not just...


Diaspora*: The escape hatch from Facebook, et al. (And maybe also from the dead end that LiveJournal is turning into.) Even the New York Times is interested.

Is it feasible? Yes; everything I've seen tells me this is not just feasible but relatively straightforward. It's just a matter of getting the pieces to talk to each other in a way that's friendly to the user.

Those last four words are the killer. Unless this becomes as easy to set up as creating a Facebook account, it will be a distant also-ran.

That is, I fear, where this project will meet its biggest resistance: the indifference of the nontechnical user.

I run this site with Movable Type, which as much as I love it sports several major drawbacks. One is that it is moderately hard to install and rather tough to upgrade. It's not a push-button process. WordPress has a major advantage in this regard: once you set it up, it's almost totally self-maintaining.

Diaspora* must be at least this easy to use, if not easier. That right there is project enough to give people months of sleepless nights.

From what few hints are available on the project's site, they are planning to do this — to make the process of setting up a Disapora* node as straightforward as installing a program on your own computer. The bad news is, I don't see how this is possible without either a) the end user having intimate knowledge of web hosting (something even many WP users don't have, to say nothing of Facebook users), or b) the Diaspora* people working closely with a number of web-hosting outfits to make this happen ... which means people would have to pay for their own hosting, a major downside right there.

A parallel to this question was brought up in a Q&A on their own blog:

What is the strategy to get to a critical mass of users (or avoid having to get a critical mass?)

We think that there is a solid contingent of people who would want to host their own node. How many people host their own blog? That’s not certainly Facebook numbers, but once we get that first kernel of people using it, we think people will see that having (at least) a copy of your data which you can apply to anything is a really empowering proposition, and not just in a social networking context.

Once again I cannot help but see what I would call the Nerd Myopia Effect here. It's too easy to assume that the word will be spread by people "like you" to "just plain folks", when most of the people who would host their own node are not automatically going to be in the business of evangelizing that, with all of the attendant headache that implies. Facebook is free and dead easy to get going with, and for most people — loss of privacy aside — that's the big attraction.

The problem I see is not technological, but social. People have, for a long time now, had the choice of paying for a degree of control (run your own blog) vs. trading some privacy for having many free goodies (Facebook). Even many of my fellow geeks are not interested in paying for many things on the web; why do it when there's a perfectly suitable, if crippled, free alternative? My feeling is that if people get fed up and ditch Facebook, odds are most of them will not replace it with anything; they're going to go back to a life that's mainly lived offline — which is where most of them were before all this goofiness got started, anyway.

So what would work? One approach I can think of is what Flickr did. A re-hosting service (or one of many) could get into the business of helping you set up your Diaspora* account, initially free but perhaps with cost-plus advantages. The restrictions on the free accounts are tuned so as not to alienate users too quickly, and the costs are reasonable enough (and perhaps scaled according to needed features/bandwidth/storage).

The problem, of course, is whether or not that simply puts us right back to where we started. That the code for Diaspora* will be freely available is slim compensation.

In short, I wish them a ton of luck — and once there's something resembling a usable piece of code, I plan on giving it a whirl. I don't have much of an investment in Facebook except in the sense that everyone else uses it. But that right there is the point of it, isn't it?


Tags: Facebook links technology


Digging In The Dirt Dept.

I've upgraded the site to the newest version of Movable Type (5.02), and reorganized a few things to see how they work out. You might want to clear cache before attempting to leave comments....


I've upgraded the site to the newest version of Movable Type (5.02), and reorganized a few things to see how they work out. You might want to clear cache before attempting to leave comments.

Tags: maintenance Movable Type


The Inner Wellspring Dept.

The discussion is about music, but this could apply to most any talk about art: ... because of our Internet facilitated increased inter-connectivity, less people are making personal art.  Deep engagement with one's own surroundings can seem so boring, so...


The discussion is about music, but this could apply to most any talk about art:

... because of our Internet facilitated increased inter-connectivity, less people are making personal art.  Deep engagement with one's own surroundings can seem so boring, so artists look outward with the ease of the click of a button.  The Techno producers in this documentary seem to be hyper aware of how their surroundings informed their music.  I think these days, the best of us continue that tradition.

It's something I've faced up to myself, many times. I've written books set in other times and places, but I know if I don't infuse them with something taken from my own life, they're dead meat.

The Four-Day Weekend was more directly informed by my own life than most anything else I'd done up to that point. During the preparation period for the book, I hearkened back to conversations I'd had with other budding writers, folks a decade or more younger than myself, all engaged in things that were explicitly fantasy or SF or some variety of same. When I noted that you have to draw on your own life for everything you write, one of the most common responses I got was this:

"But my life's not interesting."

I could see where they were coming from, too. I wasn't a Wielder of the Sword of the Six Suns in a war against the Hellbinders of Nozg; I was some schlub in Jersey (or Long Island, or wherever) poking around in some job where I messed with computers all day.

So I had to rephrase things. To wit:

When you draw on your own life for inspiration, that doesn't mean you draw exclusively on the exciting and adventurous parts. In fact, the number of people who have had adventures worth writing about is minimal. What you want to do is take the little things that happen, good or bad, and draw wisdom from them.

This also means drawing on things that you don't want to draw on. I've had some humiliating experiences in my life that I don't want to go on about in public. But I glean things I learned about myself, and human nature generally, from those experiences. I'd be short-changing myself to not draw on them. You can't fake what you don't have, as Mr. Cray once said — and you can't put into a story the pain and the love and the trouble that most stories revolve around if you didn't get those things from somewhere inside.

Another thing you can do is draw on little things that can be expanded into big things. The way someone lives a completely ordinary life can be loaded with details that are beyond anything you could invent. Go pick up Joseph Mitchell's My Ears Are Bent for endless torrents of such details, like the bar owner who would shake his fists at the ceiling and cry out "I am being crucified!" when he felt like the universe was screwing him (which was more often than not). Writing like this is an example of how a whole New York City of old has vanished, and how a whole way of listening to quirky human experience and seeing it for itself is dying out.

If you aren't going to dig that deeply, then your work is going to be correspondingly facile. It's going to be about ideas and plots and actions, not people and emotions and behavior. People will read it and nod and move on to something else.

Or you can invest it with something from within, the way people like Ray Bradbury did, and keep 'em coming back.


Tags: culture dharma links writers writing


Dead Trees Dept.

How will the news business survive? From the look of it, Dave Winer doesn't think there will be a news business. At least not a corporate one: Enough of this How will the news business survive? mess. That's not the...


How will the news business survive? From the look of it, Dave Winer doesn't think there will be a news business. At least not a corporate one:

Enough of this How will the news business survive? mess. That's not the question. The question is How can we make news work much better given the new realities? That's a great question and the guy who answers it is the next leader of the news business. 

The answer will not come from a corporation.

The way I read his piece, there will continue to be journalism, but it will not exist in the same form we have now. That said, I hope we find a good, sustainable way to fund and protect journalism of the classic shoe-leather-reporting variety. Web searches and opinion pieces are by themselves not journalism, and I say this as someone who has confused and conflated the above too many times myself.


Tags: business journalism links


Movie Reviews: Long Dream

Long Dream isn’t a great movie, but it takes an intriguing idea and plays it out in a way that makes me curious for a more ambitious adaptation of the same source material. The movie was inspired by a manga...



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Long Dream isn’t a great movie, but it takes an intriguing idea and plays it out in a way that makes me curious for a more ambitious adaptation of the same source material. The movie was inspired by a manga by Junji Ito, he of Uzumaki and Gyo, and was directed by the same man who gave us a filmed version of Uzumaki, Higuchinski. The director’s affinity for the original author/artist’s ideas inspired him to do good work on a tiny budget — the whole thing’s a direct-to-video product and it shows — but this feels like a test run for something far larger.

Tucked away inside one of the wards of a private medical clinic is a patient with a most unusual illness: he’s having dreams which feel progressively longer. One night’s dream might feel to him like several days in real life, or even a week. Eventually the dreams grow to months, years, decades, and even more — and the patient begins to undergo ghastly changes, a by-product of spending centuries in a kind of alternate time. Then one of the other doctors in the clinic hits on the idea of artificially inducing the same state in someone else … for instance, himself, as a way to reunite himself with his dead girlfriend, whom he imagines is waiting just behind the wall of sleep. Read more


Tags: Higuchinsky Japan Junji Ito movies review


Editions Google Dept.

Am I leery about Google getting into publishing? Yes, still. Welcome to their newest wrinkle: Internet Evolution - Robert McGarvey - 'Google Editions' Could Transform Publishing Google also may want to reshape how and when we buy books, says O'Leary....


Am I leery about Google getting into publishing? Yes, still.

Welcome to their newest wrinkle:

Internet Evolution - Robert McGarvey - 'Google Editions' Could Transform Publishing

Google also may want to reshape how and when we buy books, says O'Leary. What he envisions is a Google search for, say, cats and fleas. Traditionally, results would be a list of Web pages with information on that topic. But what if, with Google Editions, Google decides to mix in a link to a book about cat health, with options for immediate e-book delivery, or delivery of a print-on-demand copy the next day?

The idea alone isn't what disturbs me; in fact, I find it pretty enticing. What bugs me is Google's track record for making stuff like this happen, which so far has been a mix of soft power strong-arming and implicit manhandling of copyright law.

... the more players there are in e-book publishing and distribution — and Amazon, Apple, and Google make a dazzling trio — the more negotiating power reverts back to the content creators and owners.

Or, it presents you with three equally bad ways to lose. Each of them have their own problems: Google I've groused about before; Amazon is determined to follow Apple's model in making sure the device and the content are inextricably wedded together; and Apple is ... well, Apple. Few pipelines exist to reliably provide literary content that isn't locked down, which tells me you're going to have to pick two out of three: open, well-distributed, convenient.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the fact competition exists does not automatically imply the consumer — or, in this case, the producer — benefits from such competition. Competition which consists of getting six of one here and half a dozen of another there is meaningless.


Tags: books business Google links publishing


The Dreamers Of Dreams Dept.

Funny how things can explode in parallel in several different parts of your life at once. This past week there was a veritable eruption (no, not of Eyjafjallajökull) over fanfiction, on multiple people's blogs. This time 'round it was personal,...


Funny how things can explode in parallel in several different parts of your life at once. This past week there was a veritable eruption (no, not of Eyjafjallajökull) over fanfiction, on multiple people's blogs.

This time 'round it was personal, since many of the people advancing their opinions (good, evil, indifferent) were writers. Some were people who had their creations fanficc'd; some were published writers who wrote fanfic of other creations and were proud of it. Discussions of what was legal/illegal, right/wrong, polite/rude, etc. unfolded. Many jaws were broken on both sides.

Fanfiction is strange stuff (that is, to the uninitiated) It evokes squeals of glee from some, wrinkled noses from others. From a few, it evokes vomit. Not just the stories themselves (although I think most of us gagged on all the Legolas-Gandalf slash floating around out there), but the mere idea of it.

Both sides, as one of the other bloggers pointed out, are rooted in emotional attachments in different things. Those who do it, do so out of love for the material; those who stand against it, also do so out of love for the material. The former show their love by transforming the original; the latter show their love by defending it against what they perceive as corruption or dilution.

I can see where both sides come from. Maybe a little too well, which is why my take is a mix of left, right and center:

  1. The legality of fanfiction is a gray area and continues to be one. Appeals to the law may not help you here. Assume the rules may be different for each fandom, because they usually are.
  2. Hence, if an author doesn't want you posting fanfiction of his work — or doesn't like fanfic at all — don't make sport of him. Respect his wishes and move on. Calling for boycotts of his work may simply create an issue where there isn't one. Some authors are very vocal about not suffering fools gladly and will be only too happy to think of you as a fool asking for something you haven't earned.
  3. I'm OK if you create fanfiction of my own work as long as you don't attempt to turn it into an overtly commercial enterprise. Actually, that's one way I'll know I've "arrived" as a writer: it means I have a fanbase!
  4. The quality of fanfiction, like the quality of most published fiction, runs the gamut. Most of it is amusing. Some of it is remarkable. Duds and gems alike abound. Ergo, the fact that something is fanfic says nothing about its quality apart from that.
  5. The question of whether a fanfic writer of quality is obliged to invest their talent and effort in original material is not something anyone but that writer can answer. I have heard arguments to the effect that any writer who cuts their teeth on fanfic should graduate to original work later on. There are advantages — you can publish and monetize your own material without worrying about legal recourse, for example — but not everyone will feel inclined to leverage those advantages. Why harangue them about something they're doing mainly for their own pleasure anyway? I'd rather have ten happy fanfic writers than one miserable published author, although I don't believe it'll always come down to such a false dichotomy, either.

I've written fanfiction myself. It was, I freely admit, pretty bad stuff (no porn, just bad writing), and most of that material has mercifully faded from memory. It might still be floating around out there; I haven't looked for it. I stopped producing it after I started concentrating on my own original material, mostly because a) I got more satisfaction producing my own material and b) it took up what time I had to devote to such things.

That doesn't mean I assume everyone else who has the urge to go pro will feel the same way. Or should. Many pros now are former fans who still keep a strong connection with their fandoms, and resent being told that they need to put aside childish things and join the Grown Ups at the Big Dinnertable.

The one big takeaway for me from all this has nothing to do with fanfic at all. It's the simple tenet that nobody who takes their work or play seriously wants to be lectured about what to do, not do, or how to do it — by fellow practitioners, ardent devotees, or random strangers. You can make your case pro or con, but the more strident the attack, the greater the odds of someone smacking their forehead and saying "My god! I've been living all wrong!" asymptotically approaching nil — and the greater the odds of the other party simply feeling they're all the more justified in dropping anchor in their current spot.

On a side note, this reminds me of a project I noted down and then shelved: a kind of shared universe, where the story, setting and characters have been created for the express purpose of allowing fanfic to be derived from them. I'm fairly sure someone's taken a stab at doing something like that, but it's something I might be interested in setting up later on. After I get my current book off my back, for instance.


Tags: dharma fandom fanfiction writers writing


Goin' Guin Dept.

Wild cries of joy were to be heart at Chez Genji after Sentai Filmworks announced it had clinched a licensing deal for the Guin Saga anime. A splendid time will be had by all (who can afford it). There are...


Wild cries of joy were to be heart at Chez Genji after Sentai Filmworks announced it had clinched a licensing deal for the Guin Saga anime. A splendid time will be had by all (who can afford it).

There are two things I hope come from this.

The first is wholly optional: the possibility that Sentai offer a BD set for the series as well as conventional DVD. I've seen episodes in HD and they're stunning; this feels like a show that was authored from the inside out, from the backgrounds to the characters themselves, to be shown that way. Many anime that have HD editions still have that simplified, for-TV look to them, since they were created at a time when the average display was low-def.

If we only get a standard-def set, I won't cry into my beer: the mere fact we have the show in a licensed version at all is enough to be happy about. But it would be nice to have the option, now that there's a sizable market for it. I just hope the touch-and-go situations involving reverse-importing don't make this unfeasible.

The second item on the wish list is the real doozy: bring us more volumes of the original novels, in English. That's something more in Vertical's hands than Sentai's, and from all that has come back my way it is tough to say they could ever fulfill such a wish with the sales of Guin Saga being what they were.

Here's an idea, which I freely admit may be impossible to enact, but I'll toss it out there anyway: a rolling licensing deal for the Guin books, one pre-paid by fans.

The process would go something like this:

  1. Crunch the numbers and figure out how much it costs to put a decent number of copies of the next five books in the series out into the marketplace. The books are licensed in batches of five, since the plot arcs tend to span five books at a time as well. The costs should include everything — licensing of the translation, translator's fees, licensing for artwork, etc.
  2. Set up an account somewhere — maybe with Kickstarter — to pre-fund the licensing and production of each set of books.
  3. Do some grassroots campaigning in and among fans of both the books and the TV series to get them to contribute.
  4. Once the funding limit is met, roll the books out into the marketplace.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The production costs could be further alleviated by using print-on-demand, especially since we're dealing with a series that has over 120 books plus side stories and bonus material. I don't know that the Japanese licensors would be willing to set up a more flexible licensing deal, allowing for low-volume printing, but the idea is certainly worth floating.

I suggest this approach as a way to break the peculiar stalemate that has arisen with this series, where a great deal of it — over a hundred books — remains behind the wall of another language. I know I want to read it, and I'd bet there's enough people out there willing to pony up ahead of time to see more of it.

What say you good people?


Tags: books Guin Saga Kaoru Kurimoto Kickstarter licensing publishing translation Vertical Inc.


Cell Hell Dept.

Yesterday I made the mistake of "upgrading" my phone from a primitive-but-reliable Nokia to one of Motorola's new Cliq XT (Droid) touch screen models. The experience has confirmed, for me, why I loathe and despise most current phones: they try...


Yesterday I made the mistake of "upgrading" my phone from a primitive-but-reliable Nokia to one of Motorola's new Cliq XT (Droid) touch screen models. The experience has confirmed, for me, why I loathe and despise most current phones: they try to do too much, they do most of it badly, and they fail in ways that are deeply exasperating.

I hate touch screens. They replace one good, consistent set of HCI feedback metaphors with others that deprive you one of the most useful ways of validating input: tactile feedback. They accumulate fingerprints and dirt faster than a bottle of Scotch passed around at a frat party, which not only makes them unsightly but makes it all the harder to slide your fingers around on the display in the first place. Those "flick" and "slide" motions turn into "splat"s and "thud"s. A touch screen, by any other name, would be just as big a filth magnet.

Oh, and unless you wipe it off regularly, you better not use the security code function. One of the functions in the phone is an unlock code, where you swipe your finger across a 9x9 series of dots in a certain pattern to unlock the phone. After doing this a few times, I realized that the face of the phone now has a greasy smear in exactly the same pattern as the unlock code. So all someone has to do is tilt the phone to catch the light, look at the smear, and follow it with their finger. This is like writing down the combination to a lock on the wall next to it. Telling me to wipe it off just reminds me that I'm now being forced to perform that much more maintenance I never had to do when I had a phone that sported buttons.

Hey, look, there's an update available for the phone! So, like a good little techno-loser, I download it. I have the phone plugged in for charging while this is happening, because god forbid the battery should die on me during the update cycle, which for all I know could brick the damn thing. When you have the phone connected for charging via USB, by the way, the internal memory card is unmounted so that the PC can access it (which is stupid, but whatever).

Guess what? If you apply the update while the phone is plugged in this way, THE UPDATER CAN'T FIND ITS OWN UPDATE AND CRASHES HORRIBLY. It tells you to press a certain key combination to reboot, but it just hangs instead. I had to pull the battery out and hard-reboot it (getting the cover off is like opening a jar that's been in the freezer for a month), and run the update cycle from scratch again. No, it doesn't warn you about leaving the phone plugged in during the update; why on earth would they bother trapping such an obscure, corner-case error condition?

I've managed to accidentally turn the phone off twice now, when trying to use the auxiliary function of the power button that lets you toggle things like the GPS and the wireless. I really like how it takes minutes on end to boot, too — my desktop boots faster than this thing. And I really, really like how the boot process doesn't even give you the convenience of a progress bar and how the back cover (which I've had to pry off twice now) is about as hard to open as a jar you've left in the fridge for a month.

So why did I get it? It was a free upgrade.

Yeah, that'll learn me.


Tags: fail technology


Unkillable Dept.

I've updated the review for the animated version of Blade of the Immortal. It's beautiful to look at and highly watchable as drama, but strangely lacking the cutting black humor of the original manga. It's a case study in how...


I've updated the review for the animated version of Blade of the Immortal. It's beautiful to look at and highly watchable as drama, but strangely lacking the cutting black humor of the original manga. It's a case study in how it's possible to be too reverent to your source material.


Tags: anime Blade of the Immortal Hiroaki Samura manga review


Genji Press: Projects: Road Trippin' Dept.

After some date-wrangling, number-crunching and budget-scrunching, it looks like I have my convention schedule for the rest of the year. I'm going to be busier than I thought. AnimeNext (June 18-20, central NJ). Otakon (July 30-August 1, Baltimore, MD). AnimeFest!...


After some date-wrangling, number-crunching and budget-scrunching, it looks like I have my convention schedule for the rest of the year.

I'm going to be busier than I thought.

I'm working on setting up sales tables for each event under the Genji Press banner. No guarantees of anything except perhaps the first two, but Otakon by itself would be a massive step in the right direction. NYAF, a nice cherry on top of an already-tasty cake.

I'm also hoping to have CreateSpace / Amazon.com editions of all my books by the second half of the year. I've seen plenty of good reasons to go with them, and to wind down my involvement with Lulu. The purchasing links on the site should not change anytime soon; there will be plenty of advanced warning before that happens.

I'll have more word on each event as the dates draw closer.


Tags: books conventions travel writing


Blu-deodrome Dept.

The next wave of Criterion Blu-rays is up for pre-order, and they're doozies. The Seven Samurai. Videodrome. Antichrist. The Darjeeling Limited. The Thin Red Line. The first two are mine, mine, mine. Antichrist I checked out courtesy of NetFlix streaming,...


The next wave of Criterion Blu-rays is up for pre-order, and they're doozies.

The first two are mine, mine, mine. Antichrist I checked out courtesy of NetFlix streaming, and I can see why people think it's pretentious trash. I'm still sifting through my feelings about the movie, so I may end up posting something when the BD is finally out.

Seven Samurai requires no defense from me. I have an older review of it, but I'm not especially happy with it, and I'm probably going to revisit it from top-to-bottom. Criterion has apparently been busting king-sized hump to make this edition a for-the-ages piece of work, now that they have access to Toho's vaulted camera negatives for all Kurosawa's product.

I also plan to revisit Videodrome, which was either the first Cronenberg movie I ever watched or just felt like it was.


Tags: Akira Kurosawa Criterion David Cronenberg Lars von Trier links movies


Book Reviews: King of Wolves (Buronson/Kentaro Miura)

Most every society has mythologies that refuse to die even when there isn’t a shred of support for them. On the contrary: lack of evidence forces people to rely all the more on indestructible faith. Consider Japan’s long-standing fantasy that...



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Most every society has mythologies that refuse to die even when there isn’t a shred of support for them. On the contrary: lack of evidence forces people to rely all the more on indestructible faith. Consider Japan’s long-standing fantasy that Yoshitsune never died, but instead escaped to Mongolia and became Chinggis Khan. Yasushi Inoue futilely sparred with the concept, and in his afterword to The Blue Wolf he mentioned how he’d attempted to read one “extremely tedious” defense of the idea before realizing the reality of the Khan’s life was far more interesting. The idea that the Genji general could have become the Mongolian warlord was only slightly less ridiculous than pigs achieving escape velocity unaided.

But aren’t crazy ideas, the exceptions to the rule, the very mainstay of fiction? Well, sure, up to a point, but after that they have to bring in things that don’t just rely on novelty and shock value. King of Wolves’s biggest problem is not that it recycles the Yoshitsune-is-Chinggis trope, but that the original story it tells is pedestrian. It also stirs in another trope Japanese pop culture resurrects too often for its own good: the Time Slip. You remember this from G.I. Samurai: people from the present day whisked away to the past; they realize they’re standing at the crossroads of history with the fate of the future in the balance; and so on. I don’t know about you, but if I was whisked off to 11th century Mongolia, I’d be more worried about dropping dead of typhoid than whether or not my actions were trashing the future. (And how is it that the characters in these stories come fully-equipped with an understanding of temporal mechanics, anyway?) Read more


Tags: Buronson Genghis Khan Japan Kentaro Miura manga Yoshitsune


Life's 2nd Act Dept.

How's this for a variegated career -- an immunologist turned Nō dramatist? Tomio Tada, Influential Immunologist and Author of Japanese Plays, Dies at 76...


How's this for a variegated career — an immunologist turned Nō dramatist?

Tomio Tada, Influential Immunologist and Author of Japanese Plays, Dies at 76


Tags: Japan links Nō drama


One Eye Shut Dept.

Roger Ebert lets fly at the rush towards 3D. It's a good piece, in large part because Ebert not only talks about how 3D filmmaking adds little to the experience that wasn't already there, but how theaters are being blackmailed...


Roger Ebert lets fly at the rush towards 3D. It's a good piece, in large part because Ebert not only talks about how 3D filmmaking adds little to the experience that wasn't already there, but how theaters are being blackmailed into carrying 3D films.

It's this last which feeds back into my ongoing theories about how the marketing and sales end of the pipeline are the ones running the show now. The exact material being pushed out to the audience isn't important, so they don't care if damage is being done to the movies we're all forced to watch.

Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations... I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It's all about the marketing.

Losing? Try "lost" - such thinking went into a coma a generation ago, and has been on life-support ever since. Good movies today get made in spite of the current movie-production system, not because of it. The Hurt Locker was a maverick production, not a big-studio concoction. Avatar made tons of money, sure, but I'd wager that's because it was tailor-made to showcase its production technologies, not because it was an interesting story. (From all I've seen, a good story and a spectacular experience do not have to be inherently incompatible.)

It's not the tech of 3D that bugs me, although that can be problematic enough. It's the fact that, once again, bad movies are driving out good across the board.


Tags: 3D business links movies


Apple Bite Dept.

I got handed a slew of major assignments last week, so to celebrate a bit before disappearing into the salt mine I headed into New York City. Last night's Times Square bomb scare was still fresh in everyone's mind, but...


I got handed a slew of major assignments last week, so to celebrate a bit before disappearing into the salt mine I headed into New York City. Last night's Times Square bomb scare was still fresh in everyone's mind, but I suspected the worst I'd face was lousy traffic. I was right: getting into the city via the 59th St. Bridge was agony, since the entire upper level was closed for the bike marathon. (And if they didn't postpone that, why bother canceling any of my fun?)

First stop: Book-Off, at their new 45th St. location. They've moved and they're huge.

Book-Off @ 45th St.

IMG_1037

The big find here was something recommended by folks in the comments for my review of 2001 Nights: Yukinobu Hoshino's manga adaptation of James P. Hogan's The Two Faces of Tomorrow. Look for a discussion of that here, real soon.

Then downtown to the Strand:

Strand NYC

Strand NYC

Strand NYC

I never leave this place empty-handed.

... all of which were $1 bargain bin finds.

Also found a $1 copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (vintage 1983). It seemed entirely appropriate that the cover sported blob of some effluvia that resembled melted chocolate, which thankfully could be removed with a little Glass Plus and elbow grease.


Tags: Book-Off books loot NYC The Strand travel


Genji Press: Projects: Stone Cold Bargains Dept.

Right now I'm auctioning one copy of each of my books currently in print -- Tokyo Inferno, Summerworld, The Four-Day Weekend -- for Deb's Liver Lovers. If you want a shot at helping someone out, and a shot at getting...


Right now I'm auctioning one copy of each of my books currently in print — Tokyo Inferno, Summerworld, The Four-Day Weekend — for Deb's Liver Lovers. If you want a shot at helping someone out, and a shot at getting my books for a fair percentage off the normal price, go check it out.

Additional notes about the auction:

...a fandom auction to benefit Deb Mensinger and her wife, Laurie J. Marks (author of the Elemental Logic series, the Children of the Triad series, The Watcher's Mask, and Dancing Jack, and guest of honor at WisCon 31). This auction is to raise money for the medical and incidental expenses related to Deb Mensinger's liver transplant. Deb and Laurie will have a number of expenses that are not covered by insurance, including the costs related to getting the potential live donor to Massachusetts for testing and, if all goes well, the surgery.

Tags: auction charity links writing



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