All posts for September 2010


Movie Reviews: Sakuran

I know I’m not alone in saying Memoirs of a Geisha annoyed the living daylights out of me. It was humorless, overwritten, fly-blown Hollywood schmaltz—half tinselly soap opera and half bogus exoticism, right down to the oh-so-sad shakuhachi flutes on...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/28 22:34

I know I’m not alone in saying Memoirs of a Geisha annoyed the living daylights out of me. It was humorless, overwritten, fly-blown Hollywood schmaltz—half tinselly soap opera and half bogus exoticism, right down to the oh-so-sad shakuhachi flutes on the soundtrack. Talented people were involved both in front of and behind the camera, but starpower only goes so far, and Geisha’s stunt Asian casting only showed up the project all the more for being empty chintz. What did it say that none of the major female roles are played by actual Japanese, while just about all the major male roles are? That Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang and Li Gong outsell any Japanese actress you could name? Or that Hollywood still thinks actors (especially women) can still be generically and interchangeably “Asian”—which may not have been their intention, but sure feels like the end result?*

I fulminate about all this now because Sakuran is the anti-Geisha—a movie as brazen, hilarious, rollicking, on-target and emotionally honest as that other movie was incapable of being. It’s far from being forensically accurate—I seriously doubt Yoshiwara red-light houses had paper doors designed like stained-glass windows—but it’s spot-on in all the ways that matter. The best part of all is that it’s fun, in the sense that we’re seeing talented people sink their teeth into the material and play it up like they’re all getting away with something.

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Tags: Anna Tsuchiya Japan Masanobu Ando geisha live-action manga movies oiran


Hustle & Bustle Dept.

Since I'm in the middle of all the prepwork I've been doing for anime.about.com as well as juggling my regular work, there's been that much less time to post about ... well, anything at all. So, some quick rundown. I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/28 18:22

Since I'm in the middle of all the prepwork I've been doing for anime.about.com as well as juggling my regular work, there's been that much less time to post about ... well, anything at all. So, some quick rundown.

  • I saw Sakuran and loved it; it's amazing this hasn't been picked up for a U.S. distribution deal yet. Go find it if you can. I plan to write a full review but I doubt I'll have the time right now.
  • I don't expect to be doing much work on my books for a bit yet because of this craziness. Not what I wanted, but there you go.
  • On that note, it looks like there will be no sales table for Genji Press at NYAF. There's just too much for me to do at the show in my newly-minted official capacity. I'm not going to be able to get my money back either -- the last chance I had to do that was back in May, so I guess I'm just gonna have to swallow the loss. It also looks like I won't have time to vend at any shows from now on, so I will have to turn my efforts towards marketing my work directly to agents/publishers. This was going to happen eventually; I've been building up to it for some time now. It's just happening a lot sooner than I thought, and for different reasons.

Also, earlier this week, while on a shopping trip in the city with friends, I ran across a number of goodies:

  • A reprint of a collection of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's stories, which was original published in 1960 under the unfortunate name of Exotic Japanese Stories and has a translation every bit as dated as the title suggests. This one has interior and cover art by Yuko Shimizu, who did the artwork for the English editions of the Moribito novels, so it isn't all bad. But part of me is tempted to attempt a retranslation of some of the stories within, because I'm just that nuts.
  • Seen That, Now What?, a moviegoing guide written in the style suggested by the title. It's not recent (1998) but there's a lot in there that I have only scratched the surface of. The format alone is half the fun.
  • Death March on Mount Hakkōda, which is about a little-known incident where a platoon of Japanese army officers were sent into the northern mountains during winter 1902, on a training exercise (in anticipation of the Russo-Japanese war), and almost all of them froze to death or starved because their commanders ignored the locals' advice about how dangerous the terrain was in wintertime.

And some goodies I picked up both online and at the local library's book sale:

  • The Dark Side: Infamous Japanese Crimes and Criminals. From the same fellow who brought us Shocking Crimes of Postwar Japan, this covers some of the same ground but goes further back into Japanese history and also contains a ton of interesting information about crime and law enforcement in the Edo period.
  • The Art of Clear Thinking, by Rudolf Flesch. Yes, the same man who gave us Why Johnny Can't Read. This book's somewhat dated (it's from the Fifties and boy does it ever show it), but it has some still-applicable conceits about how to use one's own brain effectively. How do you have insights? What do you do with them? How do you see the things no one else can see? What kind of relationship does the law have to the application of intelligence or logic? How do you not drive yourself bugnuts insane trying to come up with an answer to something?
  • The Way of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton. A Christian thinker of a most most Zenlike and Buddhist persuasion, Merton did a great deal of valuable work about the valuable similarities between those belief systems towards the end of his life. Here, he tackles the Tao and provided us with an in-a-nutshell anthology for what would prove to be one major source of inspiration for Zen Buddhism.
  • J.K. Huysmans, Against Nature. A book admired by many, from Oscar Wilde to Lester Bangs to Richard Hell -- it in fact was a pivotal element in the essay written by the former about the latter in Psychotic Reactions. Huysmans is for me in the same category as Knut Hamsun, an author who still hasn't received the kind of broad literary appreciation he deserves and who only might now be seen through clear eyes.

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Movie Reviews: Shutter Island

It’s a cliché of movie criticism to say that a given film needs to be seen more than once. Yes, Shutter Island deserves multiple viewings, but not because the final stretch reveals that everything you think you know is wrong....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/21 00:11

It’s a cliché of movie criticism to say that a given film needs to be seen more than once. Yes, Shutter Island deserves multiple viewings, but not because the final stretch reveals that everything you think you know is wrong. Plenty of films do that without deserving a second take: after the jig is up, there’s nothing worth going back to. In the words of a metaphor I like quoting often, it’s like the boy who cuts his drum open to see what made it go bang. This one, you cut it open and there’s a whole new drum in there.

The top level of Shutter Island, the part that most people will watch on a basic entertainment level, has been adapted more or less directly from Dennis Lehane’s novel. The levels below that, which reveal themselves the second (third, fourth, etc.) time out, grow from things the film apparently treated only as background or additional color: the mindsets of post-WWII America; the U.S. as the moral victor of the war; and most of all the Pollyannaish positivism certainty of the psychology of the period, which was convinced broken minds could be repaired with a mere mechanical effort. Each level is shot through with the main character’s burning need to find the truth of himself and his world—both of them being (oh, irony) the very last things he wants to know.

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Tags: Leonardo DiCaprio Martin Scorsese movies psychology review


Book Reviews: 7 Billion Needles, Vol. #1 (Nobuaki Tadano)

7 Billion Needles may be the most mainstream manga Vertical, Inc. has licensed for their lineup thus far. Mainstream and Vertical do not quite belong in the same sentence: these are the folks who gave us some of the best...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/17 22:43

7 Billion Needles may be the most mainstream manga Vertical, Inc. has licensed for their lineup thus far. Mainstream and Vertical do not quite belong in the same sentence: these are the folks who gave us some of the best of Osamu Tezuka in English, and who couldn’t be the next VIZ even if they wanted to. The pragmatic part of me says this is nothing to fear. Criterion licensed Armageddon and The Rock at one point, presumably as a way to get some fast cash through their licensing deals with Universal, and years later their taste is not only intact but even more finely-honed. So for Vertical to pick up this (in my opinion) fairly formulaic if totally readable title is not a sign of disaster. It’s a sign they need to eat, too, and honestly there are far worse things they could be licensing as part of that process.

Needles opens with Hikaru Takabe, a teenager who keeps her fairly unextraordinary life at bay from behind her headphones and her music player. She lives with her uncle and his wife (her biological parents are gone), wanders between school and home with nothing in particular to do at either end, and has all the self-actualization of a dandelion seed on the wind. One night she’s at a school outing near the ocean when something comes screaming out of the sky, lands in front of her, and incinerates her in less time than it takes to tell about it.

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Tags: Japan Nobuaki Tadano Vertical Inc. manga review


Big Wheel Keeps On Turnin' Dept.

So now I can finally answer the question: What in the name of $DEITY is this Really Cool Thing I Haven't Been Able To Talk About For So Long? ::ahem:: As of a few minutes ago, I was officially hired...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/16 16:54

So now I can finally answer the question: What in the name of $DEITY is this Really Cool Thing I Haven't Been Able To Talk About For So Long?

::ahem::

As of a few minutes ago, I was officially hired as the new anime guide for About.com.

This is something I've been working towards for a very long time. Not just the weeks and months that I spent in the training process, but in the years before that when I did both my own fan-blogging and wrote contributions for Advanced Media Network's anime site. Anyone who has even peripheral involvement to the business side of the anime industry can tell you it's terrific fun -- you're doing something you love, and you're making money, and you're treating it like a career and not simply a hobby. It's a massive step in the right direction for me.

I'd originally applied for this position back in January, and after several months went by I assumed they'd found someone else for the position and thought nothing more of it. Then, outta the blue in June, I heard back from them: they liked what I had submitted and wanted to see more. So I was accepted into their guide training program, went through the steps, and bit off all my fingernails several times over. Until today.

Here's what this means in the short and long runs for me.

1. The next month is going to keep me really busy. I'm going to be training and getting the anime.about.com site prepared to go live. I don't know how much, if any, of the existing content is going to be duplicated; I might well be starting completely from scratch or inheriting what there is and be expected to pick and choose. We shall see.

2. I'm going to need to rearrange my priorities. It might take some time to figure out how much of my daily schedule will need to be devoted to this, but that's something I must eventually do. It also means some of my other projects -- the blogging I do here, the novels I write, etc. -- will have to be pushed down in priority or taken off the schedule entirely for now. I will probably not be able to attend shows as anything but press from now on -- although the die has more or less been cast for the other shows I'll be attending through 2010, since I doubt there's time to secure press credentials for any of them (especially NYAF).

I would like to think I don't have to cut major chunks out of my life, but there are only 24 hours in a day and only one of me (as the old saying goes), and an opportunity like this is not going to come along again any time soon. I need to do right by it.

3. This will lead to even bigger and better things. Fun encounters with people in the industry, in-depth stuff I wouldn't have been able to pull off on my own, etc. This is just the opening of the door; I haven't even started to walk through it yet.

But here I am. I hope I can do the right thing. And I'm thrilled.

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Tags: anime epic win real life


Book Reviews: Peepo Choo Vol. 2 (Felipe Smith)

By the end of the first volume of Peepo Choo I had, I thought, a solid idea of what Felipe Smith was up to. He was satirizing, in the bluntest and most caustic way, the ways some Americans (and some...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/10 00:09

By the end of the first volume of Peepo Choo I had, I thought, a solid idea of what Felipe Smith was up to. He was satirizing, in the bluntest and most caustic way, the ways some Americans (and some Japanese) see in each others’ countries a kind of self-mythologizing that they confuse with reality. He wanted to destroy this funhouse mirror by making us laugh at it. And laugh I did; the first book is terribly funny in a way that makes you feel guilty for laughing.

And now comes the second volume, where I now worry about whether or not Smith is in the process of erecting a new, even more grossly distorting mirror to replace the one he’s smashing. On the one hand, Smith is smacking the otaku crowd for being such shills. On the other hand, he goes far over the top giving them what they want and then some. What redeems all this, though, is how he makes you empathize with the people stuck in this story who most deserve it: misguided otaku Milton, who just wants a place to feel at home; his new friend Miki, who has the same problem; and Miki’s friend Reiko, embittered about men generally and Americans in particular (and who sees Miki and Milton as equally hopeless nerds).

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Tags: Felipe Smith Japan Vertical Inc. manga review


Movie Reviews: Suicide Manual

Is it wrong of me to want a movie like Suicide Manual to be more interesting, compelling, or (god help us) controversial than it actually is? It’s the sort of film where the story behind the film is more interesting...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/09 11:27

Is it wrong of me to want a movie like Suicide Manual to be more interesting, compelling, or (god help us) controversial than it actually is? It’s the sort of film where the story behind the film is more interesting than anything in it, and it’s all too clear the filmmakers were not bringing to the table much of their own insight or daring.

Back in 1993 there was a major stir in Japan when a fellow named Wataru Tsurumi published a book named The Complete Manual of Suicide, which was exactly what you’d think a book with that title would be: it listed a blunt assessment of the various suicide methods and their effectiveness. Many people were ostensibly worried that it might contribute to suicide in a country that has one of the highest rates for same throughout the industrialized world. The noise died down, though, but ten years later director Fukutani Osamu was allegedly inspired by the book to make an anti-suicide movie. The film has that much going for it: it’s against suicide, but without being much of anything else.

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Tags: Japan movies review


After AnimeFest Dept.

The short version: a very good time was had by all. Sales were a little lighter than what I expected, but I also donated copies of my books to the Mu Epsilon Kappa Society for one of their events. Ditto...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/07 19:29

The short version: a very good time was had by all. Sales were a little lighter than what I expected, but I also donated copies of my books to the Mu Epsilon Kappa Society for one of their events. Ditto the literacy charity auction, and those crazy people at the Saturday Night LARP, all of whom were very pleased.

Did interviews with Dai Sato (also talked to him last year -- the guy's a scream), J. Michael Tatum (even funnier) and Kazuyoshi Katayama (his first time here). Still trying to figure out where they're going to be used, due to complexities I cannot go into here just yet.

Very little swag this time around apart from a paperback of the final Tomoe Gozen book, which has been tough as hell to find.

I am very tired, very achy and very happy. I'll have more to report as it comes back to mind.

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Tags: AnimeFest conventions travel


Movie Reviews: Yatterman

I’m used to Takashi Miike working on multiple levels by now. He did this before with Great Yokai War, which was a kiddy movie in the guise of a satire of same … or maybe the other way around, depending...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/09/01 00:41

I’m used to Takashi Miike working on multiple levels by now. He did this before with Great Yokai War, which was a kiddy movie in the guise of a satire of same … or maybe the other way around, depending on how old you are and how conscious you are of the wink-wink approach to such material.

Tatsunoko must have liked Yokai, ‘cos they put Miike in the driver’s seat for a live-action remake of their show Yatterman and gave him a budget that was probably the GNP of several small countries. What he gave them back was a mostly straight-up adaptation of the original, with physical gags galore and terrific set / costume / prop design—but with his trademark nudges-in-the-audience’s-ribs dialed down a bit. It’s just subversive enough to be funny, but not quite transcendent in the way the best of Miike’s movies seem to reach by not only poking fun at the goings-on but squeezing them until they popped.

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Tags: Japan Takashi Miike Tatsunoko live-action anime movies review


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