Tom Shales, Washington Post TV columnist, hits on the reason why TV seems to have bottomed, or rather flattened out:
... the very concepts of "good" and "bad" in the arts and communications are now deemed obsolete. Movies and TV shows just "are" and have been fashioned for consumption by various essentially undemanding constituencies.
TV and movies, both, but one could contrive an argument that just about any entertainment that exists seems to have fallen into this hole.
I've long tried to keep the perspective that niches are inevitable, that a world like this encourages that many more niches to flourish, and that in every niche there will be good things, mediocre things, and barrel-bottom-scrapers. I speak from an admittedly prejudiced perspective: Merzbow (niche of a niche) and anime (niche of a niche) and so on.
But I have to remind myself, and by extension others, of something. The best test of the quality of something as it exists in a given category is how well it transcends the limits of that category. That by itself is an argument for true quality, and not just for satisfying the requirement of a given niche. It's why I tried to talk about something like A Drunken Dream in terms of comic art generally, and not just "shojo". With something that good, you don't want to put a label on it if you can help it.
More excerpts from the Kurtz interview (see yesterday's post):
No one’s been able to read the audience, ever, so you have to kind of rely on your own instincts. In the case of Star Wars, George and I had dinner one night, and we were looking through the paper while we were editing American Graffiti. We were looking through the newspaper, looking at the film listings to see if there was anything out there worth going to see. And, there wasn’t. Discussion came around to Flash Gordon, and wouldn’t it be great to have a Flash Gordon kind of science fiction movie – that would be great. We’d love to see that. That’s sort of the gestation of Star Wars – and that was based on something that we wanted to see, that we would pay to go see! And no one was making it.
Programmers call it "scratching your own itch". Creative types do it all the time: they ask themselves what they would want to see or read that isn't out there, and then they go make it. There's some irony in that by the time they're done, they're often too exhausted to savor the fruits of their own work. (Do you know of any writer who re-reads his own novels for pleasure? I can't think of a single one. I know I count myself out of that group.)
... a lot of films that have come out since the ’70s have been quite shallow. Good looking films, but not much to say. Maybe that’s part of the problem, the filmmakers haven’t lived enough. Their entire experience is based on old movies, rather than life. As such, they’re referential all the time – referential to old movies rather than to life experience. So I suppose the only answer to that is material that isn’t that way, material that’s written by novelists or screenwriters that have a substantial amount of real life experience and have interesting things to say about various topics.
... the key is that the original Star Wars, and to a great extent Empire, resonated with the audience because there seemed to be something there that appealed to them. Saying something to them that they may not have even noticed – it was subconscious and they wanted to see it, they wanted to be immersed in that experience ...
Kurtz talks elsewhere in the same piece about the pre-film-school Hollywood, where apprenticeship and bringing one's own native experiences to the table were the ways you proved your value. I always felt that one of the by-products of such an arrangement was to be exposed to precisely the kind of real-life experience that is needed to create something of lasting value.
Yoichi Sai had something similar to say in an interview with Midnight Eye:
Technique isn't very difficult to learn. I want each person to grow under the strength of their own imagination. What I want to teach them is that there are many steps to this methodology of finding your own way. Frankly speaking, technical instruction can all be taught in no more than three months. You don't need to go to film school for four years. Three months is plenty.
He leaves it to us to ponder how many prospective film students actually have much imagination to drawn on.
If the name "Gary Kurtz" doesn't ring any bells off the top of your head, it ought to. He was George Lucas's producer for American Graffiti and Star Wars; he got The Dark Crystal into production; and in this remarkable interview at A Site Called Fred, he talks in great detail about his experiences with all of the above and more.
The interview is loaded front-to-back with fascinating material, but I've chomped out a few of what I feel are the most trenchant quotes.
... the studios are now all owned by big conglomerates who are interested in making money to the exclusion of everything else. Now, the studios always wanted to make money – that was one of their reasons for being in existence – but the men who ran the studios, no matter how difficult they were, they had some sense of what being a showman was like. They were willing to take chances on oddball projects, and you don’t see that as much anymore.
... I think one of the reasons that there’re so few good movies is that that process has been truncated so much. Too many films go into production before they’re ready.
It's hard for that not to happen when the studio is booking a release date into theaters the day the project is greenlighted.
... the way [Star Wars] was in the beginning, in the first place, it was that way because that’s all we could afford and it worked fine. I’m just not a great believer in messing with what is done. It may not be perfect, and as I said a long time ago, there’s nothing that is. No movie is perfect, and every filmmaker is going to sit and watch a movie that he made 10 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 50 years ago, and say, “Oh, I wish I could have done that better.”
... Jean Renoir said in a documentary interview that we did with him when we were all film students, that something that he learned from his father was that, for an artist, the most important thing is to know when you’re done, and leave it. Of course for a painter, it’s absolutely crucial, because you put too much extra paint on and you’ve ruined the painting. With a filmmaker, you have a certain amount of recourse and you can change it again, but the principle is still the same – to know when you’re done, and when it’s over, and when it’s finished – and you walk away. It’s critical, because you can be like Kubrick, and you can work on it forever, and it’s still not going to get any better.
He goes easy on Lucas, on the whole, but I suspect that's because he's seen the man a lot more close-up than most of us have.
He does, however, insist that Han shot first.
The most depressing thing about Lucas's perfectionism — or maybe obsessive-compulsive behavior would be a better description — is how it has come at the detriment of being able to properly appreciate one of the few genuine cultural milestone in both film and popular culture in the last 30 to 40 years. It's as if Ted Turner had withdrawn and destroyed every non-colorized copy of Casablanca. To say that it's Lucas's film and he can do what he wants with is is factually correct, but spiritually vacant and utterly heartless to boot.
On the face of the evidence, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mantra is that composer's most widely-recorded and -performed piece. There's the Bevan/Mikashoff recording which I reviewed; the Kontarsky version issued through Deutsche Grammophon / Stockhausen Verlag; the Corver/Grotenhuis version (Stockhausen's alleged favorite, which is not in print); a version by Janka and Jurg Wyttenbach; and the Schumacher/Grau version on Wergo, which I now also have and admire quite a lot.
And now we have yet another one, by Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer, which substitutes the analog electronics called for in the score with an all-digital, computer-driven setup. They used Max/MSP, the same suite that Merzbow now uses on his Mac for his laptop-based compositions. You can even download the same patches and wiring diagrams they used, if you've got three pairs of hands and want to give the piece a shot yourself.
It's not often I read something that has me screaming and thrashing around in annoyance and disgust, but Rudy Rucker's "Psipunk" thing did it for me. Go read it and then come back here.
Okay, we're back.
Let's leave off the fact that the whole n-punk thing has been wrung through more permutations than there have been cover versions of "Louie, Louie". That's bad enough. What's worse is the way the whole thing is pure, unreconstructed Nerd Rapture, without a hint of irony or skepticism. It's today's version of SF from the Fifties, wherein were solemnly predicted food pills and world government — and how silly and quaint does most of that stuff seem today? Swap "quantum" for "atomic" and a few other buzzwords, and it's the same thing: In The Future, All Of Us Will Drive Standing Up!
Even the stuff in part 4 — the short-term predictions — are annoying in varying measures. The reason we still don't put everything into network links is because even in this day and age network links are notoriously slow and flaky. A home file-sharing system is one thing; leaving all your music on the other side of the country and accessing it through the same pipe through which is also being shoved your phone, wireless, NetFlix streaming and god knows what else ... that's another. (I'm not suggesting that this is impossible, just that most people need only to experience a couple of network outages [as I have] to find out why this is nowhere nearly as dependable as just caching things locally.) And the bit about tapping into the quantum energy of rocks as a computational system made me want to shove Rucker headfirst into the LHC. Sorry, gang, but quantum computing is not the Xanadu Technology it's been made out to be. Better people than Your Humble Narrator have explained why.
[Addendum: Right guy, wrong link. Most of what he talks about there is a refutation of the idea that quantum computing is impossible. Scott believes it is possible, but does not believe it will be as earth-shattering as the conventional wisdom has claimed. I'll find a better link.]
I do give him credit for provoking some thought, even if not as he intended. E.g., telepathy. I wonder if it might not be such a great idea, for one reason. Does it suddenly become that much easier to spoon-feed people predigested concepts that they never question, never grapple with, never test with their own skeptical viewing equipment? I suspect it will be possible to award people knowledge, but I doubt it is possible to do the same with wisdom and perspective. I don't think he was deliberately trying to conflate knowledge with thought, but that's part of the problem right there. Ideas are cheap. Perspective is priceless, and I doubt it can be boiled down into a Brain Pill that can be passed from one person to another.
I don't say any of this because I think SF or fantasy has a duty to predict anything, which is a misleading concept. I think it is the duty of such work to envision possible futures, and as a way of building a degree of skepticism about them — to allow us to keep guard against the worst of it so that we can have a future in the first place. The biggest problem I have with essays like this is the complete lack of a sense that the implications of anything they bring up are anything but "Hey, man, awesome toys!"
Ebert's review of The Last Airbender (they hastily dropped the "Avatar" from the title after you-know-what) strikes blows for good animated features and against the misuse of 3D.
Other people have documented in great detail how M. Night botched the casting to make the movie more Peoria-friendly, and how he squirmed on the hook when confronted with this, with various dodges about racial ambiguities in anime. But in the end the casting doesn't even seem to have been the movie's biggest problem, which is (based on this review and others I've seen which leaked beforehand) that the movie just plain sucks.
Several takeaways for me from all this:
I still can't talk publicly about the Potentially Great Thing that may or may not be happening — both because I'm not sure I can, and because I'm kinda anxious about jinxing a good thing. All I'll say s that if, if, this goes through, it'll mean I'll be getting paid cash moneys to do something fandom-related.
Some updates in the meanwhile.
Attempts in Japan to overturn the dominance of newspapers via digital media have largely stiffed:
Ink Gushes in Japan’s Media Landscape (New York Times)
The article talks about how online journalism in Japan hasn't yet done much to displace conventional printed news.
Not much mention of 2ch-style anonymous boards as an influence. Which isn't to say they are, just that I do have to wonder how much of that sort of thing has already acquired a sizeable (if practically untrackable) audience of its own that more conventional, upscale sites can't steal away.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence will include a new and restored high-definition master, The Oshima Gang (an original making-of featurette), new video interviews (with producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, actor Tom Conti and actor-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto), Hasten Slowly (an hour-long documentary about author and adventurer Laurens van der Post, whose autobiographical novel is the basis for the film), the film's original theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by film writer Chuck Stephens and a 1983 interview with director Nagisa Oshima by Japanese film writer Tadao Sato.
Follow the link in the movie title for my review. There's no Amazon product link yet but there should be before long.
Here's an exercise for the reader. Take the word "horror" in the linked article and swap it for the word "anime" or "manga.
Horror has its share of detractors. More than its share, really. There are a lot of people out there who think it's trash, that it's lame and stupid. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, these folks aren't the genre's worst enemy. They're not the reason we get tons of terrible horror movies every year. Instead, they are reacting to those same terrible movies and painting the entire genre with the same brush as a result. Who can blame them for thinking horror is lame when 90% of the horror movies released every year really are lame? No, the real enemy of the genre is undiscerning fandom, people who are perhaps like Skullfucker and think any horror film should be above criticism. That it's "pretentious" to want more than tits and blood.
I have, as you can probably guess, run into my local version of this phenomenon plenty of times. I stump for a show like Tatami Galaxy, or House of Five Leaves, and the most coherent feedback I get is "That was weird." Hello, Irony Dept. calling: do you not realize that "weird" is the exact same catch-all epithet that has been flung at manga/anime for decades now by those outside the fandom!?
"Pretentious" is a tougher one to choke down, because it's usually thrown around by people who are neither straightforward fans (e.g., they just wanna have some fun, nothing wrong with that) or people with ambitions to develop a critical eye for what comes their way. They're stuck somewhere in the middle, and they sneer both at the guys below and above them. For folks of that caliber, I have nothing but contempt.
People who just want to have a good time, I can at least respect their wishes — heck, I have more than a few recommendations for them. That doesn't mean I'm going to ignore my urge to give them more than what they ask for. If they like Boys over Flowers, then I have an obligation to point them towards Nana (a far more intelligent and satisfying series); if they were raised on beat-'em-ups like DBZ, then I'll point them towards more complicated but still viscerally-satisfying stuff like Darker than Black.
I feel obliged — not because I'm a snob (at least, I try not to be one) but because I believe any fan worth his salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce deserves to have the broadest possible appreciation for his fandom, and that the less fans we have who think criticism is snobbery, the better.
Some of this falls to the critics as well. There's no end of critics' blogs, but they often fall into one of two categories: they're either way too analytical and academic to be interesting to anyone except, well, other similarly-minded folks (who are few and far between);or they're one step above a rolling diary of "here's what I saw last night" entries. The best ones are just fannish enough to be enjoyably enthusiastic, and just analytical enough to get a few synapses firing. They need to be partners to their fans, not parents.
I tweeted about this earlier, but since both Twitter and Tweetdeck are being unreliable pieces of junk (trying to access the MT online editor in Chrome isn't much better; the rich-text editor doesn't even come up when I select it from the dropdown ostensibly because something refused to finish loading; the concept of a "robust web application" grows ever more idiotic with each passing fail) ... here we go in detail.
An international coalition of Japanese and American-based manga publishers have joined together to combat what they call the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations, the practice of posting scanned and translated editions of Japanese comics online without permission of the copyright holders. The group is threatening legal action against 30 scanlation sites.
Cue the inevitable flailing and screaming, plus various misguided comparisons between the music industry (discussion of which has been hopelessly muddied by so many levels of misplaced indignation and moral posturing).
First, I have zero sympathy for people who post scans of existing licensed titles (or later volumes of same) and get yelled at for doing so. I do have sympathy for those who fan-translate unlicensed titles, and who remove their work when licensed editions become available. I've read far too many of those exact things to not be sympathetic.
That said, I've begun thinking it might be at least as productive to write about the best untranslated manga out there and stump for its licensing whenever possible, rather than do an end run around conventional licensing and release it samizdat-style.
I don't expect a lot of people to agree with me on this point. No, reading someone else's notes about a comic is not the same as reading it for yourself. But I feel increasingly less comfortable with assuring myself that those reading those things are just as ethical as the ones producing them, when I have plenty of evidence they're not.
I do agree that yes, the way manga is licensed can be terribly hidebound. To that end, I'd like to see more work done to make fans understand why things work the way they do — that it is simply not possible to give them everything. I have myself entertained a number of what amount to Utopian themes for accelerating the licensing and publication of titles that have less-than-stellar commercial prospects — e.g., pay-as-you-go, fan-funding, that sort of thing. I doubt those plans can work, simply because the amount of money that needs to be spent upfront to bring any title to the table, and the resistance that might be encountered from Japan over something that unorthodox.
So what would work? Well, I'd bet that once Japanese publishers start getting more on the ball about digital distribution (which is already gaining momentum), it might be that much easier to see manga directly cross-licensed for the U.S. in that form. That wouldn't reduce the time needed to translate and edit it (that's always going to be a bottleneck), but it would be one less roadblock. But I know better at this point than to assume there's going to be any magic bullet solution.
Belinda (S1E1) posted her own mixed feelings about Queen's Blade, to which I replied, "It's the best-written bad show I've yet seen." That really does encapsulate so much of what's wrong with it: the storytelling (which is not bad at all) is at such odds with the visuals (which are deeply sleazy) that the show pulls itself apart. The writing of QB makes a stab at elevating the characters above the level of sex objects; the visuals of the show undo all that good work. Most bad shows are uniformly bad, but this one's such a disarming mixture it's hard to appreciate how the two halves were joined.
So far I haven't received much in the way of mail along the lines of "What's wrong with a little stupid fun?" Nothing, except that everyone's sliding scale of stupid spans different lengths. Mine tops out when I start feeling like I'm having my face rubbed in the material. Agent Aika had the same problem: it was like the filmmakers had a running bet with themselves that they could include panties in every single shot. (One shudders to think what the drinking game for this show consists of.) I felt less unclean watching the intimacy in In the Realm of the Senses than I did anything in QB, because the characters in that movie were responding more to each other than anything else.
A friend of mine has commented on how Japanese media seems to have this obsession with sleaze. That led into a discussion about the country's contorted censorship laws, and which seem to have simply produced a whole subculture of titillation based on end runs around actually showing anything. Hence the way most every major character in QB is a fetish object of one kind or another. And because there's almost no male characters of consequence anywhere in the show (Aika was like this, too), it's all the more about what's being paraded in front of the camera for us. You'll forgive me if I didn't feel blessed.
Orac has a problem with the concept of freedom of speech getting historical exceptions, as do I:
I find myself far more in agreement with Salman Rushdie than with Elie Wiesel. Rushdie points out that laws against Holocaust denial turn evil little racist twits into free speech martyrs and allows the most vile and despicable of morons to wrap themselves in the mantle of free speech.
Personally, I say: Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.
A while back I had a parallel discussion about the banning of Mein Kampf. A friend of mine was of the opinion that censoring the book would do nothing but good. Aren't there some ideas that simply don't deserve to be circulated, because of the danger they pose? Aren't some things best left alone?
I said no, because:
There's more points, but those are the most crucial ones. I'd formed my feelings on the subject back when I had first been introduced to Holocaust denial as something a bit more than just an abstract issue of debate, and saw that while you can't change the minds of the worst offenders, that's not the point: it's to document for others, both now and in the future, why their arguments are worthless.
Free speech is something where you have to give as good as you get, and the way to get the best out of it is to use it to refute it at its worst.
Bits and pieces from this week's AICN Anime, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (thank you, Mr. Green).
Somerset, New Jersey's AnimeNext will host Kenji Kamiyama, director of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and the to be released by FUNimation Eden of the East ... Black Lagoon creator Rei Hiroe (also known as doujinshi artist Tex-Mex) will be at Anime Expo for the premiere of the new anime OVA Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail.
Catsuka reports Studio 4°C has developed a short adaptation of Masamune Shirow's battle of religions, Orion to be shown at the Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo this June. Batman: Gotham Knight's Yasuhiro Aoki directed the 3D work.
Orion (see the link above for a review) was not one of my favorite of Shirow's works, but it at the very least stands out by dint of being so impossible to follow and insanely over-designed that you can't help but marvel at it.
Kinji Fukasaku's son, and director of Battle Royale II will be supervising a 3D converted re-release of original Battle Royale movie.
A UK DVD of live action Sleeping Bride has been released Synopsis: From Osamu Tezuka, godfather of manga, and Hideo Nakata, godfather of J-horror, comes this quirky romance between a boy and the comatose girl with whom he falls in love.
Tezuka + Nakata = sold. Any chance of a US release?
DC Comics has announced that it will be shutting down its CMX manga division
Part of me wants to tag that #andnothingofvaluewaslost, but I know better. CMX had some good titles in the middle of a great deal of dross, although I hope with them out of the picture the more dedicated players like Dark Horse and Del Rey will step up that much more.
An interview with producer Richard Zanuck, mostly about Jaws and Alice in Wonderland, sported this incredibly telling phrase:
We had a date long before we started, a release date. The picture was actually booked in thousands of theaters long before we started, so my aim obviously was to make that date and it was very close.
Emphasis mine. The pipeline wins yet again.
How soon before Best Buy or Wal-Mart call the studios and demand something to fill six inches of shelf space for the 2014 Q2 season? Doesn't matter what it is — it's all interchangeable, isn't it?
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.
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.
What, expect consistency from the likes of Twitter? Their new ad rules are guaranteed to upset people, and so far they have:
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?
A sad pall hung over Cannes, in Ebert's eyes:
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.
The Japan Society's newest newsletter brings word of this event:
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.