I've got this strange relationship with video games. I feel obliged to know about them, in the same way that a guy will educate himself about (e.g.) baseball so he doesn't feel left out when conversations start at the water cooler.
I rarely play games, not because I'm avoiding them, but because when it comes down to the way I choose to spend my time, they come up last on the list. A few years back I bought a PSP and have since accumulated a few games for it, but it never winds up being anything that commands more than an hour of two of my attention at a stretch.
In fact, that was a big part of why I got my PSP in the first place, instead of a full-blown console — I could pull it out most anywhere or at any time, play a few rounds, and then put it away again. Not being tethered to the TV was a nice bonus, too.
The biggest thing of all — and man, this is going to make me sound like a loser — it gave me an easy way to stay on top of gaming, at least peripherally, so that I didn't fall completely out of touch with something that has become as important a cultural force as the movies.
I decided I wanted to do something about Not Falling Behind when I realized that just about every friend of consequence I have — and many colleagues I have above and beyond that — are gamers. Not just in the sense that they play a game every now and then, but they take gaming seriously. It's not just a pastime; it's something they throw a good deal of themselves into and feel they get just as much back out of.
A big part of that is the social aspect of it: playing with other people, talking about the game[s] with other people, or ganging up on the game with other people. This explains why MMOs manage to be such smash hits despite the fact that most of what you do in them is deadly boring, repetitive nonsense. (Once upon a time, we were paid for doing that. Now we pay others for the privilege of getting to doing it. Or we pay someone else to do it for us so we can do the interesting parts ourselves. O tempora, o mores.)
To that end, I don't want to remain totally ignorant of what's going on. And again, for that I have my friends: they keep me briefed on most of what goes on in gaming. Every now and then something will pop out and grab my interest because of an unusual game mechanic (Katamari Damacy) or something thematically intriguing (Dynasty Warriors) or some combination of both (Okami). It keeps my attention ... for a little while.
I have joked in the past that if anyone ever comes up with a samurai-themed MMO, I run the risk of vanishing off the face of the earth.
For a week.
Tags: video games
I've been grousing on and off about live-action anime productions for a while now, about how projects like Paprika are a good idea and projects like Bleach are not. Somewhere along the way I let fly with a statement to the effect that the biggest reason the latter does not work and the former does is "transportability". How easy is it to uproot something from one milieu and transplant it in another?
In the case of something like Paprika, which revolves around a bevy of things not specific to Japan, fairly easy. In the case of Bleach, forget it. Everything that makes the series what it is is rooted in its cultural origins.
This you know by now. What's new this time is, this is something I don't think the people with the money are going to find out until they break their shins against it a few times. Trial and error.
Not the best way to do it, but I get the feeling that's the only way that'll work for them. Most people in entertainment don't learn lessons unless they are painful fiscal ones.
The bad news is twofold. One, it means we get some pretty terrible adaptations of projects that either a) never should have gone on the rails or b) could be done well, but would require a more nuanced approach (e.g., co-financing a Japanese production in exchange for distribution in territories outside of Japan, especially the American / English-speaking video markets).
Two, and even worse, it means that a big enough screw-up — or a whole slew of them — would sour the market for such projects, well- and ill-conceived. Dragonball: Evolution was bad enough, but imagine that turkey with brothers and sisters. (No, don't dwell on it for too long. No sense in making yourself sick.)
Even worse is the possibility of such a mess turning out to be a hit. Then they have even less of a reason to actually create something good.
I'd like to think that all it takes is one good, solid version of how to do it right to set the tone for everything else. Blood: The Last Vampire was close. Not outstanding, but pretty darn good for what it was. It did the original material justice, it kept things moving, and it allowed non-fans to walk in the door and not be completely baffled (which helped since the original source material was pretty self-contained and had built-in concessions to non-Japanese audiences). But it didn't really command much of an audience, and I get the feeling many of the projects that could be created in this vein simply won't.
It might be best to learn to live with that. I'd rather see ten decent if modest versions of such material than two or three big, lousy ones. But tell them that. Tell the people who see every potential property as just that: a piece of property to be packaged up and thrown onto one of a number of conveyor belts, and which will be cropped or stretched, Procrustean-bed style, if it doesn't meet their expectations.
Dear Mr. Petersen:
Don't break your shins too hard.
In between all of the bad news about live-action anime, here's something actually good: Wolfgang Petersen adapting Paprika.
So why's this good news?
So, yes. Bring it on, and let's see what happens.
In all honesty, I expect these types of adaptations to stumble a few times before they really hit their stride, and we have a few representative examples of how to do this sort of thing right. We've already had Dragonbleah, so one can hope they have a good example of what mistakes not to make.
[It is] an adult film, not in the sense that it contains X-rated material, but in the sense that it appeals to intelligent grown-ups. A bright 10-year-old can understand most Hollywood films. Disney recently announced it will make only 3-D "event" movies, comic hero stories and franchises like "Pirates of the Caribbean." It has essentially abandoned films about plausible human beings. It isn't a luxury to see indie or alternative films. It's a necessity.
The preceding and following paragraph are in the same impassioned vein. Frederik Pohl once described Fahrenheit 451 as "a cry against the know-nothings", and those words come to mind when I read the last few grafs of this review. People often misinterpret statements like the above to mean that critics hate "fun movies". It's not that; it's that they hate how the rush to make nothing but "fun movies" has shuttered upscale markets for most every other kind of movie.
In the same above-mentioned book chapter about 451, Pohl quoted Ray Bradbury talking about the movie François Truffaut made of his book ("flawed, but beautiful") and how in his opinion Warner Brothers didn't even bother to distribute the film correctly. In the college towns, he reported, there were lines around the block to see the film for weeks. He encouraged the studio to book the movie there, not just any old place; that was where young, curious movie-going audiences were, and they would get their investment paid back. Maybe not tenfold, but they'd get their money back, which in the movie business is generally more than enough. Nothing of the kind happened, though: 451 was booked more or less at random, and the audience it deserved had to bust its collective butt to go find it.
Much of the problem isn't audiences. It's pipelines. Orders of magnitude more people saw Avatar instead of The Hurt Locker, and the quality of the two films has nothing to do with it. It was the fact that it could only get into so many theaters. The people who book theaters and fill store shelves, and decide whether or not something is going to even worth one screen or an inch of space in their racks — they're the ones who typically make these decisions for us without us ever realizing it.
Whenever I talk about the whole problem of bad media driving out good, I come back to the same tropes again and again. Most people are unwilling to be challenged. Better to say, most people are happy to be comfortable right where they are, much as a stone is perfectly happy to land wherever it's thrown and not wander off in search of food. It's hard to get such people to look at something outside their comfort zone, and it's too easy to have contempt for the very people you want to reach.
Part of the approach, I think, involves looking as non-critically as possible at what they already like and matching it up with something. A friend of mine would do this with folks who wanted to get into anime but didn't know where to start. If their tastes ran towards guns-and-bombs action, Black Lagoon. If they liked CSI or 24, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. And so on. It's the same thing with any live-action movie not in English: the fact that they're "foreign films" doesn't mean they're all one big undifferentiated lump.
Another reason I think animated productions like the Miyazaki films help is because they can introduce younger viewers to "foreign" films in such a way that there's less of a difference between one with subs and without — there's just a good movie, in whatever form it comes in.
The whole thing is about persuading people to look beyond the packaging, and making the whole thing seem less like a challenge and more like a natural extension of whatever it is they're doing to scratch their particular itch.
Happy birthday, Akira Kurosawa.
It's all your fault, you know. You got me started on this whole Japan trip, with your King Lear adaptation, and "the wellspring of the Force", and your template for most every adventure movie with a motley crew.
A lot of people still don't know how much you're part of the cinematic air we breathe. And some people have tried to solve that problem by taking your work and remaking it for a modern audience, with mixed results. Best when they take your conceits and embed them in an entirely new approach, instead of just slavishly recreating them.
Other people — like Criterion, bless their souls — have taken the simplest and most unpretentious approach. Take the movies, bring them back to modern audiences in the best possible editions, and let them sell themselves. It works, not least of all because there are so many people who have already caught a little of the spirit and are willing to pass it on.
It isn't enough today to talk about how one director (or any artist generally) "influences" another, because most people aren't excited about influences. They're excited about good movies. They often see the copy of the copy before they ever hear about the original. Kurosawa often suffers from the fate of having been diluted by two or three generations before people see where it all came from, and why it all mattered.
I have reviews of many, but not all, of his movies. Some of it is a matter of time and priorities; some of it is because I have the worst time saying something about a movie like Seven Samurai without feeling like I'm being completely redundant. In time, and with the re-release of his catalog on BD, I'll probably cover everything, and with any luck have something to add to the conversation that isn't just blathering fandom.
On a day like this, though, maybe a little fandom isn't a bad thing.
He would have been 100 this year. He fought with obstinate studio heads, crippled budgets, the weather, and often his own actors and crew. He fought with depression, his own failing eyesight, diminishing interest for his work in his own country. Out of that struggle came a body of work that has little parallel.
A lot of the time, in his own eyes, he got maybe a third of what he had been shooting for. "There are within my movies maybe two or three minutes of true cinema," he said once. I can think of a few of them offhand: Toshiro Mifune's gamut-of-the-emotions monologue in Seven Samurai, or Tatsuya Nakadai stumbling out of the burning castle in Ran, or Takashi Shimura on the swingset in the snow in Ikiru. A series of documentaries made about his work were titled It Is Wonderful To Create, and the movies are their own proof of that sentiment. Doubly so for a man who once stated that to take him and remove cinema would leave behind nothing.
* * *
There are quite a few books about Kurosawa's life and work — the work more than the life itself, which is a bit of a shame. Waiting on the Weather is among the most recently published and talks about Kurosawa from the perspective of one of his long-time assistants. It fills in a good deal of where Kurosawa's own Something Like An Autobiography falls short — both chronologically and with regard to individual details. The Emperor and the Wolf is a parallel biography of both Kurosawa and Mifune, rich in detail but thin on analysis and insight; material this rich cries out for something more than Galbraith's lockstep, prosaic approach.
Overviews of the movies themselves abound. Donald Ritchie's omnibus remains the most widely-read, even if I don't agree with his assessments of some of the films. Stephen Prince and Peter Cowie have pitched in with their own analyses, which I've yet to sit down with, but their scope and authority are impressive on the face of it.
And then there are the movies themselves. Start here, I say, and just keep on going.
Three words: Bleach live-action.
A U.S. remake. A U.S. live-action remake, exec produced by the same man who gave us Get Smart and 50 First Dates.
There are so many things wrong with this picture, I might well exhaust the disk space allotment on my web host by talking about them.
I'll gloss over the fact that Tite Kubo has gone on record stating he doesn't think a live-action version is feasible, because I suspect he's not even the one in charge of how his material is adapted. The problem is, again, everything that made the original what it was — good, bad or indifferent — is tied to its milieu in ways that cannot be duplicated effectively elsewhere.
You could make something similar to it, with some of the same basic plot tropes in a Western context — just don't call it Bleach. But with that you lose all the instant name-recognition of the project, which is really what this is all about anyway: capitalizing on a name.
I haven't been having the greatest of days to begin with, but this has all the auspiciousness of finding a dead dog in your car's back seat.
Two items in today's Times provide not just food for thought but a whole buffet table. The first is the next chapter in the ugly, protracted and deeply problematic copyright custody battle that Jack Kirby's heirs are waging over his creations for Marvel Comics. [*]
Item the second is Michiko Kakutani's "Text Without Context", about a slew of new books that explore the way the very act of consuming or producing media today has become remixing without ever knowing the original.[*]
On the one hand, you have a practical insurrection, so to speak: Generation YouTube, as someone rather scornfully called it, which sees everything on tape, in print, or on disc as raw material to be ripped and re-used. (Something I myself have not been immune to, as my own first records were pretty much sampled wholesale from whatever was lying around.) I remember a flyer for one of the first Psychic TV albums that described the music as "raw material to be used and manipulated by the listener" — not entertainment, not communication, but data.
And on the other hand, you have Jack Kirby, and dozens of others like him, getting stiffed on a colossal scale.
I put the two side by side because I think there's a lot more overlap here than people want to believe — that anyone who creates something these days runs the risk of becoming another Jack Kirby, with society at large being Marvel. It's not that it's easy to do this, but that it's almost expected of us — that people who don't make the new explicitly out of the old are seen more and more as throwbacks, party-poopers.
I don't like to think of myself as some Old Media Blowhard, where the only good books are dead (tree) ones. I wouldn't be writing this blog, or planning a future storytelling project that is entirely blog-based, if I thought that way. But I don't like the idea that we should simply settle for a culture of remixing as a moral imperative — that if it's out there, it's going to get ripped off, by creators and opportunists and people looking for nothing more than a free ride. Not every test of copyright infringement is going to be Jay-Z's Gray Album.
On a practical level, yes, those things happen. The remix is here to stay. That doesn't mean we should cover our eyes and pretend nobody's getting robbed.
From the current AICN Anime report...
Hollywood Ghost in the Shell screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis has stated during a Shutter Island q & a that she plans to "turn in a draft in a few weeks." She expressed cautious optimism about the project, and indirectly noted an obstacle such a project faces in Hollywood: "Cross your fingers, guys — [it has a] female lead."
Kalogridis was once hired by Avatar director James Cameron to script his planned adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita (GUNNM) manga. When asked about the possibilities of the Battle Angel film or an Avatar sequel, she responded, "You have to ask Jim — anything to do with [those projects]."
GitS has, like most any anime-themed live-action production, so many strikes against it out of the box that I fear for anything coherent or worthwhile coming of it. The fact that it has a female lead bulks extremely tiny next to its convoluted (shilling for contorted) storyline, its cerebral themes (which even in this post-Matrix era are going to be hard to present without tons of dumbing-down), and the simple fact that, like Akira, they will have the worst time making it something people are going to go out of their way to watch without changing its locale, disconnecting it from its cultural wellspring, and thus destroying most of what was interesting about it to begin with.
Fingers crossed, indeed.
The first "season" of Kinutani Yu's Ghost in the Shell-Stand Alone Complex manga adaptation of the anime ended in Young Magazine # 14 (On sale March 8). The second season will begin in Gekkan Young Magazine # 05 (On sale April 14).
Wait, there was a manga adaptation of the ... ? STOP PRESS, MUST SEE.
Masatoshi Nagase has finally been recognized for his immortal contributions to the acting world!
On DVD and Blu-ray, no less!
(Youki Kudoh in a supporting role, too!)
(And the soundtrack is wonderful.)
Yup, it's new-release day at Criterion, and here's what else showed up:
... and a Blu-ray version of Luchino Visconti's The Leopard.
It's been busy on this end (to put it mildly). Real life decided to take a crowbar not only to me but a few other people real close to me, so I've been doing what I can to make sure they keep on keepin' on as well.
Meanwhile, here's a few things that crossed my desk while real life was delivering a beat-down:
The live-action version of Osamu Tezuka's MW is coming out in Japan on DVD. The stills from it make it look very ... I dunno, J-poppy, which I'm learning may be one of the inevitable forms of dumbing-down that any material might experience when being adapted for live-action in Japan. But color me curious, and this just reminds me that I still haven't seen 20th Century Boys yet.
A bunch of shows not yet released on DVD have showed up at FUNimation's streaming site. Among them:
Some nice comments from an author of children's books about taking Sundays off.
On another note, there's book designer Craig Mod, with this discussion of "books in the age of the iPad": Print is dying. Digital is surging. Everyone is confused. Good riddance.
He makes a case for the "canvas" being what's changing: it's not that books themselves are dying, just that the most disposable versions of books are being phased out in favor of digital devices. Books where the canvas of paper is indispensible — e.g., graphic novels, art books — will continue to exist, although at premium prices. Books that are "just text" will simply move to another, more malleable and portable container.
In short, we're seeing another iteration of what happened with books back when cheap paperbacks entered the market and created a priced-down alternative to hardbacks. This didn't phase out hardbacks entirely, though; I've written elsewhere about why hardbacks continue to be important to publishing. (Early access, collectible form factor.)
I'm still iffy on dedicated reading devices, if only because I dislike the idea of throwing hundreds of dollars at something that essentially duplicates most of the functionality of something I already have. The Kindle is twice as redundant now that there's a Kindle app for the PC, which I can install on any machine that has a net connection. Yes, I don't get the (dubious) comfort of reading on the Kindle device itself, but at least I have access to all the same content — and by Craig's own admission, that's what really counts here.
Dave Winer, one of the "protobloggers" (I suspect he hates that term), provides an intriguing way to do a panel that isn't a panel.
The format is not far from the Socratic classroom, a discussion leader who pulls the interesting bits from the minds of the people in the room, with no sense of one person being a speaker and another being audience. Everyone is both a source and destination of thought.
The format solves the problems of the typical professional conference, the problem of droning self-important speakers who bore the audience and force the good stuff out into the hallway. The first goal of the format is to suck the good stuff back into the room. Everything about the format is designed to eliminate the boring, self-serving droning. But to do it respectfully. We're not running the Gong Show.
There's more in the piece; go give it a read.
It took me less than ten seconds to start wondering how an approach like this would work out for panels at a fan convention. Imagine one of those panels like "Shows You're Not Seeing And Should Be", stuff where 95% of what goes on is brought into the room by the audience.
Now, a strike in the Minus Column: it might be ill-suited to panels where people come specifically to hear someone speak at length from their own experience about a particular subject. Actually, even that sort of session could be retooled a bit: start with the lecture part of the whole thing, and then segue from that into something like the above, where his words are a springboard for further discussions in both directions. (Word of advice when giving a lecture like this: ask people to move to the front of the room. It makes things feel more like a conversation and less like a lecture. People at panels have this weird tendency to scatter all over the place, probably because they're still operating under the idea that other people are gonna get antsy about having their personal space invaded.)
I especially like the "No PowerPoints" rule. As a recovering PowerPoint abuser, I know full well how seductive those charts and bullet-lists can be for a presenter, and just how sleep-inducing they can be for everyone in front of them.
Q: How desperate for ideas, how creatively bankrupt, how cowardly does Hollywood have to be to option the video game Space Invaders as a feature film, and do so with a completely straight face?
Someone in the comments for that article mentioned that the only way to make that work would be if you made a movie about the making of such a thing into a movie — a Hollywood farce.
See, there, you could have some fun. Get Paul Giamatti as the screenwriter and novelist who's paid piles of money to write this miserable thing, and make the film-within-a-film a gloriously stupid piece of tinfoil-wrapped-cardboard kitsch. And use YMO's "The Invaders / Firecracker" as the themesong. And have Michel Gondry direct.
I bet you right there we have more real ideas than we're going to find in the finished film, assuming this piece of refried lard ever makes it to screens.
You know, back when I was about eight years old, this would have been the coolest idea ever. I'm thirty-eight now. It stopped being cool around the same time Raul Julia appeared in Street Fighter.
Over at Vertical, Inc., they're in the process of setting up a bunch of new licensing requests — some of them in-house items, some gleaned from wishlists provided by fans. I didn't figure they could talk specifics — like Criterion and most other media companies of their ilk, they tend to remain tightlipped about what's been licensed until all the ink is dry. Since I couldn't come out and ask what they'd picked up, I figured I could ask a slightly less problematic question: What time period were the titles in question from? The answer: all from the last ten years.
heh, i consider classic to be as old as I am...so titles from the 70's. But to some manga was practically invented in the 90's
This has nothing to do with manga alone. It's a problem as old as pop culture itself — or, rather, our current concept of it, which means a division between "classic" and "current" material. Harlan Ellison was grousing about this back in 1970: "To the kids today, anything earlier than Buddy Holly and the Crickets is prehistoric."
It's all the harder when you live in a world where almost everything "cultural" ends up having a lifespan, and very little winds up being ephemeral in the first place. When you effectively have the entire cultural output of a civilization from the last fifty years or more at your disposal, where do you even start? My guess is you start more or less with whatever's in front of you — which for most people tends to be whatever's marketed to them through the channels they're exposed to. That means most people are going to start with the recent stuff and only work their way backwards if they have some overweening reason to do so — like personal taste, subjective inclination, or a recommendation from a trusted source.
It's not evil. It's just one of the ways people cope with living in a world this big, this diverse, this heavily interconnected, and this saturated with cultural product. But it means the good stuff that's more than a few years old has to be fought for, stumped for, and proselytized all the more. And in time, I think, it'll become clear what stuff is worth that kind of effort and energy, and what of it deserves to languish.
When Vertical was exhibiting at Comic-Con back in 2009 (if memory serves), they had a kid visiting the table. Couldn't have been more than ten years old. He loved Black Jack. Didn't care what year it was made in. I don't know what alchemy of curiosity was at work within him, but it was the right one. It reminded me of something else I'd been told about once, where a gaggle of about five or six kids his age sat in front of a big-screen TV in some mom-and-pop video store where Seven Samurai was playing on DVD. I would have given quite a lot to step back into that moment and creep around in front of them to see the looks on their faces.
The impossible has happened. Or, rather, the deeply improbable has found a chink in the armor of the possible to slither through. Or something. The animated adaptation of Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei is being released domestically. (See my reviews of the books.)
Impossible if only because I always believed the amount of work required to localize the series would be daunting. If anyone was going to pick it up, I rationalized, it would be someone like AnimEigo, a label that specializes in doing things in a very fan-centric way. (This despite the fact that most of their product as of late has been live-action samurai cinema material, not anime.) But no: it's Media Blasters, of all people. I'm going to be very curious — shilling for concerned — to see how they pull this off.
Also: Some interesting notes in that piece about how expensive it is to create even a single animated series. The most appalling part was learning that your average animator makes pathetic wages, far less than your average office worker. The problem is finding people to consistently foot the bill, which explains why most shows these days are ground out as follow-ups to existing, known-good properties. Less risk that way.
The Times's Motoko Rich has weighed in on the cost of e-book publishing, with a nice breakdown chart of where all the money ends up going.
If a lot of the things I observed earlier continue to hold true, from my comparisons between publishing and anime distribution, the cost savings for going to e-books are not going to be dramatic because the people at every stage of the way still have to get paid. Many of the folks responsible for getting a book on the shelves are effectively invisible to a reader — the author's one element, as is the publisher, but then there's the editors, the designers, the graphics people, the marketers and publicity managers ...
Drop any one of those people from the equation and you put a bullet through the foot of a book's chances in the marketplace. You want to put out the latest nonfiction sensation without at least a couple of good fact-checkers on the prowl? Or how about releasing a major new talent's latest opus to the center table of B&N, albeit with a cover design that looks like it was nicked from the dregs of 4chan's art criticism board? Try it sometime; the results ought to be fun.
Another thing mentioned in the article is how e-only texts undercut the bottom lines of booksellers, not all of whom have names that begin with A and end with mazon. [Full disclosure: I have affiliate links throughout this site to Amazon.] Another incentive to keep e-book prices competitive: the last thing you want to do is price out some of the people who still make it possible for you to stay in business at all, given how thin publishing profit margins are to begin with. Nobody makes piles of money in publishing, and I'm constantly surprised at the number of people, many of them pros themselves, who think anyone apart from the lawyers (and maybe Stephen King) walks away rich in such a business.
They also mention something else I touched on myself: charging those prices gives publishers the money, and the incentive, to find and finance new talent and take risks that might pay off. Anime, again: FUNimation has the Dragonball franchise as their money-printer, which is how they can afford to put riskier titles like Gankutsuou or Shigurui onto shelves without losing their shirts and shorts. Even a boutique outfit like Criterion has to make sure they have at least some solid revenue-generating titles in their lineup; not everything can be cutting-edge obscurities Dillinger Is Dead and Symbiopsychotaxiplasm.
The article concludes with some notes from another bestseller, Anne Rice, shaking her head: "[It's] a mistake ... trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam." Am I the only one annoyed by the compulsive insertion of the word revolution in such contexts? I can't help but feel like there's an inappropriate gloss of moralizing applied to the discussion that way: the great e-book revolution is coming and poor oppressed authors have nothing to lose but their dead tree chains. Uh-huh.
Such statements make me wonder if Clifford Stoll's widely-countersnarked Newsweek gripe circa 1996 about these here new-fangled Interwebs had more than a kernel of truth to them: just because something is shiny and faster doesn't make it an improvement, merely different. It's a sentiment echoed by John Brunner in one of his books: "There are two kinds of fool. The first says 'This is old, and therefore good.' The second says 'This is new, and therefore better.'"